I came across two fabulous posts today from the Racialicious blog on female sexuality and autonomy in hip-hop that got me thinking about my own history with hip-hop and feminism.
Ever since the ripe young age of about 11 years old I have loved hip-hop, yet the misogyny, female objectification and degrading racialization were always problematic for me. To negotiate my desire to consume hip-hop but my disapproval of the offensive lyrics I usually imagined myself as the (masculine) voice projecting my dominance onto a submissive man. To me, as I sang along with the lyrics, I imagined that the roles were reversed and instead of the male emcee exercising his masculine privilege over some random female, I was a dominant (masculinized) woman controlling and degrading a man. This imagined role reversal seem to placate my disapproval of hip-hop's treatment of women. In the first article, "Quoted: Menda Francois on Nicki Minaj and Feminist Contradictions in Hardcore Female Rap" the author writes that popular artist Nicki Minaj, "rel[ies] primarily on the male narrative and male voice to help shape the hardcore female rapper’s public image. Essentially, by engaging in dialogue with the male narrative, Minaj is aligning herself with male rappers and creating her identity as one of (pseudo)masculinity, an asset valuable to her role as a hardcore female rapper." In essence, I was practicing the same alignment by imagining myself as the dominant rapper in opposition to the expendable sex toy. In reality, I was upholding the same oppressive gender binary as the misogynist emcees were, not to mention reinforcing the expectation of heteronormativity and racial hierarchy (seeing as I am white and the emcees were most often not) that Western pop culture is built upon.
As my feminist consciousness continued to progress I found it more and more difficult to even listen to most mainstream hip-hop for even my imaginitive role reversal could not placate my distaste anymore. I felt betrayed by hip-hop for sometime becuase I knew that the hip-hop I loved did not have to be so hateful, violent and oppressive to be meaningful. Alas I made a leap away from mainstream and progressed toward underground and independent artists. I found a hip-hop that was true and fair and seemed to fit me better than anything I had ever felt before. It was still powerful and emotional and sometimes regressed toward the patriarchy but it did not use hypersexualized (black) women as it's stepping stones to success, i.e. money. Many underground artists even celebrated women (or were women)! And these women did not have to objectify themselves or perform obscentities to be real.
I am still in love with hip-hop, but I actively reject the mainstream garbage where male emcees degrade, sexualize and hurt women and where female emcees do the same to themselves. While hip-hop has a special and important place in my life, I know that commercially, it is just like any other institution, it is used as a commodity to make dollars, reiforce traditional gender roles, obscure the other, force women to be hypersexualized, eroticized, and disposable holes, who for some reason compete viciously in their own degredation and ultimately rob an entire society of meaningful and passionate art.
For further (and possibly better) reading, I recommend the two articles which can be found at the links below.
Menda Francios on Nicki Minaj
Cult of the Freaknasty by Regina Barnett