At last, women lash out at hip hop's abuses

January 3, 2005
New York Daily News
By Stanley Crouch

The most successful black women's magazine, Essence, is in the middle of a campaign that could have monumental cultural significance.

Essence is taking on the slut images and verbal abuse projected onto black women by hip hop lyrics and videos.

The magazine is the first powerful presence in the black media with the courage to examine the cultural pollution that is too often excused because of the wealth it brings to knuckleheads and amoral executives.

This anything-goes-if-sells attitude comes at a cost. The elevation of pimps and pimp attitudes creates a sadomasochistic relationship with female fans. They support a popular idiom that consistently showers them with contempt. We are in a crisis, and Essence knows it.

When asked how the magazine decided to take a stand, the editor, Diane Weathers said, "We started looking at the media war on young girls, the hypersexualization that keeps pushing them in sexual directions at younger and younger ages."

Things got deeper, she says, because, "We started talking at the office about all this hatred in rap song after rap song, and once we started, the subject kept coming up because women were incapable of getting it off their minds."

At a listening session that Weathers and the other staffers had with entertainment editor Cori Murray, "We found the rap lyrics astonishing, brutal, misogynistic. ... So we said we were going to pull no punches, especially since women were constantly being assaulted."

They were inspired by a campaign that some fathers and daughters led against Abercrombie & Fitch demanding that half-clad young people no longer be used to sell the clothing. When the campaign succeeded, the Essence staff realized there is a serious problem in the world of advertising as well as music.

"When we started this," Weathers said, "all the editors came together. We formed a music committee - staff volunteers who did the research and then focus groups of women and men of all ages.

"Then in April, there was the demonstration at Spelman College in Atlanta. The young women - supported by the men at Morehouse, by the way! - told the rapper Nelly that they didn't want him on campus because his work was too insulting.

"We realized that, my God, we were right on point! What we were feeling and what we were finding out in our research was all correct. It was time. Women were no longer going to sit still."

Essence has a year-long strategy that includes a town meeting at Spelman College in February.

Things are getting hot. This is a beginning that has been a long time coming, and it is good to see it all forming naturally with the women in the lead.