For some, misogyny's spelled r-a-p
August 19, 2005
By Jenee Osterheldt, Knight Ridder Newspapers
In "Hustle & Flow," this summer's critical movie darling, DJay, a pimp who wants to be a rapper, rhymes: "That's the way the game goes, gotta keep it strictly pimpin/Gotta have my hustle tight, makin' change off these women, yeah."
The sad thing is those lyrics are not only a pimp's reality. A lot of rappers, too, are making money by degrading women.
And for the first time in a long time, many women are getting fed up with these one-sided, shameful images of females in videos and songs.
There's a horde of songs shaming women stampeding the airwaves this summer.
"Wait" by the Ying Yang Twins: The Twins think it's sexy to describe their organs and aggressive sexual prowess. Their current single, "Badd," describes their ideal woman, who will move like she has something to prove and is a schoolgirl by day and stripper by night.
"Give Me That," by Webbie, has the young rapper practically demanding sex from a female and demeaning her while he is doing it.
"Ass Like That," by Eminem, parodies hip-hop's saturation with sexually explicit lyrics.
And BET's late-night "Uncut" showcases soft-pornlike videos by Nelly, Ludacris, 50 Cent and other rappers.
"The misogyny has always been there," says Serena Kim, features editor for Vibe magazine.
"But it's different now because the culture is bigger and mainstream. Now every kid in America is well versed in hip-hop."
It's becoming harder for women of the hip-hop generation to defend the culture when the mainstream is latching on to the ho-stomping, booty-shaking elements of hip-hop.
The tipping point for many people came last year via BET's "Uncut," when Nelly swiped a credit card down the backside of a stripper in his "Tip Drill" video.
Kim says that video and the lyrics crossed the line.
Spelman College, a historically black college for women in Atlanta, made headlines last year when it banned Nelly from performing at the school unless he engaged in a dialogue about "Tip Drill."
From there, a snowball began to roll. Earlier this year, Essence kicked off a "Take Back the Music" campaign to raise the level of dialogue on how women are depicted in popular culture. Throughout the year the magazine will run features that explore the hypersexuality in hip-hop, and each feature will include actions readers can take to help fight the negative imagery. Organizers say the goal is not to ban hip-hop music or enforce censorship but to bring attention to the imbalance.
"We aren't attacking hip-hop," says Cori Murray, arts and entertainment editor of Essence. "There are still very good things in hip-hop; I love hip-hop."
Misogyny in hip-hop, however, is running rampant, Murray says, and what's popular in hip-hop is misogynistic and headed toward porn.
"If we [black women] start telling them, 'Stop calling us that,' or, 'Stop showing us that way,' think about what could happen," she says. "We have so much power. I doubt these guys are going to turn their backs on us."
Joc Max, a well-known Kansas City party DJ and producer, says women aren't solely responsible for change.
"We have to take a stand as men and realize we have control, we can teach our youth and help our children. We can have a good time without singing songs like 'Wait' or [exploiting] scantily clad young women."
Rich Lester, Kansas City hip-hop producer known as Jkr70, says an answer is complicated.
"It's like a company that has been run badly for so long that you have to get another job; that's the state of the music industry," he says. "The path should have been steered in a different direction a long time ago. Now it's about the money, and sex sells. It's just not my bag. I am a guy's guy, and I don't need to hear some of that stuff. It just makes me uncomfortable."
Joc Max decided to get a new bag when the music got too raunchy.
"There is no gray area - you roll with it or don't," he said. "But I choose to not play that music. I feel like I need a shower after some of those records.
"I have to get deeper; I have to move on. Rap is part of hip-hop, and it came from funk, so I am going to play that. The awkward position for me is which venues are going to be risk-takers and allow me to play a different form of hip-hop. I might be less popular now, but at least I have my integrity."
When it comes to radio, Julee Jonez says as a radio personality, she's on the fence.
"We are put in a hard spot because we don't directly choose the music," says Jonez, co-host of "The Breakfast Jam" on KPRS-FM in Kansas City. "But we have to guard ourselves and use the most-clean versions possible. But we do receive backlash. If we pull every Lil Jon and Ying Yang Twins song off the air, the numbers will suffer."
The "video vixen," recognized as a voluptuous, half-naked and often gyrating model in music videos, is another factor figuring into the rise of misogyny in the industry, Jonez says.
"It has gotten glorified by our younger ladies - and you have your people like Common who don't do that - but the majority of people in the club are listening to Ying Yang Twins and 'Tip Drill,' " she says.
If there is anyone who knows about the effects of video models, it's Karrine Steffans, author of "Confessions of a Video Vixen," a tell-all book about her hip-hop experiences.
Steffans has been in videos for Jay-Z, Mystikal, LL Cool J and R. Kelly and has been featured in magazines. She says video girls are on their own.
"I wish the industry would provide some sort of counseling. I wish someone would have told me what was going to happen or called me to see how I was doing. No one wonders how you are feeling or who you are."
As a model, "you are performing a service to help this man sell records," says Steffans, 26. "They give you the clothes to wear, tell you where to stand and how to move. If a man tells you to shake it like a salt shaker and you do it, [people reprimand you] and call you a ho."
The misogyny in music is a reflection of society, Steffans says, speaking from Los Angeles.
"Society has changed when men aren't looking to protect women. There was a time when nobody would allow you to walk out of the house with tight shorts and a halter top, but now we are being exploited by our own men."
The answer, she says, is women banding together.
"We have to change our behavior," Steffans says. "We are the mother, the first teacher, and we have to start our own revolution. We need to speak up and say we don't like this music, we don't want to wear these clothes, and we need to educate ourselves and stop letting the men get all that airtime."