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Misogyny is prevalent in hip hop culture. Hip hop has had a tremendous influence on modern popular culture, saturating mass media through music videos, radio broadcasts, and a variety of other mediums. However, hip hop is constantly criticized or dismissed, especially by members of the Civil Rights generation, as a form of expression demeaning to women and therefore not worthy of airplay. In challenging hip hop, many blame only black artists for their use of derogatory language, suggesting that they are corrupting the black community into misogynistic views.
However, the rampant womanization of hip hop is a result of a pre-existing antisocial attitudes in the ghetto due to larger structural causes. This mindset can be attributed to the breakdown of the poor black family, the culturally accepted view of women as sexual objects, and the search for power in a pro-white hegemonic environment.
Breakdown of the black family
The breakdown of poor black families is one of the major causes in a trend of black attitudes towards women. According to William Wilson, this trend is “at the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society” and has significantly influenced the “fundamental weakness of the Negro community at the present time”. He claims that in general, “aberrant, inadequate or antisocial behavior” of the black community, due to the family crisis, perpetuates existing social issues in black neighborhoods such as poverty and economic mobility, as stable marriages often yield increased financial success and higher achievement.
However, the loss of the institution of marriage has been significantly increasing over the past several decades. Whereas in 1965, twenty-five percent of black births were to unmarried women, by 1996, seventy percent of black children were born outside of marriage. Along these same lines, a significant number of young black men leave their girlfriends as soon as they became pregnant, creating a plethora of young black men with several children by several different women.
This breakdown of the family, according to Wilson, comes from the both the distrust between the two sexes and the “cool-pose culture” present among young black men. Black men tend to harbor resentment against black women due to female suspicions about male behavior and intentions, which are the result of existing black male stereotypes of unreliability. At the same time, according to Wilson, many black men feel that black women simply seek men for financial support. leading to names such as “chickenhead” and “gold-digger”.
Robin Kelley, as seen in “Kickin’ Reality, Kickin’ Ballistics”, supports these ideas, claiming that while black males believe that women’s expectations are incredibly high, they also believe women will only “use their sexuality to take black men’s meager earnings” and therefore cannot be trusted. Furthermore, this idea is verified by a Chicago study cited by Wilson, where general relationships between black men and women in the ghetto are defined as “fractious and antagonistic”. The study claims that black men felt a structural peer pressure to be increasingly sexually active due to a male consensus that marriage is doomed to fail. Wilson furthermore claims that little consideration is often given to the “implications or consequences”> of sexual relations, in terms of long-term relationships or childbearing.
However, Kelley claims that black female expectations are simply a misconstrued “ghost” of the paternal family still existing in the mind of black women, as there is a strong expectation for the man to act as the breadwinner in a relationship and provide for the woman and children. Therefore, the loss of family structure has exacerbated the split and tension between black men and women.
According to the same Chicago study, there is tremendous evidence that many black males seek pleasure in sexual proliferation (involving themselves with many different women over an extended period of time) instead of settling down with a single woman in a long-term arrangement due to accepted ideas of liberty and male pride (cool-pose). Therefore, this promiscuity is built upon male distaste for marriage in that many black men view marriage as “tying them down and resulting in a loss of freedom” as they still want to “‘hang out with the boys’” and control their own lives for maximum pleasure.
This point is also supported by Patricia Hill Collins in Black Sexual Politics, who claims that “Black men are encouraged to express a hyper-heterosexuality as the badge of Black masculinity” as the notion of the patriarch head of family has dissipated with the loss of jobs and community institutions. Instead, according to the study, black men often supported non-marital relationships until they dissolved, instead of getting married and risking having a divorce in the climax of the relationship.
Furthermore, in the “Hip Hop Generation”, hip-hop journalist Akiba Solomon “says that it bothers her that many young Black women have begun to think of having a long-term relationship as something that belongs in the realm of fantasy” . Solomon refers to the fact that black women have over time developed the idea, based on the growing hyper-sexuality of their male counterparts, that black men are unreliable partners and unfit fathers.
Aggravating the situation is the glorification of the pimp in black popular culture, according to Kelley, which she claims is directly a response to changing family dynamics. While many people cast the gender conflict and the embracing of the pimp mentality in the ghetto as a result of simple black male misbehavior, it is instead, according to Kelley, the result of the “collapse of the male-headed family” as men seek to exercise control and discover self-worth in new ways. The idea of the man possessing many different women has therefore begun to replace the idea of the man with a steady wife and children in much of black society.
The cultural denigration of women into sexual objects is another cause of the damaged position of black women in society. According to Bakari Kitwana, “the objectification of women prevails in everything from advertisements to pop culture”, where between 1989 and 1999, sexual content on television tripled and references to genitals occurred seven times more often. The explosion of sexual content in the 1970s also played into black community mindsets, according to Robin Kelley, as black comics began to present increasingly sexualized material and the idea of the “pimp” was glorified by black nationalists, Hollywood directors and producers of black music. According to Collins, the celebration of black women’s bodies is also implicit in earlier black culture and has now developed into an objectification as part of a “commodified Black culture” due in part to mainstream pressures and influences.
This new attitude is also supported by Tricia Rose, as quoted by Kelly, when she claims that “men are [increasingly] hostile towards women because the fulfillment of male heterosexual desire is significantly checked by women’s capacity for sexual rejection”. In this sense, black men, indoctrinated by a dominant culture to see black women as only sexual objects, gain increasing resentment towards women when they express their human prerogative of sexual choice. Gloria Jean Watkins (A.K.A bell hooks) also claims in “Reconstructing Black Masculinity” that black males pursue the sexual possession of women because of larger historical and media representations of black women as sex objects, while black productions represent a growing cultural consensus. She claims that black movies and comedy are cultural windows into black communities, in which black women are seen as subject to men’s sexual desires and the only woman that is not is the “post-menopausal mama/matriarch”.
Furthermore, according to Watkins, black men are indoctrinated to “focus on their penis [and] to make this focus their all consuming passion” by peer-culture, supporting the fact that many black men again do not see women as people for love and support but instead as simply sexualized beings. Furthermore, the objectification of women in black society has come with the increasing common-place use of derogatory words such as “bitch” and “ho”, which seek to degrade women and keep “them in their place by any means necessary”. Hip hop music has simply furthered this existing objectification of women. Rappers have demonstrated women as sex objects through scantily clad, replaceable women in music videos in the face of hyper-sexual, masculine men in a way that has garnered disproportionate white visibility. Furthermore, rappers have proliferated the celebration of particular aspects of the black body appealing to white audiences.
For example, Collins uses the example of Sir Mix A Lot who celebrates the black women’s buttocks. Though these music videos are the result of a larger black culture that sees “being able to shake the booty as a sign of authentic Blackness” , rappers are vilified for expressing existing views that also in fact play into the white fascination with the black body. Furthermore, as certain black men achieve fame, they are granted “an enormous amount of sexual power and freedom” and encounter “sexually curious young female fans” , enflaming such conditional attitudes, reinforcing the idea of the “gold digger”, and increasing the objectification of women in their music to a higher level. Therefore, the unique position of rappers as cultural beacons and sexually desired individuals places an unfair limelight on the hip hop artists themselves as opposed to a critique of cultural trends.
Search for power
Domination of women can also be seen as an attempt by black males to reclaim power in an oppressive racial system. According to Patricia Hill Collins, black males, facing structural poverty, marginalization, and unemployment due to white constraints, see achieving the “prizes of urban warfare” , namely sexually conquering females, as a major goal and notion of power. Collins claims that since white hegemony significantly restrains black quality of life, the domination of female sexuality is in fact one of the rare pleasures and power achievements of black males in the ghetto. Many black men therefore overemphasize sexual prowess and achievement as a trademark of male control. Bakari also mentions the existence of a “Black male patriarchy and misogyny” , elaborating through the work of hip hop scholar Kevin Powell. Powell claims that the sexualized male “patriarch, as manifested in hip-hop, is where we can have our version of power within this very oppressive society”.
At the same time, according to Kitwana, society dictates that manhood is synonymous with financial success, but given indecent education, employment, housing and health care within urban black neighborhoods, many black males cannot achieve this goal. In this way, they are forced to redefine manhood, turning to the idea of the sexual domination of a variety of different women. Watkins, on a more personal note, laments her brother being forced to embrace a “phallocentric, patriarchal, and masculine” identity in order to be a “man’s man” in the black community. She goes on to claim that the “white supremacist patriarchal domination” of black men made them seek recognition as power figures in their own way, leading to sexist gender views such as the woman serving the needs of the man. As black men faced large-scale unemployment at the hands of white oppression, “a man was no longer a man because he provided care for his family, he was a man simply because he had a penis”.
This phallocentric viewpoint allowed men to become the “embodiment of masculinity” through sexual dominance even if they could not provide for their families or achieve financial security. Furthermore, Watkins discusses the argument of sociologist Robert Staples, who suggests that black males grow up feeling “emasculated and powerless” because of structural conditions, and the attempt to regain power through sexual activity has been embraced by political parties, as seen with the black power movement. Members of black power groups “worked over-time to let sisters know that they should assume a subordinate role to lay the groundwork for an emergent black patriarchy that would elevate the status of black males” . In this way, the black power movement advocated the oppression of women as a way to empower black men and therefore begin to defeat white subordination, as many black men believe simply that “the struggle for black liberation [is] a struggle to recover black manhood”.
She goes on to claim that many black people embrace a “politically naïve and dangerous assumption” that black male hegemony against women is deemed to empower men, when it is only self-destructive and doomed to harm the black community. This hegemony provides black men with a sense of “power and agency” to see black women as the enemy that hampers their participation in society. This misconceived idea gives black men an enemy that can be faced and conquered, as black men often feel that confronting “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” will not lead to immediate successful results. Watkins points out that this theme of confronting and crushing women even transmits into literature, where black women’s books are ridiculed by black men, and into rap music where female rappers are held to a much more stringent standard.
- Yvonne Bynoe, "Misogyny and Hip Hop", Encyclopedia of rap and hip-hop culture, pp. 263–4, http://books.google.com/books?id=ioKfAAAAMAAJ
- Wilson, WJ (2009), The Fragmentation of the Poor Black Family, Norton, p. 97
- Wilson, WJ (2009), The Fragmentation of the Poor Black Family, Norton, p. 117
- Kitwana, Bakari (2003), The Hip Hop Generation Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Culture, Basic Civitas Books, p. 115
- Kelley, Robin D. G., Kickin’ Reality, Kickin’ Ballistics: ‘Gangsta Rap’ and Post-Industrial Los Angeles” Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class, Simon & Schuster, p. 217
- Wilson, WJ (2009), The Fragmentation of the Poor Black Family, Norton, p. 119
- Wilson p. 121
- Collins, Patricia Hill (2004), Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism, Routledge, p. 115
- Hip Hop Generation p. 94-95
- Kelley p. 217
- Kitwana p. 103
- Collins p. 128
- Kelley p. 219
- Watkins, Gloria. “Reconstructing Black Masculinity”. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston, MA: South End, 1992 p. 104
- Watkins p. 112
- Hip Hop Generation p. 91
- Collins p. 129
- Collins p. 221
- Collins p. 115
- Kitwana p. 93
- Kitwana p. 95
- Watkins p. 87
- Watkins p. 92
- Watkins p. 94
- Watkins p. 97
- Watkins p. 101
- Watkins p. 106
- Watkins p. 107