You Hip Hop and You Don’t Stop
It’s a Saturday afternoon, which meant two things, I had teenage nieces at my house for a little feminist discussion and I had to tidy up, because between Monday – Friday, I allow my surrounding to look like a tip. I like to think the mess reflects my lack of time due to changing the world, but actually, it’s a reflection that I rather watch Revenge than do ironing.
My nieces, 14 and 16, are over and they have decided to entertain themselves with whichever remotely cool (and free) channel they can find whist I make lunch. The channel they chose was Chart Show TV. This carries on until Chris Brown comes on. Naturally, I came through from the kitchen, and did something that probably looked like the unhinged women from the Simpsons who throws cats at people (replace cats with a sponge at the TV), and explained that for this reason, I would rather they did not support his music by watching the videos.
So then a few more minutes went by, I carried on, they carried on talking and then the music videos that were played made me alert again: Snoop Dogg, Pitbull, and something from 50 Cent that I can’t remember.
I was in the kitchen, so could only hear the words:
“Tear off this clip of clothes, i wanna see u in the nude
You can keep on your high heel shoes
So follow me down to yellow brick road
Where ni**as go to see naked hoes
Shake that shit b*tch
And be off in the club with a hard ass d*ck
Then drop like this b*tch
If you wanna make the money shawty work that shit
That ho’s fine but but but but this one’s a killa”
I could figure out the video that went along with the track and that’s where we find the topic of today’s discussion.
I don’t believe in censoring people from the reality of the world and my nieces are not children. So rather than marching into the living room and switching off the TV shouting “WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!”, I had a conversation with them. The most empowering part of feminism, for me, is the ability to critically analyse and question the world around you. Why do things exist? How do we make it better? What choices are there for me and why do I make certain decisions? Not pretending it doesn’t exist.
So we talked. They said it was “just listening to music” or “we don’t really pay attention, it’s just how the music is, we just sing along”. Not a surprising response, but one that can easily be used to explain, how subconscious sexism and misogyny works. We watched some videos and paused at particularly degrading parts. Often the lyrics wouldn’t be about a woman writhing against a stripper pole, but that would be the visual, we explored some of the words and although, at 1pm on a Saturday afternoon, most of the lyrical content was bleeped out, they knew what words were being used to describe women.
Then my niece asked “Why do they have to call them that, why can’t they just call them women or girls?” “Why are they calling them something you say to people you hate?” Indeed.
Sometimes, the penny dropping is hard work, because sometimes, you just want to listen to music, so I left it there for them, and asked that all they do when they see this, is understand that it is part of patriarchy, it is a false illusion which is dangerous for both women and men, and that this should not influence the way they see themselves or how they allow men to see them. They are strong women, not b*tches or ho’s.
I’ve listened to rap music since I was a teen, and yes sang along to sexist lyrics, without actually realising what the words meant. I love hip hop music, but usually it’s the beat rather than the lyrical content or the videos. I love a heavy bassline. But this wasn’t always what hip hop was, it started as a creative expression of black culture and the experiences of black people. In my opinion, hip hop became more sexist, as it tried to appeal to the masses. And we all know patriarchy owns the masses. (At this point it’s important not to penalise only hip hop, it’s all across music; rock, pop, alternative….I think folk music might be the only one out…).
I’m not about to start a campaign for the censorship of hip hop (we would have to close ourselves off to music, radio, TV, advertising, the list goes on…) and I think that steers too close to “let’s shut down the internet!” but I would like to see more respect for the art and for women. To the makers of the videos; who are you trying to appeal to? You’ve created a norm that nobody asked for. To the lyrical geniuses; what are you writing about? Fame, money and women? I’m pretty sure there’s more to be said and, quite frankly, it’s getting boring.
Hip hop, or the music industry as a whole, isn’t about to change any time soon, but what can change is what we buy into and what subconscious sexism we allow. Gaining a little perspective and questioning what you see before you, provides you with a barrier which makes it that little bit harder for subconscious sexism to get in and makes it that little bit easier for you to understand and fight patriarchy. So next time you’re listening to the radio or watching a video, just pause for a little self reflection.
PS: In the time the conversation with my nieces happened, I burnt 2 pizzas. it’s fine, we ate toast instead.
PPS: I’m now listening to Justin Timberlake *hangs heads in shame*