Download the podcast: Editorial: Misogyny.mp3
In the late 80's of my childhood and the early '90's of my adolescence, the rebellion of hip-hop, the fearlessness of riot grrrl and the anger of both converged to make one Nikki Patin. The upcoming Congressional hearing on the degradation of women in hip-hop lyrics, titled 'From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degradation,' and scheduled for Sept. 25, has gotten me thinking about how a hip-hop loving, black feminist feels about misogyny in hip-hop.
Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Nikki Patin. I'm a writer, performer, educator and activist who helped run a small hip-hop label a few years ago.
Hip-hop is an unflinching reflection of experience lived through black and brown skin. Hip-hop (and all Black music) reshapes the world in its own vision. It takes a world filled with ugliness and pain and for a few precious moments, turns that negativity into syncopated relief, melodic respite.
Hip-hop is rebellion on wax and is a call to action for many young brothers and sisters. Like all music borne of oppression, it gives voice to the voiceless.
Hip-hop has been called dangerous, especially those lyrics that call for radical action and razor-sharp analysis.
Russell Simmons states that hip-hop artists are "inspired by the things they see about America. They are the poets who see violence and homophobia and sexism and racism and materialism, and they express that. They are holding up a mirror to America, and we don't like what we see." ( USAToday.com, 3-907)
My question to Mr. Simmons is when we're going to put down that mirror and start creating our own vision of the world?
I remember the day that my entire 5th grade class, spontaneously and in unison, rhymed the first verse of "It Takes Two" by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock. I was a nerd in school. My single Mom could not afford Air Jordans, which made me an immediate social outcast. My lack of cool, though, didn't matter in that moment. What mattered was that I could rhyme along with them, keeping pace with a cultural revolution that made us feel like we had a special secret that only we could unravel with our tongues.
As I got older, it became harder to rhyme along. Once I hit my early 20's, I began to notice slurs against Black women in music. I justified my love for hip-hop by saying that those MCs weren't talking about me or that they didn't mean what they said…they were just trying to sell records. I was just trying to nod my head.
It was during my training to become a state-certified rape crisis counselor that I understood that my cultural revolution had turned on me. If female is an essential part of the definition of slurs that appear on the majority of hip-hop albums, then those MCs are definitely talking about me. Women exist in hip-hop as objects of lust or objects of scorn. I feel either inadequate or insulted. I don't feel included or represented.
As a sexual assault prevention educator, I was responsible for teaching young women and men how to protect and educate themselves. I'd print out hip-hop lyrics and ask my classes to read them aloud. They were shocked by what they saw in print and admitted that the lyrics didn't sound like that with the beat. The young women were particularly frustrated with the double standard that hip-hop seemed to stress: men can say and do whatever they want. Women can't.
From "P.I.M.P" by 50 Cent:
Man this hoe you can have her, when I'm done I ain't gon' keep her.
Man, bitches come and go, every nigga pimpin' know.
You saying it's a secret, but you ain't gotta keep it on the low.
b*tch, choose with me, I'll have you stripping in the street.
This message is reinforced by anyone who raps or sings along with these lyrics, with few adults stepping in to educate young men and women about the danger of defining women in such narrow terms.
Hip-hop has become a modern-day auction block, where Black women's body parts are detailed for value. The highest bidder's chains are made of platinum, instead of iron.
Hip-hop executives who green light concepts, artists, PR campaigns, videos and LYRICS aren't saying anything, either. The Congressional hearing today
will be the first time that many of them have to face the people who are helping their industry profit: Black women.