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Portrayal Of Women In Hip Hop Songs English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 5676 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Disrespecting and Violent Attitude toward Women. It has been around three decades since hip hop emerged on the American cultural scene. The music genres which are associated with hip hop cultural phenomenon, especially gangsta rap and R & B are believed to define “street” youth culture. These two hip hop music subgenres seem to be more influential than the other as there is more emphasis put on lyrical content than the music itself. The abundance of explicit words and messages in the songs makes them also controversial. Before listening to gangsta rap songs, one must be prepared most of all to hear extremely explicit language. The great number of derogatory terms embedded in the song lyrics is especially disturbing as they are greatly addressed to women – women of colour in particular. Most of the cases involve name calling and violent attitude directed more likely at women in general than a particular person. Women in those songs are mostly placed in a sexual context and called e.g., bitch, whore, hoochie, slut. Promoting violent sex theme was well documented in the Kubrin and Weizer’s research on the sample of 403 Amercian hip hop songs produced throughout the 1992-2000 but also noted in other articles/books etc. on the songs from the period 1987 – 1993. [1] The scholars have found that the main purpose of such songs is to justify violence against women and make it a legitimate tool of social control. [2] In such a view hip hop music promotes a set of gendered norms and enforces sanctions for those who do not abide those set up rules. Eminem’s song Kill You, [3] for example, describes women as “vile, venomous, volatile bitches”. Many other popular rappers, like Redman, Outcast, degrade women to being a “chickenhead” – coined by association with giving oral sex. Whilst such terms are commonly perceived as pejorative, there are instances they may sound somewhat positive. One of the most successful rappers, Ludacris, in his hit song Pimpin’ All Over the World raps: “I used to think that it was way too cold, til I went to Canada and saw some beautiful hoes…” [4] And according to Ja Rule “every thug needs a down ass bitch” [5] , i.e. a girl who is tough, and demonstrates her solidarity with her man and the gang they belong to. While these terms may not carry derogatory connotations in these songs, women are still positioned here within the sexual perspective. Interesting to notice is a fact that offensive terms aimed towards men are usually words with feminine connotation (bitch, pussy): ” I’m slick and slippery/ On a high-speed chase all the way to the victory. / Y’all niggaz is stone cold mysteries. / Too weak, can’t stand in the ring with me. / Put a pussy back in his place, straightlaced.” [6] It also seems like to humiliate women goes hand in hand with getting respect from the other men. Men are referred to be “pimps” who can get a lot of “hoes”. (…) Legalize pimpin for all the pleyas, puttin’ fine ass bitches in the streets and the hood.” [7] While in most of the songs degrading women motif would appear randomly throughout the song, there are also cases in which that would be the main theme. The best example is Too $hort’s Ain’t Nothing Like Pimpin’: “Ain’t nothing like a mother fucking bitch! / You nasty, once a month bleeding, mother fucking, nasty ass, mother fucking bitch! / I hate your mother fucking ass.” To justify their attitude towards women, many rappers give many reasons for doing so, such as women being too shallow: “We couldn’t get no play from the ladies. / With seven niggas in a Nav [Navigator] is you crazy?/ So we all said “fuck you bitch” and kept rolling.” [8] 

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Sometimes verbal disrespecting turns into violent threatening. According to Kubrin and Weizer aggression towards women appeared in almost 18 percent of the hip hop songs analyzed by them. [9] Extreme hostility towards women represent the songs of Eminem’s where he attacks his relatives, especially his mother and ex wife in Under the Influence : “all bitches is hoes, even my stinkin’ ass mom”. [10] He even threatens to kill them: “Bitch I’ma kill you! / You don’t wanna fuck with me. / Girls leave – you ain’t nuttin but a slut to me.” He also seems to be perfectly aware of the fact his lyrics cause controversy. In the same song he admits to that: “Oh, now he’s raping his own mother/abusing a whore, snorting coke/ and we gave him the Rolling Stone cover?” (Eminem, Kill you) [11] 

Violence covers a broad spectrum in hip hop. Not only is it perceived as a legitimate tool of manipulation between men but also serves as an answer for disobedience of women. Such insubordination is interpreted in many ways. According to the rapper Dr. Dre: “snobby-ass bitches get slapped out of spite”. [12] Another popular performer – Mase warns his potential sex victims to get tested on sexually transmitted diseases beforehand or else: “If she make my nuts itch, I kill that slut bitch”. [13] Eminem seems to have issues with women in general and promotes violence as the only communication means between men and women. Usurping and assuming power on women in hip hop songs are often represented by descriptions of rough sex: “Hit you with the dick, make your kidneys shift/ I’m guaranteed to fuck her till her nose bleed.” [14] Kubrin and Weizer noted four recurring instances of violence in the American gangsta rap songs. Rappers pride themselves on sex acts that are harmful to women. They justify other acts of violence and threaten women who try to defy male supremacy. They also seem to encourage other men to resort to violence acts whenever they find it suitable. Violence seems to be the most appropriate response to women who abuse such gendered protocol, i.e. don’t “know their place”.

Women as Sexual Objects

The notion of sexual objectification means that a person is perceived through the prism of physical attractiveness with disregard to the person’s intellectual abilities. [15] Kubrin and Weizer, in their paper on the misogyny in rap music stated that sexual objectification of women was noted in 67 percent of the songs analyzed. [16] The main conclusion drawn from these lyrics is that women are only good to satisfy men’s sexual pleasures. The title of one of the N.W.A songs, “Findum, Fuckum, and Flee.” may serve as creed of the street code, according to which men’s goal would be pursuit of pleasure and sexual exploitation of women. [17] Puff Daddy’s intentions are brazenly blatant in: “Call me Sean if you suck, call me gone when I nut. / That’s the end of us, get your friend to fuck” [18] . While his fellow rapper, Too $hort, honestly admits the only thing he would try to get from women is sex without strings attached: “I ain’t Romeo, Prince Charming, or a knight in shining armor./ I’m only out to fuck a bitch, fuck tryin’ to charm her. I treat a fine ass bitch like dirt./ No money in her purse, a fuck is all it’s worth./ ‘Cause Short Dawg’ll never cater to you hoes./ And if you ain’t fuckin,’ I say “later” to you hoes.” [19] 

A pretty disturbing fact surfaced in this Xzibit’s song. Judging by the lyrics, women are considered to be men’s property: You got titties and ass./ But I got a dick and some cash./You ain’t talkin bout shit./ Then I’ma smash, bitch./ On three, on me, bitch, you my property.” [20] This brings back to life one of the atrocities of slavery, when black women were often forced to keep exploitive sexual relations with their slave masters in exchange for better treatment, food, or simply to satisfy the oppressors’ urge. [21] It seems that even though the American society has come a long way from the times of slavery, black women are nowhere near to being treated as free, independent individuals. As the American culture critic – bell hooks points in her book Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, that black women in America have been oppressed from the seventeenth century till today by white men, black men as well as white women. She argues that women of colour have been omitted by the white feminist movement as well as the civil rights movement. The author perceives feminist movement as being a white middle and upper class struggle which showed no interest in issues of women of colour. Black women found themselves trapped into confines both gender and race. Thus, they have never been liberated from the institutionalized sexism – patriarchy, and racism. Additionally, in bell hooks’ opinion the Black Power movement was both patriarchal, misogynistic. As much as it aimed to overcome racial divisions it also sought to reinforce the sexist ones. [22] Black male attitude towards their female counterparts presented in number of hip hop songs manifests their pursuit to keep women subordinate. Nowadays many rappers often express how they would put women in the right spot, as Too $hort: “Hoes be nothin’ but slaves for me, / ready to go to their graves for me.” (Too $hort, Pimp Me) [23] , or Xzibit: ” (…) I’m hard on my hoes that’s how it goes./ Bitch, get up off your toes, and get my six-four [Chevrolet]” (Xibit, Pussy Pop). [24] 

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an American politician and sociologist, in his report The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, also known as Moynihan Report, released in 1965 analyzed the data from the U.S. department of labor and drew a conclusion that black women had significant advantages over the black men to be employed thus they could provide for the family more effectively. He also suggested that the traditional African American household is ruled by the matriarchal and emasculating women, an archetypical Mammy, which would imply that black men were symbolically castrated by their female counterparts. In order to stop degradation of the Negro family, black men need to seek the ways to restore their manhood. [25] The lyrics of contemporary hip hop songs suggest that by degrading women, rappers may seek to regain their manhood. They suggest that the only desirable image of a black woman is the promiscuous and oversexed one as in Redman’s: “I turn an independent woman back into a hoochie. [26] Notorious B.I.G. humiliates educated girls: “I like ’em educated, so I can bust off on their glasses”. [27] These stereotypical images have their roots in the times of slavery in America. Southern white males would consider black men and especially women as possessed by their hypersexuality. The reason for such supposition might be cultural differences between Western Europe and Africa of the time. European travelers who visited Africa were often stunned to see semi nude native black women and commonly accepted polygamy. Nakedness in that time was perceived as a manifestation of indecency. The travelers embraced such a shocking experience by assuming that all black women are promiscuous by nature. They contrast between the clothed Victorian ladies and naked native African women may have prompted assumptions that white women, on the contrary to black women, are civilized and sexually pure. Hence the symbol of black women reinforced by such depiction was “Jezebel”. [28] It seems that African American women could not escape from the image of an instinctively promiscuous Jezebel assigned to them back in the slavery era. Stereotypes that were set at that time still affect black women nowadays. What is more, the stereotype of a seductive and lewd black woman has been perpetuated by their male counterparts. As the Jezebel image applied to black slave women might have been a way to justify maltreatment they were given, such reasoning applies also today. [29] Another justification for disrespecting women may be a fierce peer pressure on young men in ghettos. Male promiscuity is highly valued there. [30] Casual sex with no commitment gets a man proud patch of a player, proves of his masculinity and helps to get respect from the others:” I had niggas making bets like, did he fuck her yet?/ Ask her did he touch her bra, when I say nah they say ahh / So tomorrow I use that pressure to undress her.” [31] The Kubrin’s research shows that bragging about sexual achievements was present in 58 percent of the songs. [32] Most of it implied how easy for a player is to talk a girl into having sex: You see I order one bottle, then I fuck with one model/ Then I order more bottles, now I/ got more models/ I’m from that city where them niggaz don’t play mayn/ I take a chick to my/ room like caveman/ So ask your girlfriend my name (…). [33] 

Women are also treated as a symbol of achievement. Having a lot of casual sex proves that you are either a player or have a lot of money. As these seem to be the only means of getting a girl into sexual intercourse in the ghetto: “Say dog, what kinda nigga be on top of the world?/Million dollar status got me on top of ya girl.” [34] Ability to sexually please a girl is perceived as a symbol of your high status. Below there is an example of how the rappers fondle their ego in that matter: “While your bitch be crying “please don’t stop”. . . I fuck her like I know you won’t./ If that’s your bitch, homeboy you’d better keep her ‘Cause she won’t stay off my beeper.” [35] The female is used here just to partake in a sexual competition between men. Women cannot be granted any respect from the rappers, as they are described to be as much interested in heavy drinking, sex, and money as men. The only difference here is that a man will be positively referred to as a “player” or a “pimp” but a girl will be always called a “bitch”. Lyrics imply that if a girl is being promiscuous and greedy it also justifies the maltreatment she receives from men as in hit song The Gangsta, the Killa, and the Dope Dealer: “All on the grass [marijuana], every bitch passed [out]/ A first not last, when we all hit the ass.” [36] Women are treated as a commodity which can be consumed, used, passed to someone else and given out: “I know the pussy’s mines, I’ma fuck a couple more times/ And then I’m through with it, there’s nothing else to do with it./ Pass it to the homie, now you hit it/ Cause she ain’t nuthin but a bitch to me.” [37] 

Prostitutes are the classic example of sexual objectification and exploitation. Such image of a woman is to be expected in hip hop music since it has emerged out of ghetto setting. This theme has been found present in one-fifth of the songs analyzed by Kubrin and Weizer. [38] Prostitution and pimping are celebrated by rappers and classified as a justifiable means of economic achievement. [39] These themes do not seem to be taken into consideration by any other music genre. Some rappers to get more credibility claim to have been a real life pimps ( Ice- T, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, K-Luv). Pimping has a broader meaning in hip hop than just managing prostitutes. To “pimp” something can mean to sponsor it or to accessorize it. The term pimp is often used as a substitute for “player,” a man who mastered in seducing women or hustlers who show off with their nouveau riche assets [40] . This kind of a pimp chic imagery is a popular topic among rappers. Some even devote the whole songs to glamorize such lifestyle: “The fancy cars, the women and the caviar. /You know who we are/’cuz we’re pimpin all over the world.” [41] There is also a number of rap songs in which we can find a lot of references to the “standard” definition of a pimp – man who headhunts and employs prostitutes. Kubrin’s research takes into account this standard definition and notes that this theme was detected in 20 percent of the misogynistic songs. [42] Most of them contain the same message that women are good only to sell sex and men can usurp the right to access to their bodies:

No need for rest haven these hoes

Let’s show ’em what they pussy made fo’

Let’s me and you lay in these hoes

And show ’em what they pussy made fo’… .

Let’s leave without payin’ these hoes

And show ’em what they pussy made fo’. [43] 

Such images are present even in R’N’B which is supposed to be focused more on the rhythm and music than less abundant in explicit lyrical content: “Ace mizzy get all the hoes. /Gonna teach them shit they want to know. / Like fuck that pussy ass 9-4 girl./ Make that bucket a pot of gold”. [44] These lyrics convey extremely disturbing misogynistic messages especially that hip hop aspires to be considered as a true voice of the urban ghetto. In that case, judging by the lyrics, the ghetto seems to inhabit pimps, pimps in training and prostitutes. While women are being described as sexual objects, men get the message to cherish the life of a pimp. Women seem to be “painted with the same brush” and not considered as an individual human beings. The only interaction between these two parties boils down to a scenario of what a pimp would do to a prostitute.

Women Not to Be Trusted

Another piece of advice, recurring in many hip hop songs, is the one that a man has to be careful of whom they put trust in. And women seem to be the least trustworthy. According to Kubrin and Weizer almost half of the misogynistic songs exposed such attitude of distrust towards women. [45] Another fact worth noticing here is that the lack of trust is directed at all women with no exception. All women in general are considered tricky evil creatures. For some rappers a question “How could you trust a ho?” [46] is rather a rhetorical one. Others unveil specific reasons why they “can’t trust’em”. In a song by… a young girl is not only promiscuous but also will surely lie to you about her age which will get you in trouble and most likely put you in prison: “See nowadays man you got to know these bitches age/ ‘Cause they ass be real fast when they be goin’ through that phase. / You fuck a girl that’s young, and you gonna end up in the cage.” [47] Women solidarity is criticized. There will be no point in defending yourself as the mother will be on her little girl’s side: “‘Cause her mom ain’t tryin’ to hear that you never knew her age.” [48] Not only do women stand up for one another but will also try to get some material compensation from you. Some rappers, like Nas, warn that it is a bad idea to force women into having sex, not because of the atrocity of this act, but rape accusation that may follow: “Don’t take the pussy, if she fightin’/ ‘Cause you saw what happened to Tupac and Mike Tyson./ ‘Specially if you large [famous], some hoes is trife [petty]/ Get you on a rape charge, have you servin’ your life.” [49] Despite being convicted of rape, a legendary boxer Mike Tyson and rapper Tupac Shakur, were considered as the most celebrated heroes of the hip hop generation in 1990s. This fact well illustrates the gender conflict of that generation. During and after the trial, many black male church leaders defended Tyson claiming that the whole process was an attempt of the white supremacist to destroy a well-known black man. The president of the National Baptist convention in USA was suspected for offering a bribe to the Tyson’s complainant. For a substantial back male part of the society the issue was not about gender but about racism. [50] This example proves of an extreme solidarity within African American male society. Countless hip hop lyrics strongly reinforce the idea of conspiracy theory that is supposedly drawn by the evil system and women. Tyson was accused and sentenced for a date rape on 18- year-old Miss Black Road Island. Tupac Shakur heard the same charges from his groupie whom he forced to have a group sexual intercourse with. These two events may have influenced a number of hip hop artists who eagerly express a lot of distrust in beautiful women. Such attitude against beautiful women permeates throughout many hip hop songs. It seems to be more than certain these ladies will try to deceive you with their looks and take advantage of you in no time. They are considered by the rappers to be decoys for set up. There are number of songs which describe such procedure: ” You know they [women] might be the one to set me up. / Wanna get they little brother to wet [kill] me up…/ Bitches be schemin’, I kid ya not. / That’s why I keep my windows locked and my Glock cocked.” [51] 

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Another way for women to set men up is to get pregnant. This seems to be not only the concern of the rappers, but also a common prejudice among the male in ghetto neighborhoods. Anderson states that to claim a child is against the street code of “hit and run” [52] . The rappers warn their male audience: “Why plant seeds in a dirty bitch, waitin’ to trick me?/ Not the life for me.” [53] Owning up to pregnancy means not only breech of the code but also commitment which is condemned by the peers. But the greatest concern of men would be paying child support: “I ain’t lettin’ nothin’ leak cause if things leak, then I’m a get caught/ And I can’t get caught cause you know how they do it about that child support./ Shit, bitches is cold on a nigga who ain’t got his game tight/ Getting 18.5 percent [child support payments] half your life.” [54] Generally speaking, collection of child support is a problem in the times of crisis, especially for unqualified African-American workers. A tough choice has to be made, whether to cater for your own needs or your child’s. As the money for the children upbringing goes to their mothers’ pockets, the male frustration and resentment towards women grows. Being broke does not match the image of the self-proclaimed pimp or a player.

” No more player, no Shorty the Pimp

I get paid, divert a check and get 40 percent.

All the homies talkin’ bad, hair down, walkin’ sad

Got the broad livin’ with me, baby sayin’ “Dad!”…

I could try to mack again but the bitches won’t want me

‘Cause I’m all washed up, broke, fat, and funky.

I lost everything that I worked to be

Never thought I’d be a trick, payin’ hoes to serve me.” [55] 

The lyrics make it obvious that women cannot be trusted because they are a hazard to men – “pimps”. If they do not get you in prison or ridicule you in front of your peers and hinder your image of a thug, they well surely drain your pocket. And this is what rappers seem to be the most anxious about. Getting rich ( “…or die trying” by 50Cent) [56] seems to be the mostly frequent motive of all. And the streets seem to be filled with “gold diggers” on the prowl only interested in you because of your money: “Watch the honeys check your style/ Worthless, when they worship, what you purchase./They only see ice [diamonds], not me, under the surface/What’s the purpose?” [57] “Gold Digger” by Kanye West may serve as the best example of a song that describes a seductive, yet greedy woman who takes advantage of men. [58] This type of a woman is mostly feared by those men who climbed up the social ladder, became businessmen, or celebrities and like to show off their recently acquired wealth. They (who?) are considered to be the easiest targets as they feel no limits for dispensing money and boast about their affluence. She (who is she?) is described as a very tricky “cutie the bomb”. Once she has set her sight on her super rich male target, the first thing she will try to do is charm him by her gorgeous looks, and seduce him. She will try to blend in his elite circle to get to him. In no time she will make him spend money on her and her friends and he will do it just to impress her. And if you expect to get a chance with her you would better comply with the rules of her game. Her main goal is to secure her life with her prey’s money. If she fails to drag his feet down the aisle, she will get pregnant just to get secure her life with his money anyway. Oftentimes it happens that after eighteen years of paying the child support the baby turns out to be not his. Whilst men in hip hop songs do not see anything wrong in taking advantage of women, they seem to fear of getting such “favor” returned by them. Their concern is also not to get ridiculed in front of other men. If that happens, Kanye West gives them a self explanatory answer back: “she ain’t messin’ wit no broke niggaz.” [59] There is also a message to black women in general in the last stanza of this song. No matter if you are a gold digger or you are being a down to earth girl and stick to your man regardless of his material status, there is a bad ending for you anyway. If he is ambitious enough, he will get rich sooner or later. However when it happens, he will: “leave your ass for a white girl”. This suggests that white women are ranked higher than black women in the hip hop social hierarchy. According to the findings of the study on the he effect of images of African American women in hop hop on adolescents sleek hair texture and lighter skin tone would be considered as the main determinants of female attractiveness [60] . These traits would be most sought for by both male and female who participated in the survey. Also historically these features were used as measures of social, political and economic significance for African Americans. Those who resembled European Americans would be located higher in the American social strata. [61] Such supposition may have influenced the pursuit of white women by black men. The image of a strong, emasculating black woman versus a pure and submissive Vi


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