While we fight against having a war against Iraq (and the next), we must not forget the battle for human and civil rights here. Our children can not and should not face the future alone. We need to help guide them to the BEST choices for a better future for us all.
misogyny in music
Hip Hop's Bad Rap?
Editor's Note: This is the first of several installments in a yearlong Tolerance.org project addressing misogyny in music. Watch for future stories exploring the issue beyond rap and hip hop.
By Dana Williams | Staff Writer, Tolerance.org
Feb. 28, 2003 -- If the voice were in your home or on a street corner, it might terrify you.
Now I don't wanna hit no women when this chick's got it coming
Someone better get this bitch before she gets kicked in the stomach
And she's pregnant, but she's egging me on, begging me to throw her
Off the steps on this porch, my only weapon is force
But on the radio or from a CD, you're invited to sing along.
They are lyrics from "The Eminem Show", for which Eminem received the best rap album award at Sunday's Grammys.
And if industry nods of approval like the Grammys are any indication, lyrics promoting hatred, objectification and exploitation of women are increasingly accepted as authentic forms of artistic _expression particularly in some rap and hip hop music.
Though Eminem has received a great deal of flak for his woman-hating lyrics, he is merely one of many artists cashing in on misogyny. But at what cost to society?
A very high one, according to Dr. Gwendolyn Pough, assistant professor of women's studies at the University of Minnesota.
"It definitely has an impact on young women especially young black women", said Pough, who teaches a course called "Women, Rap and Hip Hop Feminism" and currently is writing a book about black women in hip hop culture.
There are messages in the music that tell us what we should to do be desired and in some cases, respected. I do believe there is some connection to those messages and how some young women view themselves or behave.
Consider the lyrics of "Down Ass Bitch", by popular rap artist Ja Rule.
If you'd lie for me, like you lovin me
Baby say yeah
If you'd die for me, like you cry for me,
Baby say yeah
If you'd kill for me, like you comfort me,
Baby say yeah,
Girl I'm convinced, you're my down ass bitch
There's a trend now in rap to talk about the "ride or die chick,'” a girl who will do anything for her man, said Pough. That music can create a mindset for some people. And right now, there is a growing prison population of women in jail for their relationships, in jail for selling drugs and committing crimes for their boyfriends.
The connection to misogynistic music and behavior may be evident in other areas of young people's lives, too, says Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital Boston and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics' Media Matters campaign.
The music portrays this kind of dating violence and coercion around sexual activity as normal relationships,said Rich.
I see an acceptance among teenagers both girls and boys, of the kind of sexual objectification celebrated in this kind of music. There is this notion that it's okay to be used for sex and that there is not any emotional commitment necessary.
That sense of acceptance is one of the reasons the AAP started its Media Matters campaign in 1998. In addition to lobbying for stronger music-industry standards, the program explores the impact of media messages on children's health and behavior and advises pediatricians and parents about addressing the problem.
Media are a source of information and a source where young people learn about relationships, Rich said. Although no one can claim a 100% causality for behavior, there is certainly a strong association.
Beyond the beat
Jenga Mwendo, 24-year old artistic director of Red Clay's Catcalls, an acclaimed multimedia exhibit designed to simulate women's experiences with street harassment, says music has always been influential because it is so easy to digest.
Young people have always listened to whatever is popular and anything that comes with a harmony or a nice beat is easier for people to accept, said Mwendo. But that's the problem “ people may say, ˜I'm not listening to the lyrics, I just like the beat,' when really those messages are sinking in whether it's consciously or subconsciously."
And the problem is compounded by radio, she says.
"Adults have a right to buy this music and listen to it. But children are exposed to it just by turning on the radio because so much of what's played on the radio is explicit and misogynistic.
Many times, even clean song versions contain explicit messages.
Mwendo cites West coast rapper Nate Dogg's newest track, "I Need Me a Bitch." Changed to "I Need Me a Chick" for radio, the core of the song remains unchanged:
I need me a chick, who ain't scared to flirt
I need me a chick in the middle of the grocery store she'll lift up her skirt
I need me a chick, like I need my crew
I need me a chick to pass on to my boys soon as I get through
"You can bleep out the dirty words, but the message is still there,said Mwendo. It's shocking. It's a message that says women are objects, that it's okay to use women and just pass them along to your boys."
Those messages play out on streets and sidewalks everyday, which is one of the reasons Mwendo says her organization was moved to create "Catcalls.â€
On any given day, she says, young girls and women walking down streets everywhere are subject to whistles, heckles and vulgar comments â€“ usually from groups of young boys and men.
â€œThere's always a lot of talk about the role of girls' self-esteem and self respect,â€ said Mwendo. â€œBut we also need to see that young boys hear these lyrics repeated over and over and they might believe this is how they are supposed to treat women.â€
Chris Rolle, program director for Art Start's Hip Hop Project in New York, agrees.
"You can only speak what is your reality,â€ said Rolle, describing the thought process of some of the young people he works with.
"If I'm a player or my father was a player â€” if I think girls like it when I yell â€˜Yo shorty!' because that's what I see in the video or hear in the music, then that's what I'm gonna do."
Deconstructing the messages
One of the goals of Rolle's Hip Hop Project, which immerses 14 to 19-year-olds in various phases of the music industry, is getting students to study and discuss the effects misogynistic messages in music lyrics and videos.
But Rolle admits the youth involved in his program are lucky. Not all youth have the opportunity to engage in music-focused media literacy and critical thinking exercises.
"For most kids, the avenue is not there," said Rolle.
It's what he calls the "chess, not checkers" phenomenon.
"Most kids only get to see the back-and-forth between men and women in songs and videos. They don't see all the moves and marketing strategies that go into creating the product."
According to AAP's Rich, it's the job of parents and educators to create a framework for young people to understand what they're exposed to through music and other media.
"Without the framework to understand what they're hearing, some kids may see it as a truth," said Rich. "We have to be open to listen to what they're listening to, and we have to ask them to explain to us what it is that they're hearing in order to open up a dialogue about it."
Mwendo says the music industry needs to accept more responsibility for what it's putting out, too.
"We know that the record industry puts this music out there because it sells. And those who sing it make more money," said Mwendo. "But we have to have a balance, and I think the music industry needs to be responsible and promote positive artists with positive messages too."
Still, Mwendo and Pough both say society can't fail to look at itself.
"Misogynistic rap wasn't created in a vacuum," said Pough. "We also have to look at how this music reflects society."
For many, Pough says, hip hop culture continues to represent the whipping boy.
"It's the place where they can say, â€˜Look at all the negativity and misogyny in hip hop culture,' and still ignore the same things that go on in other parts of society."
For Mwendo, it's simply two sides of the same coin.
"Artists write and sing these misogynistic lyrics, but people keep buying it and the radio keeps playing it," said Mwendo.
"We live in a society that accepts misogyny. If they considered it too gruesome or extreme, it wouldn't sell. At some point, we have to look at what that says about the world we live in."