Life is full of dilemmas. Particularly, as a feminist, I am often placed in awkward positions of either screaming at someone out of frustration or forcing myself to calmly explain something to someone whose mind cannot be changed by me – a woman. My stance in life is often dictated by my gender, body and sexual expression. I feel obligated to stand up to injustice for any woman – regardless of identity, ethnicity or religion. This is my personal responsibility. But, when do the lines start to blur in terms of “feminist” lifestyles? What determines if something is justifiable or enjoyable, if it plays off of women’s issues?
I became aware of my “hypocritical’ feminist stance a couple months ago, when reading Roxane Gay’s collection of essays named “Bad Feminist.” I came across some chapters regarding how women are represented and treated within mainstream rap songs. Gay mentioned feeling hypocritical and guilty when singing the lyrics that oppose the concepts she fights against daily. I empathized with her writing here, because I see myself in those moments too. I am often questioning myself when I subconsciously belt out lyrics about women’s bodies used in derogatory and pejorative terms.
But I can’t help it. I enjoy the beats, the promiscuity, the ridiculous obsession with material wealth and yes, the catchy albeit often sexist, lyrics.There is another lens to this, of course. These artists sing about a woman’s body, but female rappers do this too. It is clearly a part of the music genre and culture – sex in all its forms and explorations. Rappers such as Nicki Minaj and Cardi B are classic examples when mentioning their bodies as being desirable and attractive, which is awesome. It’s empowering and exciting to see successful women use their platform to comment on men’s bodies and sex, because it is something we see ALL THE TIME with male artists. However, I believe it to be different when men talk about women in this way, because it’s so often hyper-sexualized and builds off of an oppressive history. I think the main problem with some of the lyrics is also when they suggest non-consensual sexual relations, and thus downplay women’s safety.
Pop and rap culture historically includes women as mainly sexual objects. From an outsider view, references to drugs, money and “bitches” are some of the things this genre has to offer. Though it also deals with larger topics like ghetto violence, racism, gangs and poverty, the objectification of women is very common and normalized. It is almost accepted among fans of rap, and when I hear someone enjoying rap music and singing along nonchalantly to something so misogynistic and derogatory, I hate myself for enjoying the genre. Am I part of the problem if I continue to sing along? Is that justification for anti-feminist ideologies and attitudes? I struggle with the notion of some activities being “non-feminist”, because truly, it is about any woman doing what she freely wants and believes in. I am not entirely sure where the line should exist, if at all.
Many people may question this and say: “It’s just a lyric, why is that a problem? It is not an actual situation or person, it’s just a song.” To counter this, I’d say it’s more what the lyric represents for women within rap culture, and outside of it. The continuous reinforcement of women’s bodies being rewards and prizes to be shared, re-establishes societies view of women as subordinated, submissive figures. I feel it necessary to acknowledge these images and words as being rude and pejorative, and therefore dangerous. However, music is a subjective, artistic form of expression. No one can truly tell someone to stop making their art, especially when it has such a huge fan base and support. People like rap and creators know this. The offensive and critically male-dominated discourse used in rap has to be recognized.
To be frank, I am not going to stop listening to rap music. I will do my makeup to it, I will bust my ass at the gym to it and I will request it at a party. However, I do make a promise to myself to remain aware of these representations, and understand that they are harmful to women’s images. I promise to ask myself everyday why they exist and how and they shape different groups’ attitudes. Many rap lyrics regarding women enforce stereotypes, they enforce sexual expectations and they enforce male domination. Music industries will (hopefully) continue to evolve, as people perhaps begin to pay attention to what they are blaring out of their speakers, and truly listen to what they sing along to.