Feminist activism in hip hop

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Feminist activism in hip hop is a feminist movement based in female hip hop artists in their respective fields. It has grounds in graffiti, break dancing, hip hop music, and rap.[1] Hip hop is generally considered a genre that sexually objectifies women, ranging from the presence of video vixens to explicit rap lyrics; in its subcultures, graffiti and breakdancing sexism is more evident through the lack of representation of women artists. In a genre notorious for its portrayal of women, feminist groups and individual artists who identify as feminists have sought to change the perception and commodification of women in hip hop, this is also rooted in cultural implications of misogyny in rap music.

Hip hop as a medium for social change[edit]

Hip hop is a growing medium for initiating social change. Reiland Rabaka observes that "the majority of hip hop feminist mobilization at the present moment seems to emerge from cyber-social networks, mass media, and popular culture, rather than nationally networked women's organizations based in government, academic, or male-dominated leftist bureaucracies"; as a result, music videos, which appeal to popular culture, can be disseminated as mass media through cyber-social networks, making them a perfect platform for motivating change.[2]

T. Hasan Johnson believes hip hop can work as an intersectional platform: "Hip-Hop can be the site whereby such meditations and re-evaluations can occur, offering participants the opportunity to re-imagine masculinities and femininities in a multitude of ways to suit a variety of contexts".[3] Rabaka explains out the way in which creative mediums such as hip hop can be used to wreck the interlocking systems of oppression in America: "The point is to offer the women of the hip hop generation feminist and womanist alternatives to the patriarchal (mis)representations of womanhood spewing out of the US. culture industries." Gwendolyn Pough (2004) argues that hip hop feminists have "found ways to deal with these issues [of sexism and tropes of the video vixen and strong black woman] within the larger public sphere and the counter-public sphere of hip hop by bringing wreck to stereotyped images through their continued use of expressive culture'".[2] Whether they meant to or not, "the women of the hip hop generation have created a body of work that offers up feminist or womanist answers to many of the hip hop generation's most urgent interpersonal, cultural, social, and political issues" and "recent feminist scholarship suggests that in its own controversial and/or contradictory way the hip-hop feminist movement may very well be the most politically polyvocal and socially visible manifestation of the ongoing evolution of the Women's Liberation movement prevalent in contemporary US society".[2]

Hip hop feminism[edit]

The term hip hop feminism was coined by the provocative cultural critic Joan Morgan in 1999[4] when she published the book "When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip Hop Feminist Breaks it Down".[5] Hip-hop feminism is loosely defined as young feminists born after 1964 who approach the political community with a mixture of feminist and hip-hop sensibilities.[6] It shares many similarities with black feminism and third-wave feminism, but is a distinct self-identification that carries its own weight and creates its own political spaces. Throughout third-wave feminism, many constructs were destabilized, including the notions of "universal womanhood", body, gender, sexuality, and heteronormativity.[7]

Hip hop feminism is based in a tradition of black feminism, which emphasizes that the personal is political because our race, class, gender, and sexuality determine how black women are treated. An important idea that came out of early black feminism is that of intersectionality, which T. Hasan Johnson describes in his book You Must Learn! A Primer in the Study of Hip Hop Culture as "a term that argues that race, gender, sexuality, and class are interlinked and used to shape hierarchical relationships in American society".[3] Hip hop feminism is a different kind of feminism than "traditional" feminism; it is a way of thinking and living that is grounded in different lived experiences than the "traditional" feminism of the Women's Liberation Movement, which was a mostly white movement and was more interested in advancing women's rights than civil rights.

The hip-hop feminism movement gained traction primarily because there was no avenue for young black women, as human rights activist, Shani Jamila states in her book, Can I Get a Witness, "As women of the hip-hop generation we need a feminist consciousness that allows us to examine how representations and images can be simultaneously empowering and problematic."[8] Many female rappers, such as Queen Latifah, embody and convey feminism, yet she does not identify as a feminist because "it is considered too white, too middle class, and too hostile to black men, some writers locate Latifah's story in "Third Wave" feminism, as representing a race-conscious, sexually open feminism that rejects Second Wave white feminist elitism and racism, and also black sexism and homophobia".[9] The Second wave of feminism unfolded in the context of the anti-war and civil rights movements due to the growing self-consciousness of minority groups around the world,[7] as many women and men involved in hip hop culture are not white, they will have a different way of viewing the world; a desire for intersectional change in the spheres of how both women and non-white people are treated in America.

Feminism in hip hop music[edit]

Beyoncé Knowles talked about feminism in the 2013 Spring issue of Ms. magazine

In the world of hip-hop feminism, women are the catalyst; in 1992, Mary J. Blige released "What's The 411?" under Uptown Records and was considered the pioneer of hip-hop feminism.[10] Female MC's and singers would base tracks based on the advancement of women. One such example is "Ladies First", a track by Queen Latifah and Monie Love on Latifah's debut album, All Hail the Queen. Women such as em-cee Missy Elliot and Queen Latifah followed suit; in 1995, Queen Latifah broke the glass ceiling of black women in hip-hop by winning a Grammy for her song "U.N.I.T.Y." which revolutionized hip-hop feminism's ideal of sexual empowerment and the autonomy and ownership of the female black body.[11]

Behind Queen Latifah came hip-hop artist Lauryn Hill became the best example of hip-hop feminism with record-breaking worldwide sales of her album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" and by winning five Grammy awards in 1998 (Hobson and Bartlow, 5), they mimicked the rap rhetoric of males in the scene and generated a massive amount of attention. Missy Elliot was often seen dressed similar to male hip-hop artists and utilized the same body language and aggressive delivery of her lyrics as a means of protest while still preserving her femininity.[11]

The 90's had a big wave of feminist lyrics in hip hop and rap that have empowered women in different ways. One group which surprisingly has had some feminist lyrics was the Beastie Boys, in their song, "Sure Shot", they make a shout out to women offering their respect to them that they believe is long overdue. 2Pac also puts some input in why women are belittled and treated differently when they are the ones that make life possible in his song Keep Ya Head Up. A few other artists include, Lauryn Hill, Salt-n-Pepa, and Black Star. More recently there have been artists in the new wave that have also had some inspirational feminist lyrics such as J. Cole with his song "Crooked Smile," he not only feels that women should love everything about themselves but also points out that being insecure is a "gender neutral" experience that everyone in the world goes through.[12]

Another major artist from the 90's that has brought some empowering lyrics to women is Missy Elliott with her song "WTF (Where They From)." She had made her stances clear that all women deserve to be treated equally to men and are as powerful as men. She believes that women with opinions should be praised and that they are valuable to society, she also promotes self-love and being able to express what you want and love whoever you want, as well as encouraging them to express themselves in many ways including fashion.[12]

According to Katherine Cheairs, these artists were connecting the link between hip-hop music and the feminist movement,[11] from these revolutionaries stemmed current popular artists like Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Azealia Banks and so on that have been made relevant by popular culture. For example, in the early 2000s, Ciara and Beyoncé followed Missy Elliot's style of male mimicry with hit songs such as "Like A Boy" and "If I Were A Boy" to highlight the lack of respect black women were given as well as to show the juxtaposition of black men and black women in society.[11]

Fast-forward to today, and hip-hop feminists have moved passed the male rhetoric and doused the genre in feminine prose, for example, many modern hip-hop feminists utilize their voluptuous figures in a commanding manner rather than adopting male rapper outfitting and lyric style. Aisha Durham writes that hip-hop aided in creating a style icon out of the female black body.[13] Additionally, Nicki Minaj utilizes the female black body as a power symbol; in fact, in the 2011 issue of Ebony magazine, Minaj asserted her place in the hip-hop world that she can stand on her own in the male-dominated genre and use her body in an empowering manner rather than an oppressive one.[14] Rihanna is another mainstream hip-hop feminist; in her most recent album "Anti," her lyrics assert black female independence. Given Rihanna's past, the hip-hop feminist scene looked to her as a role model to stand up for domestic violence against the black female body.[15]

Feminist activism has also occurred as a reaction against misogynist hip hop songs, at Spelman College, female students protested a benefit hosted at the school by Nelly. They specifically objected to his 2000 single, "Tip Drill", the video depicts Nelly throwing money on the models, as well women in bikinis dancing around Nelly and other men. Students, led by the Spelman Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance spearheaded protests against Nelly's visit. Due to the actions of the student body, the drive was ultimately canceled.

At the 2014 VMA's, the artist Beyoncé stepped on stage for a 20-minute performance before accepting the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. During the track, "Flawless," she moved toward the center of the stage on a conveyor belt with the words "Feminist" emblazoned behind her.

Many have decried Beyoncé is not feminist enough. Noted feminist scholar bell hooks famously called her a "terrorist".[citation needed] Annie Lennox made a statement, in reference to Beyonce and other female hip hop artists, that "twerking is not feminism."[16][17] However, others have praised her and other female hip hop artists, such as Rihanna or Nicki Minaj for being feminist in their music and performance.[18][19] Many contend that the emergence of female hip hop artists who utilize their sexuality are part of third-wave feminism. Nicki Minaj, a female rapper, was considered controversial for the cover of her single Anaconda in which the parental advisory is placed over Minaj in a bikini.[20]

Omiseeke Natasha Tinsley, Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin teaches a course called "Beyonce Feminism," as well as a college course named "Rihanna Womanism." Similarly, Professor Kevin Allred teaches a course titled, ""Politicizing Beyonce: Black Feminism, US Politics, & Queen Bey."[21]

Graffiti[edit]

Feminist activism in the graffiti subculture manifests itself through the artwork, as anonymity is a large part of the culture. Often, artists' identities are kept secret, and little can be used to distinguish them as women, some writers will utilize traditionally feminism symbols, such as hearts, in their name tags, while others will focus their subject around women and femininity. All female graffiti crews are common, and with the dispersion of the culture through the Internet, these groups can also be internationally based. One such crew is the Stick Up Girlz, with members in the U.S. and Japan.[22]

The largest female street art event, Femme Fierce. occurs annually in the United Kingdom. It is considered part of International Women's Day,[23] the Danish documentary, Women on Walls was released in 2014 in conjunction with the annual event. It follows a number of female graffiti artists participating in the event, it includes interviews with graffiti artists and the behind-the-scenes coordinators of Femme Fierce.

Notable female graffiti writers include Akit, Sasu, Claw, and Lady Pink.[24] Many tag in public places, but are also featured in exhibits in galleries and museums, the Whitney Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Woodward Gallery have all featured art pieces from female writers.

Breakdancing[edit]

Breakdancing has been a predominantly male genre of dance, even referred to originally as b-boying. Women often refer to themselves as b-girls to differentiate themselves, or simply call themselves breakdancers. There are many stereotypes against female breakdancers, the most common is that they are unable to do the heavily athletic moves as well as men can. Some believe B-boying is considered to involve dance moves that are too masculine for women. Women are often singled out in cyphers and compete in predominately male arenas,[25] this is referenced in the article, "From Blues Women to B-Girls, Performing Badass Femininity," by Imani K Johnson. Johnson writes, {{Quote| The confrontational and aggressive qualities of breaking are more aligned with conventional notions of masculinity than femininity in Western culture, that breaking adopts a male-identified moniker - b-boying- attests to why it is primarily characterized as a masculine dance by its practitioners. Breaking's inherent qualities are often interpreted differently on the bodies of women, it is clear that being a b-girl means exhibiting qualities not typically associated with conventional notions of femininity as performed by a female-bodied person. Yet dance can quite literally move us to recognize that which is beyond the familiar and expected. B-girls contend with dominant discourses in order to embody non-hegemonic, marginalized femininities. However, some have overcome these barriers to become respected dancers in their field, such as Ana 'Rokafella' Garcia, who runs a not-for-profit organization called Full Circle, it is designed to introduce young students to the hip hop culture, especially breakdancing.[26]

In 2015, the Red Bull BC One cypher, an international breakdancing competition, was won by 18-year-old B-girl Queen Mary.[27]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Can't Stop the Women of Hip-Hop". msmagazine.com. 
  2. ^ a b c Rabaka, Reiland (2011), "The personal is political! (Da hip hop feminist remix): From the Black women's liberation and feminist art movements to the hip hop feminist movement", in Rabaka, Reiland, Hip hop's inheritance: From the Harlem renaissance to the hip hop feminist movement, New York: Lexington Books, pp. 129–187, ISBN 9780739164815. 
  3. ^ a b Johnson, T. Hasan (2012), "Masculinity and femininity in hip-hop", in Johnson, T. Hasan, You must learn! A primer in the study of hip-hop culture, Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, pp. 67–80, ISBN 9781465205179. 
  4. ^ Ofori-Atta, Akoto (21 March 2011). "Is Hip Hop Feminism Alive in 2011". The Root. Retrieved 9 May 2015. 
  5. ^ Morgan, Joan (1999). When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip Hop Feminist Breaks it Down. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780684868615. 
  6. ^ Price, Kimala (2007), "Hip-hop feminism at the political crossroads: organizing for reproductive justice and beyond", in Pough, Gwendolyn; et al., Home girls make some noise: hip-hop feminism anthology) (1st ed.), Mira Loma, California: Parker Publishing, pp. 389–405, ISBN 978-1-60043-010-7 
  7. ^ a b Rampton, Martha (October 25, 2015). "Four Wavs of Feminism". pacificu.edu. 
  8. ^ Jamila, Shani (2002), "Can I get a witness? Testimony from a hip-hop feminist", in Hernandez, Daisy; Rehman, Bushra, Colonize this! Young women of color on today's feminism, New York: Seal Press, pp. 382–394, ISBN 9781580050678. 
  9. ^ Johnson, Leola (2003), "The spirit is willing and so is the flesh: the Queen in hip hop culture", in Pinn, Anthony B., Noise and spirit: the religious and spiritual sensibilities of rap music, New York: New York University Press, ISBN 9780814766996. 
  10. ^ Lindsey, Treva B. (Spring 2013). "If you look in my life: love, hip-hop soul, and contemporary African American womanhood". African American Review, special issue: hip hop and the literary. Johns Hopkins University Press. 46 (1): 87–99. JSTOR 23783603. 
  11. ^ a b c d "Women, Feminism, & Hip Hop". socialism.com. Retrieved 2016-12-09. 
  12. ^ a b "15 Feminist Rap Lyrics That Will Empower, Educate + Inspire You". VH1 News. Retrieved 2016-10-07. 
  13. ^ Durham, Aisha (2012). ""Check On It" Beyoncé, Southern booty, and Black femininities in music video". Feminist Media Studies. Taylor and Francis. 12 (1): 35–49. doi:10.1080/14680777.2011.558346. 
  14. ^ "Nicki Minaj". Ebony. January 2011. 
  15. ^ Bierria, Alisa (2010). ""Where them bloggers at?": Reflections on Rihanna, accountability, and survivor subjectivity". Social Justice, special issue: Community Accountability: Emerging Movements to Transform Violence. 37 (4): 101–125. JSTOR 41478937.  Also available via the publisher's website.
  16. ^ "Annie Lennox's Comments About Beyonce And Feminism Were 'Lost In Translation'". The Huffington Post. 
  17. ^ "Is Beyoncé a Terrorist? Black Feminist Scholars Debate bell hooks". Colorlines. 
  18. ^ "Black Feminism Lite? More Like Beyoncé Has Taught Us Black Feminism Light". UT News - The University of Texas at Austin. 
  19. ^ Pough, Gwendolyn D. "What It Do, Shorty?: Women, Hip Hop, and a Feminist Agenda." Black Women, Gender + Families. 2nd ed. Vol. 1.78-99.
  20. ^ Dicker, Rory Cooke, and Alison Piepmeier. Catching a Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century. Boston: Northeastern UP, 2003. Print
  21. ^ "The College Course In Beyoncé - Business Insider". Business Insider. 23 October 2014. 
  22. ^ "Stick Up Girlz in Auckland on Vimeo". Vimeo.com. 2010-05-25. Retrieved 2015-05-07. 
  23. ^ "Femme Fierce - Vault Festival 2015". vaultfestival.com. Archived from the original on 2015-04-29. 
  24. ^ "Graffiti Girls". Interview Magazine. Retrieved 2015-05-07. 
  25. ^ Imani Kai Johnson (2014) From blues women to b-girls: performing badass femininity, Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, 24:1, 15-28, DOI:
  26. ^ "Ana 'Rokafella' Garcia, Pioneer Break Dancer, Talks Women In Hip Hop On MAKERS (VIDEO)". The Huffington Post. 
  27. ^ "Red Bull BC One - Blog - Spotlight on Queen Mary: Meet Red Bull BC One's First Lady Champion". Redbullbcone.com. Retrieved 2015-05-07.