Li: Misogynistic Lyricism
We need to stop rewarding male rappers while welcoming female rappers.
In high school, I mostly listened to rap music. It was a part of my daily life, and it was what my friends and I played on the way to school and back home, while doing our homework and in every kind of social setting. It was just another language that we heard and spoke.
Now, I don’t love rap any less, but I question it. Growing into my skin as a woman has made rap a genre that still elevates me but also gets under my skin. As I become more aware of the way our world treats women, I can’t ignore the questionable rhymes that starkly expose the hypocrisy I represent by celebrating a genre that does not always celebrate women.
Women have been called “b***hes” and “hoes” by male rappers a thousand times over. Women have been objectified and given no value other than as sexual assets. Women have been depicted as half-naked sex dolls in music videos, bent over on album covers and thrown aside, used.
At the same time, female rappers use the same language as male rappers, flaunt their sexual endeavors in their lyrics and appear half-naked and made-up as sexual icons in their own music videos and album covers.
Before we dismiss these women as antifeminist or as a part of the problem, we need to understand how the double standard to which we hold women plays a role in how we judge men and women. Slut-shaming has no equivalent for men. At the end of the day, men will never be shamed for their sexual success — to the contrary, they are usually glorified for it. Men will never be told to cover more of their skin or be less provocative. And of the countless words that we have in our language to shame women, I can think of two words in total that are the equivalent for straight men.
So what happens when male rappers characterize women as sex toys and female rappers shamelessly flaunt “what they got?” They give two very different messages.
In glorifying sexual assault or the objectification of women, many male rappers add to a long history of abuses against women that have contributed to slut-shaming and rape culture. Their lyrics teach young girls to believe that they serve as sexually glorified objects with no other value beyond being used and reused. Such lyrics teach them that their sexuality is tied to the gratification they give boys and men. In a vicious cycle, this misogynistic lyricism hurts boys and men as well by leaving the impression that the female sex toy is an archetype that actually exists and upon which they should capitalize.
On the other hand, female rappers’ actions and lyrics create a female figure that has never existed in previous decades. This figure does what male rappers have always been allowed to do: She flaunts her financial success, sexual success and physical assets with pride. She redefines what success is for a woman, and she teaches our young women that they can have a successful career and make as much or more money than men, while acknowledging and reveling in their sexuality in the process.
All this matters because of how fundamental rap has become to mainstream American culture in recent decades. The media heavily influences the future of our society, and if we want a better future for our women we have to think critically about the content that is being funneled into their minds. Too many of my female peers learn far too late that they have internalized a skewed definition of sexual freedom and ownership that teaches them to cater toward the expectations of boys and men. Some of us learn the truth eventually; some of us may never do so.
None of us can control the media and the content that is presented to us, but we have a choice over the music we listen to and our ability to think critically about what we consume. Ideally, we should never reward misogynistic rappers by listening to their music and fueling their success. But if you listen to rap, it can be very difficult to boycott misogynistic lyricism. It’s everywhere, and sometimes we may love everything else about a song except the lyrics we try to ignore. Asking a society to boycott these rappers, considering their prevalence in mainstream culture, can be impractical. Still, we do have the responsibility to recognize the words that hurt instead of mindlessly internalizing them.
As we open doors for more female rappers to enter into a predominantly male arena, remember that these women may not be perfect and they may not be who you want to be, but they have introduced a new space for women to be more than what they have been — and were allowed to be — in the past.