Redefining Masculinity in Hip-Hop Part 2 (Know Your History: Episode 24)
Posted on January 19, 2012
Welcome to Know Your History. I’m your host Chase March and today we are continuing to explore masculinity in hip-hop culture.You can listen to this episode with the player below, download it for free, or just keep reading.
I hope you were with us last episode as we discussed what it means to be a man in this day and age and how that is reflected in our lyrics and music videos. If you missed that episode, you can go back to read the transcript and download the podcast for free.
We started off this episode of the show with a quote from Jackson Katz. It’s from his documentary “Tough Guise,” which is a clever play on words. He talks about the violence we see in the media and how equating violence with masculinity sets unrealistic standards of what it means to be a man. The title of his film refers to not just guys as men but guise as in a disguise or a costume that we put on and wear. Some of us aren’t even aware that we are wearing this costume. It has been so ingrained in us from birth.
Judith Butler refers to this as performativity. I discussed this in the last episode but basically what it means is that we perform our genders much like the way Katz describes it as wearing a disguise. We often aren’t aware that we are engaged in any kind of a performance. We don’t think much about gender roles at all. It’s time we did though because if we recognize that we are playing a role and it isn’t exactly working, than we can change it.
Tony Porter says, “See collectively, we as men are taught to have less value in women, to view them as property and the objects of men.”
That quote was from Tony Porter’s excellent TED talk and I encourage you to go watch it. We played a few clips from it last episode and you’ll hear from him again later today. He raises a great point there and rap videos clearly show this to be true. Women are often seen as eye candy or sex objects.
Women aren’t shown the respect they deserve in hip-hop culture. Of course, hip-hop isn’t solely to blame for this inherent lack of respect towards women. It can’t be.
But as hip-hop writers, artists, and producers, we do have a lot of power to start shifting towards a culture of respect towards women. It’s about time we started we started taking that responsibility.
How do we make women a subject and not just objects?
We do it by our words, actions, and responses to everything around us. Like Chuck D said, “a man tells his business situation like, ‘We can’t do that. We won’t go there. We can’t. It’s a slap in the face to me and my constituency, my family, where I come from, and all.’ That’s a man.”
I want to play a song from a really amazing rapper. Her name is Eternia and she has been making quality music for years now and has to work really hard to be heard in a music industry that is male dominated. The track is called “Everything.” It was produced by 9th wonder. Listen to what she has to say and we’ll be back to continue our discussion in this special edition of Know Your History.
That was Eternia and her track called “Everything.” She starts off the song by saying, “I wish I wasn’t a woman, I mean wouldn’t change it now, but imagine if respect was a given.”
I don’t know why respect isn’t a given. I don’t know why we treat women as inferior to men. We do though. I’ve seen it time and time again in this culture we call hip-hop. A lot of people will shoot a female rapper down before even giving her a chance. It’s not right. We have a lot of talent and a lot of voices out there that aren’t being heard.
I listen to a lot of female emcees. One of my favourite currently is Kadyelle. She’s from Australia and when I interviewed her, this is what she had to say, “Considering basic hip-hop culture is about respect and humanitarianism and love and mutual appreciation for each other, and yet when you bring females into the equation, it really brings out the worst in a lot of males in the industry.
It’s a shame that I am constantly being told that if I want to be out there touring and putting out releases that I just have to accept it. It’s the kind of criticism that you get that not a single person will comment on your songs, they’ll comment on the fact that your skirt maybe isn’t short enough, or your top isn’t low-cut enough, or maybe there is another female rapper out there that happens to be skinnier than you or hotter than you. It’s pretty ridiculous.
I don’t know why there’s so much tolerance for that kind of behaviour in hip-hop culture. I don’t know why it exists. It’s a shame and I hope over the next decade or two we see the last of that. It’s a ridiculous, out-dated situation that really needs to end if people want to see more females in the industry be successful.”
That was Kadyelle from an interview I did with her last year. You can find the entire interview at chasemarch.com You can find her music online on her bandcamp page as well. Her name is spelled Kadyelle. Let’s spin something her from right now This is Class A, featuring Kadyelle and the track is called “You Drive.” This is Chase March for Know Your History on DOPEfm and we’ll be right back.
That was “You Drive” by Class A featuring Kadyelle. When I interviewed Kadyelle she told me that women are still seen as second class citizens. At first I wasn’t quite sure what she meant. I knew that there weren’t enough female rap artists in the game though.
Kadyelle explained it to me like this, “It’s really hard to be taken seriously. The reality is, you don’t even realize how much misogyny there is in the world, and especially in the hip-hop community, until you start putting yourself out there, doing shows and tours. People will basically hate us, just because we’re female, no matter how good you are.”
I know that rappers often use language to villianize the feminine. We talked about this a lot in the last episode of Know Your History. We also talked about how rap fans always seem to leave female MCs out of their Top 10 or 20 lists. Some of these rap fans will have one favourite female MC some will go some will completely distance themselves from female MCs. When interviewed for Vlad TV, Sean Price had this to say.
And he’s not the only rap artist or fan to have this view. Kadyelle said that many people will hold female artists to a much lower standard. Many people unfairly assume that women can’t rap or that they can’t rap well. This is ridiculous. Some of my favourite rap acts are female. In fact, my last year’s Top 10 list included 3 female rappers.
Kadyelle: “It’s well past the hour where we need to all put our prejudices behind us. It would be completely unacceptable if these prejudices existed racially. Everyone needs to support the notion that having prejudice against someone’s gender is wrong in society and it’s wrong in music.
I really do think the bar needs to be raised. I think holding females to this lower standard is just silly and detrimental. I think there are so many females out there that are, or could be, as good as any of their male counterparts. It’s time that that got recognized.”
We’ve been talking about redefining masculinity within hip-hop culture. One way for us to do that is to actually start spinning more tunes from the talented women that are continuing to make quality music. We have the female pioneers such as Queen Latifah and MC Lyte that many artists or fans include in their top ten lists but women are still creating quality music and all you to do is to tune into DOPEfm to hear some of it. We spin tracks from female MCs pretty much every week. And since we’re a campus radio show, we only play the music that we like and enjoy.
There are a lot of issues to talk about when we look at gender roles within hip-hop music and culture. I hope this two part episode has helped bring some of them to light. I hope it gets us talking about this in a way that we really haven’t before.
It’s time for us to redefine what it means to be a man in hip-hop music. We can show vulnerability. We can stop villainizing the feminine. We can show our wives, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers in a positive light. We can do a lot more than what we have been doing.
Let’s listen to Tony Porter again,
“I grew up in New York City, between Harlem and the Bronx. Growing up as a boy, we were taught that men had to be tough, had to be strong, had to be courageous, dominating — no pain, no emotions, with the exception of anger — and definitely no fear — that men are in charge, which means women are not; that men lead, and you should just follow and do what we say; that men are superior, women are inferior; that men are strong, women are weak; that women are of less value — property of men — and objects, particularly sexual objects. I’ve later come to know that to be the collective socialization of men, better known as the “man box.” See this man box has in it all the ingredients of how we define what it means to be a man. Now I also want to say, without a doubt, there are some wonderful, wonderful, absolutely wonderful things about being a man. But at the same time, there’s some stuff that’s just straight up twisted. And we really need to begin to challenge, look at it and really get in the process of deconstructing, redefining, what we come to know as manhood.” – Tony Porter
I hope this show will serve as a call to arms for those of us creating hip-hop. Whether you write lyrics, make music videos, write for a blog or a other publication, or whether you are merely just a fan, it’s time to step up and let people know that there is a different way.
Hip-hop historian and writer Kevin Powel had this to say about how women have been portrayed in rap videos.
That’s a great quote about balance. We need to see women portrayed in a positive light in this music. And truthfully we do see that in rap. Unfortunately these messages are few and far between nowadays.
Let’s close off the show today with a song from 2Pac, but let’s not close the dialogue. We need to redefine what it means to be a man, and hip-hop has a great deal of power to help make it a reality.
We’ll be right back. This is 2Pac “Keep Ya Head Up.” And this is Chase March for DOPEfm.
That was 2Pac “Keep Ya Head Up.” Take those lyrics with you. Take them out into the world.
Let’s challenge the notion of what it truly means to be a man.
Let’s stop associating anything we don’t like, or anything we see as inferior, with language associated with the feminine. Let’s be to true to women and real to ourselves as men.
In response to my original article on this topic, Muriel Richards wrote a piece about it on her blog. A Fresh Start. She writes, “We need more people writing about negative and damaging masculinities, and we need people to look at the media they take for granted with open eyes.
She does have one criticism of the article however and before she pointed it out to me, I wasn’t even aware that I was using possessive language. I mentioned “our women” just as 2Pac did in the song we just heard. Muriel writes,”if you’re trying to break the problem of women being seen as the sexual property of men, don’t use possessives such as “our women.”
I want to play one more passage from Tony Porter’s Ted Talk, “So quickly, I’d like to just say, this is the love of my life, my daughter Jay. The world I envision for her, how do I want men to be acting and behaving? I need you on board. I need you with me. I need you working with me and me working with you on how we raise our sons and teach them to be men — that it’s okay to not be dominating, that it’s okay to have feelings and emotions, that it’s okay to promote equality, that it’s okay to have women who are just friends and that’s it, that it’s okay to be whole, that my liberation as a man is tied to your liberation as a woman.”
Very powerful words right there. Tony Porter is calling us all to action.
Kevin Powell did the same thing in the documentary Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, “How many of us are willing to step to the plate and say, ‘You know what, this definition of manhood might not been the way to go anymore. We need something different, something new.’
It’s time for hip-hop to redefine what it means to be a man. That responsibility falls to us men.
I hope that my article has inspired you to think about these issues. The next time you hear a rapper call a women a bitch or a ho, you could start a conversation about it instead of silently accepting that this is a part of our culture, because it doesn’t have to be.