I’ve been working on a lesson about the representation of women and race in hip hop videos – which includes a variety of elements – but they key texts are bell hooks article “Gangsta Culture – Sexism and Misogyny: Who Will Take the Rap?” from the book Outlaw Culture and the documentary Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. My class discusses lots of things in response to the ideas in these two texts but one element that I wanted to note here on Feminist Cupcake is that there has been cultural shift that has occurred when we consider how we represent female Hip Hop artists. Consider “Ladies First” By Queen Latifah and Monie Love, which was released in 1989:
At the very least this video is an attempt to represent a message of empowerment and most likely many would consider it exactly that – radically empowering art. It features imagery and lyrics that are political – women who have fought for women’s rights, riots against apartheid in South Africa, messages that work against stereotypes of both women and the black community and there are no objectified images of naked booty shaking background dancers. Okay, so that’s the good stuff…now the scary.
This is Lil’ Kim’s “How Many Licks,” released in 2009:
An anatomically correct doll? Candy Kim? Really? This is clearly and image of a completely objectified and overtly sexualized female? What happened to the Women of Hip Hop? Really what happened to the idea of Hip Hop as a subversive art form that worked to overturn stereotypes and fight the power? remember Salt and Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex”?
Where’ are the hip hop groups like this now?? Groups with positive messages which inform the population about their safety and new ideas of empowerment? Artists like Lil’ Kim encourage the understanding of women as objects and this understanding creates a culture in which women are abused and assaulted. If you are not familiar with these ideas about the objectification of women’s bodies check out Jean Killbourne’s “Killing us softly 3” – there is a fourth version but it’s not available on the internet for free: