Friday, February 23, 2007

Thank you, Gentlemen!

I'd like to send an appreciative pat on the back to a handful of men who have stood up and had the chutzpah to point out the disturbing imagery and misogyny in Hip-Hop music and videos. Not that its existence comes as a surprise to any of us. Simply tune on MTV at any given hour of the day, as well as the once more grown-up version, VH-1, which have become indecipherable from the other, and you will find scantily clad, mostly black, women gyrating and being photographed at all angles. This, all the while being called "bitches" and "hoes". The clear statement of the plethora of these types of videos that our youth are being bombarded with is that women are to be used for sex and that they have no other worth beyond that. It has even become commonplace to use the word "pimp" to mean the ultimate in cool.

Having worked in the music industry for most of my adult life, I know what an unpopular position it is to be in to point out an artist's responsibility in the message they deliver. I worked for Tower Records during the whole PMRC implementation of warning labels on CDs. Washington State even passed a bill briefly that could send an unwitting clerk to jail for selling indecent material to minors. The bill was subsequently repealed, much to the relief of myself and others, especially since not all product was even stickered at the time. While I obviously was not in support of the bill, I didn't think that labeling the product was such a bad idea. Problem was, while all songs and albums were not alike, all of the stickers were. If one song on the album contained the dreaded "F" word, even though it may not have even pertained to sex, it received the same sticker as those with songs where women were raped, killed, and dismembered (no, I'm not kidding). I had always thought that it should be done more like the movie industry in that it gave you a clue to age appropriateness. For instance, what is okay for my 14 year-old to listen to, might not be alright for my six year-old. Many times I found myself debating the fact a sticker in and of itself does not constitute censorship as long as it is still available to buy.

This brings me to the efforts of filmmaker Byron Hurt. His expose of the crude depictions of misogyny, homophobia, and violence in rap are captured in his documentary, "Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes" and is being shown on PBS (please see for dates and times in your area.). Hurt takes a brave look and asks that we accept responsibility. Another refreshing voice is that of Chuck D., of the seminal rap group, Public Enemy. Long known for his outspoken political views, he has been around almost since the birth of Hip-Hop and has watched it evolve. Many of the current young multi-million dollar recording artists have Chuck to thank for paving the way. While another of Public Enemy's founding members, Flava Flav, stars in a reality show where young women embarrassingly degrade themselves in an effort to win Flav's affections, Chuck D. has been continually speaking out against the many abuses that we place upon one another. He hosts a radio talk show on AirAmerica called "On the Real" with Gia'na Garel (please see for times in your area) where he touches on many topics that concern all of us. He has also spoken out against what he sees as the negative effects of rap music today.

While these topics are not limited to Hip-Hop by any means, it does lend itself to perpetuating not only negative stereotypes of women, but of black culture as well. We, as a society, reward the artists and the record companies handsomely for their questionable contributions. Don't get me wrong, I believe that art and music are necessary for our well-being, but I also have to ponder the effects of the constant bombardment of these messages on our youth and what it does to shape the individuals they become. Yes, ultimately it is the parents' responsibility, but I know that there are messages that have come from the artists that I love that have helped to form my views and point me in the direction to educate myself on certain subjects.
Bob Geldof brought to light the starvation in Africa, Peter Gabriel helped me to discover Amnesty International, Maynard James Keenan of the band Tool made me take a little closer look into the teachings of Carl Jung, and Spearhead's Michael Franti teaches messages of peace and muti-culturism that are so welcomed today. So, too, the many women, including Janis Joplin, Siouxsie Sioux, and Johnette Napolitano have taught me that women have a place in music - and not just as scantily dressed boy-toys begging to be used and discarded.


gem said...

Web Site Clearinghouse for Grassroots Efforts to Combat Misogyny in Music

I think there plenty of us that are equally outraged about the portrayal of African American women in popular culture . Following the Oprah Town Hall meeting I decided to create a website to serve as a clearing house of all of the grassroots effort out there to combat misogyny in music. I think that it is time to DEFUND THE WAR ON BLACK WOMEN! Period. End of discussion. This isn’t about artistic expression. This is about capitalism. People have a right to basically say whatever they want to, but I don’t have to subsidize it in any way. Hence the term “starving artist.”

We started an online call-in talk show as well called “the Black Women’s Roundtable” Saturdays at Noon CST. Our topic this week is “Does Hip Hop Really Hate Black Women?” If you can’t listen live, you can always catch the archived show at

TKelly said...

Thank you for your post, Gem, and your activism. This is an issue that has disturbed me for many years. Unfortunately, it took the jackass remarks of Don Imus to really bring this to light on a broader level (notice that the documentary and my posting occurred prior to that particular upheaval?). While I will admit that the unflattering portrayal of women in hip-hop is disproportionately of black women, it is really directed at all women (rock videos are guilty of this practice and have been before hip-hop dominated MTV)and we need to stand together on this issue. One of the problems we have faced is that we tend to separate from one another and think that this is directed at certain "bad girls" and not at ourselves, therefore it is okay. It is not. We need to unite, not divide. Bravo to you and to your efforts! Perhaps together we can start to break this cycle.