Modern Hip-Hop Culture: The Objectification of Women as an Accepted Practice
Hip-hop culture has caused the culture of our youth to be brought up to acknowledge and accept the use of women as props and the promotion of sexual attitudes and behaviors. For my third project, I examined Donald Glover and praised his ability to rap more sincerely and avoid the typical fabricated, mainstream rapper image. After our discussion following my presentation in class, I realized that even Childish Gambino, who I thought was benefitting the hip-hop community by being an individual in his music, objectifies women completely as sex props and holds nothing back from going into graphic detail about his thoughts on women and sex. I found this to be evident in almost every hip-hop song that has been popular or mainstream since I was a kid, to the point where it seems completely normal for our generation to listen to this music and to appreciate the videos that correspond. This widespread acculturation process that has taken place over the last two decades is kind of disturbing, and I want to examine how and why it was able to happen.
The most obvious method of receiving images and then acting based off of them is the root cause of how our culture originally became affected by this movement. Adolescents between thirteen and eighteen years old listen to hip-hop more than any other genre 65% of the time, and pre-teens as early as twelve years old are targeted by MTV, the most prominent source of hip-hop videos and culture. This idea of symbolic environment learning is based off the idea of the Social Cognitive Theory, which is the belief that as a result of vicarious learning, humans tend to act off their images of reality. Speaking as someone who can agree that MTV and other music media were prime sources of understanding cultural norms, our generation as a whole was most affected by these media sources that have obviously been promoting these “rules of behavior” (Arganbright 8) that challenge everything our society believed in the pre-hip-hop generations.
Upon the introduction of music videos into our everyday lives, the media and music world saw that sex sells better than anything else, so the use of women as sexual props with very little deep meaning other than sex was the most beneficial method of having successful videos. Hip-hop became truly a game to challenge rappers to prove their masculinity and how “hard” they were. The result of this was the ubiquitous ideas of homophobia and sexism that are clearly evident in nearly all that is hip-hop. Media involvement has clearly been shown to have a great effect on sexual attitudes and practices. Young people with permissive attitudes towards pre-marital sex have been found to be the people who are most exposed to music videos. These videos often go beyond just promoting sexual relations and pre-marital sex by actually detesting people who were not having sex and saying that it was “uncool.” Going back to my presentation on Donald Glover, the fact that our entire class was basically entirely accepting of the music video I showed, in which he makes countless vulgar, sexual references, is a first-hand example of this cultural change that has occurred throughout society. Our class represents places from all over the country (and probably one or two internationals), yet we all have been subject to these types of sexual references and objectification from an early age, which has numbed us to the vulgarity and to how provocative this video would have been as little as twenty years ago.
Gender role stereotyping is something that has affected those who are exposed to hip-hop videos as well. Similar to the effect of creating a specific image of women that society desires in fashion magazines, women are subject to appearance anxiety as a result of the images and depictions in hip-hop culture. In the music of male hip-hop artists, the most common way women are shown is by posing seductively and performing for the entertainment of the male. Unfortunately, the blame of this incorporation of sexual imagery and subsequent objectification cannot really be put on the media sources that create these videos. Studies have been clearly shown to prove that music videos with the most sexual imagery and women depicted as “two-dimensional, non-thinking objects” (Sepulveda 1) are the most popular among adolescents and college students. Therefore, these videos that are then seen as mainstream and commercial by youth culture become completely normal and accepted.
The fact is that the effects of hip-hop on women, although widely accepted and culturally normal at this point, are negative nonetheless in so many ways. In essence, as Tamika Guishard, a documentary filmmaker and schoolteacher describes, “it seems like hip-hop videos today only use a beat, a few lyrics, and some objectified women.” Girls are subject to act the way they see other girls shown in videos, and seeing as how females are typically referred to as “hos, tricks, or bitches,” the way they perceive themselves is obviously going to be pushed toward something similar. A girl who is watching these videos will generally aspire to become skinny and be prone to assimilating with the way that women act in the videos. In addition, the degrading way that women are referred to in the music also becomes the norm, and in turn results in the general perception of the way they view themselves. The role of women in relationships is also completely changed in terms of how they are expected to act, which has evolved into a position that is subservient to the male and of lower importance. This promotion of masculinity, which is so blatant and prominent in the culture, is a derivation of the fear of feminization and homosexuality. “Hip hop is ego driven and assertive; you need a tough aesthetic to have credibility” (Sepulveda 1).
Throughout its history, hip-hop has been a predominantly male-dominated genre of music. Females have definitely had a small part in the creation of what it is today, especially when looking at the most influential women artists like Queen Latifah and MC Lyte, who both began their musical careers aspiring to embody the hardness and “G-code” qualities of their male counterparts. Unfortunately, as the general culture of hip-hop advanced after the late 80s and early 90s, these women who possessed the male qualities that at one time boosted their popularity actually lost ground and fell off the map. As sex began to sell, so did the idea of female artists who were willing to acknowledge themselves as sexual props and who were not afraid to focus most of their attention to sexual images and references. As is shown in Notorious, Lil’ Kim blew up in the hip-hop game as a direct result of becoming more sexual and promoting her body in her music. Biggie realized that people wanted to hear a woman rap about sexual ideas as opposed to their “hardness.” Skipping forward to 2011, this same practice is being utilized by Nicki Minaj, who has been trained by Lil’ Wayne (one of the kings of objectifying women) to completely change her body to become more sexually appealing and to incorporate sex in her music. It is unfortunate that for a woman in the hip-hop game, the only way for her to gain popularity is to show off some flesh rather than to actually possess lyrical or musical talent.Society is crazy in the way of how quickly it changes and adopts certain ideas that at one time may have been completely unacceptable and detested. If any of our parents heard the music we are accustomed to when they were in college, they would have been in extreme culture shock and probably would be generally disturbed. Yet, somehow over the course of the evolution of hip-hop culture, what we see in videos and hear in music has completely changed our perception of women and gender roles. Media has made our society completely willing to portray women as props and strictly used for sex, which is absolutely ridiculous. By brainwashing the youth culture into becoming accepting of this behavior, girls from a young age will self-objectify and have a perception of their roles in a very different and generally more negative way. The appreciation of women for more than just objects of sex is lost, and basically everything that would be explicitly supported by feminists and those who support equal rights for men and women is contradicted. Taking a look from outside our accepted bubble of social norms, it is so obvious that the way we currently treat women in hip-hop, which is then translated into how society as a whole views women, is completely wrong in a moral and ethical sense. Hopefully our culture has the ability to realize that this materialism and objectification has nothing but negative effects, and is able to once again evolve into a society that appreciates women and their bodies rather than strictly promoting them as sex symbols of little importance.