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The Circulating Discourse of Hip-Hop Feminism

As iconic Black women musical artists, specifically under the genre of rap, continue to emerge as mainstream celebrities, controversy has risen that surrounds the current oppressive structures of sexism and racism. Such disputes include degrading women through the persistence and prevalence of misogynoir and opposing these women’s art forms through respectability politics. Virtually all Black women artists who express their desired sexual wants and needs through music face scrutiny from male-dominated dialogues that suppress their lived experience.

Therefore, considering music is a universal language that reaches all audiences, the prevalence of backlash concerning such matters led to journalist and feminist scholar Joan Morgan coining the term ‘hip-hop feminism’ in 1999. Hip-hop feminism demonstrates a political movement grounded in the intellect of Black women who recognize the culture of music as an opportunity for intervention to dismantle systems of exploitation. Therefore, the harsh criticisms surrounding hip-hop feminism demonstrate ingrained patriarchal attitudes based on misogyny and respectability politics, disregarding the empowering and subversive impact of modern-day Black meaning making and expression. Society must confront these circulating discourses to illuminate hegemonic attitudes.

As previously stated, the first significant criticism Black women artists receive about their rap songs is misogyny which informally inserts itself through male rap songs. Male R&B artists negotiate hegemonic masculine identities and present themselves as superior to almost all women by objectifying women as passive bodies. Yet, nobody questions the violent lyrics when it comes from a man’s mouth. Similarly, consumers frequently hear the word “bitch” used multiple times in many rap songs to reference women. The term bitch is a defining archetype of female identity and functions as containment. Therefore, when the bitch metaphor is invoked in popular rap songs, it reveals the myth of women’s power as unnatural and threatening. So, sexual containment through the word “bitch” presents the idea that women should remain isolated in the private contextual sphere. In response, some women artists question male dominance and seek to empower women and deconstruct the heteronormativity in male rappers. In other words, Black women have responded to this disposition by taking up space within the genre and asserting their rightful place as cultural contributors by directly presenting their critiques in their music. So why is there public backlash when Black women artists open up about sexuality and want to use bold language when, in reality, they are rejecting misogynoir? Those opposed to hip-hop feminism also see the movement to invoke respectability politics as a challenge when the general narrative among women within the field is that they are de-centering the male gaze to promote empowerment.

The persistence of respectability politics as a challenge to hip-hop feminism often impedes the artist’s attempts to formulate an unapologetic pro-sex stance among black women. The idea of sexual politics, therefore, acts as a rebound because it presents a positive script of sex and sexuality that narrates the pleasures and displeasures of sexual encounters, destigmatizes sex work, and other ways for Black women to assert bodily autonomy. Black women artists aim to flip the sexist narratives of their male counterparts to change the script of a woman’s place in sexual fantasy. Intersecting identities, specifically observing Black women in rap, is a valuable and powerful lens to view society’s reliance on hegemonic normality’s and to understand misogynoir, respectability, and sexual politics in a public and mass media space. Considering music is an art form that relies on truth and emotional expression to appeal to many audiences’ pathos, denying women such power and decision-making through constant criticism is another prevalent form of power imbalance that interjects into society.

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