Elevate Difference

Misogyny and the Emcee: Sex, Race, and Hip Hop

In light of recent events, when speaking about the state of misogyny in hip-hop, it would be inappropriate to ignore the media frenzy surrounding Rihanna and Chris Brown, each sweetly young, fabulously charming, and wildly successful hip-hop stars in their own right. If you don’t read the CNN ticker, or guiltily sneak a peek at People.com, you could have missed the news that Brown allegedly assaulted his girlfriend the night before the Grammys. Likely, if you absorb media along a spectrum, you’ve heard about everything from the couple’s post-fight rendezvous at Diddy’s Miami condo to teen girls who remain steadfast in their Chris Brown devotion. You may have even seen that heartbreaking photo of Rihanna’s battered face.

Writer and cultural analyst Ewuare X. Osayande begins his brilliantly concise collection of essays by dissecting another high profile case of a badly behaving hip-hopper: R. Kelly. Kelly’s progression (and Brown’s accelerated one) is all too common among young Black rappers, who go from lyrically degrading women to—in Kelly’s case—actually peeing on them. The original proceedings against Kelly were not so much about whether he had abused a girl; his defense aimed to prove she was eighteen at the time of the encounter. Pissing on a woman—sickening misogyny—was not a crime as much as her potential underage (and thereby “girl”) status. Kelly, no stranger to this type of sex scandal, has yet to be found guilty in a court of law. The court of public opinion is another matter.

Throughout Misogyny and the Emcee, Osayande repeatedly asserts the most fundamental arguments for healing sexism within the Black and hip-hop communities. He argues that while many insist that discussions about specific community-based violence and degradation be silenced or ignored, the Black community’s “dirty laundry” should be aired, washed, and cleaned—or to break with the metaphor, discussed in public, critically examined, and resolved. Black men must critically challenge their violent oppression of both Black women and other Black men. Repeatedly citing bell hooks, Osayande begs Black men to answer her call: “assuming responsibility for ending [sexism]” (hooks, From Margin to Center). The call to redefine betrayal must also be heard: Black men who violate Black women, he argues, must be seen as the traitors they are. Black women are not marginal; Black women are the community.

Osayande’s short, powerful volume is polemic for good reason. Taking on the spectrum—from BET and misogynist white rappers like Eminem, to organized religious institutions that harbor similar (if more subversive) hatred for Black women and blame women’s sexuality for their supposed myriad sins—it is easy to see that corporations and legislation will do little, if anything, as long as the community remains permissive and turn a blind eye.

Most invigorating, Osayande calls for a boycott of misogynist rappers and their entertainment industry counterparts. When men degrade women and stand to profit from their actions, we should send a signal: no more. No more Academy Awards for songs about how hard it is for a pimp. No more Nelly videos featuring a man swiping a credit card down a Black woman’s ass. We can do better than that.

Written by: Brittany Shoot, April 27th 2009

This book sounds very good. However, we can't just hold black men accountable for their violence and misogyny against black women. We have to hold ALL men acccountable for their acceptance of male privilege.

As a white woman, I have experienced the misogyny of black men, Asian men, Hispanic men, and of course, white men. I have heard men of color exhort white women to challenge racism; however, they would never challenge sexism.

Indeed, when a white woman gets sexually involved with a man of color, male privilege almost always trumps white privilege.

This is a great review.

I've always been perturbed by the rap culture and its effect on women, the semi-naked voluptuous femmes wrapped around black guys with bling in the videos. Absolutely sickening. And hip hop culture is very tied into that.

I certainly know very little. This book sounds like a wonderful recap.

Thanks for your thoughts, B., with which I'm in sync. and symp. I wasn't saying that you used the term, "domestic violence," but that the general state of our discussions of and interventions against it always get bogged down. I think that when we say "domestic" people automatically think, "ah, private, that's their private matter, that's right; now I don't need to care." Violence by nature, however, is a public matter, and so I think intervention is called for in language, too, including taking seriously your proposal to say, e.g., "he beat the snot outta her." Think of what change we could effect if the perpetrators had to describe in detail, in words, in public, the violence they perpetrated, instead of the usual "she got all up in my grill" or "it was a crime of passion" or "we was arguin'."

Anyway, I'm so glad that someone as sharp as you reviewed this book, which I'll surely ask for in the library. I get so frustrated these days with namby-pamby we've gotten re: issues of "choice" and language. Kids' meals at BK, for example, are being shilled with tres offensive "square booty" dancing and jingles. WTF????????????????

Of course, that's just one of a bazillion examples I could cite from even a single day's viewing. Cheers. Lawrence

Matsya - Thanks! It's a strangely enjoyable book, in that you'll find yourself nodding a lot as you read, even if the actual content is a hard truth. Yours, b

Lawrence - Thanks for the comment. I've heard wonderful feedback on the Quiverfull book and intend to grab a copy soon. I grew up in an unusually religious home myself, and feel that those sort of stories are so necessary and relevant, particularly as a response to patriarchy.

In saying "the court of public opinion," I suppose I was referring more to folks who would either 1) read FR or 2) read this book (maybe both!). R Kelly's trial was prolonged for such a time that his guilt seemed to be taken for granted, and I actually believe many were shocked when he was acquitted. I do however agree that we're incredibly gentle with our opinions of supposedly-rehabilitated abusive men and hip hoppers. And of course, I'd argue we're particularly hard on women like Susan Smith because she's a prime example of a woman/mother who couldn't handle the confines of patriarchy and the expectations of our rather brutal society.

You're also right on about the use of "domestic violence," though I don't think I actually used that term here. But, I understand exactly what you're saying and agree. I think it's always hard to walk the line of using the exact language - "he beat the snot out of her and broke her arm" - because it may sound irreverent, even if it's true. I wonder if (some - certainly not all) people use terms like "domestic abuse" in an attempt to show solidarity and empathy/sympathy for the survivor. Because each situation and each survivor is unique, I question how we handle these things without explicit knowledge of the situation and consent of the survivor.

Thought-provoking as always. Thanks for making me analyze this further. Warmly, b

Thanks for your fine review, Brittany. I was thinking of it today as I was reading a truly nightmarish book (a great book about a nightmarish topic), Quiverfull: inside the Christian patriarchy movement, by Kathryn Joyce, when she dipped into the topic of the misogyny of some African-American pastors and preachers regarding the issue of "domestic violence," both in terms of its perpetrators and its apologists.

Could I raise an issue or two here? First, what did you mean when you wrote "The court of public opinion is another matter"? I guess my point is that males "behaving badly" (and far worse) are rehabilitated at the blink of an eye (our eyes), whether it's Hugh Grant or Michael Jackson or Eliot Spitzer, or the perpetually lionized James Brown (or, as you note, Chris Brown). Having said that, to my mind, the "court of public opinion" is only extremely rarely harsh and unwavering and uniform, e.g., Jeffery Dahmer, but not O.J. Simpson or Susan Smith.

Second, I believe that the term "domestic violence" (akin to "ethnic cleansing" or "traditional" values, and the like) is part of the problem, in that it hides more than it reveals. Call it what is: wife-bashing, or step-son molesting, or grandpa's pedophilia, or whatever; "domestic violence" suggests that violence is being done, somehow, to a room or furniture in a house. Anyway, I enjoyed your review a lot. Lawrence Hammar

Great review Brittany. Thanks for the intelligent analysis of this book and the deep misogyny that can be found in hip hop culture.