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Gender, Sexuality and Hip-Hop

Gender, Sexuality and Hip-Hop

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Published by Andrew Knox

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Published by: Andrew Knox on Nov 18, 2010
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Andrew KnoxHUM 125 – Reflection Paper #5 November 16, 2010
Reflection Paper #5: Gender, Sexuality and Hip-Hop
Female rappers have it rough. Besides the standard industry pressures (struggling for success,artistic credibility) that male rappers face, female hip-hop artists are weighed down by sexism and theexpectation of smooth promiscuity that comes with it in a male-dominated art form. Young women,while trying to establish their identity as an entertainer, are often forced to side with one of two camps.Female MCs must choose to either cherish their womanhood and the sanctity of a monogamousrelationship at the expense of possibly losing popularity among a sexually-focused male audience or she can flaunt her “assets,” using the power of her irresistible beauty to force men to pay her bills at theexpense of her dignity.Some say that both segments of the female hip-hop artist universe, “chaste” and “sexy,” bothexpress viewpoints within the feminist spectrum. Sexy female MCs, such as Lil' Kim and FoxyBrown
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, view their amorous behavior as empowering based on the fact that their game is to makesomething from nothing. They convert their intangible, nontransferable attractiveness into finitevaluables, such as cars, jewels and money. On the other hand, chaste MCs, like Queen Latifah, MCLyte and Salt-N-Pepa, wear more modest attire and suffer no fools. This is not to say that such womenare actually celibate, they merely wear their sexuality with a stripe of masculinity that is generally lessattractive to men.
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Since female MCs have to pick a side from the start, they have fewer creative directionsavailable to them. Male rappers are MCs, but female rappers are female rappers. Whereas malerappers are categorized by genre before gender (50 Cent is a gangsta rapper, Mos Def is a consciousrapper), most female rappers are distinguished from the rest by their gender before their style. Their 
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Andrew KnoxHUM 125 – Reflection Paper #5 November 16, 2010appearance and sense of sexual morality are considered before the music even starts. Judgment in thecourt of public opinion is harsh, “the overwhelming prevalence of the Madonna/whore dichotomy inAmerican culture means that any woman who uses explicit language or images in her creativeexpression is in danger of being symbolically cast into the role of whore regardless of what liberatoryintentions she may have, particularly if she does not have complete control over her image.”
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In their attempts to seize control of their destinies, chaste female rappers (especially Salt-N-Pepa and MC Lyte)often utilized a form of aggressive confrontation of their male partners in their music. This form has been labeled the “female complaint,” a term coined by men to dismiss any sense of validity from theMCs statement, “direct and legitimate criticism is reduced to 'bitching' or complaining as a way of [misogynists containing feminist] dissent... women's angry responses have long been made to appear hysterical and irrational or whiny and childlike.”
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There hasn't always been this divide in hip-hop music created by women. In fact, themarginalization of women within the hip-hop music business is merely an unfortunate side effect of thecommercialization and subsequent mass popularity of misogynist Gangsta rap and Crunk music. “Prior to 1995, female rappers came in all shapes and sizes... They spoke about a wide range of topics andgarnished respect from their male counterparts and true Hip-Hop fans. These female rhymesters didnot have to fit into the small pigeonhole of 'sex object.' Sex was more of a topic of discussion rather than the focal point of their image.”
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So, as there was a golden age throughout hip-hop, there was evena golden age for female rappers. While non-sexualized female rappers still make a living off of their craft today, the acceptance of dumb pop music (especially Crunk and night club rap music) and its
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Andrew KnoxHUM 125 – Reflection Paper #5 November 16, 2010 blatant objectification of scantily-clad young women has severely curtailed the popularity of sex-neutral female artists.
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When Lil' Kim arrived on the national scene in 1995, with her debut album
 Hard Core
, shetemporarily inverted and redefined gender relations within the hip-hop universe: “[she was] a hyper-sexual vixen that was in control of her body and sexuality. It was like a revolution of sorts where menwere no longer allowed to determine how a female is viewed... The men in her raps were just toyswhose only purpose was to please her and finance her lavish lifestyle... Her unapologetic rhymes anddemeanor gave females in rap another voice and perhaps another avenue to express their sexuality.”
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This zeitgeist in expression of female sexuality in popular media soon faded, as the Lil' Kim mold of  bold sex appeal was duplicated many times over by beautiful, yet unskilled, female singers that were allsex and no substance. Many observers hold Lil Kim's overtly sexual style as responsible for thegeneral demeaning sexual objectification within hip-hop media.
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A larger occupation within the female hip-hop workforce is the “video girl.” The video girl'smission is to be an object of carnal desire controlled by the rap artist in any given music video. Videogirls are scantily and provocatively dressed sexual automatons symbolizing the rapper's, and ultimatelythe viewer's, sexual fixation.
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 Prof. Perry summarized the video girl archetype's effect on African-American women as such: “the sexist message embraced here proves complex. Its attack on black female identity is multifaceted. First, and most obviously, the women are commodified. They appear in the videos quite explicitly as property, not unlike the luxury cars, Rolex watches, and platinum anddiamond medallions also featured... the women are often presented as vacuous, doing nothing in the
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