#FemTrending: Women & The Rap Game

#FemTrending is a blog series with a feminist kick that wades into the waters of things "trending" in popular culture and politics. Written by GS&NS Digital Content Coordinator, Hailie Johnson-Waskow.

My best friend has a sticker on her laptop that says “cats against catcalling.” It’s a picture of a bunch of cats. And she loves G-Easy. 

On a day-to-day basis one of the hardest issues I cope with is my orientation toward rap music. It’s arguably my favorite genre. And I am definitely not alone in this. 

My friends and I love to drive around. We do it all the time. Sometimes we are going somewhere, sometimes we just drive. We complain about our lives. We talk about debate. We tell each other how important the other is. And we cope with the big questions. These are my favorite memories with my friends. And we are always, always listening to rap. Sometimes it’s playing in the background, sometimes we are belting. And my best friend always says the same thing to me, “If I was listening to this with someone who was not aware of what is wrong with it, I think it would gross me out. But with you it is okay.”

Every time she says this I am reminded of my own internal struggle, and how to reconcile those feelings with my love for this genre. 

There is no doubt that rap music from men engages in objectifying women, demeaning women, promoting violence and sexual abuse of women, and overall perpetuation of patriarchy; this is a claim that hardly needs backfilling. However, in the 1990s the emergence of hip-hop feminism changed the conversation. In 1993, Queen Latifah was one of the first female artists to bring feminism to hip-hop with her song “U.N.I.T.Y.” proudly declaring “Who you calling a b*tch?” Missy Elliot was one of the largest parts of this movement teaching sisterhood, pride, and loving all women. 

This paved the way for rappers like Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, and, arguably, Beyonce. I love all of them. But, even they have their issues. Nicki Minaj is definitely my favorite female rapper but even she engages in misogyny; for example, in her collaboration “Hey Mama” with David Guetta she sings “Yes, you be the boss and yes, I be respecting whatever that you tell me”. She also engages in female on female violence rapping things like “F*ck those skinny b*tches in the club” in her song “Anaconda.” 

But I cannot deny how empowered I feel every time I listen to her sing with Beyonce in “Feeling Myself.” I proudly sing out lyrics like “I am a rap legend, just go ask the kings of rap. Who is the queen and things of that nature.” And on that note I cannot deny how amazing Beyonce’s formation has done with questions of race and feminism; a territory that few have explored in rap, and that none have so masterfully. 

With all these questions weighing on me during my research, it finally hit me. There were hundreds of articles, discussions, and videos about female rappers being sexist or not accomplishing feminist goals but the same criticisms about male rappers did not exist. The unfortunate reality is that, as a society, we hold women rappers to an unfair standard that often discourages women from joining the music industry in the future.

So, yes, sometimes Nicki Minaj has some sexist lyrics. But what is important is that we know those lyrics are sexist. But we also know that the rest of her work, the work of many women, is valuable and important. 

I refuse to feel guilty listening to rap. I can listen to sexist lyrics, deem them to be sexist, and refuse to subscribe to their message. I can choose to devote more time and money to the lyrics that aren’t sexist. And I can also acknowledge that everyone, men and women alike, are not doing a perfect job with feminism. And the only way to change that is to become an active participant in feminism. And, if you’re reading our blog, you’re already on your way.

In an attempt to spread the feminist message, I encourage you to go listen to my favorite song. I always listen to this when I need a little empowerment. 

Hailie Johnson-Waskow


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