AMERICAN WOMEN & HIP-HOP (11/28/07)
Last November NBC Nightly News did a series called African American Women: Where They Stand. It included the video linked above. In it, Irv Gotti, a hip-hop producer/director argues that some women just can’t help themselves on the video set and claims no responsibility in the matter. The head of The Inc (Formerly Murder Inc.) record label, Gotti says it’s hard to market female emcees because they have to be good to look at, too, and he says he asks his 15 year old daughter to confirm if the women in his “scantily-clad videos” look hot. He uses her as a litmus test!! Train ’em young in the art of misogyny and women will keep the practice going — that’s hegemony at its best. Why they don’t call me on these shows as an expert?!??!! I could say I don’t know, but I am starting to realize it’s because they don’t know I am here. Press releases, baby! I haven’t gotten my own word out in that realm. That’s what 2008 is about – getting on the top of the roladex.
This past week, I finished a essay about misogyny relative to the music and videos of Nas for a book to be published in 2008 by Michael Eric Dyson. This essay might be my PR in this larger conversation about hip-hop, gender stratification, and power. Wanted to share some “axioms” I came up with the generate thinking outside the box. They are ratehr obvious but they are not generalizations in the manner we mostly here about misogyny.
Here’s a sample:
Years ago, I read a chapter by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, a queer studies scholar, that had me question the limits of my available thinking about sexuality despite my expertise in the study of gender and the body. As a professor of hip-hop music, her writing left me with a provocative thought: What would help students interested in hip-hop question the limits of their own thinking about misogyny and its impact on women and men? Hip-hop discourse rarely steps away from cliché conversations about misogyny, so I created a list of axioms following Sedgwick’s lead concerning Nas and masculinity in hip-hop. The list includes ideas most know but don’t seem to consider in their analysis of hip-hop (cf. Sedgwick 1993):
- Sometimes Nas [and other male artists] spends a lot of time rapping about manhood and masculinity, other times not.
- Some male and female hip-hop heads, of all races and all classes, experience Nas’s portrayal of masculinity as deeply embedded in a matrix of gender meanings and differences. Others do not.
- Many male and female heads have their richest mental/emotional/kinetic involvement when Nas rhymes about acts they don’t do, or even don’t want to do (“Understandable smooth shit that murderers move with” – “The Thief’s Theme” from Street’s Disciple).
- Sometimes Nas’s performances are embedded in gendered contexts resonant with meaning, narrative, and connectedness to actual relationships in his life (e.g., brothers in hip-hop, his father, his wife, his daughter, to children); sometimes it is important that they not be (murderers, Mafia bosses); at other times, it may not occur to Nas, his audience, or his critics that they might be.
I want to get people to think about, consider, that there is little willingness in hip-hop to go to the edge of what’s familiar and look beyond simply labeling songs and videos as misogynist to discover what drives not only individual misogyny, but the institutional subordination of girls and women relative to wealth (economic power), power (political power) and prestige (social status) (cf. Weber 1968).
Instead we often settle for what is widely accepted as true. Keepin’ it real, which has fast become cliché in and of itself, is no longer expanding knowledge. It is limiting it. (Do no reprint without permission of the author, Kyra Gaunt © 2008).
Irv Gotti’s logic escapes me but I’ve heard it before. Doesn’t even matter what he said. What I am left with is how often men are asked questions about the misogyny in hip-hop and their answers tend to be cliché, accomodating, justified, and a rationalization at best. They have no compassion or sensitivity to the real lives affected by the subordination of women in rap videos.
“If is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it” – Upton Sinclair
This quote appeared in Al Gore’s film AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH and it’s so fitting relative to what this male directors are up to and up against.
Irv Gotti: “People with real jobs and real lives …just want to be entertained!” You could say the same thing about when whites loved to gather around and watch black men (and in some cases women) being hanged. It was a social event and the murderous activity was also an incovenient truth back when. This is one of the things that is at the heart of the lack of intimacy, trust and generosity among the black youth and in our communities.