Female Representation in Hip Hop Music Videos
In an industry where sex sells, woman get lost and become slaves to the male dominated world of hip hop. Hip hop music has evolved from songs of outcry in the hoods of New York, to the glamorous exploitation of women in every area in relation to hip hop. Women are the main topic, and often the source of derogatory music. The music industry’s purpose in portraying women in this negative way is to entertain, and most importantly to make money by luring men in. Images that portray provocativeness, seductiveness, and women’s bodies are repetitively utilized in the making of music videos, and are complimented by outrageous songs about women. The majority of the female subjects are seen in a distorting light. Women are employed as sexual objects in practically every hip hop song, creating a seemingly impossible responsibility for women to break from these biases.
Consequently, women have become the supplementary object associated to sex. Sexualizing women’s roles in Hip Hop culture traces back to the early 20th century, setting the grounds for the film and the music industry to use women as a means of commercialization: “The term “sex symbol” was first used in 1910 to describe beautiful stars in the film industry…however sex symbolism is taken to an alarming dimension in the music industry where women are seen as a commercial venture, basically useful for commercial purposes” (Oikelome, 84). Hip Hop was initially created as the preliminary means for staying out of the streets and gave the African Americans and Hispanics a voice against white oppression in the 1970s where themes like street gangs, financial gain, drugs, and power were explored through the male perspective: “Early rappers voiced their frustrations of a society in which urban blacks were oppressed, powerless, vulnerable, and underrepresented. The first rappers criticized institutions such as the police, the government, and media, as well as the discrimination faced by blacks” (Flores). Young Black and Hispanic teens transformed their aggressions of mistreatment into an artistic form which founded the basis of the profound Hip-Hop voice convention. However, these themes were commercialized and deemed as a way to expand Hip-Hop’s audience to gain popularity and awareness of Whites. MTV, which was predominantly programmed for a White audience in the early 80s didn’t begin exploring Hip-Hop culture until the early 2000s until ethnic shifting sitcoms like “Pimp My Ride”. MTV fully embraced the Hip-Hop “Video Vixen” (Video girl) with the show titled “Yo! MTV Raps (MTV Timeline)” when visual imaging overpowered the actual content of the video itself: “One anonymous music video director has even stated that it has gotten to the point where “it’s all about the hot girls” and the social and political message behind the lyrics have taken a back seat” (Flores). With this, women have become the supplementary object associated to a man’s status in the world of Hip Hop. Misogynistic ideologies are interwoven, and influences the roles of women, altering the perception that men should have on woman. Over sexualized images of women in Hip-Hop videos sculpts the male perception that a woman’s sole purpose is to arouse him. I can personally attest to this growing phenomenon due to the disrespectful treatment I experienced with my previous ex-boyfriend. I later realized after the relationship had ended that he simply utilized me for physical pleasure and could care less about my actual being. What initially attracted him to me was my body, and how I looked and presented myself. I thought that I had to entertain his infatuation with my physical self because I thought that’s how I would gain his heart. Silly me, I was wrong.
The male gaze is a very significant factor in music videos that were originally conceptualized from film that is known as “Voyeurism” where the audience mimics this gaze:
The spectator thus takes on the role of the male voyager who imitates the voyeurism of the camera and the male actor within the film. This causes women to be fetishized as a passive object to be looked at, while the man is the active subject who looks at the woman. Hence the image of the woman is seen as an object for both the male character within the film and the spectator watching the film (Wan Yahwa, 26)
This obsession of the female body is heavily utilized for entertainment, and commercial purposes which mainly focus on dismembering the female body into individual parts of fantasy for the male counterpart’s enjoyment. This concept indirectly correlates to pornography in which these images subtly insinuate the idea of having sex with someone simply with your eyes. Sexual internalization in this way is then mimicked by the spectator in real life situations that go beyond the screen. My ex-boyfriend was aware of how men visualize women. Because of his personal experiences and mentality, he successfully controlled and attempted to detain many of my physical features, and overall appearance. Early on into our relationship, he began demanding that I wear longer shorts to cover my lower body and warned me to never go to the gym without him. In my inexperienced mind towards manipulative relationships, I respected his commands with no further questioning. His overprotectiveness quickly worsened and he didn’t want me wearing any lipsticks because he claimed that I am just trying to cause attention from other men. He got mad at me when I dressed up nicely, and repetitively claimed that I overtly craved the attention from other men, and that I was obsessed with how I looked. Time after time I respected his outrageous demands and assumptions, all so that he wouldn’t think that I wanted another man. He created this false mentality that I was just like every other girl, and always told me that I was “In demand” meaning that everyone would want me. This obviously stemmed from his insecurity of losing my convenience, and fear of me finding out what he was doing behind closed doors.
The causes of women is objectification based off a man’s vantage point has rippled effects to how women see, and present themselves in the music industry. Nicki Minaj’s chorus in her song Anaconda subjugates women to objectification and disembodiment by a man’s guidelines: “My anaconda don’t, my anaconda don’t, my anaconda don’t want nun unless you got buns hun! (Genius: Anaconda Lyrics)”. This particular section in the song is sung by a male, taken from the original song by Sir Mix A lot, Baby Got Back explicitly expresses his sexual desires for women that have big butts, an excludes every other type of women that doesn’t fit this physical criteria. These lyrics impose the significance of a woman to have or maintain a huge butt in order for them to be noticed and lusted after by men. Throughout her entire video Nicki Minaj and her back up dancers grasp their own butts, shake their butts on each other, and dance in a way that mimics sexual positions. The primary focus of these images is to lure men in with overly sexualized choreography and close-ups of their body parts which establishes the woman as being a “thing” to be fantasized after, not an actual person. These overly stressed images, and songs about the assets of a women’s body can psychologically creates an unhealthy obsession for women to alter their bodies into the images that are projected in Hip Hop music videos: “Internalization of the media message linking middle-aged beauty with sexual desirability, happiness, wealth, and success may implicitly encourage the equation of appearance with self-worth. In turn, cosmetic surgery may be regarded as an attractive method for alleviating these appearance focused concerns (Slevec and Tiggemann 66)”. Hip hop has broken the traditional beauty requirements of looking very thin, but has raised its own standards as to what the new image of beauty is for women aesthetically, that is to have surplus amounts of fat located in the chest, butt, and hips. This raises the same problem with different guidelines because women are still being told what they should look like physically. Before my ex-boyfriend and I were together I monitored his social media activity and theorized a pattern to what he mostly channeled his interest in, which were women who fall under the physical category of being “Thick” (exaggerative bodily assets). He would persistently like or favorite a picture or a video of a girl that would exotically expose her body. He was obsessed with women who over-displayed their bodies, and I knew that I had some competition. I would post pictures to accentuate my figure as well and even sent personalized photos to him to reframe his focus to indirectly express that he didn’t need to go cyber searching anymore, because he made it apparent that’s what he was searching for, I wanted to give him what he wanted because I was really interested in him. He would even send me twerk videos of random women from vine, and would ask me if I knew how to do that, so that’s where his focus was from the beginning, unfortunately it’s never changed since.
Sexual scripting is prevalent to African American women, and African American women have experienced this since the time of Slavery. An African American woman named Saartje Baartman otherwise known as “Hottentot Venus” a woman who was sold off to be exhibited at freak shows in Europe was sexually violated and tantalized after by white men, and eventually got sold again to dance naked in a circus for the sexual entertainment of white men (Story of Saartjie Baartman). Hip-Hop originated from African American roots in which African American were primarily targeted: “The emphasis on African American women’s sexuality in Hip-Hop music/media allows it to be a powerful influential source of sexual scripting for this cohort. The use of video images coupled with highly sexualized content of mainstream Hip-Hop music/media is a seductive and efficient means of imbuing notions of “appropriate” patterns of sexuality for young African American woman (Ross and Coleman, 158)”. Sexual scripting among African American women are linked to the inevitable sexual violence and abuse during slavery, when it was habitual of slave masters to sexually violate African American women because of their position in power, and in Saartje Baartman’s case forced into selling her body which has founded the foundation in which the plethora of Black women for generations after have followed. This is also true for Hispanic women because many Caribbean Islanders possess similar physical features that originate from African descent. Influencing Black and Hispanic women of these appropriate patterns of sexuality subject them to sexual violence. As uncomfortable as it is to articulate the sexual mistreatment I previously experienced, it’s a must. It didn’t too long for my relationship to be utterly minimalized to a sexual basis. We stopped arguing about the same tireless subjects and “resolved” our tension by intercourse, which was the worst possible solution because in reality nothing was being solved, and tension arose. It got to the point where he wouldn’t let me go home unless we had some sexual relation with each other, and even if I didn’t want to revert to that, he was very persistent and I gave in multiple times because he was my boyfriend. Sex was a very unhealthy resolution in our predicament, and my body was merely being used, it wasn’t love making it was making lust.
Regardless of the content in Hip Hop music, women prevail to be the face and integral part of entertainment in Hip Hop, in Lil Dicky’s song Save That Money his goal is to create the most epic Hip Hop video of all time that will not cost him much money, hence the purpose for his song title. Rich Homie Quan who was featured in the song spoke mainly about his disregards to his experiences with women: “All of my b*tches be scared of me, I put that rod in ‘em, all of them b*tches actin’ thoughtless, I disregard them” (Genius: Save That Money Lyrics). That was recognizably the only lyrics in that song that addressed women in a derogatory way, and the first instance where women were presented. In the music video Lil Dicky dismisses him because his lyrics have nothing to do with the notion of “saving money”. Ironically this is intertwined by his idea of the entire music video being that the central element in his video is the aesthetically pleasing presence of provocatively dressed women, and his juxtaposing utilization of women. The video repetitively goes back to various scenes of women dancing on top of him, and performing for the camera in a seductive playful manner, because they are the focal point. No matter what our arguments consisted of or how they resurfaced, everything summed up about me and how I was the problem in the relationship. Regardless of our accumulating circumstances, I was always the problem. I was aware that he was in denial about his own insecurities and I would try and make him realize his own faults, so that he would be awakened in some miraculous way. He disregarded all of his faults, and never admitted to ever being in the wrong, that I was the only flaw, and because of how he treated me, I thought I would never be able to prove myself wrong even though I knew who I was, and what I was doing. He would tirelessly summarize every one of our relationship downfalls to my past experiences, and could never stray away from his narrow minded false perception of me.
In a video interview titled How Women are Portrayed in Hip Hop, the interviewer asked Record Executive IRV Gotti, and a couple of other guest relative to the music industry big questions on the roles women play in Hip Hop music videos: “What do you say to critics that say that women are just objectified in videos, they have no role other than to increase a man’s status?” IRV Gotti responded “Our job is to entertain!” and went on to explain how music videos are for the everyday man who simply needs a break. The interviewer then asked Melissa Ford, “Have you ever felt disrespected, have you ever felt objectified or felt uncomfortable?” Ford replied that she sees this opportunity as job and said: “Bur other girls set the burn in front of the camera, they’re willing to go above and beyond…most of the time you don’t have to ask they’ll do it, because there’s so much competition in video sets where there used to be 5 or 6 girls, now there’s 50 or 60 girls”. Author Michael Eric Dyson explains the reality of the business, and classifies the Hip Hop culture: “Hip Hop is a male phenomenon so predictably women won’t find a very powerful place within that universe” (Women Portrayed in Hip Hop). Women are being employed as objects to increase a man’s status, and by doing this they subjugate their own power, trading it in for the price of the camera and since this method has been perpetually in place for a long time, this has become the standard for women and the norms in which they’re restricted to reside. My ex-boyfriend constantly warned me that if I didn’t play by his rules he would do something out of revenge to get me back. Knowing the type of person I am, I tried to appease his insecurities and avoid anything that would jeopardize my standing with him even more. I felt like I wasn’t myself anymore, I felt like I was a robot that was controlled by someone who could care less for me, and that was exactly my reality. He literally controlled every aspect of my life from my job, education, and social life so that my entire world would revolve around him. I never found a solid ground in my past relationship because I was dominated by his control and deprived of my true self.
Misrepresentation of women puts extreme pressures on women of all ages, but particularly targets women in their mid-twenties due to the majority of women presented in Hip-Hop videos. These images influence body modifying strategies such as plastic surgery, anorexia, bulimia to name the least and some women are not able to live their lives past the years of abuse because some even die from these affects. Body dissatisfaction is primarily affected by young teens bombarded by dehumanizing images that ultimately question their worth:
Using the female body, or parts of it, to sell products or promote messages is degrading toward women and has been documented to lead to self-image problems for vulnerable young girls. Dehumanizing women’s bodies by including only provocative parts implies that the only important feature of a woman “lies between her neck and her knees (Images that Injure, 266)
Not only do these images cause young women to harm or modify their bodies, but encourage women to courageously pursuit their sexual beings if they haven’t done so already. Adults may be able to differentiate right from wrong based off of what they see, but adolescents on the other hand cannot:
Adults may be taught to discount photos in advertisements, to look at different networks’ videotapes, and to look at how different photographers shot the same story. But children come to visual messages without learned skepticism. Consequently media images of children geared primarily for children have a great deal of power to define reality (Images that Injure, 225)
Young women are not automatically advised to disregard these images, so these images create a cultural norm and basis as early as adolescence. I grew up listening to songs from Juvenile “Back That Ass Up” and D4L’s “Girl Shake That Laffy Taffy” and dancing to lyrics like “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard” and in 4rth and 5th grade I saw nothing wrong with these songs. Now that I look back at all these degrading songs, and see how Hip-Hop music has evolved over time, the negative influences are still prevalent and continue to perpetuate our social roles. These Hip-Hop videos have created guidelines for young men and women to follow, that ultimately shape our realities where girls are growing up subconsciously aspiring to become the “Video Vixen,” while men look up to these negatively configured representations of men and mimic the “Player” life style. Both of the representations that Hip-Hop music displays as the typical man and women are unhealthy models to be imitated, and these music videos should not be responsible for setting these guidelines. These falsified misconceptions are brainwashing and misleading men and women alike to conform and abide by this culture of Hip-hop.
Dick Clark was absolutely right when he said “Music is the soundtrack of our lives,” and even more so music videos dictate our lives. Music videos are a highly powerful tool of influence that functions as the expected roles that men and women are supposed to imitate in reality. Coupling degrading sound lyrics, along with exploiting images affects the spectator in such a way that they start to think, and do things that are projected in videos. Since Hip-Hop music videos are all about the physical existence of women from a man’s perspective, this patriarchic concept glorifies the faults of men, and makes women appear that they are always the problem and or “solution”. In reality the problem is the misrepresented roles of men and women that are perpetually projected in negative ways that give men the excuse to abuse women, and tell women to be receptive to this abuse, and also abuse themselves by doing so. Hip-Hop music, and video imaging are a integral aspect that defines a tremendous portion of Pop culture’s significance, due to its powerful impact of relaying information. Although Hip-Hop is main stream in today’s world of Pop-Culture, it should not allow such degrading concepts of our social roles to be reframed simply due to its popularity. My personal experience with dealing with what this culture so to speak is plausible evidence that justifies the negative influences of Hip-Hop imaging and content. It is time that someone addresses the flawed conceptions that Hip-Hop transcends, and be aware that these images go beyond the screen and shape our lives in reality. We must move away from these repulsive messages and monitor what we hear and see because these are very important elements to how we learn, and ultimately sculpt ourselves as people. Hip-Hop music imaging and popular phenomenon’s cannot our next generations’ instructional guide because it will continue to perpetuate ideas of how men and women can abuse themselves and one another.
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“Lil Dicky (Ft. Fetty Wap & Rich Homie Quan) – $ave Dat Money.” Genius. N.p. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.
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