Every morning when I take the train, I put my iPod on shuffle and let various thoughts run through my head. But as I think about how tired I am or about the math test I have during first period, I don’t pay attention to the lyrics that are being whispered into my ear by various artists. As the E train pulls up to Roosevelt Avenue, I hear Kanye West talking about a girl who “got an a** that can swallow up a g-string/and up top, uh, two bee stings.” And as I step off the train on Spring Street, I listen to Fergie telling me about how guys love her “lady lumps…spending all your money on me and spending time on me.” Most of the time I would just bop my head and mouth these words, but it wasn’t until I learned about Rachel Lloyd and the work that she does that I realized how messed up these lyrics actually are.
For those of you who may not know about the inspiring Rachel Lloyd, founder and executive director of GEMS (Girls Educational & Mentoring Services) and author of Girls Like Us, is one of the leaders in the fight against CSEC (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children). Pulling from her own experiences of being trapped in “the life,” otherwise known as sex trafficking, Lloyd has helped girls and women of various ages (as young as 12 or 13) to leave behind the abusive ways of the life and their pimps. Her book, Girls Like Us, plays a part in this movement in that it supplies a window into an issue that many, including myself, have no idea is even happening. Just the subtitle of her book has a powerful effect in it of itself: “Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale.” Throughout the memoir, Lloyd not only proves that we do in fact live in a word that treats girls and women as if they are sellable items, but also explains what advertises this “market”: the media.
“Today pimping has gone mainstream” (Lloyd, 67). We see it all over the place. When referring to MTV and how they were going to be showing advertisements against the trafficking of girls, Lloyd asks a very daunting question: “How can you show something called Pimp My Ride then cut to a commercial trying to prevent pimp culture and commercial trafficking?” Of course, everybody laughed seeing how ironic it was but it is so true. The media surrounds us with songs like My Humps and P.I.M.P. as a form of entertainment and satisfaction. But why is it that we are entertained by things that show women and girls as nothing more than just a fine body? The exploitation of women lives and thrives in pop culture, as it booms through our headphones, plays on our television screens and is displayed on every billboard in the city. This past Tuesday, Rachel Lloyd came to our school’s annual GEMS assembly (meant to support and raise awareness of the organization) to speak about just that. “It’s very easy to get caught up and not think about the reality of those words” is what she said when referring to the P.I.M.P. music video that we had just played for the entire school. The “reality of those words” is lived by the many girls that Lloyd talks about not only in her book but also in the documentary called “Very Young Girls,” which GEMS created, who go to GEMS because they need help. While we sit here, bopping our heads to 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg saying “hit that track, catch a date, and come and pay the kid” or “’bout to show you how my pimp hand is way strong” there are girls ranging from 12-18 years old who are actually being forced to do this, living this life. “It would be easy, as some do, to point to hip-hop culture as the primary culprit in this tidal wave of acceptance of pimps. Hip-hop clearly needs to take responsibility for its ongoing misogynistic image and lyrics, but rappers alone could not have achieved what had become a mass acceptance of pimp culture” (Lloyd, 67). The truth is that, yes, hip-hop culture does sometimes include offensive views of women but doesn’t all of pop culture? In the commercials for perfumes, you see women who are practically naked except for the white sheet that they’re wearing, which has nothing to do with the perfume. You have movies in which men are dressed in purple suits, pink fur coats, flashy jewelry with a perm and walking cane, calling themselves pimps. Through these examples, media makes the term “pimp” a good thing by portraying a “pimp” as a person with a lot of girlfriends. In reality, a “pimp” is a person who not only sells young girls but deceives them into thinking that their relationship is one of love and not business.
As I sit here trying to figure out how to explain my experience while reading Girls Like Us, watching “Very Young Girls” and speaking to Rachel Lloyd, all I can say is guilt. Learning about girls who are sold and abused every day while I sit in my home with my parents—pang of guilt. Thinking about when I used to sing “Hard Out Here For A Pimp” with my friends when I was in fifth grade while there were girls who weren’t that much older than me who were being abused by these pimps who had a so-called hard life—explosion of guilt. This “Rachel Lloyd packaged experience” further opened my eyes to the corrupted media-filled society that we live in today and ignited a fire in me. After she signed my book with the message: “Stay strong & focused & remember that the world doesn’t always like bold women—but that’s ok—be bold anyway!!” I realized that Rachel Lloyd isn’t just creating a fire to burn down the existence of CSEC and sex trafficking but is also passing the torch for future generations to do so too.