Before I took this high school feminism course, my knowledge of feminism was very limited. I always associated feminism with loud women yelling for their rights, and I initially took the course because I was interested in activism and the protest movements of the 1960’s and 70’s.
Now, at the end of the course, I can say that I have acquired newfound knowledge not only about feminism but about myself and how I view mass media. Ever since writing my first blog post about our class’s celebration of International Day of the Girl and reading Julius Lester’s essay “Man: Being a Boy” at the beginning the year, I have become very interested in the role men play in feminism.
What I have discovered is that men play an important and possibly even more vital role in the future of feminism than women do.
What initially led me to start thinking about men’s role in feminism was when I started listening to the lyrics of rap songs. I have always loved rap music. I know complete lyrics to songs by Eminem, Jay-Z, A$AP Rocky, 50 Cent and many more rap artists.
Before I took this course on feminism, I would listen to the lyrics of these songs unconsciously, and be completely unaware of what I was hearing. At the beginning of the year, a song came out entitled “Problem” by the young new rapper A$AP Rocky featuring other big rappers 2 Chainz, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar. These are all some of the biggest names in the rap industry. The chorus sung by 2 Chainz always repeats the line “I love bad bitches that’s my f***ing problem, and yea I like to f*** that’s my f***ing problem.”
These lines from gangsta rap mean he loves attractive (bad) women (bitches) and he likes to have sex with them so much, that it has become a problem. When I go onto Rapgenius.com, a popular website used to decipher rap lyrics, if I click on the line that says “I love bad bitches,” the interpretation of the line pops up and says “don’t we all” with a couple pictures of girls striking poses in bikinis.
If you highlight other lyrics in the song, the website will interpret the metaphors and wordplay into concrete sentences, but when a line comes up that is about getting with “bitches,” the website just casually embraces the meaning of the line, implying that we can all agree that we all love “bad bitches.”
The real “problem” is not the fact that these lyrics are being rapped, but it’s that we so casually listen to them without acknowledging their meaning. When I listen to these songs on my computer while I do my homework, I unconsciously nod my head and mutter the lyrics under my breath, without any awareness to what I am saying. Rappers coming out with songs that contain offensive lyrics is bad enough, but the fact that we are thoughtlessly accepting these lyrics has had a detrimental impact on the youth of our country.
In Rachel Lloyd’s memoir Girls Like Us, she writes about the Reebok Human Rights Award that she won, and then critiques Three 6 Mafia’s song “Hard out Here for a Pimp” which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Her critique emphasizes that people care more about misogynistic Oscar winners than they do about winners of human rights awards. So while Three 6 Mafia gained national media attention and praise for their embracing of pimp culture, Lloyd got some praise and a trophy for her vigorous work against sex trafficking in America.
A human right’s award is obviously a tremendous achievement, but sadly, what the rest of the world really cares about are the Oscar and Grammy award winners.
It’s not just men who are obliviously promoting this culture. I can remember being at middle school dances in fifth grade and “Get Low” by Lil Jon or “Pop Lock and Drop it” by Huey would come on and all the ten year old girls would in fact get low and pop lock and drop it. These girls are unknowingly embracing a culture that labels them as objects and “bitches,” and this lack of understanding is the reason why the sexualization of girls and women is so prevalent in our society.
So what can we do about this hyper-masculine, female-degrading media that has so deeply rooted itself into the flesh and bones of society?
One of the best things to do is raise awareness. There are already many organizations, films, music and other movements trying to promote this issue in the media. One film titled Miss Representation really inspired me to write this post and goes into great detail about the hidden and not so hidden sexist messages in the media and the ways in which we need to bring them to light.
However, this film is not enough. One of the reasons it is not enough is because it is a film that is mostly advocated by women. This issue of hyper-masculinity cannot be just a women’s issue. Men must begin to advocate as well because they are the source of this hyper-masculine society. Films like Miss Representation are great, but if this is the only way that we are going to show our concern for the media in this country, then people are going to view this as a women’s issue that is raised only by feminist women.
I personally believe that in order for some dramatic change to occur, a famous rap artist that is already well into the industry and has a lot of fan support must release a song or come out with some statement that highlights the sexism and degradation towards women in rap music.
The rap world is an incredibly masculine and heterosexual place. A few months ago, hip hop artist Frank Ocean came out as gay and it was gigantic news in the hip hop community. Anything feminine and/or gay is big news in the hip hop world, so if a rapper like 50 cent or A$AP Rocky were to come out with a song that brings light to the issue of offensive messages in rap songs, it would speak much louder than a video created by a feminist organization.
The least I can personally do is to just be more aware of the music and culture that I am taking in and be less oblivious to its messages. Men must begin to take responsibility and start to become more aware of the messages they are embracing, not only for the future of feminism and the future of mainstream media, but ultimately, for the well-being of both boys and girls, men and women in this country.