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Help! My Teenager Wants to Be a Video Girl

01 Mar 2007

It’s been a hot topic for eons.

Hip-hop culture and its misogynistic exploitation of women has been a source of contention and red-hot arguments. The exploitation of women in hip-hop culture has perpetuated the stereotype of Black women as promiscuous and oversexed, to the detriment of Black women all over the world.

It was not until Curtis Benjamin, Executive Director of It’s Cool To Be Smart Inc, heard his 14 year old daughter, who watches 106 and Park, a popular show on BET, say that she wanted to be a video girl that he realized just how dire things were. Shocked by his own daughter’s revelations, as well as the number of negative images he saw on 106 and Park, Benjamin decided to create It’s Cool To Be Smart Inc with special focus on raising the self-esteem of little Black girls and helping them to grow into proud, self-confident, self-respecting young ladies. On his daughter’s video girl ambitions, he says,

“I think it’s the video image that the girls like. The bling bling. A lot of girls want to be liked. They want to be celebrated and show [off to] their peers.”

Understable. It’s been glorified beyond recognition. But is aspiring to emulate a video girl/vixen a healthy choice?

Is Hip Hop Soft Porn?

Many hip hop videos have the signature rapid-fire images of women wearing next to nothing and dancing like strippers. These women are being used as props, backdrops and sexual objects for many rap artists. Much of the music and many videos explicitly perpetuate negative highly sexualized images of Black women. Almost every hip-hop video that is regularly run today several sexually suggestive breast and behind jiggling women (usually surrounding one or more men) wearing flimsy bikinis, with the cameras aimed on their provocatively dressed body parts. In fact some of the dancers are actual strippers. This is the job of a video girl or video vixen depending on what you want to call it.

Is it soft porn? The answer is up to your discretion as a reader.

Misogynistic ideas and practices are not new phenomena in North America. These are ideas from history which have unfortunately been passed down to today''s hip-hop youth. For example, it is common knowledge that during slavery Black women were frequently forced to have sexual relations with any male who wanted her. This included slavemaster’s, sailors, overseers, and fellow slaves. Black women were sometimes used as breeding instruments to give birth to more human property, and at other times forced to have sex to pay the for their food, the safety of their children, or to be treated less cruelly on a daily basis. The price for the survival tactic? Their bodies.

But it is sad that although Black people have made great strides in history and have spawned amazing women like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Madam C.J. Walker and Phyllis Wheatly; today, in this day and age, we are still being bombarded with ignorant music videos and magazines which portray Black women as no better than prostitutes. Considering that one in five records sold is a hip hop one, and that the majority of the hip hop videos shown perpetuate the oversexed Black woman, the odds of it stopping are bleak. The image of the oversexed Black woman is selling like hot potatoes. But there is more to the Black woman than being a sexual being.

Is Hip Hop Being Scape-Goated?

The magazine Ebony’s March issues, in the article Raising Our daughters – Countering the Effects of Today’s Negative Images of Young African-American Females discusses how among African American girls, the problem of low self-esteem has been stimulated by a blitz of negative influences including those in magazines, music videos and hard-core lyrics that degrade women.

In the same issue Dr. Johnetta B. Cole addresses the violence, sex and disrespect in some hip hop songs in her article, What Has Hip Hop Done to Black Women? In the same article, she says,

“I strongly believe that hip hop is more misogynistic and disrespectful of Black women and girls than other popular music genres such as the blues. The casual reference to rape….the soft porn visuals and messages of many rap videos are seared into the consciousness of young Black boys and girls at an early age. They are harmful to Black boys and men because they encourage misogynistic behaviors…”

Then she goes on to say,

“What value can there be in descriptions of Black girls and women as “bitches,” “hos,” “skeezers,” “freaks,” “gold diggers,” “chickenheads” and “pigeons”? What could possibly be the value to our communities to have rap music videos that are notorious for featuring half-clothed young Black women gyrating obscenely….?”

Even CNN saw it fit to showcase a documentary called Hip Hop: Art or Poison? on February 21, 2007 at 8:00pm. Paula Zahn introduced the prime time show with the following words,

“Hip-hop has been accused of glorifying violence, objectifying women and promoting homophobia, and at the same time has been praised for reflecting the realities of urban life. We bring the controversy ‘Out in the Open.’ Shocking images and lyrics have America asking if hip-hop has gone too far.”

Has Hip Hop Gone Too Far?

Perhaps Asha Jennings can give her opinion. Asha Jennings, a former Spelman Student mentions that two years ago, she saw a video by Nelly called “Tip Drill” where among many offensive things, we see a man swiping a credit card in the crack of a woman''s behind. Jennings was so offended, she started a movement to change the way Black women are portrayed in hip hop videos. She said,

“I want people to start critically thinking about how these images affect Black women today. We''re telling people, they''re bitches and hoes and sluts and not worthy of respect. And that''s exactly how society is treating us.

In response to readers like Jennings, Essence Magazine launched a campaign to take back the music. The Editor of Essence, Angela Burt-Murray said,

“I think the current state of hip-hop is basically stuck on one note, the degradation of women, the glorification of a culture that seems centered around pimps and prison.”

Cori Murray, Arts and Entertainment Editor of Essence said,

“We aren''t attacking hip hop. There are still very good things in hip hop; I love hip hop…….Misogyny in hip hop, however, is running rampant….. What’s popular in hip hop is misogynistic and headed toward porn…..If we [Black women] start telling them, ''Stop calling us that,'' or, ''Stop showing us that way,'' think about what could happen,” she says. “We have so much power. I doubt these guys are going to turn their backs on us.”

What do some men say?

On the CNN show Germaine Dupri was quoted as basically saying take your televisions off if you do not like it. He forgets that these music videos are on at 3:00pm when a lot of children (unsupervised and supervised) are watching. Russell Simmons says that America is a violent and oversexed country. That''s the sad truth. And rappers are reflections of -- sometimes reflections of the sad truth. Byron Hurt, Director of the documentary Hip Hop: beyond Beats & Rhythms -A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in On Manhood in Rap Music ,– whose documentary critiques the music he loves, especially its depiction of women says,

“What you''re seeing mostly, though, is, you''re seeing repetitive images of women as boy toys, as sex kittens, as sex objects. And I think that''s a problem.”

Michael Eric Dyson, humanities professor at the University of Pennsylvania says,

“That is, first of all, misogyny and sexism are big business in American culture. The degrading of women is from time and memorial. So hip hop visualizes it and vocalizes it in a very violent fashion. I have no defense for that -- misogyny, which is the hatred of women; sexism, sentiments expressed against women because they''re women; and patriarchy, which assumes that the man''s life supplies the norms to everybody else.”

So, Scapegoat Or Not?

Hip hop is a culture, albeit a youth-driven one. There is actually a generation called the hip hop generation, which includes people in their 30’s and below. Black people are a rhythm-driven culture and the music industry knows that. Hip hop seduces us with its banging beats and uses that aspect to make us buy its products. When hip hop started in its raw form, it was started by Black and Latino youth, encompassing rapping, mixing, break-dancing, b-boying, and graffiti-writing.

It was in its initial stages rap music, a form of poetry that is said over musical instrumentation. Back then it was all about positive messages and was a social and political voice with groups like KRS-One or Public Enemy. Then it slowly went mainstream and became a lifestyle, pervading music videos, fashion, slang, the club scene, commercials and the universal way in which young people socialized with one another, which was a good thing. However, recently rap music has earned the hard core reputation of being brutally violent, and misogynistic.

Women To Blame Too?

It is also true that no one puts a gun to the heads of the females used in the videos. Nobody puts a gun to the heads of the women who flood dance clubs and backstages of concerts and display the willingness to do anything sexually with musicians simply to earn money, clothes, jewelry, drinks or just to feel privileged and desired. But does this have to be the prominent image of Black women which is exported from North America? Is that going to continue to be the dominant way that many rappers portray women? Can’t the women be portrayed doing some cleverly choreographed Aliyah-esque or Missy-esque dances? And why aren’t singers like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, K-os, K’naan and Common selling as much as their misogynistic counterparts?

Of course, not all rap songs are misogynistic and not all Black men speak and think this way, but large percentages within hip-hop culture do. We cannot put all the blame on hip hop. That is certain. But we must recognize the corrosive effect that rap culture has on Black culture in general. Record companies and shareholders are making a lot of money, but does that really excuse those rap artists and executives from the responsibility of their words? The name calling disrespects, dehumanizes, and dishonors women.

It is true that not all hip hop music is bad. It is true that long before hip hop came along, many musicians talked about sex, drugs and violence. But the slut images and verbal abuse projected onto Black women by hip hop lyrics and videos are not doing anyone any good, especially young men and women.

CNN transcript of Hip Hip: Art or Poison: 


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