Caucasian Please! America's Cultural Double Standard For Misogyny & Racism
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Editor's note: Despite the firing of Don Imus, corporate media continue to attempt to divert attention from long-established institutional sexism, in order to depict Black youth culture as the vector of the disease. The American reality is one of pervasive celebration of violence, in general, and violence against women, in particular -- a white cultural invention. Black rappers, who are owned and controlled by white corporations, did not create this culture of violence and misogyny, but are made the scapegoats for a much deeper national social crisis -- a landscape in which "The Godfather" and "Goodfellas" are revered as "classic" films.
In this composition I will not be addressing the whole of hip-hop and rap, but rather hardcore and gangsta rap. It is my assertion that the mainstream media and political pundits -- right and left -- have painted rap and hip-hop with a very broad brush. Let me be perfectly clear, hardcore and gangsta rap is not listened to, watched, consumed or supported in my home and never has been. I will not be an apologist for anything that chooses to frame the dialogue about Black women (and women in general) and Black life in morally bankrupt language and reprehensible symbols.
In the wake of MSNBC's and CBS's firing of Don Imus, the debate over misogyny, sexism and racism has now taken flight -- or submerged, depending on your point of view. There are many, mostly white, people who believe that Imus was a fall guy and he is receiving blame and criticism for what many rap artists do continually in the lyrics and videos: debase and degrade Black women. A Black guest on an MSNBC news program even went as far as to say, "Where would a 66 year-old white guy even had heard the phrase nappy-headed ho" -- alluding to hip-hop music's perceived powerful influence upon American culture and life (and apparently over the radio legend as well) -- and by so doing gave a veneer of truth to the theory that rap music is the main culprit to be blamed for this contemporary brand of chauvinism.
However, I concur with bell hooks, the noted sociologist and black-feminist activist who said that "to see gangsta rap as a reflection of dominant values in our culture rather than as an aberrant 'pathological' standpoint, does not mean that a rigorous feminist critique of the sexist and misogyny expressed in this music is not needed. Without a doubt black males, young and old, must be held politically accountable for their sexism.
Yet this critique must always be contextualized or we risk making it appear that the behavior this thinking supports and condones -- rape, male violence against women, etc. -- is a black male thing. And this is what is happening. Young black males are forced to take the 'heat' for encouraging, via their music, the hatred of and violence against women that is a central core of patriarchy."
There are those in the media, mostly white males (but also some black pundits as well), who now want the Black community to take a look at hip-hop music and correct the diabolical "double-standard" that dwells therein. Before a real conversation can be had, we have to blow-up the myths, expose the lies and cast a powerful and discerning light on the "real" double-standards and duplicity. Kim Deterline and Art Jones in their essay, Fear of a Rap Planet, point out that "the issue with media coverage of rap is not whether African Americans engaged in a campaign against what they see as violent, sexist or racist imagery in rap should be heard -- they should. ...[W]hy are community voices fighting racism and sexism in mainstream news media, films and advertisements not treated similarly?
The answer may be found in white-owned corporate media's historical role as facilitator of racial scapegoating. Perhaps before advocating censorship of a music form with origins in a voiceless community, mainstream media pundits should look at the violence perpetuated by their own racism and sexism."
Just as the mainstream media and the dominant culture-at-large treats all things "Black" in America as the "other" or as some sort of science experiment in a test tube in an isolated and controlled environment, so hardcore rap is treated as if it occurred in some kind of cultural vacuum; untouched, unbowed and uninformed by the larger, broader, dominant American culture. The conversation is always framed in the form of this question: "What is rap's influence on American society and culture?" Never do we ask, "What has been society's role in shaping and influencing hip-hop?"
Gangsta and hardcore rap is the product of a society that has historically objectified and demeaned women, and commercialized sex. These dynamics are present in hip hop to the extent that they are present in society. The rapper who grew up in the inner-city watched the same sexist television programs, commercials and movies; had access to the same pornographic and misogynistic magazines and materials; and read the same textbooks that limited the presence and excluded the achievements of women (and people of color as well), as the All-American, Ivy-league bound, white kid in suburban America.
It is not sexism and misogyny that the dominant culture is opposed to (history and commercialism has proven that). The dominant culture's opposition lies with hip-hop's cultural variation of the made-in-the-USA misogynistic themes and with the Black voices communicating the message. The debate and the dialogue must be understood in this context.
Popular Culture's Duplicitous Sexism & Violence In Black And White
In a piece I penned a couple of years ago, I endeavored to point out the clear ethnic and racial double-standards of the media and society as it pertains to sex and violence. My assertion was, and remains to be, that the mainstream media and society-at-large, appear to have not so much of a problem with the glorification of sex and violence, but rather with who is doing the glorifying. In it I stated that "if the brutality and violence in gangsta rap was truly the real issue, then shouldn't a series like The Sopranos be held to the same standard? If we are so concerned about bloodshed, then how did movies like 'The Godfather,' 'The Untouchables' and 'Goodfellas' become classics?"
I then addressed the sexual aspect of this double-standard by pointing out that "Sex & The City," a series that focused, by and large, on the sexual relationships of four white women, was hailed as a powerful demonstration of female camaraderie and empowerment.
This show, during its run, was lavished with critical praise and commercial success while hip-hop and rap artists are attacked by the morality police for their depiction of sex in their lyrics and videos. The don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it appearance of Janet Jackson's right bosom during [a] Super Bowl halftime show. ... caused more of a furor than the countless commercials that (also aired during the Super Bowl) used sex to sell anything from beer to cars to gum. Not to mention the constant stream of commercials that rather openly talks about erectile dysfunction medication."
The exaltation of drugs, misogyny and violence in music lyrics has a history that predates NWA, Ice Cube, Ice T and Snoop Dogg. Elton John's 1977 song "Tickin," was about a young man who goes into a bar and kills 14 people; Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska," featured a couple on a shooting spree, and his "Johnny 99," was about a gun-waving laid-off worker; and Stephen Sondheim's score for "Assassins," which presented songs mostly in the first person about would-be and successful presidential assassins.
Eric Clapton's "Cocaine" and the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (LSD) as well as almost anything by Jefferson Airplane or Spaceship. Several songs from "Tommy" and Pink Floyd's "The Wall" are well known drug songs. "Catholic girls," "Centerfold," "Sugar Walls" by Van Halen were raunchy, misogynistic, lust-driven rock refrains.
Even the country music legend Kenny Rogers in his legendary ballad, "Coward Of The County," spoke of a violent gang-rape and then a triple-homicide by the song's hero to avenge his assaulted lover. Marilyn Manson declared that one of the aims of his provocative persona was to see how much it would take to get the moralists as mad at white artists as they got about 2LiveCrew. He said it took fake boobs, Satanism, simulated sex on stage, death and angst along with semi-explicit lyrics, to get the same screaming the 2LiveCrew got for one song. Manson thought this reaction was hypocritical and hilarious.
Other artists like Kid Rock have won commercial success easily and faced only minor battles with the FCC with songs such as: "F**k U Blind. Consider the lyrics of Kid Rock, whose piercing blend of hard rock, metal and misogyny has sold millions of records:
Now if you like the booty come on fellas show it This is your last verse to wax so why would you blow it And if the ladies if you are tired of a man on your fanny Then f--k you go home and watch the tube with granny ... Just look at all the girls that are dying to get some Man, just don't be a wussy
And I'll guarantee you could get a piece of p----
Likewise, consider the lyrics of the rock song "Anything Goes" from Guns 'N Roses:
Panties 'round your knees
With your ass in debris
Doin' dat grind with a push and squeeze
Tied up, tied down, up against the wall
Be my rubbermade baby
An' we can do it all.''
The bad-boy, outlaw rockers have traditionally and consistently been marketed and packaged as misogynistic. Artists and groups such as David Lee Roth, Kid Rock, Metallica, Uncle Kracker, to name a few.
Take note of the following list of rock groups and some of the albums and songs that they have released: American Dog (released an album in 2001 titled, Six Pack: Songs About Drinkin & F**kin), Big C*ck (released an album in 2005 titled: Year Of The C**k -- with titles like Bad Motherf***er, Hard To Swallow & You Suck The Love Out Of Me) W.A.S.P. (released an album in 1983 titled: Animal: F**ks Like A Beast, an album in 1997 K.F.D.: Kill, F**k, Die), Faster Pussycat (released album in 1992 titled Whipped -- with a song titled Loose Booty, 2001 titled: Between The Valley Of The Ultra P**sy, 2006 album titled: The Power Of The Glory Hole -- with such titles as Porn Star and Shut Up & F**k), Lynch Mob (released an album in 2003 titled: Evil: Live -- featuring the song (Tie Your Mother Down) and a compilation album released in 2003 titled C**k'N'Roll: The World's Sleaziest Rock Bands -- displaying "hits" like: Dog Sh*t Boys -- One Minute F**k, Sagger -- The Closest I've Ever Come To F**king Myself and Hellside Stranglers -- Motherf***ers Don't Cry.
In an article by Dana Williams titled, BEYOND RAP: Musical Misogyny, Ann Savage, associate professor of telecommunications at Butler University stated: "It's the repetitiveness of the messages, the repetitiveness of the attitudes, and it builds on people...." "People say rap is dangerous. Yes, rap music does have misogyny, but there has always been an objectification and misogyny against women in music," said Savage. "Yet we focus on the black artists, not the rockers and not even the white executives who are making the big money from this kind of music."
Savage further asserts that the race-based double standard applies to violent content in music as well. "There was the Eric Clapton remake of Marley's 'I Shot the Sheriff,' and there was little to be said. But then you have the 'Cop Killer' song by Ice-T and it's dangerous and threatening."
In this same article Cynthia Fuchs, an associate professor at George Mason University, affirmed that "the public seems far more disturbed by misogynistic lyrics in the music of rap and hip hop artists who are largely black than similar lyrics in rock music, perceived by most as a white genre."
"The flamboyance of rock is understood as performance, rather than from the perspective of personal feelings," said Fuchs, who teaches courses in film and media studies, African American studies and cultural studies. "These guys are seen as innocuous. They appear to be players in the fence of accumulating women in skimpy costumes, but they aren't necessarily seen as violent. The mainstream takes it (hip hop and rap) to represent real-life, so it's seen as more threatening than some of the angry, whiney white boy rock, even though the same messages and images are portrayed."
Moreover, in a piece titled C*ck Rock from the October 21-November 3, 2003 edition of the online music magazine Perfect Pitch, it was revealed that when the Hustler founder and entrepreneur Larry Flynt wanted to combine the worlds of porn (the ultimate god of misogyny) and music he did not turn to rap, but rather to rock.
It was stated that since porn has been mainstreamed, they wanted a more "contemporary" look -- and when they looked for a contemporary look, did they seek out the likes of Nelly, Chingy, 50 Cent or Ludacris? No. Rock legend Nikki Sixx was chosen to "grace" the cover of Hustler's new venture along with his adult-entertainment and former Baywatch star girlfriend Donna D'Errico wearing nothing but a thong and Sixx's arms.
It is my belief that this paradigm; this unjust paradox exists because of the media stereotypes of black men as more violence-prone, and media's disproportionate focus on black crime (which is confused with the personas that rappers adopt), contribute to the biased treatment of rap. The double standard applied to rap music makes it easier to sell the idea that "gangsta rap" is "more" misogynist, racist, violent and dangerous than any other genre of music.
However, I believe that bell hooks conceptualized it best in her essay Sexism and Misogyny: Who Takes the Rap?: "To the white dominated mass media, the controversy over gangsta rap makes great spectacle. Besides the exploitation of these issues to attract audiences, a central motivation for highlighting gangsta rap continues to be the sensationalist drama of demonizing black youth culture in general and the contributions of young black men in particular. It is a contemporary remake of 'Birth of a Nation' only this time we are encouraged to believe it is not just vulnerable white womanhood that risks destruction by black hands but everyone."
Part of the allure of gangsta or hardcore rap to the young person is its (however deplorable) explicitness. The gangsta rapper says "bitches" and "hos," defiantly and frankly (once again... deplorable) and that frankness strikes a chord.
However, it is not the first time that a young man or woman has seen society "treat" women like "bitches" and "hos." Like mother's milk, the American male in this country has been "nourished" on a constant diet of subtle messages and notions regarding female submission and inferiority and when he is weaned, he begins to feed on the meat of more exploitative mantras and images of American misogyny long before he ever pops in his first rap album into his CD player.
Young people, for better or worse, are looking for and craving authenticity. Now, because this quality is in such rare-supply in today's society, they gravitate towards those who appear to be "real" and "true to the game." Tragically, they appreciate the explicitness without detesting or critically deconstructing what the person is being explicit about.
There have been many who have said that even with Imus gone from the airwaves, the American public in general and the Black community in particular will still be inundated by the countless rap lyrics using derogatory and sexist language, as well as the endless videos displaying women in various stages of undress -- and this is true.
However, by that same logic, if we were to rid the record stores, the clubs and the iPods of all misogynistic hip-hop, we would still have amongst us the corporately-controlled and predominantly white-owned entities of Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler and Hooters. We would still have the reality TV shows, whose casts are overwhelmingly white, reveling in excessive intoxication and suspect sexual mores.
If misogynistic hip-hop was erased from American life and memory today, tomorrow my e-mail box and the e-mail boxes of millions of others would still be barraged with links to tens of thousands of adult entertainment web sites. We would still have at our fingertips, courtesy of cable and satellite television, porn-on-demand. We would still be awash in a society and culture that rewards promiscuity and sexual explicitness with fame, fortune and celebrity (reference Anna Nicole, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears).
And most hypocritically, if we were to purge the sexist and lewd lyrics from hip-hop, there would still be a multitude of primarily white bands and principally-white musical genres generating song after song glorifying sexism, misogyny, violence and lionizing male sexuality and sexual conquest.