Actress Ashley Judd thinks that rap and hip-hop music have a problem - specifically that they contribute way too much to our nation's rape culture.
In her memoir, “All That Is Bitter and Sweet”, Judd attacked several hip-hop artists for their misogynistic lyrics. In the memoir, released last week, Judd writes:She later clarified:
“As far as I’m concerned, most rap and hip-hop music – with its rape culture and insanely abusive lyrics and depictions of girls and women as ‘ho’s’ – is the contemporary soundtrack of misogyny.”
“…What I’m being accused of is condemning rap and hip-hop as a whole, and the whole community and when they say community, they mean the fans, and African-Americans, it’s become so generalized. My intention was to take a stand to say the elements that are misogynistic and treat girls and women in a hyper-sexualized way are inappropriate. The male dominance that is displayed, and the reinforcement of girls’ and women value and identify as primarily sexual, is not helpful in any artistic expression, in any cultural form, whether its country music or in television story lines.”It's true that rap and hip-hop are often used as a scapegoat for things wrong with our society, but before you dismiss Judd as a hater, and thus dismiss her comments, peruse this article from The Root that argues that she's right.
Tragically, rape is common in American culture, and rap music sometimes reflects the rape culture of American society. The encouragement of male aggression and the support of violence against women are regular features of popular rap music. Check out this verse from Notorious B.I.G. in "Dead Wrong": "Biggie Smalls for mayor, the rap slayer/The hooker layer ... Hail Mary full of grace/Smack the b--ch in the face/Take her Gucci bag and the North Face/Off her back, jab her if she act funny with the money/Oh you got me mistaken, honey/I don't wanna rape ya/ I just want the paper." Jay-Z's verse on Kanye West's "Monster" alludes to raping and pillaging.The Root article also makes the important distinction between rap and hip-hop music and hip-hop culture. Hip-hop culture has a history of working for social justice and has spawned some amazing activists, some of whom use rap and hip-hop music as their platform. However, mainstream rap and hip-hop music really has a woman problem that demands addressing.
Although these lyrics should be ascribed to the artistic personas of these major hip-hop figures, I still reserve the right to critique, challenge and hold the authors of these artistic personas accountable for their music, especially if it is contributing to one of our greatest social challenges: gender equality and the freedom of women not to live in fear of violent assault.
That said, rapping specifically about rape is not what rape culture is all about. The ways in which some rappers promote attitudes that normalize sexual violence against women and children are the more common culprits of rap's rape culture. Consider these lines from West's verse in "Monster": "I put the p--sy in a sarcophagus/Now she claiming I bruise her esophagus." I am more than willing to grant artistic license to any of these rappers, as long as they are willing to be publicly accountable for the ways in which these verses promote attitudes and mentalities that contribute to rap's rape culture -- as Snoop did on Larry King Live.
When Jay-Z signed Jay Electronica to Roc Nation label, it seemed like a triumph of underground hip-hop culture -- the talented Jay Electronica, along with Jay-Z's formidable business and promotional acumen, could change the game for the better. Instead, the rapper has elected to use some troubling language in his live performances, polling his audiences to inquire if women "like being choked during sexual intercourse." Many feminist bloggers and activists challenged Jay Electronica directly.
For the survivors of violent sexual assault and for those of us who understand that sexual assault against women is a critical problem for all of us, this sort of thing is simply unacceptable. Maybe I am sensitized to this because my daughter just turned 10. But I'm also aware that even though individuals must be responsible for their own acts, too many are susceptible to subtle (and unsubtle) cues -- from pop culture and the public sphere -- that subject women to male dominance, and reaffirm the sexism and misogyny that lead to sexual violence against women.