Mar 5, 2020 in Research

Female Hip Hop Subverts Patriarchy

Lisa A. Lewis remarked in her book Gender Politics and MTV: Voicing the Difference that when MTV was identifying its audience, it targeted primarily the youth and as a result white male teenagers. As a result, both female performers and black musicians of both sexes did not have a platform for their representation. Whereas black male artists had rap and hip hop subgenres, female artists were somewhat left behind because the ideological discourse carved out for them only a role of decorative elements in male music videos. However, a new generation of female artists grew up and came to the foreground to promote the body positive, active sexual life, and agency. Although the previous waves of feminism attempted to equate sexual freedom and female sexuality with objectification and perpetuation of patriarchy, the representatives of the last wave, such as Nicki Minaj, Rah Digga, Lizzo, and others, view it as empowerment and liberation.

Lewis argues that today’s patriarchy still forces “the contradiction” on females by requiring them to be active, independent, and pursue careers, which are masculine qualities, and be submissive, passive, and strive for home making and child rearing, which are believed to be typically feminine qualities. In this regard, MTV, and the show business industry on the whole, used to perpetuate, and still does in many instances, the stereotype of femininity. The rock scene used to be regarded as a primarily masculine field of activity because it was associated with aggression, authenticity and a lack of commercialization. Thus only pop music was available as a field of professional endeavors for females because it was closely related to consumerism, frivolousness, and shallowness, as female-related qualities. The division of the scene between pop and rock left out rap and hip hop to marginal groups of black males but they also pushed out females to the outsides allowing them to be pretty furnishings in their musical videos.

 

In order to build female agency on a new ground, female rappers and hip hoppers had to either completely reject female sexuality because it was continually abused and used for objectification or appropriate and re-appropriate it. Rah Digga chose the variant when she still remains an attractive woman but attracts attention in her music to her vocal prowess and language rather than to her womanly curves. In the article “Black Female Identity and Challenges to Masculine Discourse in Rah Digga's Dirty Harriet,” Katie L. Mullins argues that the singer “relies on language and delivery to promote herself”. It is done through the use of African American English Vernacular such as g-dropping, the use of the aspectual “be” and “y’all”, as well as formerly derogatory ‘bitch’, ‘nigga’, and ‘fuck’. Furthermore, Rah Digga often appropriates typically aggressive forms of rapping and commands her audience to “say fuck y’all niggas,” “fuck y’all niggas,” and “suck a nigga’s friend,” as in her most aggressive song “Fuck Y’All Niggas.” This song is a rap battle between Rah Digga and Young Zee who allows himself shockingly derogatory lines such as “stink coochi bitches” and “fake dime hoes.” However, the presence of such derogatory male rapping is a conscious act on the part of Rah Digga because “Zee’s lyrics are so hyperbolically sexist, and his rhymes so poor in comparison to Rah Digga’s, that his lines seem to offer an implicit mode of auto-critique”. In terms of sexualized clothing, Rah Digga does not look like a blue stocking and is able to wear sexual attire and be sexy. However, Rah Digga is reluctant to “draw attention to her body without implicating her voice”. For example, in the “Imperial” video the singer looks in a contemporary and fashionable way but her skimpy outfit is covered with a floor-length fur coat. Thus Rah Digga employs various tools to promote female empowerment without resorting to excessive nudity and an emphasis on her sexuality instead of her vocal talent.

In contrast, Nicki Minaj builds her fame on the sexual appeal of her image. Foucault calls sexuality “a socially constructed instrument of power” and Nicki Minaj chooses not to eschew sexuality as something that tints and objectifies her but instead to subvert it and use it to her own benefit. It is widely believed by feminists that any case of excessive sexuality and the flaunting sexuality in general refers to objectification. Therefore, all female artists who can afford to be explicitly sexual are often disparaged and condemned for perpetrating patriarchy. Apart from flaunting her curves as a woman, Nicki Minaj chooses to exaggerate them as a black woman thus re-appropriating the hypersexuality of African American women, as whites used to be it. To this effect, Nicki Minaj employs the rumored artificial breast and buttocks augmentation. Despite the obvious hard work and lyricist talent, Nicki Minaj “has used her beauty and body as central part of her career”. Nicki Minaj uses everything that exists under the sun to enhance her sex appeal, from cartoonish makeup and extravagant outfits to twerking and butt baring. Nicki Minaj consciously chooses to exploit her sexuality because she understands that in the male world she can win only if she follows the rules and the rules dictate to objectify the female body. However, Nicki Minaj goes further and objectifies the male body as well. In the music video for “Side To Side,” Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj are placed alongside handsome male models that were as exaggeratedly objectified and portrayed as mannequins with visibly attached limbs.

However, the modern interpretation of sexuality makes it possible for women of any body type to feel included. While Rah Digga is fashionably slim but does not flaunt it and Nicki Minaj intentionally flaunts her exaggerated and artificially enhanced curves, Lizzo embraces her non-standard womanly figure. A recent body positive movement promotes the idea that all women are beautiful and should be proud of being slim or curvy, plump or skinny. Lizzo is a voluptuous woman who wears any kind of clothing and does not try to slim down to fit the patriarchal stereotypes about women’s figures. As with all the other re-appropriations feminists do, Lizzo embraces her being big. She plays on contrasts singing, “I’m statuesque and big as hell” (Petridis). Humorously playing up on typical methods of objectification, Lizzo and Sophia Eris have their men eat food in a seductive way in the video “Batches and Cookies.” To show how ridiculously such sexualized games may look like, they cover a guy with butter and rub it in his body looking at him in a mockingly seductive way.

The new wave of feminism allows female artists to take a new look on their sexuality and not to ditch it away as a sure way to be objectified but employ it to play by their own rules. Each female musician chooses her own way and should be praise for it. While Nicki Minaj empowers herself and her fans with the help of her sex appeal and exaggerated womanly curves, Rah Digga relies primarily on her vocal ability and lyricist talent and Lizzo attempts to embrace the body positive movement and celebrate her non-traditional for show business voluptuous shapes. These are the new way of defying patriarchy and subverting stereotypes about women in hip hop.

Related essays