Hip-Hop and Misogyny: Rewriting the Narrative of Hip-Hop Essay Essay

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Hip-hop and rap have often been criticized for depicting stereotypical depictions of women, particularly Black women, even while striving to offer a cultural counter-narrative of powerful black masculinity that is positive. Kanye West’s song “Gold Digger” famously criticizes women for being only interested in a man’s money, and the video crassly shows women in skimpy clothing gyrating in front of West, even being used as credit card dispensers. Although rap’s narrative may question a white world where the police are trustworthy and criminality is viewed as evil, versus a natural response to the environment, it often embraces a very negative view of women at its worst and at its best has depicted women more as sexualized objects than as fully dimensional human beings. On the other hand, as noted by Patricia Hill Collins in her essay “Get Your Freak On: Sex, Babies, and Images of Black Femininity,” many female artists such as Missy Elliot have appropriated the idea of the highly sexualized Black women of rap videos with pride. 

But this is changing. Today, even male artists such as Drake in songs like “Nice for What” are offering alternative views of women while still using the discourse of hip-hop. Songs like “Nice for What” address in images and words, show women demonstrating class, respect, and genuinely working hard for what they earn, versus solely showing women as money-hungry and the objects of male desire. Drake shows the ability of women seek an education, mother a child, run a company, and even dress in an elegant rather than sexually provocative manner as attractive rather than antithetical to Black male empowerment. The legacy of artists like Missy Elliot show that hip-hop as a method of cultural subversion for Black women as well as Black men can be the new reality. Old scripts can be reconfigured and rewritten.

Getting Your Freak On: Elliot’s Challenge

    One of the most notable concepts in hip-hop, dating back to the 1970s is that of freakiness. In Elliot’s songs and videos, this idea is addressed directly, and Elliot seeks to appropriate the idea of working it and freakiness a method of empowerment for women rather than oppression, as it has traditionally been constructed. Of course, the hip-hop narrative of progress is never linear, and many artists continue to use misogyny and freakiness to question Black female autonomy in their works. But the works of Elliot and more modern artists such as Drake highlight that hip-hop’s method of expression can be feminist and empowering in both the work of women and men. 

    When Elliot created her seminal “Work It,” and “Get Your Freak On,” Collins argues that Elliot was drawing upon a tradition that had associated African-American women and men with so-called freakiness or unnaturalness versus the ordinary neutrality of whiteness. Even when African-American artists had embraced the freakiness term, it was usually to suggest the extremity of Black female sexuality in particular. Rick James’ “Super Freak” is perhaps the best example of this—a song sung about a Black woman who is the kind, James counsels, is not the type of woman you could bring home to your mother. Freakiness implies a sexual appetite out of the ordinary.

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This panders to many of the pre-existing stereotypes of Black femininity, even though its catchy beat and innocent-sounding dance rhythms can easily make a listener forget its real meaning.

     Collins notes that the slang word freak is very pliable in its meaning, however, and it can refer to being strange, sexual, or even simply to dance. Sometimes it can mean all three, and while some artists like James accepted the dominant cultural discourse’s view of what Black female freakiness might mean, others such as Elliot have blurred the lines. “To be labeled a freak, to be freak, and to freak,” can be different things, suggests Collins, and much like other slurs like bitch and faggot, the term is often used to simultaneously replicate oppression to resist it (Collins 121). Elliot’s “Get Your Freak On” shows women and men getting their groove on and enjoying dancing rather than sexually pandering to specific images of Black sexuality. Rewriting what freakiness means as something positive can also be seen as rewriting the dominant cultural script of what it means to be Black as well—as Blackness was often viewed as deviant and freaky in the sense of strange, Elliot suggests that freakiness as a mode of individuality is positive and empowering for both men and women, as she delightfully urges listeners to get their freak on, no matter what that might be.

    Collins further notes that the image of Black hyper-masculinity as oppressing women (in other words, taking advantage of women’s freakiness) has often been used to denigrate African-American culture in general and Black men in general. The act of Black women reclaiming their right to be sexual in a positive way—to be freaky—thus likewise becomes a rehabilitation of African-American culture as a whole, since simply because people are “getting their freak on” does not necessarily mean that they are showing disrespect for one another. Far from it, they can be celebrating one another, as Elliot shows in her video.

    Elliot’s video for her song “Get Your Freak On” begins with martial artists dancing to rap music in a nonsexual fashion. It then features the singer dressed in black and denim, not objectifying herself but celebrating herself as a positive and beautiful image of black womanhood. Elliot, during the video, is seen in different frames clothed in white and gold (an image of wealth and power) and in camouflage in other segments (an image of strength). Although the term freak often suggests rampant sexuality, Elliot offers alternative personas for the female viewer (and perhaps even the male viewer) that are fierce and sexy but not objectified. 

    Elliot also shows people dancing and having fun in the video, including women who are not obviously dancing for men or to incite male….....

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Works Cited

Collins, Patricia. “Get your Freak On: Sex, babies, and Images of Black Femininity.” In Black sexual politics: African Americans, gender and the new racism. New York:  Routledge, pp.119-148.

Rebollo-Gil, G. and Moras, A. “Black Women and Black Men in Hip-Hop Music: Misogyny, Violence, and the Negotiation of (White-Owned) Space.” The Journal of Popular Culture, 45.1 (2012) 118-131.

Russell-Brown, K. Underground Codes: Race, Crime and Related Fires. New York: New York UP, 2004.

Story, Kaila. “Racing Sex – Sexing Race: The Invention of the Black Feminine Body.” In Imagining the Black Female Body: Reconciling Image in Print and Visual Culture. New York: Palgrave, 2010, pp.23-42.

Essay Question: How do feminist artists/creators challenge, subvert, or resist oppression? Description: For this essay, you will choose an example of a feminist cultural text or set of related texts that you will read through the concepts, arguments, and
perspectives of the course to say something about how feminist artists/creators challenge, subvert, or resist oppression.
Some examples of cultural texts include: a song, album, or music video; a film; a novel, graphic novel, comic, or zine; a television character, series or episode; a work of art (visual, performance, installation, craft, etc.).
Using your reading of the feminist cultural text, your essay should attempt to make an argument about the complex relationships between pop culture, power, and feminist resistance. 
Your essay should attempt to answer the following question: How do feminist artists/creators challenge, subvert, or resist oppression? Using your reading of the feminist cultural text, make an argument about the complex relationships between
pop culture, power, and feminist resistance.
Your essay should be grounded in a close reading of the selected cultural text and the message(s) about power and feminist resistance that are conveyed by its author/producer.
Your essay should have an introduction that briefly describes the feminist cultural text, followed by a thesis that clearly articulates your reading of the text, how it is an example of feminist resistance, and what it says about the functioning and/or effects
of power, inequality, and resistance in our society.
The body of your essay should provide examples and evidence that illustrate your central argument. These examples and evidence will draw from your reading of the cultural text, together with the arguments and ideas you find in your research.
A brief conclusion should reiterate your argument’s central claims and say something about why this work is important.
Here is what the paper needs to focus on, Essay Question: How do feminist artists/creators challenge, subvert, or resist oppression?
Description: For this essay, you will choose an example of a feminist cultural text or set of related texts that you will read through the concepts, arguments, and perspectives of the course to say something about how feminist artists/creators challenge, subvert, or resist oppression.
Some examples of cultural texts include: a song, album, or music video; a film; a novel, graphic novel, comic, or zine; a television character, series or episode; a work of art (visual, performance, installation, craft, etc.).
Using your reading of the feminist cultural text, your essay should attempt to make an argument about the complex relationships between pop culture, power, and feminist resistance.
Your essay should attempt to answer the following question: How do feminist artists/creators challenge, subvert, or resist oppression? Using your reading of the feminist cultural text, make an argument about the complex relationships between pop culture, power, and feminist resistance.
Your essay should be grounded in a close reading of the selected cultural text and the message(s) about power and feminist resistance that are conveyed by its author/producer.
Your essay should have an introduction that briefly describes the feminist cultural text, followed by a thesis that clearly articulates your reading of the text, how it is an example of feminist resistance, and what it says about the functioning and/or effects of power, inequality, and resistance in our society.
The body of your essay should provide examples and evidence that illustrate your central argument. These examples and evidence will draw from your reading of the cultural text, together with the arguments and ideas you find in your research.
A brief conclusion should reiterate your argument’s central claims and say something about why this work is important

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