“Can’t Hold Us Down”: Our Tolerance Of Misogyny In Hip-Hop

The struggle’s all over, right ladies? After all, now that those pesky “gender stereotypes” have fallen by the wayside, we’ve earned the right to watch hip-hop’s current leading ladies shake off the shackles of sexism to don their snug, spandex onesies and represent our fair gender with their shock-rock shtick about lustful endeavours.

After all, if Salt-n-Pepa can talk about sex, why can’t they? Didn’t “None Of Your Business” pave the way for ‘Lil Kim to ask us, “How Many Licks”? And it’s safe to assume that Rihanna’s channeling “Free Your Mind” with “S&M”. Expression is expression – just take off your clothes.

But isn’t the medium the message?

It’s easy to forget that following the Black Power movement, the genres of funk, soul and yes, even disco evolved into the now-established MC culture, introducing the masses to the likes of the Sugahill Gang and Grandmaster Flash, and drenching listeners with relatable commentary, understandable fear, precious hope and above all – power.

So imagine how women felt when Salt-n-Pepa’s 1986 debut hit shelves and not only perpetuated the urgency of the decade’s most influential genre, but had the guts to address misogyny and sex from a female perspective. Include the arrival of MC Lyte (the first female hardcore rapper signed to a major label) and Queen Latifah, and women’s place in the predominantly male-oriented genre was relatively solidified.

Then as years progressed, forces like Mary J. Blige, TLC, Eve and Lauryn Hill began populating hip-hop’s gritty, hardcore, sexist landscape and used their dynamic personalities to speak on behalf of a gender that was loudly being told to shut it.

Their response? To give the proverbial finger and instead pave the way for the likes of Da Brat, Foxy Brown and even ‘Lil Kim, whose raunchy contributions to Junior M.A.F.I.A. were a welcome reprieve from Biggie’s infamous “bitch please” agenda.

But that’s the thing about novelties: they wear off. And nearly 30 years after hip-hop’s matriarchs told us to “Push It”, we’ve got ‘Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj playing dress-up and overshadowing their clever prose with the race to fit into a doll-sized box.

So whose fault is this? I think we know. Because personally, I’m over the concept of finger-pointing and blaming society for keeping us down. Does it? Yeah, sure. But there comes a time when we’ve got to look at ourselves as women and wonder what the fuck is going on.

Why is it that the godmothers of hip-hop once used the genre as a mouthpiece for social commentary, when it’s now evolved into how many words you can rhyme with “dick”? Is there nothing else to talk about? (Though using the subject of sex as a lyrical safety blanket is another issue altogether.) Why can men be poetic while women are expected to address domestic violence while wearing short-shorts in front of a burning house? We don’t expect the same from female rock ‘n rollers, but in hip-hop, “that’s just the way it is”.

I disagree. Artists like Northern State and MasiaONE are gritty, poetic, honest and (gasp!) female, and you’d hardly see them accept a place within a hip-hop hierarchy that demanded them to shake it next to a “more capable” male figure.

The reason Barbie’s prevailed over integrity is because it’s easy. Certain women in hip-hop have perpetuated the cycle of misogyny because to be popular and objectified has been the go-to for women since teenage boys liked breasts. ‘Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj aren’t stupid – they’re quite the opposite. But instead of using the attention to bring attention to sexism, they’ve embraced it, singing the age-old, chauvinist song in which “empowerment” means “I’m so confidant, I demand you look at my ass.”

And maybe to some women, it does. But like the girls in high school who just wanted to wear their combat boots and be recognized for their intellect or sense of humour, the popular, push-up bra wearing population insisted they were the minority – because to the public, they are. There’s a reason it’s shocking when a fully-clothed woman emerges onstage and sings about empowerment – because if you remember the ‘Lil Kim-Christina jam, not even their short-shorts and a fire hose could “hold them down”.

Oppression is old news, and so is our willingness to accept it. But if we’re going to look to Nicki Minaj as the future of hip-hop, perhaps we should ask why she’s striving to be a living doll – or why we as women are so willing to champion it. TC mark

image – Philip Nelson

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  • xra

    omg im drowning in bad prose help me reach one of the side links in time pls

    • http://breakthewallsnow.com/ Dan Zubrzycki

      Negative responses should be constructive in  nature.  Your use of abbreviations and lack of grammar completely negated what ever your intention was in this comment.  Next time you could be more effective by spelling out both your words in addition to your meaning.

      • Yup.

        I was just about to make this same point.

      • OpusDea

        I would have said, “Your lack of punctuation leads me to believe you don't even know what prose is.”

  • setecq

    This same article has been written about a thousand times. I'd never heard of those artists mentioned. That seems like one of the important things to be discussed here.

  • http://breakthewallsnow.com/ Dan Zubrzycki

    This was a really enjoyable.  The piece was rife with effective allusions which didn't distract from the overall piece.  I enjoyed the kind of triple reverse you pulled, “Rap is misogynist, rap is not, rap is.”  That you've located the source of the misogyny in the victims is interesting.
    Imagine what Beyonce's career might have been had she not been seen, but only ever heard.  If tits and ass didn't sell but lyricism and vocal talent.  

    I'm interested to see how this might turn around in the upcoming years.

  • http://twitter.com/rawdomain Stephanie Laskowski

    Yeah, victim blaming!

  • JonQ288

    “Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it?” – Sean Carter

  • Suz

    Very interesting. I think a lot of artists have chosen to make more money and be on more 'most sexy' lists than cover themselves up and really say something. Perhaps they are victims in that something happened in their lives to lead them to be okay with what they are doing. But to endlessly blame men and pity the women is more sexist.

  • theonlycloan

    i agree wholeheartedly. misogyny works most effectively when the victims don't realize that the oppression exists.

    but as for the artists' decisions to use sex as a selling point, i don't judge them. people are buying what they're selling, it's a tough economy. the audience needs to demand a higher quality product so that quality artists can make a living.

  • 101girlgripes

    How…how was this published? 

    Remember that time everyone got really pissed off because the girl who wrote about the slut walk on TC said girls in booty shorts kind of deserved to be raped?

    But when someone says BLACK girls in booty shorts don't deserve our respect beyond treating them like “sex objects,” it's okay?

    And also, Anne, have you actually listened to hip hop?  Ever?  Beyond what you imagine you'd hear on hot97 if you ever listened to hot97?  Beyond what you fact-checked on wiki?  When you hear S+M on the radio are you really like, “oh groan, another hot chick singing about sex,” and not like, holy shit, rihanna just took all people's preconceptions about survivors of domestic abuse and said, “Ya know what fuckers, pain + pleasure go great together when it's CONSENSUAL, so fuck you for censoring my sexuality and expecting passivity.”

    Get off the second wave, anne, it's super frigid!

    • Guest

      I feel like some people are misunderstanding Anne here. I think one of her points is (and forgive me if I'm way off) that women are playing into the roles that misogynistic men have made for them instead of setting new standards for themselves. It's like they are proving that they are “strong women” by taking off their clothes, which doesn't necessarily prove anything at all. In fact, it reestablishes the power of the misogynistic men they are trying to break away from.

      I'm not saying I agree or disagree with Anne, I'm merely trying to explain to those people who seem confused. 

      Again, my apologies if I'm way off, Anne.

      • 101girlgripes

        No, I understood that, and I feel like it's a completely ridiculous (and unresearched) argument to make.  Honestly, do you think lil' kim wore a purple bell-bottomed jumpsuit with a pastied tit to fit into “misogynistic male beauty standards?”  that looked a lot more like lil' kim (EMPHASIS ON THE APOSTROPHE PLACEMENT) doin' her.  Sounds like the author is projecting her limited view of what 'empowered'/'feminist' women are allowed to wear onto all women.  Some of us happen to like less clothes.

      • Sara David

        yeah, this reads very similarly to that article about tumblr nudity too.
        https://thoughtcatalog.com/2011

        i feel similarly about this issue as i did about that one… in that there are a lot of ambiguous, assumed definitions of objectification and empowerment. if either article went a little bit deeper and examined their subjects more, maybe they would have been interesting enough to inspire discussion/discourse on the topic.

        as is, i'm kind of over it.

      • ambermchandler

        Soooo women are never allowed to revel in their own sexuality or wear sexy clothing because it plays into a man's ideal? Being empowered is NOT about focusing on what the MAN'S IDEAL is, even if it is to be the anti. It's about feeling powerful in your own self, and if blonde hair makes Nicki Minaj feel like that, then so be it. Who is to say she had “the man's ideal” in mind when she created her own standard? To think that is inherently misogynistic and male-narcissistic in itself.

      • Seymour Blake

        Just pointing out that this is a double post… I deleted it, but somehow it came back.

  • lalit

    You gotta listen to Jean Grae – Jeanius !

  • Arthur

    Nicki Minaj has sold out. I encourage you to listen to her earlier works – songs like “Autobiography,” “Still I Rise,” and “Envy,” which address profound issues candidly and without misogynistic, “empowering” sexuality. I'd like the old Nicki back :(

  • ambermchandler

    How is this article's point any different than the claim, “Oh she was wearing a short skirt, so she was just asking to get raped.” 

    Yeah, Nicki Minaj is hot so she should TOTALLY get blamed for all the misogyny in the rest of the industry. Not Odd Future or any of those other male artists who have sexist/racist lyrics…right?

    • http://twitter.com/MollyWest12th Molly Oswaks

      That's what I was thinking. It's just a jump back to the Great SlutWalk Article Uproar of a few months ago. Same message, different writer.  And we all know how that ended.

  • horrible

    it's the SUGARHILL GANG. not sugahill gang. talk about racial stereotypes! also, MC LYTE was the “first female hardcore rapper” signed to a major label? what's your definition of “hardcore rap”, anne? what a useless, horrible read.

  • Ro

    Did you really do research on any of these artists?? Do you listen to hip-hop music? Nicki Minaj has a good amount of songs that aren't about being a princess– in fact she opens Roman's Revenge with “I am not Jasmine, I am Aladdin.” She has different sides of her personality in different songs– yes, Barbie is one of them, what about Roman Zolansky? What about Beyonce's “Girls (Who Run The World)?” What about the men of hip-hop? MC Lyte is NOT hardcore, and why can't women sing in booty shorts?? Damn.

    • 101girlgripes

      yeah booty shorts are really fucking cute and comfortable and they make yr legs look fly.  get over it.

    • What a joke

      'What about Beyonce's “Girls (Who Run The World)?”'
      Oh fuck off with that shit. What about Beyonce's trite attempt at falsely making girls feel like we're in control in a male-dominated society. We don't run shit.


      • Samk

        That video is trite. And excessively literal. I think the song tells girls we have the potential to be in control.

  • Nobody

    what does this even mean? “Certain women in hip-hop have perpetuated the cycle of misogyny because to be popular and objectified has been the go-to for women since teenage boys liked breasts.” ??? 

    why use the british version of “humour”? 

    also, it's lil' kim. not 'lil kim.

  • What

    I don't even know what your point is. This writing is a mess. What are you trying to say? Give me a couple sentence summary of your point.

  • Brononymous

    When did TC get so puritanical? God forbid women express their sexuality!

    • Brononymous

      because if they do, that's misogyny…against…themselves??

      Get on the third wave.

      • http://fastfoodies.org Briana

        SLUTWALK

        speaking of which, where is chelsea fagan? haven't seen her around lately

  • Just Saying

    MasiaONE rapped a Nicki Minaj remix of “Your Love.” Just Saying.

  • Chase V

    Have you listened to any Nicki songs? Look up Moment 4 Life or Dear Old Nicki, and then revise your article. These 2 songs talk about overcoming obstacles and not being viewed as only a sexual object….

  • alfredo garcia

    there's a lot of ridiculous shit about this article but the part i laughed at best was 'northern state is gritty and poetic'.

    yeah yeah now it's all gonna be 'oooh i wrote an anti-misogyny piece of tc but they slammed me in the comments cause everybody hates women'. yeah. yawn. northern state. haha.

    • Guy

      Northern State: Long Island's most regrettable export.

  • Seymour Blake

    I feel like some people are misunderstanding Anne here. I think one of her points is (and forgive me if I'm way off) that women are playing into the roles that misogynistic men have made for them instead of setting new standards for themselves. It's like they are proving that they are “strong women” by taking off their clothes, which doesn't necessarily prove anything at all. In fact, it reestablishes the power of the misogynistic men they are trying to break away from.I'm not saying I agree or disagree with Anne, I'm merely trying to explain to those people who seem confused. Again, my apologies if I'm way off, Anne.

    • 101girlgripes

      No, I understood that, and I feel like it's a completely ridiculous (and
      unresearched) argument to make.  Honestly, do you think lil' kim wore a
      purple bell-bottomed jumpsuit with a pastied tit to fit into
      “misogynistic male beauty standards?”  that looked a lot more like lil'
      kim (EMPHASIS ON THE APOSTROPHE PLACEMENT) doin' her.  Sounds like the
      author is projecting her limited view of what 'empowered'/'feminist'
      women are allowed to wear onto all women.  Some of us happen to like
      less clothes.

    • m bell

      totes agree. and as much as i think lil' kim's how many licks is fun, i can't help but be appalled at the reverse misogyny in lyrics like “He ate my pussy from dark till the mornin/Called his girl up and told her we was bonin.”  when the ying yang twins rap about “beating up” a girls pussy (btw, i'm still convinced that song is satire) it's a fair question to ask what kind of demeaning stereotypes that might be perpetuating.  lil' kim shouldn't be afforded some special immunity from that just because she's a woman.

  • stereo

    this is probably the single most incredibly poorly written article to ever grace the pages of thought catalog.

    • Determined Hera

      Quit being a dick.

  • PaulaDeener

    You used “confidant” where you should have used “confident”.

  • whu

    If you actually listen to the lyrics of “Can't hold us down” by Christina and Lil Kim you'll know that they refer to why women can't be players like men can without being persecuted and called demeaning names like 'whore' or whatever. How is anything they are wearing to do with the message of empowerment they are trying to communicate? They're expressing that women are equal to men and not anything to do with being fully clothed…. so I don't really know what that reference was about.
    With regards to the rest of the article, you clearly have a different idea to Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj of what gender equality is, and it seems like too much of an opinion. Female empowerment is about a lot of things and I think you should open your mind a bit more.
    Jussayin'

  • Artimus D.

    I'm just wondering how Jean Grae didn't even get a mention. She's pretty much the answer this article personified.

  • lbln30rty
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