The culture of oversexualisation, misogyny and unequal gender representation perpetuated by hip-hop in popular media and its influence on femininity and masculinity in academia.

Situating the issue

Mass media often portray men and women in various sexualised demeanours or as sexual objects of pleasure (Ward 2016). This sexualization of men and women is often used to attract customers’ attention by enhancing outward beauty and activating sexual associations with the product (Gill 2008; Lazar 2006). Factually, sexualization is a concept that invites scrutiny on the person’s appearance and thus can assume different shades: It can be focusing on physical beauty, sexually-based beauty or focusing on person’s sexual attributes and expected desires by showing their sexual eagerness (Morris and Goldenberg 2015). Sexual objectification, on the other hand is defined as a person who is a mere object of sexual desire (Fredrickson et al. 1998). When drawing upon a parallel between objectification and hip-hop, oversexualisation and marginalisation of women is brought into light as a major issue. Hence in this paper I argue that oversexualisation, misogyny and unequal gender representation perpetuated by hip-hop in popular media fosters a culture of disrespectful treatment towards women.

The hip hop music genre and its subcultures both in the past and the present have been criticised for its gender biases and its negative impacts on women especially when integrated with African-American culture. Gangsta rap (a sub-genre in hip-hop) artists such as Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg have song lyrics that portray women as objects of sexual pleasure and as meant to be dominated by men (Giovacchini 1999). Between the years 1987 and 1993, over 400 hip hop songs had lyrics that withheld violence toward women including rape, assault, and murder thereby establishing a normalcy among people (Weitzer et al. 2009). Thus masculine hegemony was perpetuated through hip hop as it depicts women as individuals who need to rely on men so as to be useful or gain gravitas (Weitzer et al. 2009).

The portrayal of women in hip hop music lyrics and videos tend to be violent, degrading, and oversexualised. Videos often portray idealised female bodies and depict women as being the object of male pleasure (Emerson 2002). This misogynist representation of women as over sexualised objects and also as place holders in hip-hop music videos determine identity, mental and sexual growth, body image and gender agency among students in academia. The pervasiveness of misogynist, sexist, and graphic music videos and lyrics on television, radio, and the Internet has led many adults and young people to assume that what they see and hear is rendered as acceptable while socialising with women (Tobias 2014). Therefore this interaction unconsciously develops ideas around understanding femininity and masculinity in the mentioned target audience. Due to the high frequency of songs with lyrics that are demeaning, depicting sexual violence or sexual assault towards women, it is important to continue the discourse about representation of women in hip hop music lyrics and videos and the consequences of such oversexualised portrayal. In order to critically analyse the existing dominant hegemony of treating women with disrespect as desirable, this paper employs cultural analytics and semiotics.

Conceptual approach

In this paper I examine the works of notable authors and respected scholars in the field to help evaluate how hip-hop and rap cultures have shaped contemporary youth culture, with a focus on its effects on women in academia. Some of the relevant studies on hip-hop and rap cultures include those by Tobias (2014), Ronald Weitzer et al. (2009), Dwight (2006), Rebollo-Gil et al. (2012), Stephens et al. (2007), Zichermann (2013) and Fasoli et al. (2017). This paper also discuss how a hip-hop and rap influenced youth subculture is evolving with its own specific norms, behaviours and beliefs. Further, I explore the cultures’ racial and gender distinctions, as well as their portrayal of women and their subsequent participation within them.

In particular, this study focuses on the sub-genre of Gangsta rap, traditionally seen as the most hard core of the rap genres featuring more extreme messages of misogyny, alpha-male ideologies, violence, drug abuse and criminal behaviour. I plan to demonstrate the potential negative effects of violence, sexuality that commercialisation of hip-hop has on the body image of women. This paper refers to Stephens et al. qualitative study designed to identify African American early adolescents’ subjective implications of African American women’s sexuality through an understanding of Stephens & Phillips sexual images — the Diva, Gold Digger, Freak, Dyke, Gangster Bitch, Sister Saviour, Earth Mother, and Baby Mama (Stephens et al. 2007). Secondly, a thesis, “The Effects of Hip-Hop and Rap on Young Women in Academia” by Zichermann very accurately investigates the rise of the culture and music of hip-hop and rap in the West and its effects on its female listeners and fans, especially those in academia. This study identifies five prevalent themes in hip hop, namely, sexual exploitation and disrespect towards women, ostentatious display of wealth, seeing tobacco and alcohol as a status symbol, establishing territory and referring to ghetto and inclusion of racially charged terminology. “Misogyny in Rap Music” by Weitzer is a content analysis that identifies five gender-related themes in this body of music, themes that contain messages regarding ‘‘essential’’ male and female characteristics. This study argues that changing the content of music in the hip hop industry specifically with regards to the portrayal of women requires a complete overhaul of conditions under which it is conceived. Conditions such as socioeconomic disadvantages and gender relations in local communities, the material interests of the music industry, and the larger cultural objectification of women and associated norms of hegemonic masculinity.

Methodology

In order to consolidate trends in data collection before semiotically analysing them, the study required a hefty amount of audiovisual data from the last 7 years. A boisterous amount of music videos from the hip hop genre were selected from Youtube to serve as raw data. These videos would then be analysed semiotically to filter out trends in the perpetuated culture.

Scantily clad women dancing provocatively while guys grope are a familiar sight in many of today’s rap videos. The culture perpetuated by Hip-hop is not a paragon of gender equality but much farther from it. Songs such as “Crack” (2 Chainz, released in 2012) perpetrate rape culture with lyrics including “I take ya girl and kidnap her, beat her to my mattress,” which suggests kidnapping another man’s girlfriend or wife and presumably force her to have sex (Allison 2016). Due to both suggestive lyrics and visuals a plethora of moral questions arise such as to what extent can hip hop, a so called art form we excused for blatant usage of berating methods to portray women? Are these visuals and words pushing people to act in a certain way, or more specifically, conform to their gender role? Does the hip hop industry have a rationale for the fact that the maximum amount of profit made is through the commercialisation of the female body? This topic piqued my interest when Gangsta rap and other such trap music (Sub genre of hip hop) started getting popular around my immediate friend circle starting late fall 2016. My peers seemed to enjoy the rhythm and flow of the music despite the deprecatory lyrics that practically freely spoke of sexual harassment and violence. That is when I felt a strong urge to contribute to the ongoing conversation about representation of women in the hip hop music scene.

Semiology is a study of signification, communication, signs, symbols and consequently the circulation of meaning. It is a tool for extracting meaning and aligns itself in close association with the site of audiencing and site of image itself (Rose p. 25). According to Saussure’s semiology, a sign can be unpacked into two: signified and the signified wherein both of them point towards the referent. Semiotic analysis is appropriate for breaking down music videos and other artefacts relating to popular culture. Since semiotic analysis delves in denotation and connotation, it will help take apart each and every cultural meaning and critically filter the artefact. For example, semiotic analysis can be used to break down how women are framed in the music videos, the kind of roles they are expected to fulfil as well as the metaphorical references in the visuals accompanied by the nature of the lyrics.

This study features three semiotically analysed music videos from hip hop and popular culture collected from Youtube. Namely, Major Lazer — Bubble Butt (feat. Bruno Mars, 2 Chainz, Tyga & Mystic) Fetty Wap “679” feat. Remy Boyz and Migos — Slippery feat. Gucci Mane. As the research delves into hip hop culture and its origins, a strong connection is established between hip hop music videos and portrayal of African — American women, they being both the muse and the misused in this scenario. Since the 90s, the focus of hip hop and rap had shifted to drugs and misogyny (Wikipedia 2017) and since it was predominantly dominated by artists of African — American origin, women in this diaspora became both the subject of inspiration as well as the ones to berated. Hence I selected music videos that feature black women and men so as to contextualise the music scene.

Major Lazer — Bubble Butt (feat. Bruno Mars, 2 Chainz, Tyga & Mystic)

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The screenshot in figure 1 video portrays women of colour dancing to a peppy beat. Wherein black women are shown to have extensively large buttocks when comparison to white women in the video. The video shows women in provocative clothing apparently wanting to be used. As the lyrics go,

“ Wine, go down, turn and flick it,

A girl like me know how fi handle oi wicked,

One bat, two balls, swing it like cricket

Pull me locks, slap my ass, make me show you how me wicked”

thereby showing the lustful want for the female flesh.

Fetty Wap “679” feat. Remy Boyz, Migos

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In figure 2, the screenshot of “679” attempts to draw a parallel between money, women and alcohol so as to flaunt the ideal “gangsta” lifestyle. The singer Fetty Wap is surrounded by women to portray him as a womaniser. There are multiple references to immense wealth, alcohol and portrayal of women as gold diggers through the lyrics,

“Baby girl, you’re so damn fine though

I’m tryna know if I could hit it from behind though

I’m sipping on you like some fine wine though

And when it’s over, I press rewind though

You talking bands, girl, I got it

Benjamins all in my pocket

I traded in my Trues for some Robins

He playing Batman, Fetty’s gon rob him

I got a Glock in my ‘rari, 17 shots, no .38”

The idea of upward progression and luxurious lifestyle is dissolved down to drugs and lust for flesh. This very idea normalises the stereotype that all women have a distinct want for men who are rich and how they automatically want to engage in sexual intercourse with black men.

Migos — Slippery feat. Gucci Mane

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(figure 3)This video portrays an abundance of African — American and caucasian looking women in a pool with the singer. Majority of the camera angles and shots focus on the female body and they rarely have anything to add to the meaning other than being present as sex toys. The video also portrays the artists groping the female actors/dancers with much authority so much so that they are a part of their wealth and property and hence are owned.

The lyrics of the opening are as following;

“Pop a perky just to start up (pop it, pop it)

Pop two cups of purple just to warm up (two cups, drank)

I heard your bitch, she got that water

(Splash, drip, drip, woo, splash)

Slippery, ‘scuse me, please me (please)

I’m up, oh, believe me, believe me (believe me)

Get beat (beat), ’cause I’m flexin’ ‘Rari’s (skrt)

You can bet on me (skr, skr, hey, hey, hey)”

These lyrics blatantly boil down to treating women as objects and slaves who are present to please the artists in the music video. Also, due the usage of questionable language to describe women and given the popularity of these artists, rather normalises the fact that they are berating women.

Conclusion

In the analysis of the lyrics and the music videos, about five themes were prevalent in the media artefacts. Firstly, Sexual Exploitation and Disrespect Towards Women, arises from the ways women are represented in the songs’ lyrics. Terms such as “bitch” and “ho” are frequently used to describe or name women. Secondly, Ostentatious Display of Wealth, refers to the connections among wealth, objects, and, image. Frequent references to gluttony and greed are evident in the lyrics as emblems of prestige and power. Thirdly, glamorisation of tobacco, alcohol and illegal substances and weapons reveals the tendency of hip-hop and rap artists to rap about the use of weapons and their consumption of illegal narcotics and substances as actions that enhance their images and separate them from the mainstream. Fourthly, establishing territory, show how artists use the word and the idea of a ghetto or “hood” as an element in their everyday lyrics, to imply daily struggle both against each other and the world at large. It is an important representation of the artist as the alpha male or his establishment as a higher being in the social hierarchy. And finally, Inclusion of derogatory and racially charged terminology such as “Niggas”. All of these themes directly affect the role and rights of women within the culture and basically obstruct or create obstacles towards an honest dialogue about hip-hop and rap among women in academia. Although due to limited media effects theory wherein it’s believed that mass media cannot directly cause a change in most people’s opinions but definitely influence or initiate a change, it can be said that the negative attitudes towards women is an indirect product of such culture. This is explained in relation to selective perception since viewers tend to select and interpret media messages in accordance with their existing attitudes and beliefs, and their use of the mass media tends to reinforce these (Oxford reference, 2017).

Although, the conversation about the culture of oversexualisation, misogyny and unequal gender representation perpetuated by hip-hop in popular media and its influence on femininity and masculinity needs to be further carried so as to reach a definite answer on this berating portrayal in the name of art.

Words: 2400

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A student of user experience design and an aspiring filmmaker.

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