Who Needs Hip-Hop Feminism?
Honestly, we all need hip-hop feminism. Hip-hop feminism is a movement that was created to bring the black feminist foundations of the previous two waves and put them into the context of hip-hop culture. By putting feminist ideals under the lens of hip-hop culture, one can start a conversation with the members of the hip-hop generation. In 1999, Joan Morgan, who coined the term hip- hop feminism, wrote a book about how she did not see a place for herself within the present black feminist community titled When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down. Morgan’s feeling of displacement was felt by others and to her surprise, hip-hop feminism became a movement. The feminists who identify with this movement ultimately seek to empower black and brown women and girls through their work. Hip-hop feminism is needed because it can help bridge the ever-growing gap between the academy and everyone outside of it.
Joan Morgan said feminism needs to be “brave enough to fuck with the grays”. Fucking with the grays is a foundational part of hip-hop feminism, it understands that people have contradictions between the way they live their life and their political ideologies. Recognizing these contradictions is integral to understanding the need for hip-hop feminism. Following this phrase allows feminists to be creative and innovative in their determining of their own personal methods of praxis and theory. Hip-hop feminists use “the grays” to expand their consciousness as feminists.
Hip-hop feminists use hip-hop to analyze how race, gender, and socioeconomic status effect the creating and the consuming of hip-hop culture. Hip–hop feminists strive to embrace the contradictions within their lives, like loving hip-hop but recognizing its misogyny, which is important because it starts a conversation about pleasure, sex and what it means to have sexual desires that do not necessarily match up with feminist ideals. From that conversation new theories about pleasure can arise as well. An important hip-hop feminist notion is promoting love of one’s self and having a defined, unique sense of self. This stems from a desire to reject respectability politics and the strains that they place on black women in America. Respectability politics were created by black feminists as a strategy to gain respect from white people by presenting themselves as proper, never openly sexual, pious women. And at one point in time, respectability politics did aid in helping to better the lives of black people. But respectability politics also serve as a damaging repressor for women’s sexualities in black communities. Hip- hop feminism is necessary because it can take something that would be seen and brushed off as simple misogyny or sexual objectification of women and they use it as a way to empower women of color and open a dialogue about the sexuality of black women that would not begin otherwise.
The early hip-hop feminists spoke about Queen Latifah and MC Lyte not as hip-hop feminists themselves but as depictions of hip-hop feminism in action. Could Beyoncé Knowles be seen as a modern vessel for hip-hop feminism? By using the theories of hip-hop feminists I would say yes. Two of the goals of hip-hop feminism are to empower black women and girls and to keep it real. I believe that on Beyoncé’s most recent album, titled Beyoncé, she did both.
One of the most prominent songs from the album is “***Flawless”, this song with its catchy beat also samples a speech from a TEDx talk titled by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In her speech, Adichie comments on the differences in the ways girls and boys are raised in our society. Then Beyoncé comes back with the chorus proclaiming “I woke up like this. We flawless, ladies tell ‘em. Say I look so good tonight”. Since the release of this song, there have been tons and tons of young women claiming their #Flawless faces and posting #NoMakeUpSelfies. Beyoncé’s album also contains other songs with important messages as well, including “Pretty Hurts” which speaks on the harmful messages of what beauty entails in our society. In true hip-hop feminist fashion, Beyoncé also freely speaks about her sexuality on this album. Even though Bey has never actually self-identified as a hip-hop feminist, I consider her a modern hip-hop feminist.
Pop culture is where many people, especially children, learn about the world and their “place” in it. Hip-hop feminism’s foundation in using popular culture as a method to reach and empower black and brown women and girls is exactly what the feminist movement needs. Hip-hop feminism was created as a space for women and girls of the hip-hop generation who couldn’t fit themselves into the existing movement. This purpose is still relevant today as the third-wave feminist grows but excludes the issues of women of all races, sexualities and gender identities. Hip-hop feminism is an all-inclusive space for women and girls of the hip-hop generation to empower themselves and learn to critique and ultimately better the society around them.