Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

From the Trenches: 8th grade boy on Hip Hop and Female Objectification

One of my readers, an 8th grade boy who is a hip hop fan, wrote to me about how he sees women being portrayed in music videos. He makes some very astute observations. This is the kind of critical media consumers that I want my kids to become! Read on to see what he has to say:

“Lately I have grown to be a huge hip hop fan.  Hip hop at its best is creative rhymes, rhythmic beats, and meaningful lyrics.  Unfortunately, hip hop is often focused on driving fancy cars, wearing expensive clothes, getting money, and “bling”.  But the topic I’m focusing on today that I hate about hip hop is the way rappers and hip hop singers never cease to objectify girls as just another sign of status.  There’s nothing I hate more than nodding my head to a catchy beat and then hearing the B-word or the H-word (or other slang words for “girl”) used to make an artist look “cool”.  The reason this is worse than the money, cars, clothes cliché is that rappers seem to forget that these girls – who they see as signs of status – are people too.  However, I don’t think it is flat-out sexism, although there is definitely some present.  If you listen to the lyrics of many famous hip hop artists, you will find that a rapper’s mother is often his inspiration, role model, et cetera.  I have also found that these sometimes offensive songwriters can become extremely sensitive when they talk about their daughters.

So the issue here is when girls become just another symbol of wealth.  This is evident in music videos even more than in songs.  I saw a music video the other day by a Latino pop singer (I know this isn’t hip hop but it’s still the same basic idea) named Enrique Iglesias, titled “Hero.”  The song is actually very heartfelt and romantic, but the music video includes a scene where the singer rubs money all over the love interest’s body.  I suppose the director was trying to display love?  If so, he failed dramatically.  This pretty much fits the cliché idea of a mainstream music video.  I challenge anyone to prove me wrong, but I think that every mainstream male hip hop artist has at least one or two videos like this.  Even artists that I feel are creative and uplifting tend to do this once in a while as well.  For example, rapper and producer Kanye West created one of my favorite music videos ever, titled “Jesus Walks”.  However, he also has a video titled “Gold Digger”, which features multiple models dressed lightly and striking seductive poses.  This just goes to show that even great artists fall into the “trend” of featuring girls as sex objects in videos.

The scary thing about this is that it makes young girls think that all they can hope to be valued for is their outward beauty. Girls who have dreams of becoming singers, producers, or even non-music-related jobs will feel like all they can hope to be is a “video extra.” That’s why I’m excited to see new female artists, such as Nicki Minaj, who can show up most male rappers in the industry. Now don’t get me wrong, Minaj still sexualizes herself sometimes in her videos, but what I like about her is that she can do what the guys can do just as well as the guys, if not better, which will hopefully show young girls that they can hope to be more than just an extra “decoration” in a music video.

Hip hop has a very fine line between being profound and profane. I hope artists such as the ones I mentioned can change the future of hip hop by being uplifting rather than objectifying. It can happen, but only if our voice is heard by these artists.”

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