Women are regularly portrayed badly in all aspects of popular culture, but rap lyrics stand to be one of the major problems, especially pertinent in the last couple of weeks. An article from Time Magazine posted on Proquest points out that we also live in a culture in which racially and sexually edgy material is often--legitimately--considered brilliant comment, even art. Last year's most critically praised comedy, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, even won Sacha Baron Cohen a Golden Globe, when he played a Kazakh journalist who calls Alan Keyes a "genuine chocolate face" and asks a gun-shop owner to suggest a good piece for killing a Jew.
"That's some rough girls from Rutgers," Don Imus said on his radio show. "Man, they got tattoos ... That's some nappy-headed hos there." The "joke" was taken badly by every community, raising memories of beauty bias (against darker skin and kinkier hair) that dates back to slavery. Times have changed, when older generations used to care more about race, and nowadays people are either friends or not, but don't see color as much. But then they care more about things like this, judging from the existence of this x-rated CD from 1974 that must have been acceptable, judging by him still having his job until this year. Back in the day, Imus called a Washington Post writer a "boner-nosed, beanie-wearing Jewboy."
"Those impressive young women on the Rutgers basketball team took the first step to parlay the outrage over the racist and sexist attack on them into a movement against the degradation of women. All women," wrote Brenda Payton in her article, One misogynist down. She recalls a two year period of the mid 1970's when women were not objectified in advertising, "Because businesses were afraid of women's libbers and boycotts of their products, they didn't exploit women in advertising." Oh, how the tables have turned. Now radio stations seem afraid to boycott the degrading rap lyrics because they are afraid of losing listeners because of it.
Then again, not all of them!
Program Director of Power 105 in New York Helen Little told the NY Daily News, "what we're doing is holding labels and artists accountable for what they say and how they say it. " They want their listeners to know that they have thought about everything they're playing. What a fantastic idea, except for the fact that when radio is already in decline, how smart is it to take a chance on not playing something the masses want? In time we will see if principle pays off over popularity, but I do give Power 105 a pat on the back for being the EMI of radio and being the first to take a stand. Maybe everyone will follow suit, then they will all lose the few listeners they have at the moment.
Or maybe these little events will barely have an impact? In 2004 Spelman College canceled Nelly's appearance because of the song "Tip Drill" with the controversial credit card scene. It seemed like a big deal at the time, but then in 2007 you can find hundreds of videos on YouTube of women simply shaking their butts to the song, for minutes on end.
Russell Simmons made a public statement "We recommend that the recording and broadcast industries voluntarily remove/bleep/delete the misogynistic words 'bitch' and 'ho' and the racially offensive word 'nigger,'" Simmons said via the statement. "These three words should be considered with the same objections to obscenity as 'extreme curse words.'"
Simmons and the Hip-hop Summit Action Network also called for the formation of a Coalition on Broadcast Standards that would consist of leading executives from music, radio, and television. It would be a nice addition, but would it catch on?
Snoop Dogg defended himself and his fellow rappers on MTV.com, saying "we ain't no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC going hard on black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel." Snoop defends the position that because they are not talking about successful collegiate athletes in their songs, that it makes it better. Some hip-hop fans will see it that way, but others won't.
A New Jersey Senator, Shirley Turner, was quoted in a US Federal News Service Release on Proquest, saying "As an African-American parent, grandparent, educator and state Senator, I think we should now send word to those in the rap music industry who continue to degrade women that, "It's over for you too,'" Senator Turner said.
The Rutgers women stood strong at a press conference defending themselves. "I'm a woman, and I'm someone's child," said Kia Vaughn. "I achieve a lot. And unless they've given this name, a 'ho,' a new definition, then that is not what I am."
With women of all backgrounds and careers taking stands, radio stations beginning to refuse to play certain rap songs, colleges and venues canceling group appearances, the formation of a Hip-hop Summit Action Network with goals to clean up hip-hop culture, and more overall respect and conscientiousness about the degradation of women in pop culture, the future is brighter than ever.
Will it all happen?
I believe that the Imus incident opened a can of worms that will probably blow over and be less of a focus in the future and that rap lyrics will not see much change, but that women will begin to take stands and not be as okay with it as they are right now. And that is what matters.
Perhaps Winston Churchill was right on when he came up with the quote, "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."