by Liz Putney
“When you leave me bitch you’re gonna be a hoe,” “Pass [a woman] to the homie, now you hit it,” “Last week I beat my bitch up in the street for lyin to me,” “You know I thug ‘em, fuck ‘em, love ‘em, leave ‘em, ‘cause I don’t fuckin’ need ‘em.” These are four different lyrics from four different rappers completely degrading women. Male rappers in the hip-hop industry write misogynistic lyrics about women to employ their power over the other gender. Young impressionable minds listen to rap music by these artists and believe that treating and viewing women in these hyper-sexualized, demeaning ways is acceptable. Rap allows for men to gain power over women and later exert it in violent ways to prove so. So how do modern-day, feminist authors combat misogyny through literature? Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book-length essay We Should All Be Feminists was adapted from her TED talk and extensively encompasses the themes of women empowerment and representation as it contests the stereotypes that surround women. Her writing contrasts that of rap lyrics, and women can use her work to fight the misogyny in rap music. Feminist movements and literature are important because, as hip-hop grows in popularity, more people will listen to this music and begin to believe that it is acceptable to view women as sexual, worthless objects, which is unacceptable.
I see a clear juxtaposition between Adichie’s writing and that of rappers as she writes to inspire, enable, and remind women just how powerful they really are, but also to explain how men and women became so unequal. Adichie writes, “We raise [women] to cater to the fragile egos of males…you should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man” (27-28). Many rappers write misogynistic lyrics to prove to themselves and other men that they are still superior. Men need to constantly remind themselves that they are above women, and Adichie recognizes the fact that women who are successful or simply empowered can easily threaten a man’s power. She continues, “All over the world, there are so many magazine articles and books telling women what to do, how to be and not to be, in order to attract or please men. There are far fewer guides for men about pleasing women” (24). Evidently if there were more standards teaching men how to act, these songs and lyrics would be far less prevalent.
Women are constantly put in their place by men—men tell women what they can or cannot wear, women are told that they cannot have certain professions because of their gender, and we must often conform to the gender roles that keep women in the house and out of the workplace—yet very little of these standards exist for men. Women do not tell men what to wear or how to act or what profession they must have, and if a woman were to tell a man what to do he would likely laugh. Most men feel that they are superior to women because of the types of lyrics that exist in hip-hop songs. Young men listen to these songs and are told that women should be treated as objects that can easily be thrown away, so they treat women this way. In “Miss Representation” there is a boy who says, “If boys don’t show this masculine side, then they’re criticized for it.” Another younger boy said, “it really puts a lot of pressure on me when I have relatives who have grown up with this phenomenon (of being misogynistic and hyper-masculine) who attempt to put me on that path, but I’m not ready for it.” Young boys are pushed to be manly and tough, even if they have no desire to be for fear of being looked down upon or lesser of a man.
Why are men so sensitive when it comes to their masculinity and why must they exert it whenever possible? In my Psychology 101 class, we focused on gender relations. We watched a film that highlighted the reasons for the gender expectations that exist in society. These gender expectations are that men should be tough guys who don’t care about women’s feelings, or at least don’t show it, and women should be dainty little girls who are pure and innocent. Much of the reasoning behind boys acting the way that they do is because society teaches boys that they should not have emotions, and thus they bottle them up and end up lashing out, often times at women. The world today teaches us that women are the emotional gender, so men cannot be—they must appear tough and threatening. Some households even enforce boys being emotionless heavily, as we saw footage of parents scolding their sons for crying and telling them to man up and to “stop acting like a girl.” Men in hip-hop are perfect models of hiding any emotions and putting themselves on display as people who couldn’t care less about women and have no respect for them. Rappers continue to assert their masculinity and pride, while degrading women to sell their music and appear heartless—something that society believes a man should be. Adichie would say that there is no reason for these generalized stereotypes to exist around genders and we must continue to work to get rid of them.
Men write demeaning lyrics toward women to assert their masculinity and Adichie says that there is no need for men to declare themselves that way because we should be equals. Adichie writes, “We use the word respect for something a woman shows a man, but not often for something a man shows a woman” (31). Why is this not a two-way street? Why are women constantly forced to show respect in their relationship, to bow down the man, but he can treat her however he pleases? For example, in his song “Bad Meets Evil,” Eminem raps, “Put that shit away Iggy (Azalea), you gon’ blow that rape whistle on me, I love it.” Eminem references Iggy as he alludes to rape, which is a serious threat. This man has zero respect for women yet he writes a song demanding respect for his daughter. Since she is a family member, he clearly admires her more than any other woman, but women are women, and should all be respected the same. In “Hailie’s Revenge,” he says, “Don’t you never say my little girl’s name in a song again! Fuckin’ punk p*ssy little bitch! I’ll fuck you up boy! Never! Never in your muthafuckin life! I’ll choke the shit outchu little muthafuckin bitch!” He clearly rages over the things that people say about his daughter, but he needs to consider that the women who he says undignified things about are the daughters of men, as well. He, and other rappers, needs to realize that respect and treatment of human beings is a two-way street that must be equal for all involved.
One of the biggest issues in all over the world today is the contrast between how we treat girls having sex and boys having sex. Girls are slut-shamed constantly in hip-hop and the real world for doing the exact same thing that boys do. If a girl hooks up with boys, then she is a slut, but if she doesn’t hookup with boys, then she is a prude. If a boy hooks up with girls, he is an icon to all of his friends, but if a boy doesn’t hookup with girls—it’s fine. He is just waiting for the right girl to come along. How does this make sense? Adichie says, “We praise girls for virginity but we don’t praise boys for virginity” (32). In rap especially, when a man knows that a woman is having sex with men, she is automatically a slut. I don’t believe that there is ever a use for that word, especially since boys do the exact same thing and don’t get any backlash for it. Again, in his song “Kill You,” Eminem raps, “Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore…shut up slut, you’re causin’ too much chaos.” Eminem calls this woman horribly degrading names while in his song “The Warning,” he says, “…made me put up with her psycho-ass over 6 months, and only spread her legs to let me hit once.” Initially, he complains about a girl being a slut, sleeping with too many men, but he later complains about a woman who only let him have sex with her once. In the eyes of men, women can never do anything right regarding their own body and this is dismaying to me. We teach women, from the moment they are born, to be shameful and silence themselves. They must silence their desire and silence their thoughts, while we teach men to be overassertive humans who are allowed to say whatever they want about women. Adichie recognizes that women are silenced while men are permitted to say what they want and act how they please and she blames gender expectations for why men and women are the way that they are.
The rap and hip-hop music that sells today is that of domineering masculinity and extreme misogyny. The most unfortunate part of it selling is that it conditions young minds to believe this is the way that women should and always have been treated, and it is not okay. Adichie reminds us that men and women are not born inherently different, rather there are these pre-existing roles that we must fit into as we grow older. We must eliminate these roles; we must eliminate these stereotypes that surround both men and women. There is no need for women to be seen and treated as emotional, fragile humans who cannot handle life on their own. Similarly, there is no reason for men to be forced to bottle up their emotions and extend their masculinity over everyone by degrading women. We must do better. “All of us, women and men, must do better” (Adichie 48).