1/03/2005

99 Problems

Stanley Crouch over at the New York Daily News reports that Essence Magazine is launching a year-long editorial project called "Take Back the Music"; an effort to combat negative stereotypes of women in hip-hop.

We are mothers, sisters, daughters and lovers of hip-hop. We’ve emulated the sexy confidence of Salt-N-Pepa and the toughness of MC Lyte. We’ve wept over Tupac Shakur’s visceral poetry and marveled at the lyrical dexterity of Notorious B.I.G. When Nas said, "The World Is Yours," we believed him. And today we stand at the forefront of popular culture: independent, talented and comfortable with the skin we’re in. We are really feeling ourselves. Perhaps that’s why we’re so alarmed at the imbalance in the depiction of our sexuality and character in music. In videos we are bikini-clad sisters gyrating around fully clothed grinning brothers like Vegas strippers on meth. When we search for ourselves in music lyrics, mixtapes and DVDs and on the pages of hip-hop magazines, we only seem to find our bare breasts and butts. And when we finally get our five minutes at the mic, too many of us waste it on hypersexual braggadocio and profane one-upmanship. The damage of this imbalanced portrayal of Black women is impossible to measure. An entire generation of Black girls are being raised on these narrow images. And as the messages and images are broadcast globally, they have become the lens through which the world now sees us. This cannot continue.
This is just a "kickoff" piece, so there's not much content. There is one telling quote from Russell Simmons, cofounder of Def Jam Records and now chairman of Hip-hop Summit Action Network. He says with a straight face that the ridiculous portrayals of women in hip-hop media are actually helpful to women:
Although these records and videos are offensive, young girls can learn a lot about the mind-set of the young guys they’re going to school with. Now that the truth is out there more, young girls can learn how to deal with guys.
I'm pretty sure the only thing a young girl could "learn" about dealing with young men from a hip hop video is the proper way to shake her ass and how to debase herself for a man with a lot of money and poor spelling (Ludacris, Xzibit, Mystikal, I'm looking at youse).

Essence deserves credit for biting the hand that bitch-slaps them, but is this really any more than trying to empty the ocean with a spoon? For all of the awareness campaigns designed to combat negative portrayals of women in the media, has the base nature of it really changed at all? Suzanne Vega said many years ago that a woman who wanted to keep her clothes on had a hard road in the music business. If anything, that facet of the problem isn't getting better, it's getting worse. My hat is off to Essence for appropriate editorial hand-wringing, but I hope they're not expecting to actually make a difference.