Gender Issues in Rap
History of Rock ‘n’ Roll
TARGETED GRADE LEVEL
High School: grades 9-12
Washington State Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs) for the Arts:
EALR 4: The student makes connections within and across the arts (dance, music, theater, and visual arts) to other disciplines, life, cultures and work.
- Component 4.2: Demonstrates and analyzes the connections among the arts and between the arts and other content areas.
- Component 4.3: Understands how the arts impact and reflect personal choices throughout life.
- Component 4.4: Understands how the arts influence and reflect cultures/civilization, place, and time
Author: Karen Helseth (2013)
INTRODUCTORY NARRATIVE TO LESSON
This lesson will explore gender stereotypes in hip-hop culture, with an emphasis on misogyny and homophobia, which have become disturbing trends in rap music since the 1990s. Many students are so immersed in hip-hop culture that they have become desensitized to the destructive messages in contemporary rap music, and the hope is that a frank discussion of the matter will help to re-sensitize them to the language and images presented in rap lyrics and videos, and cause them to think more carefully about how they process these messages. The lesson will be presented near the end of the course, and will follow an introduction to rap music, including old school rap and the emergence of “gangsta” rap. While this lesson would probably not be appropriate for students younger than high school without significant modifications, it could also be useful for a health class or any curriculum where gender issues are explored.
- Students will make connections between issues of prejudice and discrimination in historical musical styles and cultural events, and the themes of misogyny and homophobia found in rap music of the last 25 years.
- Students will explore issues of gender identity and increase sensitivity toward the derogatory slurs and imagery that can be found in contemporary rap music and videos.
- Students will identify the roots and consequences of hate rhetoric in pop culture.
- Millinder, Lucky, “We’re Gonna Have to Slap the Dirty Little Jap” (1941)
Brother Ali, “The Intersection of Homophobia and Hip Hop: Where Tyler Met Frank.” The Huffington Post, 09/07/12 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brother-ali/hip-hop-homophobia-_b_1864676.html
Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhythms. Dir. Byron Hurt. Media Education Foundation, 2006.
Hodge, Daniel White. Rap Sessions Study Guide. http://rapsessions.org/sites/default/files/pdf/generandhiphop.pdf.
Katz, Jackson. “8 Reasons Eminem’s Popularity is a Disaster for Women.” http://www.jacksonkatz.com/eminem2.html
Keyes, Cheryl L. (2002). Rap Music and Street Consciousness. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Rabaka, Reiland. (2012). Hip Hop’s Amnesia. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.
Weitzer, Ronald, and Kubrin, Charis. (2009). “Misogyny in Rap Music.” Men and Masculinities 12 (1): 3-29.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS AND VOCABULARY
- Are you a fan of hip-hop or rap? What do you like about it? Who are some of your favorite artists? Why do you like these particular artists?
- What do you know about the origins of rap music-when and where it started, its historical influences, the political and social conditions that accompanied its emergence?
- Is there anything about rap music or videos that bothers you? Why or why not?
- Do the lyrics of popular music matter? Do they play any role in influencing how people think about the world? What about the images in music videos?
- Gender: the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women
- Misogyny: hatred of or hostility toward women – words or images that encourage, condone, or glorify the objectification, exploitation, or victimization of women.
- Homophobia: irrational fear of sexual or erotic interactions between people of the same gender.
Part 1: Misogyny in rap music
- Distribute a handout with the focus questions and vocabulary (above), and have students reflect on the focus questions in a journal entry. In a brief class discussion, invite students to share their thoughts.
- Group students homogeneously by gender, with 3-4 students in each group, to discuss the following introductory questions:
- Try to remember when you first recognized your gender. Where was it and how old were you?
- Who taught you to “act” like a girl or a boy? What messages did you receive from your family about how a boy or a girl should behave?
- What are some pros and cons of being your gender?
- How do you envision your lifestyle in 20 years? Would you see things differently if you were the opposite gender?
- Lecture: Misogyny in rap music
- Define “misogyny” and explain its application in rap lyrics and video images
- Not all rap is misogynistic, however this topic needs to be addressed and understood because it is undeniably linked to hip hop culture. In a study of mainstream rap lyrics from 1992-2000, about 20% of the songs were found to contain misogynistic elements.
- Misogynistic themes are also found in other genres of popular music, such as heavy metal and country which commonly portray women as subordinate to men. However, in rap these themes are frequently expressed in a more graphic and explicit manner, and extended to condone violence toward women.
- Misogyny in rap falls into five categories. In a study of a random sample of mainstream rap songs released between 1992 and 2000, misogynistic lyrics were found in approximately 20% of the songs; category percentages are from within this 20% of all songs sampled. This study considers lyrics only, and does not take into account images in music videos. Some representative songs are mentioned, which may be quoted or played for students where appropriate (Weitzer-Kubrin, 2009):
- Derogatory naming and shaming of women (50%)
- In many cases, present in every verse of the song
- Lyrics that praise men who treat women poorly
- Not nearly as many disparaging labels for men as for women, those that disparage other men tend to be emasculating terms.
- Too $hort: “Thangs Change” (first verse)
- Sexual objectification (67%)
- Refers to the idea that women are only good for sex.
- Street code: encourages men to avoid commitment, marriage, and caring for children; instead, exploit and discard women.
- High value on having multiple partners and even sharing them
- Put women “in their place,” demeaning strong and independent women.
- Videos portray men as masculine, hyper-sexual, surrounded by dozens of attractive, scantily-clad women.
- Sexual objectification is also expressed in “gangbanging” – many men have sex with one woman, who is highly depersonalized, sometimes underage or intoxicated.
- Rappers exploit stereotypes about black sexuality that date back to colonialism and slavery.
- Distrust of women (47%)
- Lyrics suggest that women are prone to entrap, betray, exploit, or destroy men.
- Teenage girls lying about their age
- Women making false rape accusations
- Femme fatale: set men up for robbery, assault, or murder
- Lie to men to get pregnant
- Gold diggers (image reinforced by some female rappers)
- Kanye West, “Gold Digger” (don’t show video)
- Missy Elliot, “All ‘N My Grill”
- Legitimation of violence (18%)
- Less common than other themes, but often graphic.
- Not found in other genres of popular music, against societal norms.
- Violence is portrayed as the most appropriate response to women who violate gendered etiquette or who do not “know their place”
- Normalization of violence against women as a means of societal control
- Celebration of prostitution/pimping (20%)
- Distinction between “pimp chic” and actual pimping
- “pimp” term often used to mean “player,” a man who flaunts his riches and excels at attracting women. Ludicris, “Pimpin’ Around the World” The “pimp chic” context refers to image only and is not included in this category.
- Conventional definition: pimp is a man who employs and promotes prostitutes. Three 6 Mafia: “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp”
- Prostitutes are the ultimate representation of sexual objectification and exploitation.
- In rap, both prostitution and pimping are glorified as legitimate economic pursuits and celebrated themes.
- Not found in other genres of popular music.
- Celebration, not criticism of prostitution is the norm.
- Sex trade is a condition of the neighborhoods from which rap emerged – inner city lifestyle.
- Female rappers
- Underrepresented as a whole
- Occasionally challenge misogynist themes (Queen Latifah), but most examples neither accept nor oppose female degradation.
- Conform to industry norms
- Male sponsors necessary to gain recognition
- Early female rap generally focused on MC skills to legitimize female presence in male-dominated field.
- Recent rap more actively confronts male domination and presents themes of female empowerment, but still some female rappers perpetuate misogynistic themes.
- Song activity: Queen Latifah: “U.N.I.T.Y”
- Introduce discussion questions:
- Which of the 5 categories of misogyny are addressed in the song.
- The lyrics contain some words that are usually censored for radio airplay, however, many stations chose not to censor this song. Why do you think that is?
- Would you classify this as a protest song? Why or why not?
- Show the music video to the class, then post the lyrics on the board and have students think/pair/share, reflecting on the discussion questions above.
- Song activity: Tupac Shakur: “Brenda’s Got a Baby”
- VAT Graphic Organizer: “Plotting the Story”
- Distribute the graphic organizer to the class, have them plot the story in the song on the organizer while watching the video.
- In small groups, have students recap the story, and discuss the following questions to explore the theme and intent of the song:
- How is the character “Brenda” portrayed?
- Is this a protest song? If so, what is it protesting for or against?
- Is this song effective in conveying its point?
- Reading activity (homework):
- Read the article “8 Reasons Eminem’s Popularity is a Disaster for Women,” by Jackson Katz (listed in the Bibliography). Although this article specifically targets rapper Eminem, many of the issues he brings up reflect industry norms. Write a 1-page response to the article, addressing the following questions:
- Do you agree with Jackson Katz that rap lyrics contribute to a culture of bullying and violence? Why or why not?
- This article was written more than ten years ago. Is this still an issue today? In what ways has hip hop culture changed since then?
Part 2: Homophobia in Rap Music
- Hyper-masculinity is idealized in hip hop culture.
- Homophobic slurs are often used to attack another man’s masculinity, expressing gender phobia more than homophobia.
- Boogie Down Productions, “Ya Strugglin’” (1990) attacks black men who display feminine gender traits.
- As society becomes less accepting of homophobia, hip hop culture is adapting
- Rapper Frank Ocean coming out
- Obama supports gay rights, and most rappers publicly endorse Obama.
- Rappers that have used homophobic slurs in past lyrics are publicly changing their stance
- Beastie Boys apology for using homophobic slurs in earlier music
- Kanye West affirming support of same-sex marriage
- Eminem performing with Elton John
- Song Activity: Macklemore, “Same Love”
- Distribute “Story Behind the Song” question sheet, and divide class into small groups. Each group is assigned one group of questions to focus on and discuss.
- Watch music video as a class, then have groups analyze lyrics and music using the assigned questions.
- Full group discussion: each group will present their conclusions to the rest of the class.
- Further discussion:
- “Same Love” has received mixed reviews from the LGBTQ community. Some members of the community appreciate it as an anthem of unity and support, while others feel patronized by it. Why do you think this is? How do you feel about it?
- “Same Love” was released in support of Referendum 74, which upheld the legalization of same-sex marriage in the State of Washington. Do you think it was effective in getting people to vote for R74?
- “Same Love” opens a conversation about homophobia in hip hop culture. Where do you think the conversation will go from here?
- Reading Activity: “The Intersection of Homophobia and Hip Hop: Where Tyler Met Frank” by rapper Brother Ali.
- Distribute article and read together as a class, having students take turns reading aloud. Stop periodically between paragraphs for comments and discussion.
Part 3: Learning from History: Consequences of Hate Rhetoric
- Listen to the song “We’re gonna have to Slap the Dirty Little Jap” by Lucky Millinder.
- Discussion: Why is this song so offensive? What are some other examples of music that expresses inexcusable prejudice and discrimination?
- Is there any justification for the bigotry in hip hop music and culture?
- In the future, will we be ashamed of the music we listen to today?
- How can we break this destructive cycle?
- Option 1: Think of a song or a video from hip-hop or a different genre of music that could be considered misogynistic and/or homophobic. Write a paper discussing the implications of the lyrics and/or images, how it represents hip-hop as a whole, and what negative stereotypes are proliferated by it. Some students will be selected to present their findings to the class.
- Option 2: Interview two hip-hop fans not in this class and ask them about their feelings about the representation of men and women in hip-hop. Write a paper summarizing their responses and the effect hip hop on its audience with regard to gender identity and stereotypes.
In tackling this topic, it was important to conduct thorough research and construct the lesson very carefully so that it remains appropriate for the classroom while still getting through to the students. Many of the songs that represent the themes of misogyny and homophobia are too vulgar or offensive to justify presenting in class. However, many students will have found the songs on their own and therefore it is important to address the messages that they are receiving from the music that they listen to. It is important to teach this lesson in an objective manner that does not demean hip-hop music or culture, even the artists that are proliferating negative gender stereotypes. It needs to be presented as a sociological issue, not a matter of blame.
When feasible, songs are suggested to illustrate negative stereotypes or slurs, however songs chosen for structured song activities are socially conscious and challenge these themes either in hip-hop or society as a whole. Media presented in the lesson must be carefully considered and controlled so as not to steer students toward more objectionable content.
The documentary Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhythms provided an excellent starting point to organize my thoughts and begin to structure the unit. Although an abridged “high school” version of the documentary is available, I decided not to include a viewing of it in the lesson because some students might be inclined to access uncensored versions of the material introduced in the documentary. The article “Misogyny in Rap Music” provided most of the data for the lecture portion, as well as a logical sequence for the first part of the lesson. As I began to explore this issue, the songs and videos I uncovered were in fact far more objectionable than I initially thought they would be. Although some of the research made me uncomfortable, I realize that many students have already been exposed to this music, so it is necessary to be well-informed and present the topic through a sequence of powerful learning activities.