As a woman, feminist and hip-hop head, I’m often asked why I listen to music that doesn’t “support what I stand for.” Worse than this are the dudes who hear I like rap and automatically assume I’m that mystical “cool girl” who doesn’t give a fuck. I’m down for anything if I can bump to Biggie, right?
Let me break this down: feminists can't abandon hip-hop, and we’re not here to be your fetish.
Growing up, I was forbidden from all things hip-hop. Eminem and 50 Cent were the only rappers my dad knew, and they were clearly doing Satan’s bidding. His taste wasn’t total trash—I was raised on John Mayer and ‘90s pop—but I still wanted something else. Call it teen rebellion or the fact that hip-hop was just too big to ignore, but once I got a taste of Nicki, Drake and Wayne, I was hooked.
I’ll never forget the disappointment my dad expressed after getting an iTunes receipt for Wayne’s “Gonorrhea.” Rappers were supposed to be the most disrespectful people on the planet—especially to women—so why did I love them?
My father had good intentions. In his mind, if I listened to lyrics like “Diva in the room, she blowing me just like a band horn / Got her on her knees, the same knees that she be prayin' on,” I’d turn into a harlot. It didn’t matter that John Mayer was basically phrasing the exact same thing as a compliment in “Your Body is a Wonderland.”
Luckily, I managed to turn out alright, narrowly escaping life as a harlot hip-hop-demon. I found "conscious" artists like Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper, and kept crass favorites like Tyler, The Creator and Childish Gambino in rotation.
To my father’s dismay, I went on to study rap for a term at the University of Oxford. As my palate for hip-hop grew over the years, my values and voice as a feminist grew just as much. It’s not that I don’t care when women are objectified and oversexualized in rap—of course I do. But I’ll keep fighting for equality everywhere, including in the music I love most.
“But how can you listen to something that goes against your values? Don’t you feel objectified?”
Of course, it doesn’t feel awesome when your favorite rapper has an obsession with cumming on girls’ faces (I’m looking at you, Gambino), or you just wanna listen to “Planes” without J. Cole saying you need a “foot up in your mouth” (go fold some clothes, Jermaine). But if I cut all forms of media out of my life for exhibiting misogynistic qualities, I’d need to just shut myself in a dark, silent room.
The Disney princess movies our daughters watch all tell them they need a man. The ads that constantly bombard us thrive on sexism. Every music genre is unfair to women, either lyrically or industrially. Hell, even classical music isn’t safe.
Don’t tell me I’m a hypocrite for being a feminist while indulging in T-Pain when you raise your kids to sing along to Robin Thicke's rapey “Blurred Lines.”
Ask the dude who likes country music how many of those “girl in those jeans” he’s taken in his truck down to the creek under the moonlight to have a beer. I just referenced every country song ever, and yeah they’re pretty damn sexist. I like hip-hop because it’s raw and real. Is it also sometimes gross? Yeah. If the girl with the jeans in the truck with the beer is raw and real to you, that’s cool too, I guess.
Music and media present us with a fantasy that we can either ignore, indulge in, or correct. Don’t pick on my choice, because odds are yours might be just as bad.
“Wow, I’ve never met a girl like you. Other girls just don’t listen to this stuff.” *one million heart eye emojis*
Get this man a glass of water.
When a guy tells a girl that she's “different from other girls,” he’s trying to boost her ego. He’s counting on the fact that she secretly thinks she is or wants to be hotter and cooler than other women. A true feminist can recognize this and shut it down. Chances are, he used that line on the last chick.
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This also comes from the guys who assume she doesn't care about the gross parts of rap or that she's cool with it. They’ve already imagined her in about a thousand disgusting scenarios before she finished the word “Migos.” I once went on a couple dates with a guy who thought it was flattering to tell me this over and over again. (Craig, it’s not, and while we're at it, your obsession with G-Eazy turned me off even more.)
I can still listen to whatever I want without having to be cool with whatever you prefer. I won’t go to the strip club—though it’s completely fine for other girls who want to—and I don’t have to stop listening to any rapper ever from Atlanta.
My music choice is not my consent.
I’m not okay with being objectified and sexualized, and I know most women aren't either, but while rap might be the most vulgar genre out there, it’s honest. That honesty opens up room for discourse and improvement. Yes, there’s a lot of room for improvement.
Chris Brown makes songs about having sex with women while they’re asleep. Rick Ross “accidentally” referenced drugging and raping a girl in a guest feature. Ab-Soul recently tried to tackle women's issues and ended up digging himself into a Twitter-hole of stupidity. Of course, genres like pop, rock and country are just as guilty of objectification and sexualization—they just make it cute.
While you're singing along to the radio with Ariana Grande about getting fucked so hard you have to walk “side to side,” or with Fifth Harmony about how all you do is wait for your man at home and send him nudes while he’s at work, you’re probably not thinking about how that’s not okay. It’s pretty and catchy, and it’s on the radio so it’s cool, right? God forbid someone rap about literally the exact same thing.
People who make either of these remarks are probably unfamiliar with the full scope of hip-hop, and they should know that they’re just as annoying as the problems they’re trying to address.
Now is actually the best time to be a woman in and around the rap industry. Brooklyn rapper Princess Nokia makes sure girls are front and center at her shows. Young M.A is a black, Hispanic lesbian and white boys still tried to rip off “Headphanie.” The fact is, the boy’s club has been cracked. There are more and more women in hip-hop who don’t do what they do to serve the men who dominate the industry.
If you’re just as frustrated as I am, know that you’re not alone. As women, we often enjoy a surge of dopamine when a man tells us that we’re special, and that’s okay. But it doesn’t have to mean other women get stepped on.
I am not a rare and beautiful flower because I listen to rap, nor do I want to be. I’d rather have a stronger community of girls like me than remain a token member of an all boy’s club.
Last month, I was in D.C. to witness Gloria Steinem quote Drake. After the initial shock and cringe of hearing an old white woman say “A Twitter finger must not become a trigger finger,” I was filled with pride.
Ladies, don’t feel guilty about the music you choose to listen to and enjoy. Hold your ground, and know that we can all be rare and beautiful together.
By Selene, aka @seleniepanini.
Photo Credit: OkayAfrica