Feminist activism in hip hop
Feminist activism in hip hop is a feminist movement based in female hip hop artists in their respective fields. It has ground in graffiti, break dancing, hip hop music, and rap. In a genre notorious for its portrayal of women, feminist groups, as well as individual artists who identify as feminists, have sought to change the perception and commodification of women in hip hop. Hip hop is generally considered a genre that sexually objectifies women, ranging from the presence of video vixens to explicit rap lyrics. In its subcultures, graffiti and breakdancing sexism is more evident through the lack of representation of women artists. This is also rooted in cultural implications of misogyny.
Hip hop music
Feminist activism in hip hop music began with hip hop itself, as female MC's and singers would base tracks based on the advancement of women. One such example is "Ladies First", a track by Queen Latifah and Monie Love on Latifah's debut album, All Hail the Queen.
The 90’s had a big wave of feminist lyrics in hip hop and rap that hav empowered women in different ways. One group which surprisingly has had some feminist lyrics was the Beastie Boys, in their song, “Sure Shot”. They make a shout out to women offering their respect to them that they believe is long overdue. Even 2Pac puts some input in why women are belittled and treated differently when they are the ones that make life possible. A few other artists include, Lauryn Hill, Salt-n-Pepa, and Black Star. More recently there have been artists in the new wave that have also had some inspirational feminist lyrics such as J. Cole with his song “Crooked Smile,” he not only feels that women should love everything about themselves but also points out that being insecure is “gender neutral” thing, that everyone in the world goes through.
Another major artist from the 90’s that has brought some empowering lyrics to women is Missy Elliott, who recently made a come back with her song “WTF (Where They From).” She had made her stances clear that all women deserve to be treated equally to men and are as powerful as men. She believes that women with opinion should be praised and that they are valuable to society. She also promotes self love and being able to express what you want and love whoever you want. As well as encourages to express themselves in many ways including fashion.
Feminist activism has also occurred as a reaction against misogynist hip hop songs. At Spelman College, female students protested a benefit hosted at the school by Nelly. They specifically objected to his 2000 single, "Tip Drill". The video depicts Nelly throwing money on the models, as well women in bikinis dancing around Nelly and other men. Students, led by the Spelman Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance spearheaded protests against Nelly's visit. Due to the actions of the student body, the drive was ultimately canceled.
At the 2014 VMA's, the artist Beyoncé stepped on stage for a 20-minute performance before accepting the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. During the track, "Flawless," she moved toward the center of the stage on a conveyor belt with the words "Feminist" emblazoned behind her.
Many have decried Beyoncé is not feminist enough. Noted feminist scholar bell hooks famously called her a "terrorist". Annie Lennox made a statement, in reference to Beyonce and other female hip hop artists, that "twerking is not feminism." However, others have praised her and other female hip hop artists, such as Rihanna or Nicki Minaj for being feminist in their music and performance. Many contend that the emergence of female hip hop artists who utilize their sexuality are part of third-wave feminism. Nicki Minaj, a female rapper, was considered controversial for the cover of her single Anaconda in which the parental advisory is placed over Minaj in a bikini.
Omiseeke Natasha Tinsley, Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin teaches a course called "Beyonce Feminism," as well as a college course named "Rihanna Womanism." Similarly, Professor Kevin Allred teaches a course titled, "“Politicizing Beyonce: Black Feminism, US Politics, & Queen Bey.”
Feminist Activism in the graffiti subculture manifests itself through the artwork, as anonymity is a large part of the culture. Often, artists' identities are kept secret, and little can be used to distinguish them as women. Some writers will utilize traditionally feminism symbols, such as hearts, in their name tags, while others will focus their subject around women and femininity. All female graffiti crews are common, and with the dispersion of the culture through the Internet, these groups can also be internationally based. One such crew is the Stick Up Girlz, with members in the U.S. and Japan.
The largest female street art event, Femme Fierce. occurs annually in the United Kingdom. It is considered part of International Women's Day. The Danish documentary, Women on Walls was released in 2014 in conjunction with the annual event. It follows a number of female graffiti artists participating in the event. It includes interviews with graffiti artists and the behind-the-scenes coordinators of Femme Fierce.
Notable female graffiti writers include Akit, Sasu, Claw, and Lady Pink. Many tag in public places, but are also featured in exhibits in galleries and museums. The Whitney Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Woodward Gallery have all featured art pieces from female writers.
Breakdancing has been a predominantly male genre of dance, even referred to originally as b-boying. Women often refer to themselves as b-girls to differentiate themselves, or simply call themselves breakdancers. There are many stereotypes against female breakdancers. The most common is that they are unable to do the heavily athletic moves as well as men can. Some believe B-boying is considered to involve dance moves that are too masculine for women.Women are often singled out in cyphers and compete in predominately male arenas. This is referenced in the article, "From Blues Women to B-Girls, Performing Badass Femininity," by Imani K Johnson. Johnson writes,
The confrontational and aggressive qualities of breaking are more aligned with conventional notions of masculinity than femininityin Western culture. That breaking adopts a male-identified moniker - b-boying- attests to why it is primarily characterized as a masculine dance by its practitioners. Breaking's inherent qualities are often interpreted differently on the bodies of women. [It is] clear that being a b-girl means exhibiting qualities not typically associated with conventional notions of femininity as performed by a female-bodied person.Yet dance can quite literally move us to recognize that which is beyond the familiar and expected. B-girls contend with dominant discourses in order to embody non-hegemonic, marginalized femininities.
However, some have overcome these barriers to become respected dancers in their field, such as Ana 'Rokafella' Garcia, who runs a not-for-profit organization called Full Circle. It is designed to introduce young students to the hip hop culture, especially breakdancing.
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