Everything but Gentle (Op-ed) [Article]
Vancouver, BC – Today I listened to a client in my clinical work tell me her tale, how she had been sexually molested from the age of seven, had left home at 16 into a violently abusive relationship, turned to drugs and the sex trade, and was raped 4 times, – 2 of those rapes leading to pregnancy. I hear this kind of story a lot – bad decisions, low self-worth and a search for some sense of belonging and safety that leads instead into abuse and rape. It’s not very glamorous and nobody involved seems to be happy with their lives…it’s more like a trap that people try their whole lives to escape from. So what does this have to do with hip-hop? Well, only as much as it has to do with culture in general.
“We watch rape culture as if we’re watching a rape – from the shadows, pretending that if we don’t acknowledge it, it isn’t happening…”
Hip-hop is certainly not alone in its power structures, but it’s what I have the most experience with. I’ve been working in the hip-hop world for a long time. I first started writing about it in university, where I edited for the school paper – I was so inspired by the modern-day incarnations of poetry, the lyrical construction of a world I’d known nothing about, juxtaposed with my literary theory classes and philosophy rants. I listened carefully to the words of Black Thought, of De La Soul, of K’naan and k-os. I was hopelessly in love with the bad boy genre that expanded my mind and invigorated my heart.
When I started working in the industry, I turned a blind eye to its dark side – the corporate control, the drug hierarchies, the harems of drunk and willing women…I decided that these things were part of hip-hop, and therefore were not for me to judge. After all, a white woman in the world of hip-hop deserves no voice, right? What could I possibly know of the birthplace of rap or the struggle of the street corners? I conducted interview after interview with dashing, smooth-talking artists and although I occasionally did raise the issue of women’s objectification, I tried to keep it mostly to myself.
And something inside me started to rot.
I admit that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to and dancing to songs that talk about bitches and hoes as if those are the only options for womanhood. I’ve ambitiously worked in an industry that restricts the role of women to dancers, publicists or cheap pussy and I’ve played into every trap that was laid before me. Feminism is spat out like a bad word and the pimp life is elevated like the end goal of all success. But the question that’s always on my mind is why? Whose interests does it serve to package women into the category of hoes and bitches, worthy of rough sex – consensual or otherwise – but not respect?
A connection was triggered for me recently when I was at a conference on First Nations trauma issues, on the anniversary of the government’s apology for residential schools. When the Christian European colonizers wanted to wipe out the First Nations culture, they had a strategy and it started with the women. Communities were forced to change from the non-hierarchical, matrilineal structures to a power-unbalanced patriarchy. The children were then torn from their families at age 5 and sent to boarding schools that stole their identities in favor of European religious sensibilities, which usually included the kinds of physical and sexual abuse that led to the estimated 50% death rate. It’s a very clever way to commit genocide – take the power of the women, steal and torture the children, then give the men alcohol once they have nothing left to live for. People were treated as disposable, and the culture is still struggling to recover.
Hip-hop culture is an easy market and an easier target – young, impressionable consumers eat up every word. So where’s the line between lyrics that speak honestly about cultural and social conditions and lyrics that espouse lateral violence in order to take the power of women, men and children as a means to genocide? In an age where millions – yes millions – of women and girls are sold into global sex slavery every year and thrown out to die as if they’re disposable, I refuse to endorse songs that endorse that life. The pimp life, the hoe life, the bitch life, the rape life.
Demeaning lyrics are so common that nary a hip-hop song exists without them –what song shies away from the terms hoe, bitch or both? It’s a very clear message to the listeners both male and female about gender roles – a violent expose´- and we all just listen. We watch rape culture as if we’re watching a rape – from the shadows, pretending that if we don’t acknowledge it it isn’t happening.
So this is my commitment. As the executive editor of HipHopCanada, I will personally not be posting any content that talks about any man, woman or child as if they’re a slave. I will not endorse songs or videos that mimic a culture of power perversion in which oppression is glamorized. So don’t send me anything with the N-word, bitch, hoe, faggot, or any kind of rape-related shit.
The rest of my team makes their own decisions about content, but I’ve had enough of pretending that it doesn’t break my fucking heart every time people are treated as disposable objects that matter less than money, power and fame.
Written by Amalia Judith for HipHopCanada
Photography courtesy of Christian Webber
The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the author and are not necessarily those of HipHopCanada or its affiliates.
A few resources…
- A brief history of the marginalization of Aboriginal women
- 32 Overlooked Rape Lyrics in Rap
- Rick Ross Apologizes for Rape Lyrics