The Representation of Women in Hip Hop and Rap Videos

50_cent_just_a_lil_bit1

How ethical is it for mainstream rap videos to promote misogyny?

Popular hip hop songs’ videos are frequently enjoyed without much thought, because it has come to a point where the very frequent use of misogynistic images has become entirely normalised. Misogyny is described by dictionary.com as ‘hatred of women’ in a very short definition. Misogyny is the sexism women experience in their personal life, at work and as explored by this post – in rap videos.

With millions of views on YouTube, and millions of replays on TV, the hip hop videos we are about to explore promote seeing women in supposedly good light with barely hidden sexism.

The most common theme of misogyny found in hip hop videos today is the objectification of women. Women are ever so often there as mere sexual objects, dancing provocatively in revealing clothing, demonstrating sexual innuendos with their bodies’ movements, present in the clips entirely for the heterosexual male artists and viewers’ satisfaction. With that being their primary, and pretty much only purpose of being in the video, they are not so much full blown human beings, as much as they are considered to be objects to be used. One prime examples of this is Akon’s video (and song) “I wanna love you” more explicitly known as “I wanna fuck you”  where the ladies in the video are “whinin ‘n grindin” as the artist points out himself before openly expressing his interest in their bodies (and nothing else. Another prime example – 50 Cent’s “Just A Lil Bit” where the three ladies dating and accompanying him are his mere tools to reign control over an island. Other examples are Akon’s “Smack That”  , Eminem’s “Ass Like That”, Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”. In 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” it is even insinuated that the women in the video can be bought (from the “candy shop”).

While we are on the topic of “purchasing” women, another recurring theme we find in hip hop videos is of women as gold diggers. In Lil Wayne’s “Got Money” women are ecstatic to be thrown money at, seemingly disinterested by any other values in life.

And with these and so many other examples at hand, we must wonder, how fair is it for women to be so narrowly and insensitively represented in mainstream videos. How moral? How ethical?

How is this connected to ethics?

In “What’s Good On TV?: exploring ethics through television”, Watson connects the themes of objectification and exploitation with long established ethical principles. The unjustness of exploitation in particular, the author explains, lies in the fact that the exploiter is the one reaping the benefits and the exploited are left with very limited pay off.

For the general public, it is clear as day that Akon gets a lot more money and fame out of his videos than the women objectified in them do.

Further on the topic, referring to Immanuel Kant’s ethic theories Watson (p. 277) says:

“… persons are autonomous beings who not only have innate worth and dignity that ought to be respected, but also must be treated as ends in themselves and never used as means to some end.  In other words, because they are rational, autonomous beings, persons are unique in having an intrinsic value (as ends) and not an instrumental value (as means to some end) like some object, tool, thing, or instrument to be used, manipulated, or exploited in any way.”

You can see how all of the above mentioned videos clash strongly with the ethical rights women have as people. And perhaps this is the main issue we are facing with popular hip hop videos. Are women seen as people in them? Are they seen for everything that makes them people or are they seen as mere instruments to be used?

Why won’t artists stop making such sexist videos?

The logical question following this one would be “Don’t they know it’s wrong to portray women in that light?” and then the question following that … “Do they care enough about women to stop making such videos?”

In “Ethics: the basics” Mizzoni explores the utilitarian ethics belief that ethics are based on feelings. He discusses Hume’s theory that a person knowing that they need to do something is not enough to motivate them, they have to feel the emotional urge to act – “…it is an emotional state of some kind, like a feeling, passion, or desire, that spurs is into action. Thinking about it simply won’t do the trick.” (p. 83).

From here, the questions continue to evolve further. Do hip hop artists not feel any urge to treat women with respect? Do they feel like they’re acting as they’re supposed to? Do rappers feel entitled to having women as mere sexual objects in their videos? Do they feel that this way of expression is sufficient to express their admiration of women? Is it even admiration to strictly sexualise women in their videos?

And even further – do they think that women appreciate to be seen in that light only? How do women feel about women being objectified? Mizzoni goes to discuss if there is a difference between an individual’s pain and happiness vs other people’s pain and happiness. But is it as simple as a rapper’s individual, almost selfish decision to create a misogynistic video, or is it about the difference between what a male (the rapper) may consider no big deal and what a female viewer might consider unethical and insulting? Upon seeing Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” do women see the themes in the video the same way the male viewers see it?

To the above asked question, theory about care ethics and feminine ethics seems to lean toward no:

“In her psychological research, Carol Gillian detected a noted difference between how females think about morality and how males think about morality. Psychological theorists before Gillian (such as Freud and Kohlberg) had noticed that there were differences in how men and women think about ethics.” (Ethics: the basics, p. 137-138)

And while this theory might influence some people to swiftly decide that “that is it” and “boys will be boys, then” and “some things will never change”, shouldn’t we dig a little deeper?

Is misogyny something that is better ignored than addressed? Accepted rather than discouraged? Celebrated as artistic freedom instead of criticised as blatant sexism?

Social activist bell hooks, real name Gloria Watkins, further explores the influence hip hop videos and song lyrics have. The video can be found here with just short of 10 minutes length and is yet really enriching to a discussion on this topic.

Why should I care about this?

A quick answer to this question would be – one day you might have a daughter, and you probably would not want for her to be treated the way women are treated in and due to these hip hop videos.

What is your long answer?

Maria Tsaneva

Sources:

bell hooks on rap music and its influence

“I wanna fuck you”  , “Just A Lil Bit” , “Smack That” ,  “Ass Like That”“Gold Digger” , “Candy Shop” , “Got Money” ,“Lollipop”

References:

Mizzoni, John.

Ethics : the basics
MIZZONI, J. (2010). Ethics: the basics. Chichester, West Sussex, U.K., Wiley-Blackwell.

Watson, Jamie Carlin.

What’s good on TV? : understanding ethics through television
WATSON, J. C., & ARP, R. (2011). What’s good on TV?: understanding ethics through television. Chichester, West Sussex, Wiley-Blackwell.
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3 thoughts on “The Representation of Women in Hip Hop and Rap Videos

  1. I am not one to support radical feminism, but as a devout Mormon I wholeheartedly agree with this article. The modern entertainment industry is almost devoted to bringing down the idea of virtuous women and promoting the idea of sexualized women. It is disgusting and appalling.

  2. I agree that women are poorly represented in Rap videos, however, part of this is down to the women in the videos, they should also be publicly blamed!

  3. Perhaps women have themselves to blame for the way they are represented-they must be giving in to the system. It takes a long time for public attitudes to change (compare votes for women, smoking, homosexuality) but that is no reason not to start making a protest. Too much money involved?
    An extra worry is the sexualisation of young children who find their role models in the stars of popular music.

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