Co-signing Sexism?


I’ve been trying to write a critique of women in hip-hop music videos for a while now. It’s one of those topics that seems so exhausted. Living in the U.S., I watched so much BET and MTV, I became used to seeing half-naked black women on TV all the time. But over the last year, I am no longer de-sensitized to these images and was actually put off when I saw a couple of fleshy videos a few weeks ago. Why? Because many of them tell us that black women are beautiful, but that they are only beautiful for sex.

From film-maker Il Millione is a short interview of Prof. Tricia Rose, author of Black Noise. Rose sheds some light on what I think are critical points in the hip-hop vs. women debate. She talks briefly about how ‘blackness’ is performed through hip-hop, and how stereotypes are played out particularly through music videos. When it comes to women, she makes her argument extremely clear: Hip-hop is not responsible for sexism, but it is a space where the exploitation of women is almost required. To be a powerful, desirable, successful black male you almost have to exploit black women as part of your performance. Furthermore, black women have to co-sign an exploitative perception of who they are in order to participate.

The debate is standard throughout: these videos are sexist, the music is misogynistic, the women are exploited, oversexualized, treated as property or even just as accessories. These are all themes that are readily apparent in your typical rap video. But how exactly do women co-sign to their own exploitation? How do these women negotiate their choices when it comes to their bodies (and they have every right to) and their autonomy in a sub-culture that is dominated by sexist ideology? Can they still exercise their agency? Where do we draw the line between exploitation and agency?

It is obvious that many of these “video vixens” and “hip-hop honeys” know exactly what they are doing, it is a conscious choice they have made. For some it’s simply an art form, for others a regular job. Melyssa Ford of Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin” fame, Mystikal’s “Shake that Ass” and Sisqo’s “Thong Song” is not only the most talked about video vixen, she is also a prime example of this. Ford has a degree in Forensic Psychology from York University, Canada. Ford made a conscious choice to participate, she probably could have done other things. Of course within the argument of choice is the question of how much choice do some of these women really have to begin with? If they had alternative ways of making good money, would they really be stripping naked in uncut music videos for the cash? Maybe, maybe not. But nobody forced them into an exploitative industry, whether or not they think it exploits them or not.

I think there are many other important issues to consider in this debate, one of them is how black masculinity is constructed through the explicit sexualization of black women. But much of this comes down to a question over power, and more importantly whose power.


~ by misswretched on September 12, 2008.

2 Responses to “Co-signing Sexism?”

  1. […] made this right after I read a post “Co-signing Sexism” from my very wise friend and I watched these two video. Feel free to comment with your […]

  2. Thank you so much for engaging in an important debate that has yet to be resolved. I find it interesting that not much has changed. I remember that I always secretly prayed that Ludacris would become a feminist after I watched his video “move bitch” (i think it was) where he urinated on a women while he was playing a baby! the closest he ever came to anything i ever hoped for was that Mary J. Blige song he did. But we have such a long way to go. Anyway I created a little something in response to your article… check it out.

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