Misogyny in hip hop culture

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Misogyny in hip hop culture refers to lyrics, videos or other aspects of hip hop culture that support, glorify, justify, or normalize the objectification, exploitation, or victimization of women.[1][2] It can range from innuendoes to stereotypical characterizations and defamations.[2]

Scholars have proposed various explanations for the presence of misogyny in rap music. Some have argued that rap artists use misogynistic lyrics and portrayals of women as a way to assert their masculinity[2] or to demonstrate their authenticity as rappers.[3][4] Others have suggested that rap music is a product of its environment, reflecting mainstream attitudes toward women,[5][6][7] and that rap artists have internalized negative stereotypes about women.[2] Still other academics have stressed economic considerations, arguing that rappers use misogyny to achieve commercial success.[2]

Content analyses have found that approximately 22% to 37% of rap lyrics contain some misogyny, depending on subgenre.[8][9][10] Individual artists have been shown to use such lyrics more or less frequently. Eminem, for example, used misogyny in eleven of the 14 songs on his third studio album.[8] Common misogynistic themes include the use of derogatory names such as "bitch" and "ho", sexual objectification of women, legitimation of violence against women, distrust of women, and the glorification of prostitution and pimping.[11]

Responses to misogyny in hip hop music have ranged from criticism by women's rights activists, student protests and organized campaigns to a 2007 congressional hearing.[12] Female rap artists have used their music or started organizations to explicitly oppose hip hop misogyny[13] or expressed resistance by using self-empowering lyrics and emphasizing their independence as women.[14] However, not all female rap artists resist misogynistic portrayals.[14]

Rationale for misogyny[edit]

Street authenticity[edit]

Mainstream hip hop music today often depicts homophobia and sexism, while celebrating violence.[2][15] Misogyny has become a sign of authenticity for some rappers, who use such lyrics and depictions of violence against women to prove their authenticity as gangsters. These rappers fear being considered "soft" and "fake" if they distance themselves from hypermasculine self-portrayals and hostile representations of women.[16][17] Therefore demeaning women becomes a way to assert their masculinity. Meanwhile male artists constantly battle with W.E.B. Du Bois' idea of double consciousness.[18]

Academic Elijah Anderson links the treatment of women in hip hop to troubled gender relations in inner-city Black and Latino communities. In an ethnographic study of inner-city Philadelphia neighborhoods, he found that young men in such neighborhoods try to raise their social status and self-esteem by demeaning and exploiting women. Anderson writes that "[in] many cases the more the young man seems to exploit the young woman, the higher is his regard within the peer group."

Commercial Incentives[edit]

Another rationale for the use of misogyny in hip hop music is that it has helped to gain rappers commercial success.[2] While hip hop began as a producer based art form among working class and poor African American and Puerto Rican youth, its transformation into a global consumer product has influenced even its treatment of women.During the 1990s record executives began urging hip hop artists to write more violent and offensive lyrics [19] because hip hop audiences were demanding them.[20] Margaret Hunter (2011) suggests that in this period the commercialization of Hip Hop for largely white audiences became linked to the overwhelming objectification of women of color in rap lyrics and videos.[21] In describing the predominance of images of women of color, specifically in the ever-present strip-club scenes in modern hip hop music videos, Hunter states that, "because these sexual transactions are also racial, part of their appeal to buying audiences is the reinforcement of dominant narratives about African American and Latina women, and the concominant symbolic protection of white femininity by its absence in representations." [21] However, some feel that, "the misogyny has always been there." Serena Kim, features editor for Vibe magazine states, "but it's different now because the culture is bigger and mainstream. Now every kid in America is well- versed in hip hop."[3][4]

Channeling of wider cultural misogyny[edit]

Many scholars have argued that misogyny in hip hop culture is a product of misogyny within American culture at large.[5] Adams and Fuller (2006) suggest that a hip hop artists have internalized negative stereotypes about women that are prevalent in American society, since they grew up witnessing women being treated poorly.[2] Michael Eric Dyson states that misogyny is a tried-and-true American tradition from which hip hop derives its understanding of how men and women should behave.[6] Similarly, Charlise Cheney argues that hip-hop's misogyny and promotion of traditional gender roles reflect mainstream American values.[7]

Jeff Chang and David Zirkin contend that the misogyny extant in American popular culture provides "incentives for young men of color to act out a hard-core masculinity".[22] Kate Burns argues, in the same vein, that the discourse of hip hop culture is shaped by its environment, stating that rather than asking, "what is rap's influence on American society and culture?" critics should ask, "what has been society's role in shaping and influencing hip hop?"[23]

Feminist bell hooks suggests that misogyny in hip-hop culture is not a "male black thing" but has its roots in a larger pattern of hostility toward women in American culture. She cautions against singling out criticism against rap music while accepting and perpetuating less raw and vulgar expressions of misogyny that permeate American society. She writes that it is "much easier to attack gangsta rap than to confront the culture that produces [the] need [for gangsta rap]."[24] Others have reiterated this concern, arguing hip hop's content is no more misogynistic than other forms of popular discourse.[25] Academic Leola Johnson, for instance, asserts:

The misogynist lyrics of gangsta rap are hateful indeed, but they do not represent a new trend in Black popular culture, nor do they differ fundamentally from woman hating discourses that are common among White men. The danger of this insight is that it might be read as an apology for Black misogyny.[26]

Another study states:

Of particular importance are those aspects of the music that frequently appear in the midst of political debates and media hype. Often, these aspects are scrutinized not with the intent of acquiring greater and more nuanced understandings of the art form, but rather to further one political agenda or produce a nice sound bite. The misogyny in rap music is one such case[27]

Misogynistic themes[edit]

Ronald Weitzer and Charis E. Kubrin (2009) have identified five common misogynistic themes in rap lyrics: (a) derogatory naming and shaming of women, (b) sexual objectification of women, (c) legitimation of violence against women, (d) distrust of women, and (e) celebration of prostitution and pimping.[11] Sexual objectification is the most common misogynistic theme in rap music according to Weitzer and Kubrin, whose 2009 analysis found that 67% of the examined rap lyrics sexually objectified women.[28] In misogynistic songs, women are described using derogatory names such as "bitches", "hoes", or "chickenheads".[17][29] These insults seek to degrade them and keep them "in their place".[30] Meanwhile men are praised for abusing and exploiting women. One example of this can be found in videos in which hip-hop artists lounge poolside as a harem of women gyrate around them in bikinis.[31] Women of color, specifically black women, are more likely to be featured as sexual objects in such videos than white women.[32]

Misogynistic rap often depicts physical violence and rape as appropriate responses to women who challenge male domination, refuse sexual advances, or simply "offend" men.[33] This dynamic is exemplified by Juvenile in his song March Nigga Step) where he raps, "If she thinks you're jokin', is she goin' get a quick chokin'?" Popular artists such as Eminem and Odd Future have also been criticized for their depictions of violence against women.[34][35]

A related sub-theme involves boasting about sex acts that harm or are painful for women.[33] Many misogynistic rap songs also portray women as untrustworthy or unworthy of respect. Women are depicted as femmes fatales, "gold diggers",[36][37] and as dishonest about sexual matters. Tupac Shakur (Hell 4 A Hustler) asks, "Why plant seeds in a dirty bitch, waitin’ to trick me? Not the life for me".[38] At the same time pimps are glorified; their ability to control and exploit women is praised.[39][37]


Kanye West's video for "Monster" depicts scantily clad dead women hanging from ceilings. It depicts West holding a woman's severed head and rearranging the bodies of two dead models in a bed. The video was widely criticized as misogynistic.[40][41] Some have argued that the outcry over Kanye's music video exemplifies the racialization of gender politics, since the video received much more media attention than the dozens of music videos depicting misogyny against women of color.[42]

Overt misogyny in rap music emerged in the late 1980s, and has since then been a feature of the music of numerous hip hop artists.[2] A 2005 content analysis of six outlets of media found that music contained substantially more sexual content than any other media outlets.[43] A survey of adolescents showed that 66% of black girls and 57% of black boys believe that rap music videos portray black women in "bad and offensive ways".[44] Gangsta rap, the most commercially successful subgenre of hip hop,[45] has been particularly criticized and associated with misogyny.[7][27]

In a 2001 content analysis of gangsta rap, sociologists Charis E. Kubrin and Ronald Weitzer claimed that approximately 22% of the examined rap lyrics featured violence against women, including depictions of assault, murder and rape. In their opinion, the prevalence of misogynistic themes in songs were as follows: name-calling and shame account for 49%, sexual objectification accounts for 67%, distrust of women at 47%, acts of violence against women account for 18%, and human trafficking account for 20%.[46] By contrast, in a similar study by sociologist Edward G. Armstrong, Eminem scored 78% for violent misogyny. Of the eighteen songs on his 2001 album The Marshall Mathers LP, eleven contain violent and misogynistic lyrics, nine of which referred to killing women.[8]

In 2003, McFarland conducted an analysis of Chicano rap and found that Chicano rappers depict women as sex objects, morally and intellectually inferior, and objects of violence. 37% of Chicano rap songs depicted women as sex objects and 4% mentioned violence against women. Except for the "good mother" figure, all other women that were mentioned in the sample were portrayed negatively. Moreover, Chicano rappers who discussed sex and sexuality almost always depicted women as objects of domination for men.[10]

Conrad, Dixon and Zhang (2009) investigated rap music videos and noted that there has been a shift from violent portrayals to more sexual misogynistic ones. Women in rap videos are placed in positions of objectification and sexual submission to their male counterparts. The researchers argue that this "suggests that there are important gender differences occurring that prefer men over women".[47]

However, the subordination of women is not unique to the genre of hip hop. According to Weitzer and Kubrin's 2009 analysis, 22% of rap songs surveyed in their study contained misogynistic lyrics. Yet the researchers pointed out that misogyny seems to be less common in rap music than expected and that other music genres, such as rock music, contain more negative images of women according to some studies.[9] In an interview, comic Chris Rock says that misogyny is no stranger to pop music in America.

Rapper Tim'm West says it's time to start asking questions about rap and hip-hop, "we need to begin to ask why we bought into this industry that overwhelmingly places emphasis and resources and capital on people who promote images that are seen as negative and that do promote stereotypes as opposed to the more positive images," West says.[46]


Experimental research has attempted to measure the effects of exposure to rap music. Numerous studies have found a correlation between consumption of misogynistic hip hop music and negative beliefs about women. Webster et al. found that men who listened to sexually violent gangsta rap lyrics were significantly more likely than controls to express "adversarial sexual beliefs," like the belief that men should dominate women. However, they noted that gangsta rap did not influence men's other attitudes toward women.[48] Other studies showed that rap videos which contain images of women in sexually subordinate roles increase female subjects' acceptance of violence against women,[49] and that listening to misogynistic hip hop increases sexually aggressive behavior in men.[50] Women and men are more likely to accept sexist and demeaning messages about gender relations after listening to music with sexually degrading music. However, college students who listen to this music are even more likely to say that they find these lyrics to be accurate and acceptable portrayals of romantic and sexual relationships. Guillermo Rebollo-Gil and Amanda Moras mention many critics condemn rap lyrics for promoting violence, hypermasculinity, sexism, and homophobia.[27]

Not only are women objectified and abused in lyrics to sexually explicit music, but the music also portrays the women as being lesser than men. According to the textbook Women: Images and Realities, this music sends the message to young adults, especially Black youth that their enemy is Black girls and women, since the music portrays women as selfish, untrustworthy, and as subordinate.[51]

A 2007 study by Michael Cobb and William Boettcher found that exposure to rap music increases sexist attitudes toward women. Men who listened to rap music held more sexist beliefs than the control group. Women were also more likely to support sexism when rap music was not overtly misogynistic. However, they were less likely to hold sexist beliefs when the lyrics were very misogynistic.[52][53] Rudman and Lee found that exposure to violent and misogynistic rap music strengthens the association between black men and negative attributes. People who are exposed to violent and misogynistic rap music are more likely to perceive black men as hostile and sexist.[54]

Academics Johnnetta B. Cole and Beverly Guy-Sheftall, for instance, have expressed concern over the effects of misogyny in hip hop culture on children, stating, "We are concerned because we believe that hip-hop is more misogynist and disrespectful of Black girls and women than other popular music genres. The casual references to rape and other forms of violence and the soft-porn visuals and messages of many rap music videos are seared into the consciousness of young Black boys and girls at an early age."[55]

A longitudinal study indicated that young people who regularly listen to sexually degrading lyrics are more likely to have sex at an earlier age while exposure to non-degrading sexual content had no effect. Sexually degrading lyrics were found to be most common in rap music. The survey also suggests that repeated exposure to sexually degrading lyrics may lead girls to expect that they will be treated with disrespect by their partners and that they have to take a submissive role.[56]

In a 2011 study, Gourdine and Lemmons identified age and listening habits as key factors which determine the perception and impact of misogyny in hip hop music. They examined students aged 18 to 24 years and found that the older the participants were, the less they listened to rap music and that they reacted more negatively to misogynistic lyrics.[57]

In studies performed to assess the reactions of young males exposed to violent or sexist rap or music videos, participants reported an increased likelihood that they would engage in violence, a greater acceptance of violence, and a greater acceptance of violence against women than did those who were not exposed to these videos.[58]


In 2004, students at Spelman College protested Nelly's music video "Tip Drill" and misogyny in rap music in general. The students criticized the negative portrayal and sexual objectification of African American women in the video, which showed women in bikinis dancing and simulating various sexual acts, men throwing money at women's genitals, and Nelly swiping a credit card through a woman's buttocks.[59][60] Building on the momentum generated by the Spelman College protests, Essence magazine launched a twelve-month campaign entitled "Take Back the Music" to combat misogyny in hip hop culture.[61] However, the protests and subsequent campaign received little media coverage.[62]

A congressional hearing was held on September 25, 2007 to examine misogyny and racism in hip hop culture.[63] The title of the hearing, "From Imus to Industry: The business of stereotypes and degrading images", referenced radio host Don Imus who called the Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" and later blamed his choice of words on hip hop. Rappers "demean and defame black women", Imus claimed, and call them "worse names than I ever did."[64] The hearing seemed to have no impact and was largely ignored by the press.[65]

However, not all accusations of misogyny in hip hop have been taken seriously. In the case of Eminem’s violence towards women, a poll run by Teen magazine illustrated that 74% of teenage girls would date Eminem if given the chance, despite his violence towards women in his music.[66] In addition women listeners of T.O.'s pop hits radio station KISS 92 spoke about his music saying: "If you don't like it, turn it off," and "it's just fun and entertainment." This illustrates the fact that opinions differ among female audiences.[67]

Included in the list of prominent figures who have taken a stance on the subject, African-American scholar, Lerone Bennett Jr, stated that, “We…need a new understanding—in the media, in the entertainment industry, in our churches, schools, and organizations—that popular songs are as important as civil rights bills and that a society who pays pipers to corrupt its young and to defame its women and mothers will soon discover that it has no civil rights to defend and no songs to sing.” [51]

Female hip hop artists[edit]

Hip hop is a male dominated genre in which authenticity has been identified with masculinity.[68] Female artists have traditionally faced many barriers in entering hip hop and have been marginalized as performers.[68]

This unwanted sex hostility was largely unreciprocated by male-hatred among women until recent protest from a few other women rap, rap soul, and RnB artists such as Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Missy Elliott, Eve, Beyoncé, and Mary J. Blige have adopted an independent woman persona which opposes misogynistic representations of women in hip hop, and Eve and Beyoncé frequently use their sexuality to claim sexual liberation.[1][2] Smith writes, "a girl rapper has to be soft but hard; sweet but serious; sexy but respectable; strong but kind of weak. Smart but not too loud about it." He also suggests that a women can't be exceptionally skillful at hip hop unless she sacrifices the things that make her a real woman .If women can’t openly be themselves in the music industry women's lyrics are not valid representations of women's reality (pough)

We need to consider why most women have to paint an image of dyke-or-ho-ism in order to be marketable in hip hop.[69] Executives, producers and listeners seem to overwhelmingly favor men's versions of reality.[70] An artist that fits an overly sexualized image is Nicki Minaj. Minaj claims to only be an entertainer and not a role model.[3] In some cases she appears to defend male rappers' misogyny.[4] Feminist like Robin Roberts, states artists like Nicki Minaj make [null it] easy target with songs like “Stupid Hoe” and “Bitch better get on their knee’s”.[71] Nicki Minaj isn’t the first to partake in this misogyny. Artist like Lil' Kim, Mia X, Rihanna and Trina, for instance, often refer to themselves and other women as bitches and gold diggers.[1]

If female artists aren’t oversexualized, they are over-masculine. Artists like Young M.A, an up and coming rapper that is known for her over masculine persona, is one of the few female artists that would be considered a stud and openly talks about her relationships with women in her music. Relationships where you would perceive her as a male. With lines like, “I don’t have manners for a hoe, I just want the neck and nothing more” and "I ride for my guys, that’s the bro code.”[72] Lines that we mostly hear from a lot of male rappers. A 2011 content analysis of music videos found that sexual objectification of women does not only occur in the music videos of male artists butmany women artist, particularly female rappers and R&B artist self-objectify, a finding consistent with objectification theory.[5]

You cannot fault artist like Nikki Minaj and Young M.A since they are just victims of an industry that makes millions off of disrespecting and objectifying women.[73] Tricia Rose argues that female rappers, most of whom are black,[6] may find it difficult to condemn male rappers' misogyny because they need to collectively oppose racism and do not want to contribute to the stereotype that black masculinity is "pathological".[7] Rebollo-Gil and Moras contend that black female rappers' failure to provide a "blanket defense" of rap music, including the genre's misogyny, is "interpreted as treason by their black male counterparts and could possibly harm their career."[8]

Meanwhile, Cheryl Keyes suggests that women in the industry rarely get the opportunity to express empowering messages because, in order to enter rap as performers and to compete with male rappers, they must follow what Keyes calls "male rules". Female rap artists must, according to Keyes, embody the male esthetic and emulate male behavior if they want record producers, disproportionately male, to listen to them.[9] Similarly, sociologist Patricia Hill Collins argues that black women rappers must behave a certain way, even objectify themselves, to be "accepted within this Black male-controlled universe."[81] Cole and Guy-Sheftall suggest that the objectification of African American women could potentially have historical roots.[10] They reported in their article, No Respect: Gender Politics and Hip-Hop, that historically African American women's bodies were "used as a breeding ground for the reproduction of a slave population" and were also used as a means of pleasure to white slave owners. They offer that African American women have always been a very vulnerable part of society, and that it is being reflected in gangsta rap music.

Male hip hop artists[edit]

Many male rappers, especially those labeled as Political hip hop artists, have condemned misogyny in hip hop. In "Assata's Song" from his 1992 album Sleeping with the Enemy, the artist Paris criticizes misogyny, rapping about how women deserve respect. A music video for the song was released on the YouTube channel of Paris's label Guerrilla Funk Records.[74]

Immortal Technique has also condemned sexism numerous times. The track "Crossing the Boundary," from his 2003 album Revolutionary Vol. 2, begin with the line, "I never make songs that disrespect women".[75] In 2010, at the Rock the Bells hip-hop festival in New York he condemned misogyny on stage by stating: "Your mother, your sister, your grandmother, the girl you came here with tonight, or the woman you're going to marry some day, she might have lost her virginity by being a victim of rape... and she might never tell you. You poor bastards might never know, and it's because women are prouder than men, and every time we've been made slaves, it's only with the help of our women that we have risen up and fought oppression of every single kind."[76]

Horrorcore rapper Necro has made songs and videos ridiculing and satirizing misogyny in hip hop, which can be seen as taking a stand against such behavior.

Other rappers, such as Tupac, leave a complex legacy, sometimes playing into misogynistic themes, yet also producing music that affirms the worth of black women, in songs such as Keep Ya Head Up and Dear Mama.

See also[edit]



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