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 explanation for the presence of misogyny in hip hop culture. Some have argued that rap artists use misogynistic lyrics and portrayals 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 hip hop 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 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, some female rap artists do not resist misogynistic portrayals.[14]

Rationale for misogyny[edit]

Street/hip hop authenticity[edit]

Misogyny has become a sign of authenticity for some rappers, who use misogynistic lyrics and depictions of violence against women to prove that they are authentic gangsters.[3][4] Many rap artists see demeaning women as a way to assert their masculinity.[2] Rappers are often considered "soft" and "fake" if they distance themselves from hypermasculine self-portrayals and hostile representations of women.[15][16] Hip hop artists may also use such lyrics to gain commercial success.[2]

In the 1990s audiences began to demand more violent and offensive lyrics[17] and record executives were urging artists to write them.[18] Often artists are perform an unemotional act because they are rapping about what they believe will help them sell music, not what they believe in.[19] Male artists constantly battle with W.E.B. Du Bois' idea of double consciousness.[19]

Channeling of wider cultural misogyny[edit]

Adams and Fuller (2006) suggest that one of the reasons why rap artists use misogynistic lyrics in their music is that they have internalized negative stereotypes about women that are prevalent in American society.[2] Guillermo Rebollo-Gil and Amanda Moras mention many critics condemn rap lyrics for promoting violence, hypermasculinity, sexism, and homophobia.[20]

Various authors have argued that misogyny in hip hop culture is only an outgrowth of the cultural acceptance of misogyny at-large.[5] 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".[21] Kate Burns argues, in the same vein, that the discourse of hip hop culture is shaped by its environment, stating that instead of 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?"[22]

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]."[23] Others have reiterated this concern, arguing hip hop's content is no more misogynistic than other forms of popular discourse.[24] 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.[25]

Others have reiterated these concerns:

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[20]

Wider Black-American gender conflict[edit]

Authors also link the treatment of women in hip hop to troubled gender relations in inner-city black and Hispanic communities. In an ethnographic study of inner-city Philadelphia neighborhoods, Elijah Anderson 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."[26]

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] In misogynistic songs, it is typically women in general who are called derogatory names such as bitches, hoes, or chickenheads.[16][27]

Men are praised if they abuse and exploit women.[28] These insults seek to degrade women and keep them "in their place".[29] Sexual objectification is the most common misogynistic theme in rap music according to the analysis by Weitzer and Kubrin. The 2009 analysis found that 67% of the examined rap lyrics sexually objectified women.[30] Dr. Dre raps:

Bitches ain't shit but hoes and tricks / Lick on these nuts and suck the dick / Get's the fuck out after you're done / And I hops in my ride to make a quick run.

Dr. Dre, "Bitches Ain't Shit"

In misogynistic rap songs, violence is depicted as the most appropriate punishment for women who challenge male domination or who simply "offend" men. Juvenile (March Nigga Step), for example, asks, "If she thinks you're jokin', is she goin' get a quick chokin'?" Physical violence and rape are considered fitting responses if women refuse sex or if they commit other "offenses".[31] Eminem and Odd Future, who have both been criticized for their depictions of violence against women,[32][33] rap:

Slut, you think I won't choke no whore / 'Til the vocal cords don't work in her throat no more?! / Shut up slut, you're causin' too much chaos.

Eminem, "Kill You"

Punch your bitch in her mouth just for talkin' shit / You lurkin' bitch? Well, I see that shit / Once again I gotta punch a bitch in her shit / I'm icy bitch, don't look at my wrist / Because if you do, I might blind you bitch.

Jasper Dolphin, "Bitch Suck Dick" by Tyler, The Creator

A related subtheme is boasting about sex acts that harm or are painful for women.[31] Many rap songs also portray women as untrustworthy or unworthy of respect. Women are depicted as femmes fatales, "gold diggers",[34][35] 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".[36] Pimps are glorified; their ability to control and exploit women is praised.[37][35]


Kanye West's video for "Monster" depicts scantily clad dead women hanging from ceilings. It shows 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.[38][39]

Misogyny is prevalent in hip hop culture.[40] 1 in every 4.477 songs contains misogynistic themes.[41] Over 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.[42] 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".[43] Gangsta rap, the most commercially successful subgenre of hip hop,[44] has been particularly criticized and associated with misogyny.[7][20]

A 2001 content analysis of gangsta rap found that approximately 22% of the examined rap lyrics featured violence against women, including depictions of assault, murder and rape. The prevalence of misogynistic themes in songs are 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%.[41] By comparison, Eminem scored 78% for violent misogyny. Of the eighteen songs on his 2001 Grammy award winning album The Marshall Mathers LP, eleven contain violent and misogynistic lyrics, nine of which depict 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]

According to a 2009 content analysis by Weitzer and Kubrin, 22% of rap songs surveyed contained misogynistic lyrics. 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]

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 their research "suggests that there are important gender differences occurring that prefer men over women".[45]


Experimental research has attempted to measure the effects of exposure to rap music. 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.[46] Other studies showed that rap videos which contain images of women in sexually subordinate roles increase female subjects' acceptance of violence against women,[47] and that listening to misogynistic hip hop increases sexually aggressive behavior in men.[48] 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 think these lyrics are an accurate and acceptable portrayal of romantic and sexual relationships. Not only are women objectified and abused in lyrics to sexually explicit music, 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. The music portrays the women as selfish, untrustworthy, and as subordinate.[49]

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.[50][51] 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.[52]

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."[53]

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.[54]

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.[55]


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.[56][57] 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.[58] However, the protests and subsequent campaign received little media coverage.[59]

A congressional hearing was held on September 25, 2007 to examine misogyny and racism in hip hop culture.[60] The title of the hearing, "From Imus to Industry: The business of stereotypes and degrading images", referred to 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."[61] The hearing seemed to have no impact and was largely ignored by the press.[62]

Lerone Bennett Jr, a scholar, once argued 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.” [49]

Female hip hop artists[edit]

Hip hop is a male dominated genre in which authenticity has been identified with masculinity.[63] Female artists have traditionally faced many barriers in entering hip hop and have been marginalized as performers.[63]

Despite this many women rappers have found ways to contest and resist the objectification and exploitation of women in hip hop culture.[64] Salt-N-Pepa was one of the first all-female rap acts to provide pro-woman messages and critique double standards and degrading images of women in hip hop.[63] In her Grammy Award-winning song U.N.I.T.Y., Queen Latifah challenges male rappers who use the terms "bitch" and "ho" to refer to women.[65] She raps, "Every time I hear a brother call a girl bitch or ho. Trying to make a sister feel low, You know all of that's got to go."[66]

Yo-Yo has dedicated much of her career to condemning hip hop misogyny.[13] Many 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.[14][67] They take advantage of their ability to be soft and hard, sweet and serious, and sexy but respectable at the same time to prove that women are more than scantily-clad back-up dancers.[68]

However, some women rap artists offer no resistance to negative portrayals of women and in some cases appear to defend male rappers' misogyny.[69] Lil' Kim, Mia X, Rihanna and Trina, for instance, often refer to themselves and other women as bitches and gold diggers.[14] A 2011 content analysis of music videos found that sexual objectification of women does not only occur in the music videos of male artists but that many women artists, particularly female rappers and R&B artists, self-objectify, a finding consistent with objectification theory.[70]

Female artists use their lyrics to demand respect, empower women, provide self-help and solidarity, and to come to the defense of black men that are misrepresented.[71] Together they stand to put an end to the negative portrayal of the men and women of Hip Hop.

Moreover, some female rappers assume the role of the "'ride-or-die' chick" who is frequently praised by male rappers as the ideal woman. The "'ride-or-die' chick", according to hip hop scholar Gwendolyn Pough, is a woman who will do anything for men, even commit crimes and go to prison, to be valued.[72]

Tricia Rose argues that female rappers, most of whom are black,[65] 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".[73] 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."[20]

Moreover, Cheryl Keyes suggests that women rappers 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.[13] 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."[74] Cole and Guy-Sheftall suggest that the objectification of African American women could potentially have historical roots.[53] 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 mens 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.

Many female rappers refuse to be held accountable for the message that they are sending out to their young fans. Nicki Minaj claims to only an entertainer and not a role model.[75]

Male hip hop artists[edit]

Many male rappers, especially those labeled as Political hip hop, have condemned misogyny in hip hop. Paris raps in "Assata's Song" from the 1992 album Sleeping with the Enemy: "Thinkin’ of you, and how the perception came to pass/ Of a Queen bein’ just a piece of ass/ So I ask ya how that sounds/ It’s for the sisters I missed the last time around/ Because I can’t forget what ya been through/ Can’t forget the hardships in what you do/ So I’m payin’ you the ultimate respect/ Because I love you and that’s what you should get." [76] A music video was also made for the song, released on the YouTube channel of Paris's label Guerrilla Funk Records.[77]

Immortal Technique has condemned sexism numerous times. The track "Crossing the Boundary" from his 2003 album Revolutionary Vol. 2 starts with the line "I never make songs that disrespect women".[78] 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."[79]

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.

See also[edit]



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