According to Trem (1), discussing the concept of male gaze and opposition gaze helps us in thinking how through hip hop music videos, album covers, and even music genre; various advertisers have envisaged elements, objectifying women. Trem defines male gaze as the objectification of women solemnly for arousing men’s pleasure. He states that “It is the process where men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” According to Trem, this is what determines both the kind of relationships that do exist between men and women and that between women themselves (p.1). Objectification of women is more of painting the vanity within the hip hop videos where naked women are depicted, enjoying being looked at.
As Pilgrim (1) points out, hip hop music videos have continuously been criticized for using not only misogynistic messages, but obscene women images as well. He notes that while most female artists have used their misogynistic images in hip hop videos in order to gain fame and create significantly more successful brands, their nakedness have gone beyond the accepted popular culture. According to Pilgrim (1), the portrayal of nude women in hip hop music videos carry with them the abundance of sexual objectification, which possess potential messages to the young generations.
Trem (1) acknowledges the influence of hip hop music videos in the society. As he points out, hip hop is regarded as one of the leading music genre in the world. It can be seen or heard from every link of the society. He notes that the rise in hip hop sales and popularity, especially within the music industry, shows how this music genre explicitly arouses people’s feelings and attention. However, in ensuring that record sales are increasing and that more music videos are produced, the marketers have continued to produce enticing sexually charged album covers, which objectify women. While the lyrics may be demeaning, sexual depiction of women in the hip hop videos has continued to entice people to buy them more and more.
Origin and Development of Women Objectification in Hip Hop Music Videos
According to Madsen (1), hip hop culture was first originated in Bronx in the mid-1970s as a movement of cultural expression by poor borough working class of black and Latino youths. This time saw the demise of Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” and the reemergence of conservative domestic policies. This led to the rise of unemployment, government withdrawal on social support, as well as increase in crime and drug abuse. And due to this, a vibrant and organic culture emerged among youths as they struggled to cut off their welfare spending and the demolition of their home in creation of new highways. Madsen points out that they started creating their own music with strong and relenting beats of hip hop culture. They then formed groups of rapist, DJ’ing, break-dancing, and graffiti art, which were so fashionable.
But as Madsen (1) notes, women were at the realm of the origin of hip hop music. For instance, Sylvia Robinson have been behind the first produced rap hit which was Rapper’s Delight by Sugar Hill Gang in 1979, where he was both a producer and co-author. Consequently, more female successful rappers emerged, especially in 1980s and 1990s. They include Roxanne Shante, McLyte, and Queen Latifa, who successfully battled it out with their tough boy’s counterparts. As Emerson (116) points out, the witnessed emergence of black women producers, performers, and musicians who composed hip hop videos, especially in1990s, used it as a tool for their creativity in promoting their self-expression. For instance, Salt-N-Pepa and Yo-Yo songs produced by women in 1990 blown out on female sexuality and discrimination against women respectively (Madsen, p.1).
Madsen (1) points out that female hip hop rappers did dressed in baggy clothes just like the males in order to aggressively portray their tough attitudes. But as the author notes, this trend of dressing changed drastically towards more of sexual imagery by female rappers. Their dressing was, therefore, more of sexual exploitation. Madsen (1) notes that due to the profound success of Lil Kim in late 1990s,though her provocative and nearly pornographic image, most of today’s hip hop rappers such as Nick Minaj have continued to spread this act of sexual exposure. This is clearly demonstrated in figures 1 and 2 of Nick Minaj and Lil Kim respectively as they stand in objectifying manners to be able to arouse the feelings of listeners so as to sell more.
As the author asserts, the general misogyny and hatred towards women within the hip hop texts began in late 1980s. This has made their hypersexual image to increase drastically within the society. According to Madsen (1) , during the late 1980s discrimination against women was eminent. This frustration was brought about by hip hop generation who grew at the time when segregation had been encrypted in United States. Therefore, their expectations did not equally match with their realities. Madsen notes that most of African-American men were outraged by their frustrations of not being able to support their child, thereby denoting women as living an easier life compared to theirs. On the other hand, women were angry on the irresponsibleness of men who were continuously in trouble with the law. It is the greatest distrust between both sexes that the author notes to have been the force from which hip hop music videos were created.
Madsen (1) notes that a research conducted in 2009 presented misogyny as forming 22 percent of hip hop songs. Of more significant was the common negative theme about the women that were envisaged in the hip hop songs. She notes that women, as sexual objects, were an inclusive theme among the songs with legitimizing violence against women and glorification prostitution and pimping, forming almost 18 percent of hip hop song’s content. This objectification of women in hip hop music videos has become the new age, at which the rap songs are produced. Looking at Byron Hurt’s hip hop documentary, Beyond Beats and Rhymes, there is an in-built masculinity and manhood video style that displays misogyny, violence, and homophobia, especially in exposing women’s bodies, as commercialized.
How Women are Objectified in Hip Hop Videos
According to Madsen (1), hip hop videos have portrayed women, especially the African-American women, as hypersexual whores and gold diggers. As defined by Darby and Shelby (97), hypersexual is being extremely preoccupied with sexual fantasy or having sudden increase in sexual urge and sexual activities. This stereotyping of African-American women in hip hop music videos normally portrays them as dysfunctional human beings, who are there only to exploit men through sexual exposure. Madsen notes that the hypersexual nature of women as portrayed in hip hop music videos is normally envisaged in videos’ lyrics and visually enforced in the music videos.
As Darby and Shelby (98) state, “Hip hop music videos normally refer to black women as “bitches,” “hoes,” “chicken heads,” gold diggers,” and “hood rats.” They note that the content of hip hop videos is usually polluted with portrayal of black females to the position of sexual objects. This is either by imaging them half-naked or presenting sexual explicit nature. Whenever this scantly of black female is showcased within the hip hop videos, the artists do deploy either blunt end of violent or abusive lyrics that objectifies women (p.98).
According to Darby and Shelby (99), women are normally mischaracterized in hip hop music videos as money hungry whores, who are there to exploit unsuspecting male prey. This was evident in hip hop billboard hit “Gold Digger” by artist Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx. The music video presents apparent lack of total respect to women. Additionally, the video shows lack of little worthiness among the African-America females. Similar to “Gold Digger” is Eminem’s hip hop music video, Kim. This song, as Thomas (4) points out, does not only incorporate misogynistic images, but messages as well. Some of Eminem’s lyrics are “Don’t you get it bitch? No one can hear you. Now shut the fuck up and get what’s coming to you. You were supposed to love me.” While the purpose of the song was to illustrate how he was killing his wife, it presents a disturbing picture, especially towards the wife.
Effect of Objectification of Women in Hip Hop Music Videos on Women
The sexual exploit imaging of women in hip hop videos have surpassed the main moral objective for which rap songs and videos were produced. Darby and Shelby (97) point out that the main moral objective of which the spirit of hip hop was established was to promote empowerment through artistic expression. Through its main four elements of b-boying/b-girling, graffiti, DJing and MCing, the two note that hip hop music was to enable people, both female and male, in articulating their real experience in life, which they would then share with the entire nation. It was an act of fighting self-imposing and oppressive systems that undermined people’s welfare. However, this urge for popularity of the culture has changed considerably.
According to Emerson (117), the objectification of women, especially black women, in hip hop music videos has not only demonstrated hegemonic and stereotypical imagery on black femininity, but it has also portrays multifaceted representation of Black womanhood. He describes the ideology surrounding Black womanhood as rooted on justifiable hegemonic power envisaged to legitimize the continuous marginalization of African-America women. In so doing, women are usually presented as hypersexualized “hot momma” or even Jezebel. This kind of representation affects their performance in popular culture. Reacting to the notion that hip hop music does not represent Black women as hypersexual deviants, Pilgrim (1) points out that watching hip hop videos via Black Entertainment Television (BET) shows that young and nearly naked African Americans being used visually sex production. He notes that they are portrayed as Jezebels who are just after sexual commodities. This only presents women bodies as only for merchandizing, thus affecting their moral obligation.
On viewing Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly documentary four, the use of women’s images as merchandized tools is captured. Another good example is Nelly’s, a hip hop rapper video, Tip Drill in which the objectification of women’s body as a merchandize is depicted, thus demeaning their representation in the society. As Pilgrim (1) observes, the video captures a screen setting of a credit card which is swiped through a woman’s buttocks. On the same video, he notes that men are being seen throwing money to a woman, who lies down with her legs spread upwards. This does not only demean black women by pointing to them as whores, but rather affect their moral responsibility in the society.
Durham (115) argues that while images are used as a reminder of the reality, the attitude to women portrayed in hip hop music videos is only stereotypical and does not signify the truth about women in a community. However, she notes that this stereotype tends to define what women are in the society. According to her, women, especially the Black, should not be judged and defined based on exposit hyper-sexual images produced by hip hop videos. She notes that the effect of this sexual personhood as displayed by hip hop videos on Black women is that it does not enable them to develop outside the hyper-sexual image. This has, in turn, affected their performance in societal politics and popular culture.
As Durham (116) points out, the control over black feminists comes from historical context, where the white supremacy ideology helps them in creating and sustaining images in order to undermine them from participating in political arena. She notes that these white supremacist created images such as Matriarch, Mammy, Jezebel, Welfare Queen, and the Sapphire, which were projected in big screen cinemas in displaying the commercialized aspect of women’s body. This has not only acted as an insult on women, but has rather reaffirmed the manner, in which women are being oppressed in the society. She argues that controlling women’s sexuality also oppressing them.
According to Madsen (1), rap music videos normally present women as highly exaggerated characters, whose ideals are not based on the common and acceptable hip-hop culture. While most people are usually comfortable with the confirmation of their stereotypes, she notes that these sexual contexts present any group as judging the cultural competence of women. Therefore, Madsen believes that creating this level of competency among women can only be achieved if the few existing female rappers such as Nicki Minaj, Queen Lattifah, and Jean Grade do not use sexualized images. This way, they would be challenging the status quo.
Effect of Objectification of Women in Hip-Hop Videos on Young People
As noted by Pilgrim (1), the objectifying women images that emanate from hip hop music videos are not only powerful, but also influential to the young audience. He points out that normally the young audiences do interpret these sexually exposit images as an important aspect that allow them to be attractive and valuable to the society. In a self-administered survey conducted at family clinic level in United States, Trem (1) observes that more than half of adolescent young girls, who in any way had consistently viewed sexual stereotypes as envisaged in rap music videos, were most likely to participate either in multiple sex, use marijuana, or drink heavily. According to him, these young adolescent girls had lower self esteem.
According to Kistler and Lee (68), hip-hop music videos have increasingly become a popular culture among the young people. This has influenced on how they view sexuality. The two note that a research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2001 reported increased preference in the usage of entertainment media among teenagers as source of information for their sexuality and sexual health. This report also noted that teenagers of age from 12 to 34 normally take almost 65 percent of their time daily in either listening to hip-hop music or watching sexual imagery displayed by the music genre. This in turn, has induced unhealthy attitudes, beliefs and behaviors among these young audiences (Kistler and Lee, 68).
Kistler and Lee (69) point out that young people have developed immense control over media. That is, they are able to choose and consume only the video contents that forms part and parcel of their lives. These authors assert that young people normally tend to emulate the media portrayal, especially objectifying sexual women images, as displayed by hip-hop music videos. According to them, these vicarious models serve the same purpose as those of their parents, educators or eve their peers. Based on the cognitive theory, “human beings in this case, young people, have the capability to learn through symbolic environment" (Kistler and Lee, 69). Therefore, these people act based on the projected vicarious images of reality within hip-hop videos. This in turn, results into new composed rules of behaviors that form part of the young people’s daily lives.
As Kistler and Lee (70) point out, teenagers with highly sexual media diet on objectifying sexual women images in hip-hop music videos are normally perceived as more sexually encouraged. These youths are most likely to engage in sexual activities as compared to those youths, who have low sexual content within their media diet. The two scholars note that the visual sex themes within the hip-hop music videos that portray women as sexual objects influence their participatory sexual attitudes towards women. Experiments conducted among white high school student on the effect of neutral/nonsexual sitcom content against sexually stereotyped and sexually objectifying sitcom content showed that this notion is factual. The study particularly revealed that students with stereotyped/objectifying perspective denoted women as more of sexual objects than their neutral/nonsexual counterparts.
Additionally, objectifying women in hip-hop music videos normally instills in adolescents the act of violence. These images, as Kistler and Lee (71) note, make young people to be sexually violent and assaultive. According to them, more than thirty percent of young men exposed in misogynous rap videos show signs of sexually violent as compared to only 7 percent of young men with neutral sexual conditions. More significant is the fact that objectifying women images in rap songs make young people to develop adversarial sexual belief that sexual relationship is usually manipulative.
Countering Objectification of Women in Hip-Hop Music Videos
Despite the continued objectification of women in hip-hop music videos, there has been a resistance evidence of contestation, especially among feminists, in calling for the agency to reform hip-hop music. Emerson (125) notes this agency to have been formed based on the need not only to assert autonomy and independency among women and men, but also to ensure that expressive partnership and collaboration among them does not demean the image of womanhood. According to the feminists, women’s bodies should not carry negative connotation but rather should be employed effectively in showing their strength, power, and personal identity.
According to Durham (117), the introduction of hip hop feminist studies will help in creating media literacy model of awareness, especially among the young people. This would give them the power to analyze symbolic sexual women images portrayed in rap music videos thereby tackling vicarious representation of women as produced and consumed by the media. The author adds that through hip hop feminist study, intellectual analysis mode articulated towards people’s experience on objectifying women images would be enhanced, thereby transforming the social reality of communities towards black or white women.
On the other hand, organizing an open national feminism and hip-hop conference that includes rap artists, models, music producers, activists, and academician among others would help in addressing objectification of women in hip-hop videos. However, while Durham (118) points out the same to have been organized by Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture in 2004, Trem argues that it has not effectively helped in addressing the issue. According to him, rectifying the use of sexually exposit women images in hip-hop music videos can only be addressed if all the involved parties take charge of their responsibilities.
Trem (1) notes that rappers, especially male ones, should respect black women by avoiding culminating stereotypical obscene images about women in their hip hop music videos. He argues that the media distributors also should be criticized based on the fact that they are the ones who distribute music videos with obscene content of sexuality. They should ensure that hip-hop women images used in music video and exposed through television or other media routes to young women and men present only the positive aspect of women. Significantly, the environment, in which young people live, should be improved either through education opportunity or creation of job activities in order to limit the extent, to which they are lured into reality of prostitution just because of viewing such video contents.
Therefore, as the world moves from analogue to digital technological module, the aspect of objectification of women in hip-hop music will have a significant influence on how people produce and consume such contents. The significant issue is whether hip-hop artists and community as whole would see the need to reform the hip-hop culture into what it used to be and to save the women’s image in trying to restore their identity in the society.