Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hip Hop And Hos

Nareissa Smith has written a fascinating piece on women performers and hip hop. Lots of food for thought there, and much of it generalizes to other types of music if not with quite the same strength. Here's a taste of her argument:

In fact, the intersection of capitalism and sexism has had another interesting effect on women in hip hop. First, the sexism - As Weiner states, there have always been women in hip hop – first, as stand-alone acts, then, as the "kid sister" or apprentice to a male rapper. But now, women in rap are even further marginalized. The only women that one sees in rap videos these days (so I hear, as I refuse to watch anymore) are so called "video vixens," scantily clad women whose sole purpose in her objectification is to serve the male gaze and narrative around her. So I ask: if the current iteration of hip hop is predicated on women being objects as opposed to subjects, and is predicated on removing any independent agency, where is the place for a woman to speak of her own authority - or at all?

I'm not sure if I'd call the way these markets work just simple capitalism, because there's something more than that going on, something more recent than the era of capitalism in general. It may be linked to those technological changes which made it possible to pass the same few stars/actors/singers into every household in the country, which made it almost impossible to make a living in the fields if you weren't one of that select handful, even if you were very good indeed. This concentration of markets is visible in television shows (which all tend to copy the one that sold best last year), in movies, in books, in ballet and in sports.

I find that focus on a few super-stars ultimately boring and less fertile than an imaginary alternative situation of many competing smaller markets seeking different customer groups. It appears to slow down truly new creativity. Thing do change, but perhaps more slowly than they would in that imaginary alternative, and once something new does manage to break through, well, everyone copies it again.

How does this all relate to the sexism Smith mentions? Once the contents of hip hop were commercially set as all about a certain kind of ultra-aggressive masculinity, combined with utter contempt towards women, that's how the market is seen. Not the easiest market for a woman to break into in any other role than as meat.

Do read Smith's whole piece. I remember reading about Ms. Sarah Baartman, the Hottentot woman who was displayed all over the world in the 1880s. But of course the source I read didn't even deign to give her name.