According to Billboard, the number one streaming song of the week, January 12, 2019, was the hip hop/rap song Sicko Mode by Travis Scott ft. Drake. Like most if not all rap songs, the persona Travis sings about all the women he has ‘gained’ because of his music career and about sex. This was evident from the lines: “All of these hoes I made off records I produced/(Don’t stop, pop that pussy!)” ( Lenniger) Likewise, one minute and forty-two seconds into the music video, Travis is seen with numerous women of African descent lying with their butts facing the camera on the floor of what looks like an abandoned car park in nothing but a bra and a G-string. On the other hand, he sits half-naked on a sofa in front of all of them. The display of women of African descent in provocative clothes or bikinis dancing or interacting with the two rappers continues throughout the video.
The image created is that the worth of women of African descent is based on their sexual appeal (Gordon 246) and they exist only to serve men. This is because only women of African descent are being hyper-sexualized and sexually objectified in the music video. The image denies these women the power to be equal to men as they are “reduced to body parts rather than whole persons with thoughts, feelings, and desires” (Gordon 246). In addition, they are denied the power to create their own narratives because the image normalizes the stereotype of women of African descent as naturally sexual, fertile, and submissive to men. Hence, the image is controlling, and the dominant group of men create the identity of women of African descent as “the other”. (Collins 68)
Malcolm X once said that “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.” (Common) One area where this is very evident in hip-hop, which was birthed in America, because of “the proliferation of highly sexualized and exoticized images of women…in numerous hip hop music videos…for the most part, [are] of African descent” (Maultsby and Burnim 306-307). Hence, these women are not only perceived as inferior to men, but they are also perceived as inferior to women of other races too. This sexual objectification in the hip hop culture reflects different forms of oppression for women of African descent – their race, their gender, and their sexuality.
The group that benefits from the image discussed, apart from the music industry, which receives lots of money from the popularity of hip-hop music, is men. They get away with objectifying women of African descent and sexually taking advantage of their insecurity. When a negative image such as the devaluing of self-worth is constantly repeated, it is “embedded in psyche” and eventually becomes the nature of the individual (Gammage 51). In addition, due to cultivation theory (Gordon 246), young girls and women of African descent grow up believing that they have to be sexually appealing to get and keep a significant other. However, young boys and men are victims of the image too. They grow up with the notion that having sex is equivalent to power and incorporate that into their lives and music, even if they enter the industry because the art form demands they speak of their reality. This creates not only a cycle of the image but of abusive relationships in the culture too.
The consequences of this cycle and this image are numerous. For example, girls of African descent are sent home from school because of violating dress codes when in fact, it is because the institution “deems their bodies too provocative” (NowThisNews).
Since the image of women of African descent intersects multiple areas, its solution needs to be intersectional. Liberal Feminist tools are required to tackle gender inequality because ‘female rappers’ don’t have the same opportunities or popularity in the music industry. Poststructuralist Feminist tools are necessary to educate rappers on the impact of what they say, how they talk about and depict these women. Marxist Feminist tools are required to stop the music industry from exploiting these women’s sexuality. Finally, post-colonial Feminist tools are needed to reverse the European enslavement of Africans and colonial enhancement of the hyper-sexualized treatment of these women’s femininity (Gammage 34). Action needs to be taken now!
Common. “Malcolm X.” Twitter, Twitter, December 24 2017, twitter.com/common/status/944995848886218752?lang=en.
Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought. Routledge, 2000.
Gordon, Maya K. “Media Contributions to African American Girls Focus on Beauty and Appearance: Exploring the Consequences of Sexual Objectification.” Psychology of Women Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 3, 2008, pp. 245–256., doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2008.00433.x
Lenniger, Shea. “Here Are the Lyrics to Travis Scott’s ‘Sicko Mode’.” Billboard, Billboard, September 26 2018, http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/lyrics/8477102/travis-scott-sicko-mode-lyrics.
NowThis News. “Author Monique Morris Shines A Light On The Black Girl’s Unique Experience In America.” NowThis, NowThis News, August 29 2018, http://www.nowthisnews.com/videos/her/author-monique-morris-on-black-girls-unique-experience-in-america.
“R&B/Hip-Hop Streaming Songs.” Billboard, Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/charts/r-and-b-hip-hop-streaming-songs.