I ran this idea by Evan and he told me to “try it, but be prepared to be made fun of.” So I’m going to do just that. I’m putting my feminist pants on, and here we go.
LOVE her! And do you wanna know why? I’m sure you’re all aware of how totally smokin’ hot she is, but she also endured a very public domestic abuse case, and ever since has been making a name for herself as a sexually charged, in-control woman.
I guess we should start at the beginning. It kind of goes without saying that the world of hip-hop is not very kind to women, not even its women artists. You pretty much can’t get through a music video, or even a song, without hearing the words “bitch” or “pussy”. Dr. Dre thinks bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks, and Mr. Sean Carter is glad to have a whole slew of problems, 99 even, but at least a bitch ain’t one. Nelly makes money by swiping his credit card in a girl’s ass crack (to a song cleverly named “Tip Drill”), and how many times do you see a male artist half-naked, running around a pool with a bunch of fully clothed women? I’ll go out on a limb and say never.
I get that rap and hip-hop are part of and stem from an entirely different culture, but there is obviously a huge problem here. If you’re interested here is a fantastic documentary on the issues with women in hip-hop, there are several parts, and I will promise you that you will feel ill after the first one. I did.
So, women in hip-hop. There are powerhouses like Beyonce, and while she loves to rant about how much money she’s making and how she’s on top of the hip-hop world, I have a few issues. The main one being that she is sending us girls VERY mixed messages! Up until I am…Sasha Fierce came out, Beyonce was all about ownin’ it. B-day is pretty much all about going out, killin’ it with your friends, and being a master of your own sexuality. Once …Sasha Fierce came out, things took a turn for the worse. Half the record begs the love of her life, whom she can’t live without to never leave her. She even has a song titled “Why Don’t You Love Me?” Maybe because he sucks? And granted she had just gotten married when she made this record and I’m sure her being in love with Jay-Z influenced her writing, but quit confusing us girl! You want us to go out and make mad money and dance in the club all night, even dump the guy if he isn’t gonna put a ring on it, but then you want us to feel helpless when our loves leave us!!
“Single Ladies” brings on an entirely new set of troubles. If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it? Really? So now Beyonce, not only are you referring to yourself as “it”, but you’re just portraying yourself as some sort of gold-digging female who only wants to get married! Exactly what us ladies need, more pressure to get married, more commodification of our love and our bodies. Thanks.
And then there’s that gem of a song “Girls Run the World.”
NEWSFLASH! WE DON’T!! The lyrics pretty much say that we live in a female-run society where women are never disrespected or treated as inferiors. Beyonce, look around, this happens literally every second of every day in this country. Quit giving young girls a false idea of empowerment! One woman is raped or sexually assaulted every THREE seconds! There’s still a shitload of work to be done and all you’re doing is lulling them into a false sense of security!!
Now don’t get me wrong, I love Beyonce. I think she IS a really powerful woman and she obviously is doing well for herself. She orchestrates pretty much everything in her career and is confident, smart, and eloquent. I just wish she’d get back to where she came from.
So now onto the woman of the hour: Rihanna.
Rihanna went from popular to almost-spectacle when she was publicly abused by her then-partner and fellow artist, Chris Brown. We all saw the mug shot of her face completely battered, and what made me the most ill was that not only did he get off with community service, but he doesn’t seem to be all that apologetic about what happened. He even goes so far as to get offended when people bring it up, and doesn’t understand why people can’t just “focus on his music”. Maybe I’m just confused, but that’s not something that is easily forgotten, or forgiven.
I’ve unfortunately seen domestic abuse in several instances, the most traumatic being that of my college roommate getting locked into our room by her boyfriend so he could beat the crap out of her. After battling feelings of helplessness as we (we lived in a suite) sat there and listened to him throw her around the room and hit her, my other roommate decided to get his friends. Every day I wish that I had called the police. The following week I came back from class and he was sleeping in her bed.
So, after this incident, Rihanna released a record entitled Rated R. Suddenly she was fierce, outward about her sexuality, and proclaiming it to the world. The first song to cause a big fuss was “S&M”, you know, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me”? Fuckin. Rad. So now not only is she asserting her sexuality, she is addressing her abuse, AND she’s bringing a taboo sex subject like sado-masochism to the forefront, right in the public’s face! So it’s completely reasonable to understand why there was a huge backlash, why the video was pushed to be banned from television, and why mothers everywhere threw a hissy fit when their daughters ran around singing the lyrics. Here’s the video:
It’s hardly realistic, and there is no actual sex at all. It’s clearly a pop-ified representation of sexuality. Somehow still, it’s managed to be banned in 11 countries and you have to tell YouTube your 18 to watch it! Sexism out the wazoo! Practically every song in modern hip-hop is sexualized, of course though, it’s men objectifying women. Some critics said it was hypocritical of Rihanna to portray herself sexually after she had pressed charges against Chris Brown. So then the allegation is that just because she may like to be tied up or play a little “rougher” in the bedroom, she deserves to be beaten? Heck, she’s practically asking for it!
Now onto my favorite, “Rude Boy”.
God DAMN! Where do I begin? She’s asserting her sexuality, stating what she wants, giving her partner what he wants, AND getting and giving consent! Communicative sex? This is my dream girl. If every girl in the world could be willing to say what she wants during sex, to not be too afraid and have to endure “bad” sex, we’d be in great shape.
This video is a clear reference to Jamaican dance halls and the ”rude boy” persona. In these dance halls, as I learned from the film Dance Hall Queen, women are in a space where they are allowed to feel free to express themselves, sexually or otherwise, without worry from the outside world. ThThey dress how they want to, dance how they want to, and build a community through these experiences. Being from Barbados, it is obviously a reference to her culture. Rihanna performs traditional dance hall moves in the video and the colors and outfits she wears are also a clear reference.
I was riding in the car with my sister when I first heard this song and she said, “It’s nice that she’s telling dudes to pull her hair after she just got the crap beat out of her.” Same issue as before! Your bedroom practice does NOT give others the right to beat/rape/assault you!!! EVER! Nothing does! Not your clothes, not how you dance, nothing! I hear it all the time, even women saying it, as girls walk down the street in short skirts and high heels, “…and they wonder why they get assaulted.”
The issue is that they shouldn’t be assaulted! The issue is that any person, male female or otherwise, should be allowed to wear whatever, go wherever, and do whatever she/he wants without fear of abuse!!!
So then there’s Rihanna’s other songs, “What’s My Name” is one of my personal favorites. She’s proclaiming her love for someone because she wants him, she’s choosing him, because he’s “just [her] type”. All the while still sticking to her guns, “I wanna see if you can go downtown with a girl like me.”
Then there came the next controversial video, perhaps even more so than “S&M”, “Man Down”.
Now we’re talking very real issues. Rape, rape revenge, and the vicious cycle that ensues. The song is all about struggling with the murder of her rapist. The video shows her dancing with a guy at a club, and then her saying NO (again, how you dance, dress, or otherwise does not mean anyone can have you). And we all know what follows. I was puzzled after reading the comments on the video, “Yeah girl! He got what he deserved!” seemed to be the general consensus. Unfortunately this is the exact opposite of what Rihanna is trying to say.
Rape revenge is never a good thing. Ever. And this video and song are supporting that. It doesn’t help anyone if the victim then becomes the criminal.
On her Twitter, she says, ““Young girls/women all over the world…we are a lot of things! We’re strong innocent fun flirtatious vulnerable, and sometimes our innocence can cause us to be naïve! We always think it could NEVER be us, but in reality, it can happen to ANY of us! So ladies be careful and #listentoyomama! I love you and I care!”
Practical and accessible advice, no?
So that’s that. Rihanna. Parents hate her, I love her. The way I see it, when an 8 year-old girl wants to walk around with a whip and no pants on, that’s where parenting comes in. You can’t blame an artist in pop culture for how your children behave, that’s your responsibility. Instead of banning artists like Rihanna because you’re afraid they’re poisoning your children, take a moment to explain why Rihanna gets to do those things. Maybe it’s because she’s older, maybe it’s because it’s just for fun, who knows. Maybe you should explain things to your kids instead of just sweeping them under the rug. I’m not a parent, so what do I know? But I remember listening to songs like “Too Close” by Next and pretty much anything by Salt n’ Peppa, and I’m not running around flaunting myself to the entire world, nor was I ever. Hell, I didn’t even understand what the lyrics meant at the time, and it’s probably safe to say that kids today don’t either.
There’s also a big problem with parents, politicians, and religious figures making sex into a crazily taboo subject. Some people like to pretend that it doesn’t even exist, and if you’re a woman? Forget it. No one would like to believe that us young, pure ladies are having The Sex, and that’s a huge problem in our culture. With everything from sex education to contraception, we’re constantly faced with backlash and it can all be traced back to the simple idea of “purity” (white wedding dresses, anyone?). And just for thought: how many times do you hear about a man having trouble buying condoms versus the countless cases where women have been denied birth control or the morning after pill?
I’m getting away from my point, back to Rihanna.
I can’t write this without mentioning the fact that there is probably a lot of backlash because she is also a black female artist. I obviously can’t speak of the experience of women of other cultures, but after doing some reading it’s pretty clear that her ethnicity plays a role in how she’s being portrayed and accepted by the media and by viewers. Like I said, I can’t eloquently or accurately explain because I am a white, mostly privileged woman, but here’s an article that discusses it.
Phew. That’s my argument and I’m sticking to it.
For fun, I’ll leave you this, which has been stuck in my head for weeks, and now will probably be in yours as well.