Is Hip-Hop Feminism Alive in 2011?
Joan Morgan coined the phrase back in 1999, but what does hip-hop feminism look like today? Is it Queen Latifah? Nicki Minaj? Or the 10-year-old girl calling out Lil Wayne?
Morgan did not coin the term "hip-hop feminist" until 1999, but rap's pro-woman consciousness dates back further, with artists like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Tupac and Eve making music with a distinctly feminist sensibility. But promoting and recognizing artists and lyrics that support women in hip-hop is only part of hip-hop feminism's agenda.
"I was never talking about tracks made by female artists," Morgan says of her book, which was the first to articulate the dichotomy of hip-hop feminism. "I was talking about hip-hop culture, and the ways that people move through it. I don't think a hip-hop feminist critique can do the work it needs to do if it can't analyze all of it."
Black Feminism vs. Hip-Hop Feminism
To be certain, hip-hop feminism was born out of a need to understand the many cultural, social and political conditions that afflicted women of what Baraki Kitwana called the hip-hop generation, comprised of people born between 1965 and 1985. Black feminism, a wave of thought and activism largely influenced by the civil rights and black power movements, was not equipped to consider the issues of women belonging to the hip-hop generation.
Hip-hop's babies weren't dealing directly with issues of invisibility brought on by systems of segregation the way the generations were that came before them. Instead, they were grappling with being front and center as the most loved and most hated stars of global popular culture. The popularity of hip-hop made black youth cool and desirable, which was in complete opposition to the unavoidable stereotypes in the media that illustrated them as gang members, welfare queens, drug dealers and teen mothers.
"The manifestos of black feminism, while they helped me to understand the importance of articulating language to combat oppression, didn't give me the language to explore things that were not black and white, but things that were in the gray," Morgan says. "And that gray is very much represented in hip-hop."
This gray area includes the contradictions of loving an art that is reluctant to include you; loving men who, at times, refuse to portray you in your totality; and rejecting sexual objectification while actively and proudly embracing your sexuality. Although hip-hop feminism has gone through phases, it has always, at some level, dealt with these incongruities.
"Hip-hop feminists have been consistent in championing women's rights, which encompasses everything from sexuality to abuse," says Marcyliena Morgan, founding director of the Hip-Hop Archive in the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University. "And that has always been irrespective of what men in hip-hop were doing."
What the Future Holds
So what should hip-hop feminism look like in 2011? Instead of being reduced to an anti-misogyny movement or to a rallying cry to give more female MCs the mic, hip-hop feminists hope that it will incorporate a women-centric worldview, where the realities of the hip-hop generation's women are taken into consideration at every turn. It doesn't just complain about the lack of female MCs but actively addresses the reasons there are fewer female MCs now than there were in the late 1980s, and why there are only a few types of female MCs that make it to hip-hop notoriety.