Not me. Last night, the BBC attempted to tackle the issue with a sliver of sensitivity in the documentary ‘Music, Money, and Hip Hop Honeys’.
I can’t be the only black woman who is sick to the back teeth of other black women’s bodies being oiled up, dissected and objectified in hip hop and grime music videos.
I’m tired of seeing hip hop, R&B and grime videos that so gleefully encourage and illustrate male dominance and female subservience. By dominance, I don’t mean a numerical advantage- quite the opposite. Women often outnumber men in these videos, but the men are fully clothed and the women are partially dressed. The men are speaking and the women are silent. The women are jiggling their buttocks into the camera lens, but there no sign of the dominant male figures waggling their crotches into the lens for the good of the audience.
Call me a prude, but the truth is I couldn’t care less about the supposed sexual liberation or empowerment that these women gain from starring in these videos. Instead, I’m pretty worried about the skewed representation of black and minority ethnic women in the mainstream media. I’ve followed hip hop, R&B and grime music since my early teens, and from the beginning I understood that misogyny was the norm. The day I realised hip hop wasn’t going to tackle its misogyny any time soon was the day hip hop star Chris Brown punched, slapped and bit his R&B girlfriend Rihanna, and his fans bent over backwards to excuse the abuse and blame the victim. In hip hop, grime and R&B, the majority of black women’s bodies are constantly up for degradation or consumption.
In hip hop and R&B, lyrics about and towards women have changed dramatically over the years. In 1994, Boyz 2 Men crooned the lyrics ‘I’ll make love to you/ like you want me to/ and I’ll hold you tight/ baby all through the night’. Eleven years later, the Ying Yang twins rapped the lyrics ‘You like to fuck, have your legs open all in da butt / Do it up slappin ass coz the sex gets rough’, with a chorus consisting almost entirely of the words ‘I’ma beat that pussy up’. Note that the word ‘pussy’ is completely divorced from the unfortunate female who happens to possess the genetalia in question. It’s no surprise, then, that the representations of women in the music videos that are paired with these songs are increasingly degrading and misogynistic.
In a world that’s crying out for black female role models, these images only peddle in and pander to the empowerment lie, albeit with new specifics. Black women aren’t really represented as fully human in these videos. Instead, we’re subservient, covered in baby oil, and constantly jiggling. We’re portrayed as tantalisingly voluptuous and always sexually available. Our bodies are dissected by selective camera shots like slabs of meat.
Americanised popular culture is inescapable, and black women need diverse and positive representation. Currently, we’ve got Michelle Obama and Rosa Parks firmly in the heroine camp, and on the other side of the scale we have video chicks- black women who are paid to wear thong bikinis and shake their oiled buttocks at the camera.
Sometimes it feels like hip hop, R&B, and grime videos hold a unique kind of contempt for black women , one that prioritises female subservience and submission above all else. Feminists often protest objectification, but the knee jerk default is to challenge the Hugh Hefner-esque, pink and blonde, creamy skinned feminine sexual ideals. We must never forget that black women are heavily objectified in the media too. We just have a different cookie cutter mould that we’re expected to conform too. Big buttocks, heavy breasts, thick thighs, tiny waists and full lips. It’s just as narrow, and just as damaging.
And what of the women who are enticed into the industry on promises of glamour, money and fame? What I saw from the BBC3 documentary, the ambition was possible, and also, very, very rare.
The UK has always lagged behind the USA, and the video chick phenomenon is no exception. Black women in the US have already reached Katie Price proportions when it comes to exploiting the video chick role- the BBC3 documentary reports that the most successful video chicks can make $9,000 for just showing up a premiere and $12,000 for two days filming. A few years ago, ex-video chick Karrine Steffans released the hotly anticipated expose and biography Confessions of a Video Vixen, detailing her career starring in videos and her affairs with the hip hop stars who hired her.
But here in the UK, video chick haven’t quite reached that level yet. Instead, women often respond to adverts on social networking websites calling for girls to star in low budget grime or hip hop videos. In the words of one of the grime video directors who featured in the documentary, these women are often ‘swindled’, and promised pay that never appears. This female empowerment lie tricks women into playing into the misogynist’s hands. You can have the money, the fame, the confidence and the admiration. You’ll be a better person for it. All you need to do is take your clothes off, spread your legs, push up your breasts, and pout.
For the purpose of convenience in this post, black defines those of non- Caucasian origin- African, Asian, Middle Eastern, mixed race, etc.