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Call for action

Nelly provided the tipping point for many people last year when he swiped a credit card down the backside of a stripper in a music video.
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Nelly provided the tipping point for many people last year when he swiped a credit card down the backside of a stripper in a music video. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokesman-Review

In “Hustle & Flow,” this summer’s critical movie darling, DJay, a pimp who wants to be a rapper, rhymes: “That’s the way the game goes, gotta keep it strictly pimpin’/Gotta have my hustle tight, makin’ change off these women, yeah.” The sad thing is those lyrics are not only a pimp’s reality. A lot of rappers, too, are making money by degrading women. And for the first time in a long time, many women are getting fed up with these one-sided images of females in videos and songs.

A horde of songs shaming women have stampeded the airwaves this summer.

In “Wait,” the Ying Yang Twins think it’s sexy to boast about their aggressive sexual prowess. Their current single, “Badd,” describes their ideal woman, a schoolgirl by day and stripper by night.

“Give Me That,” by Webbie, has the young rapper practically demanding sex from a female and demeaning her while he is doing it.

BET’s late-night “Uncut” showcases soft porn-like videos by Nelly, Ludacris, 50 Cent and other rappers.

“The misogyny has always been there,” says Serena Kim, features editor for Vibe magazine. “But it’s different now because the culture is bigger and mainstream. Now every kid in America is well-versed in hip-hop.”

And it’s becoming harder for women to defend the culture when the mainstream is latching on to the booty-shaking elements of hip-hop.

The tipping point for many people came last year via BET’s “Uncut,” when Nelly swiped a credit card down the backside of a stripper in his “Tip Drill” video.

Kim says that video and the lyrics crossed the line. Spelman College, a historically black college for women in Atlanta, made headlines last year when it banned Nelly from performing at the school unless he engaged in a dialogue about “Tip Drill.” He declined.

From there, a snowball began to roll. Earlier this year, Essence kicked off a “Take Back the Music” campaign to raise the level of dialogue on how women are depicted in popular culture. Throughout the year the magazine is running features that explore the hyper-sexuality in hip-hop, and each feature will include actions readers can take to help fight the negative imagery.

Organizers say the goal is not to ban hip-hop music or enforce censorship but to bring attention to the imbalance.

“We aren’t attacking hip-hop,” says Cori Murray, arts and entertainment editor of Essence. “There are still very good things in hip-hop; I love hip-hop.”

But misogyny in hip-hop is running rampant, Murray says, and what’s popular in the genre is headed toward porn.

“If we (black women) start telling them ‘Stop calling us that’ or ‘Stop showing us that way,’ think about what could happen,” she says. “We have so much power. I doubt these guys are going to turn their backs on us.”

Noted hip-hop journalist, historian and DJ Davey D says radio and music executives carry a lot of the responsibility.

It’s the music and program directors, along with record label executives, who control the airwaves, he points out. And if people don’t start to examine how songs get on radio and television and start talking to decision-makers, he says, talking about changing the situation “is a meaningless conversation.”

After really listening to the lyrics on her Lil Jon and Ying Yang Twins CDs, Teandra Howard, a sophomore at Missouri Western State College in St. Joseph, Mo., says her opinion of the artists is changing.

“When I first heard ‘Wait’ by Ying Yang Twins, I thought it was kind of funny, so I bought it so I could hear the words,” Howard says.

“When I heard what they were saying, I felt offended because I feel like it puts a negative impression on women. And I feel like if you dance along or sing along to it, it’s like saying you agree with what they are talking about.”

Socially aware artists just aren’t as popular, says Meigan Yarbrough, a senior St. Teresa’s Academy in Kansas City who likes conscious hip-hop.

“You have good artists, like Mos Def and Common, but that’s not what’s selling,” she says. “I think ignorance and inequity sells.

“The thinking is, if it has a good beat and you can dance to it, then why not? But the message is degrading. Girls bend down and shake it, and the guys watch. I won’t dance to it, and I just won’t listen to it.”

The “video vixen,” a voluptuous, half-naked and often gyrating model in music videos, has become symbolic of hip-hop’s attitude toward women.

If there is anyone who knows about the effects of video models, it’s Karrine Steffans, author of “Confessions of a Video Vixen” (Amistad, 244 pages, $24.95), a tell-all book about her hip-hop experiences.

Steffans has been in videos for Jay-Z, Mystikal, LL Cool J and R. Kelly and has been featured in magazines. She says video girls are on their own.

“I wish the industry would provide some sort of counseling,” says Steffans, 26. “I wish someone would have told me what was going to happen or called me to see how I was doing. No one wonders how you are feeling or who you are.”

As a model, she says, “you are performing a service to help this man sell records. They give you the clothes to wear, tell you where to stand and how to move.”

The misogyny in music is a reflection of society, Steffans says.

“As a society, we are well aware of what happens with young boys and girls without fathers,” she says. “Women are looking for an authoritative figure; they are looking for a voice. They don’t have it at home or in the community, so they instantly turn to the most prominent male voice, and it’s hip-hop.

“Society has changed when men aren’t looking to protect women. There was a time when nobody would allow you to walk out of the house with tight shorts and a halter top, but now we are being exploited by our own men.”

The answer, she says, is women banding together.

“We have to change our behavior,” Steffans says. “We are the mother, the first teacher and we have to start our own revolution.

“We need to speak up and say we don’t like this music, we don’t want to wear these clothes, and we need to educate ourselves and stop letting the men get all that airtime.”

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