From its inception, hip hop as a culture has always carried a poignant spirit of individuality, a space where one could exude strength, creativity and self definition. For the inventors of the culture, hip hop was a respite from the subjugation endured by people of color in all other aspects of their lives. This platform would generate a zone where the silent could finally gain a voice and express themselves in ways of their own choosing. It would form a space where artists can hone and share their crafts which were the products of the culture that they established. Hip hop bore the constitution of a unique culture within the black community. Sadly, for all the splendor and inspiration that hip hop was able to forge, the men who have been and still are at the forefront of hip hop culture never failed to bring their misogyny, self-hate, and poorly conceived notions with them.
In “strongblackwomen,” Joan Morgan (1999) illustrates the politics that lie at the heart of hip hop feminism through the scope of the strongblackwoman paradigm that is a central part of the black woman's historical experience. Women of color are expected to, or at the very least appear to, have it all together. They are repeatedly disrespected and disenfranchised, yet all the while they are expected to uplift the people around them. Morgan goes on to chronicle the ways in which the strongblackwomen axiom is a continuation of the mentality has evolved from the time of slavery and colonization:
I am sure it is because I am a black girl and we are people ruled by Myth. It was once the way we made sense of the world--how we explained the birthing and dying of things and everything that came in between. But all of that changed once we were stolen. Myth became white folks' way of making sense of us and the perversions of their institutions. According to their Myth, slavery was an act of benevolence bestowed on ungodly savages and primitives. And to those who knew and cared little about us or our prior histories, we became Mammies, Pickaninnies, and Sambos (creatures too simple to survive without a master's guidance) or oversexed dangerous Niggers. The latter, of course, possessing a nature that justified every act of barbarism it took to keep them in line (Morgan, 1999, p. 94-95).
For women in hip hop culture, femme-ness can mean being forced to exist as a piece of oversexualized furniture, then trying to forego that idea and rest solely on your talent. You will inevitably be placed into a rigid box where you are not allowed the privilege of vulnerability or humanity.
Hip hop feminism is an undeniable part of hip hop culture, but it’s important to understand that hip hop did not create hip hop feminism. Hip hop feminism is the manifestation of the struggle that women of color have always been forced to withstand.
Hip hop was conceived in the midst of a society that has always held an extremely one dimensional view of people of color, a view that becomes even narrower where women of color are concerned. Women of color already exist in an environment where fragility is unacceptable; they must be pillars of fortitude to live up to the “Myth” and combat the inevitable struggles that accompany being who they are. That sentiment is even more true for women in hip hop.
All women in hip hop must endure the constant questioning of their talents and identities as the price they must pay for entering a world that many represent as not theirs to inhabit. In the case of a pioneering woman deejay like Pam the Funkstress, she emphasizes her turntable skills that are on par with men and takes all that even a step further with what she calls "titty-scratchin" (see the video/epigraph of this essay at the top). She uses her breasts to "scratch," thereby challenging the patriarchal function of the turntable and the audiences who imagine they can remove black women from every expression of the culture. After all, “Hip hop feminism is a form of expression that women use to show the rest of the world that they are free.” Hip hop is a culture built on the spirit of freedom, self-expression and self-definition so hip hop feminists are the women who unabashedly demonstrate that complexity of women in the culture. They showcase that they are of exemplary talent and disrupt the archaic ideals of what many believe "strong women" should be and do.
Hip Hop Feminism Is….. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.blackwomenrhetproject.com/hip-hop-feminism-is.html
Morgan, J. (1999.) strongblackwomen. When the chickenheads come home to roost: A hip hop feminist breaks it down. New York, NY. Touchstone.
Titty Scratchin by Marianne Mba is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at https://johnjay.digication.com/shards_of_the_glass_ceiling.