Hip-Hop and Its Effect on Gender Roles

This is yet another assignment from a past class I took.  Once again, this was an English class where we read and wrote about social issues surrounding sex, gender, race, and class.  The class mixed sociology with English.  This paper talked about the documentary Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, by Byron Hurt and talked about several of the gender and racial aspects  of hip-hop.


Ellis Sutton


English 102

Hip-Hop and Its Effect on Gender Roles

Sex is a person’s biological role in reproduction.  Gender is the role and behavior associated with a person’s sex.  Males and females, boys and girls, and men and women, all have specific behaviors that they are expected to do or not do.  However, ever since humanity began, there have been people who have questioned, rejected, and even attempted to change gender roles on the grounds that they are harmful, constricting and the like.  Byron Hurt, an activist, is one of the many people who have done that.  In his documentary, Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, Hurt attempts to find out what hip-hop and rap music says about what roles men and women should and shouldn’t have (“Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes”).

A point made over and over again throughout Hurt’s documentary is that hip-hop often sends the message that men need to be dominant towards women and other men.  Rap lyrics and music videos often contain content that glorifies being violent towards other men for generally senseless reasons such as “stepping on one’s turf” or “looking at them the wrong way.”  Hip-hop is in a way a form of a common trope in American culture that equates masculinity with violence.  Some of the rappers Hurt interviewed for the documentary film, said that the message that men, especially black men, receive is that they have to command and demand respect, never express anything that could be perceived as weakness, and never let other men disrespect or degrade them (“Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes”).

People ask why hip-hop is so violent.  One reason is that black men in America often are disadvantaged financially.  Many black men can’t use money to assert their dominance so they decide to sue their bodies to fulfill that goal.  They act as though they are “hard”, use aggressive mannerisms, and the like.  By contrast, men who are wealthy don’t tend to come across as violent because they can use money to show dominance (“Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes”).

Hip-hop has another side to gender roles that poses a risk that is just as great if not greater than the idea that men must be hyper masculine and violent towards one another.  It is the issue of how women are treated.  Rap lyrics routinely refer to women with epithets such as “bitches,” and “hos.”  Women in rap videos are depicted wearing very little clothing next to fully-dressed men; the implication is that women are objects who exist solely for the sexual pleasure of men.  They have no other worth or value.  Hurt documented the consequences of such media messages:  At the BET Spring Bling event in Daytona, Florida, young men who attended the event routinely sexually harassed and sexually assaulted young women by shooting video cameras under their skirts or groping them.  It is stated that in the black community, issues that affect blacks as a whole or black men are given greater importance than the issues of misogyny, sexism, and violence against women.  One of the results of those attitudes is the sobering fact that black women are 33% more likely than their white counterparts to be victims of domestic violence (“Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes”).  Even women are desensitized by hip-hop and seem to accept the messages to an extent.  Hurt asked one young woman about what she thought about misogynistic hip-hop lyrics.  She said that they don’t offend because they aren’t specifically targeted to her.

When it comes to hip-hop portraying certain gender roles for men, there is an irony.  It’s very common for rappers (and people in society in general) to denigrate men for “being less of a man” if they cry or fail to conform to what society considers to be masculine.  This also includes lyrics that are homophobic.  However, the irony of homophobia in rap is that rap has a homoerotic subtext.  The documentary notes that for example, there is a video featuring a shirtless LL Cool J, and the viewer is encouraged to look at him.  In addition when rappers talk about the pursuit of sex, they focus less on the women and more on working together with their friends to get sex  (“Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes”).

There is an important reason why hip-hop expresses the messages that it expresses.  In the early days of the genre rappers talked about political issues in their lyrics, but over time, the lyrics changed to have less substance.  One would wonder why that would happen.  The record companies are seemingly uninterested in signing artists that talk about so-called worthy issues and more interested in artists talking about violence, drugs, sex, and the like.  The documentary suggests a racist subtext because the record executives are mostly white men who allegedly don’t blacks to criticize their subjugation in society.  It is remarked that this is a trend that is not fundamentally different to old American films that depicted African Americans in a manner which reinforced negative black stereotypes such as being lazy or violent.  Some amateur rappers whom Hurt, interviewed said that the white record executives do not want to perpetuate positive images of black men, and they even expressed that they don’t engage in crimes, don’t neglect their parental responsibilities, nor would they want their sons to emulate the behaviors of rappers.

Byron Hurt set out in his documentary to depict what hip-hop music says about gender roles and how those messages affect society (“Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes”).  When the documentary is over, one can clearly see that many of the messages and views expressed in hip-hop are negative and have equally undesirable consequences.  This begs the question: what can be done about these consequences? I think that what needs to be done is that people need to first and foremost think about the media they consume.  They have to decide whether the messages and views expressed in the media they consume are positive or negative.  People also need to think about the media they consume is affecting them in a positive way or not.  Afterwards, they have to decide what to do about it.  Will they change their attitudes and if so how?  Will they listen to music that doesn’t disrespect people?  Will they continue to listen to potentially harmful music, but not let it influence them to partake in negative behaviors?  The only way that people can change society for the better is for people to start with themselves and takes personal responsibility.

Works Cited

Hurt, Byron, dir. “Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes.”Independent Lens. 20 FEB 2007. DVD.

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