No Room in the Cipher for Female Hip-Hop Fans?

No Room in the Cipher for Female Hip-Hop Fans?

A few good women assert their right to enjoy and critique rap music

by Lauren McEwen, August 5, 2013

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No Room in the Cipher for Female Hip-Hop Fans?

It’s happening right now as you read this. Some woman or girl is tweeting something like, “OMG, K.R.I.T.’s mixtape is so good,” and some of her male followers are jumping in her mentions saying “What you know about that?” or subtweeting “Girls stay laying thirst traps, pretending they know about rap to get attention.”

Earlier this year, Meaghan Garvey, a visual artist from Oak Park, Illinois, wrote a piece for Vice about men who seem intimidated by women who legitimately enjoy hip-hop. These are men who cannot wrap their minds around the idea that there are women who are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about hip-hop, and not because they are out to get male attention.

“Worse than incredulity, though, is the patronizing pat on the back for somehow overcoming my tragic vaginal handicap that prevents women from hearing music in the same way that men do—"Aw, you like Flocka, that's so cute!" or, "Wow, you're so different from other girls!" Really? How often do you speak to girls?” writes Garvey.

Rani Gaddy runs the aptly named A Girl and Her Hip-Hop blog. The North Carolina-native grew up on the music, and over the years, has grown accustomed to men questioning the level of her fandom.

“Men do it all the time. It could be anything—cars, sports. Women are not supposed to like masculine things. We’re not 'supposed' to know about it. It used to offend me, but I kind of expect it now,” says Gaddy.

When she’s hit with the “What you know about that?” line, she replies “I know a lot about it, I grew up on it. We’re in the same culture, that’s what I reply. I might not know every lyric, but I listen to it. It reaches me, even though most of the lyrics are sexist, but it’s life. Art imitates life.”

Women who enjoy hip-hop often have their tastes in music called to the stand. If they are not being scoffed at for “contradicting” themselves, they are being quizzed on their knowledge of the genre. Could this be why so few hip-hop-only blogs are openly run by women? Sites like Miss Info and Karen Civil’s blog come to mind, but how many other women-run, hip-hop sites focus more heavily on celebrity news than the music?

Rani occasionally posts gossip and news, but at the heart of it all, Rani is in it for the music. She tends to post songs by musicians who rap about things other than sex and money and drugs, but isn’t immune to the power of a good beat.

“I’m a woman, but if it’s just a hot song, I’m gonna blog it. That’s just what it is,” says Gaddy.

Glennisha Morgan is a freelance writer and blogger from Detroit. She’s loved hip-hop since she was a child and would dub her favorite songs on cassette tapes, rewinding them over and over so that she could write down the lyrics. In 2008, she started The Fembassy, a blog about women rappers. She was searching for an outlet to help support women in hip-hop. VH1’s somewhat laughable “Miss Rap Supreme” had just gone off the air, Nicki Minaj’s mixtapes had yet to become the talk of DatPiff, and Morgan felt a void growing.

Morgan, “a self-identified feminist and womanist,” has sometimes had her values called to question because of some of the music she enjoys. “Just as much as I like to write about intersectionality and homophobia and very serious issues, on Mondays I like to turn on my TV and watch Vh1 and watch reality shows. Yes, I’m a feminist and womanist, but I damn near know all of the words to ‘Ain't No Fun,’" says Morgan.

“I always tell people that I’m a hip hop head, not a hip hop snob. I love Nas, Common, Talib Kweli, and the rest of the so-called 'conscious' rappers. But today, I was listening to Plies and La Chat. We’re able to like whatever, and sometimes that not something we can control. It may not line up with our values, but we’re human beings and we’re very complex,” she says.

Though she agrees that sexism may play a role in women’s participation in hip-hop blogging, she never felt limited by it. Even in middle school, she was always one of few girls whose opinions on hip-hop were respected by the boys. “You have to know that you know what you know. That you’re capable and adamant about whatever you want to start,” says Morgan.

“It’s also a vicious cycle. Some people really feel like women don’t necessarily know about hip hop – they couldn’t possibly know about this song, or this artist. And then you have people who don’t. People who see how often women work behind the scenes in hip hop, as stylists, managers, publicists, artists, producers, A&R reps…the list goes on,” she says.

Sexism in hip-hop fandom isn’t only about questioning women’s knowledge of the genre. The present climate of the hip-hop blogosphere may not help matters. Many popular magazines and sites like Complex and The Smoking Section dedicate entire sections of their sites to posting high-resolution pictures of oiled up video models. That, in addition to the sexist content in the music and the attitudes of fans, could detract women from making a place for themselves in the field.

The parallels between sexism in hip-hop and sexism in gaming are amazing, says Leigh Alexander, who writes for Gamasutra, Kotaku and EDGE Magazine.

There is the inability to believe that women are truly knowledgeable about the medium, the offensive content in some games and the underrepresentation of women in the field, not to mention the cycle of patriarchy in both fields seems strikingly similar.

“In the ‘90’s and ‘80’s when games were a way for alienated people to find a safe place to go. People that felt bullied, or didn’t belong had a safe place they could go to by expressing themselves through games,” says Alexander.  “A lot of young, white guys who were afraid of women and didn’t fit in at their school, and would go into these worlds where they could feel powerful.”

“For a while the marketing and culture around these games actually catered to that. It contributed to perpetuating that culture by the way the games were marketed to young, White men and how the games were designed to appeal to young, White men,” says Alexander, noting that these users grew up to be the creators of video games,  “so the cycle becomes even more insular.”

When they are told that “others” enjoy what they love, they become defensive.

“What they hear is that you’re trying to tear their clubhouse down. That you’re going to take something sacred and safe for them and just crowbar it open and change all of the rules, and they start to worry because they feel a sense of ownership toward it,” says Alexander.

Google “misogyny in hip-hop” and you’ll be greeted with pages and pages of theories about it’s origins – from a distrust of women that grew once rappers became wealthy to misogyny as a marketing tool.

She doesn’t believe that many of the people are consciously sexist. Instead, it is difficult for them to understand that games or hip-hop don’t exist in a vacuum.

Late last year, these frustrations led Alexander and many other women (and male allies) took to Twitter to discuss the pandemic levels of misogyny in the gaming world, under the hashtag #1reasonwhy.  From troubling themes in games (rape video games – anyone?) to casual sexism in the workplace and at conventions, women in the industry shared some of their worst experiences.

Alexander, who began blogging about games in the mid-aughts, has had her share of experiences with sexism, from having her opinions policed by men in comment sections to being placed on a link bait-y lists of “Hottest Women in Tech.”

“Within my community, a lot of people believe that I was one of the first, and I can tell you that I just didn’t know what the culture was like. If I had known, I never would have done it,” says Alexander. “For new women starting out, we still have to stick together, or else they’re going to believe there is no place for them and they’re going to run.”

 
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