Hip Hop's Other Woman Problem: Women in Hip Hop Journalism
By Jaylin Paschal
It's odd, isn't it? Being a female Hip Hop enthusiast? We know the deep, long history of Hip Hop's misogyny issue. Offensive lyrics, abrasive behavior, aggressive physicality and demeaning portrayal via music, videos and lifestyle. We know how this misogyny has made Hip Hop the ultimate boys club, with little female presence in the entertainment aspect. Women producers and emcees are often slighted by their male counterparts, or forced to take on gimmicks in the name of "sex sells." We know that women roles in the entertainment realm Hip Hop industry are most accepted on reality television, under the condition that they make an ass of themselves. We dub this "The Woman Problem."
But let's talk about Hip Hop's other woman problem--a behind the scenes issue: The lack of space for women in the Hip Hop journalism world.
Of course, this issue must be addressed within the context of the general gender diversity issue in the culture. Journalist Sacha Jenkins explained at NYU's 2004 Hip Hop Journalism Roundtable that "misogyny infects Hip Hop journalism, making it even more difficult for female reporters to cover the music and the scene in a thoughtful, substantive way."
But this "difficulty" Jenkins references assumes that women get the job in the first place. Think about the last time you read a Hip Hop album review. Did a woman write it? Think about the last time you read a Hip Hop culture think piece. Did a woman write it? Think about the last "best" or "greatest" Hip Hop list you read. Did a woman curate it? Think about the last Hip Hop documentary you watched. Did a woman narrate it? Was a woman even interviewed? The answers to most or all of these questions are most likely "no."
Our opinions regarding "the culture" are often disregarded. And even when considered, it's only after we somehow prove our thoughts valid. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten the I-Can't-Believe-This-Girl-Is-Talking-To-Me-About-MF-DOOM look, as if I shouldn't know anything outside of or beyond Nicki Minaj and Drake. At some time in the conversation comes the inevitable, "You're the only girl Hip Hop head I know" comment, as I suddenly take on some unicorn role in their mind. As Hip Hop and rap has origins which involve "young men talking to other young men," it really shouldn't come as a surprise that they don't want to hear us out, unless it's about the latest Bryson Tiller track or Justin Bieber feature. But it still does. Eventually, we're going to tire of raising our voices just for the men in the room to hear us, or to hire us, rather.
But let's say, like Jenkins assumed, that we do get the position. What happens then?
Every woman in Hip Hop journalism knows that the way to preserve any standing you have in the community is to never "acknowledge 1) that you are female and 2) that there is sexism in Hip Hop." Because the moment you do, you are dubbed the whiner. The feminazi. The softy in a culture based on grit and grunge. (I even hesitated with writing this piece for a while.) Hip Hop writer and curator dream hampton expressed at the same NYU event that although uncomfortable, she felt that confronting sexism in Hip Hop was a part of her job. However hampton also has the luxury strong relationships and histories with the likes of Biggie, so really, who in their right mind would come for her, especially today when she's regarded as a legend? More often than not, women entering this field swear off the subject.
But that's okay, right? Because we can right about everything else?
Not quite. Too often, women Hip Hop writers are assigned stories covering very, very underground artists and music and denied access to big-name celebrity interviews, connections, and stories. Or worse, and the journalists are expected to cover Hip Hop celebrity gossip (think Angela Yee's role on The Breakfast Club).
And what can happen to us when we do finally get real stories?
In January of 1991, Dr. Dre assaulted Fox's Pump It Up! Hip Hop television show host, Denise "Dee" Barnes. When The Source asked about the assault, MC Ren and Eazy E defended the attack, which involved (but did not stop at) slamming Barnes' head into a window and throwing her through a door, with "that bitch deserved it."
Or, when not physical assaults, women Hip Hop writers are subjected to exploitation altering writing unfavorable pieces. It's never "So-And-So is a poor writer, who does little research and writes empty articles" or "So-And-So drafted a well written piece, although I vehemently disagree with her opinion." It's almost always "So-And-So is a bitch and a ho and I could've fucked but she was ugly as hell at the interview, even though she threw herself all over me."
And suddenly, here we are again at the most basic, abusive misogyny in Hip Hop culture seeping into the journalism industry.
So, what do we do as women Hip Hop enthusiasts? Here we are in this strange space, again; loving a culture that is less than fond of us. As cultural critics, we cannot (and should not be able to) dictate the course of that culture. But as journalists, we should always hold that culture accountable for its shortcomings and injustices.