Why Ashley Judd is right about hip-hop and rape culture

The Internets is going a buzz about what Ashley Judd has written in her new memoir, slamming hip-artists P. Diddy and Snoop Dogg. Judd calls hip-hop misogynistic and a promoter of rape culture.

“As far as I’m concerned, most rap and hip-hop music — with it’s rape culture and insanely abusive lyrics and depictions of girls and women as ‘ho’s’ — is the contemporary soundtrack of misogyny.” 

She further states: 

“I believe that the social construction of gender — the cultural beliefs and practices that divide the sexes and institutionalize and normalize the unequal treatment of girls and women, privilege the interests of boys and men, and, most nefariously, incessantly sexualize girls and women — is the root cause of poverty and suffering around the world.”

Of course, TheRoot came to hip-hop’s defense, at least when it came to Judd’s claims of the music genre promoting rape culture. 

We’re with her on the misogyny point (Old news. Perhaps new if you grew up in a country western family.) But, “rape culture”? That’s a really serious allegation that might actually go so far that it ultimately serves to distract from the point she was trying to make. The conversation is an important one, but if you’re going to commit to putting that disturbing a label on two entire (and very diverse) genres of music, can we get a set of citations or something?

Sigh, here we go…

It amazes me how little people know and understand about rape culture. Yes, Desmond-Harris, the dominant forces of hip-hop and rap perpetuate and promote rape culture. How? Well, one of the main tenants of rape culture is the normalization of violence against and subjugation of women and girls. Society as a whole has accepted and even promoted violence against women as normal. Sadly, popular hip-hop and rap songs are a reflection of our society’s tolerance of rape culture.

(I don’t typically cite Wikipedia as a source, but I find it’s definition of rape culture acceptable to newbies).

Of course, Judd’s point about misogyny is old news; in fact, society has beaten that horse to death and now it’s time to re-frame the debate.

I often find myself referring to an excellent post written by Melissa McEwan at Shakesville entitled Rape Culture 101. It gives readers an excellent way of breaking down and understanding how complex and embedded rape culture is. I will list a few of what McEwan’s ideas (in italics) are about rape culture that relate to hip-hop and rap:

Rape culture is treating straight sexuality as the norm. Rape culture is lumping queer sexuality into nonconsensual sexual practices like pedophilia and bestiality. Rape culture is privileging heterosexuality because ubiquitous imagery of two adults of the same-sex engaging in egalitarian partnerships without gender-based dominance and submission undermines (erroneous) biological rationales for the rape culture’s existence. 

I would add that rape culture is also the acceptance of the male hetero-hypersexuality and hetero-hypermasculinity as the norm, both traits popular hip-hop and rap music proudly boast. In order for both to co-exist, these two qualities rely on the humiliation and degradation of women and girls–treating them as just sex objects to flaunt their male virility. Rape culture promotes the idea that women should be passive participants in the male quest for sexual and gender dominance. Many of the lyrics in popular rap and hip-hop songs promote this tenant through men achieving fame through money, sex and violence and referring only to women, usually in the third person, as the bitch they run through just to get to the top. 

Rape culture is the objectification of women, which is part of a dehumanizing process that renders consent irrelevant. Rape culture is treating women’s bodies like public property. Rape culture is street harassment and groping on public transportation and equating raped women’s bodies to a man walking around with valuables hanging out of his pockets. Rape culture is most men being so far removed from the threat of rape that invoking property theft is evidently the closest thing many of them can imagine to being forcibly subjected to a sexual assault.

No need to explain anything here. It’s clear to a three-year-old that dominant hip-hop and rap songs and artists perpetuate this basic tenant of rape culture. Treating a woman in a music video as just a “thing” an artist can use to swipe a credit card down the crack of her ass (Yes, I’m referring to you, Nelly) is the exact objectification McEwan speaks of that’s paramount for rape culture to be successful. Appearing at a music awards show with women wearing dog collars and leashes around their necks (Yes, I’m talking about you, Snoop Dog) is part of the objectification of women needed in order for rape culture to survive.

Black folks historically have not examined the impact of rape culture on our communities. While we continue to decry the anti-woman, self-defeating messages rampant in hip-hop and rap lyrics, we continue to buy into rape culture and its codes and mores. We continue to support artists, who like to claim they are spreading a political and social message to listeners, who clearly are perfectly fine with the anti-woman, anti-girl rape culture society we live in.

We continue to deplore the law enforcement officers who unjustly use unnecessary force on our brothas, but we remain silent on the men and boys who have used rape as a weapon to terrify women and girls in our own communities. We continue to remain silent on those in our own community who continue to use rape culture to treat our women and girls as second-class citizens.

We continue to protest against racist images in pop culture, but we have refused to question why hip-hop and rap artists refuse to acknowledge–and correct–the abusive and harmful portrayal of women and girls in music. We continue to demand little-to-no reciprocity of respect and adulation for our women and girls while we allow these artists to relentlessly call them outside of their name.

Our inability to understand how popular hip-hop and rap music validates rape culture demonstrates the extent of how little society as a whole understands about rape culture. It’s a plague that many of us either can not recognize or refuse to even acknowledge. Popular hip-hop and rap music won’t change its uplifting of rape culture if we continue to purchase the anti-woman, anti-girl crap both industries continue to produce.

Black folks can’t continue to demand change and respect from other groups of people if we refuse to address the lack of respect and reverence popular hip-hop and rap songs and artists refuse to show our women and girls and our community as a whole.