Feminism & Hip-Hop Conference Notes, Part 1

Because my notes are so lengthy, so thorough, and because I’ve barely had a chance to mentally unpack everything, I’ll probably just post what I wrote panel by panel or person by person, for archival purposes, and eventually try to come to some conclusion.
Essence Health Editor Akiba Solomon has, time and again, struck a balance between fierce feminism and honest emotion with these issues, so I’ll start with hers: “Sexuality and Agency in Hip-Hop,” also starring Professor Imani Perry and super b-girl Ana “Rockafella” Garcia.
[Consider most of these quotes paraphrased but mostly direct, unless otherwise specified.]
Akiba starts off the panel by saying that at some point, you start thinking in negative numbers in terms of your humanity, because you have to spend so much time proving you’re “not a ho, not too ugly to be a ho, or not too ballbuster to be a ho.” She advocates reclaiming sexuality as a human interaction, not as an agent of the market force, and compares the portrayal of black female sexuality in times of slavery, with its portrayal now in popular culture, and especially popular hip-hop culture: “Black female sex is characterized as dangerous, forbidden, and irresistable,” she says.
Her caveat: now, there’s an extra layer of commodification, because demeaned flesh is not just being used to sell sex, but also to sell product: hip-hop albums, videos, cars, video games, clothing, etc. She calls a woman’s willful use of body as economic power as fitting into “Hood Darwinism,” her own term. She points out that hood tenets–Money, Power, Respect–are, in this script, only attainable for poor black women via sex, which never leaves room for agency–an ability to exist on the womens’ own terms.
Akiba calls much of current popular rap “commodity masquerading as hip-hop. There are a core audience of fans who love and consume the culture, but now that hip-hop is pop culture, it’s just a product”–reinforced by the idea that a woman who calls herself Superhead can be seen as part of quote-unquote “hip-hop culture,” though her role is in fact a part of hip-hop commodification.
Akiba observes, “the market force is so potent” that to many non urban-center based kids, “this is what hip-hop IS–24-7, all they see is sex objects.. mistaking “Hip-Hop culture for Hip-Hop Consumerism.” She takes it the next logical step, saying that when Essence started their “take back the music” campaign, they found that most consumers of CDs (not sure if she meant ALL CDs or just RAP CDs) are white men between the ages of 18-35, and that there needs to be a real outreach/education effort to white communities, to counter the effects of white supremecy and sexism that can accompany/result from hip-hop consumerism.
Later, Imani Perry says the counter to this rampant exploitative imagery of women of color amounts to a “crisis of the imagination,” and that in order to remedy it, some people find themselves erring on the side of being anti-sexuality, reinvesting in the Victorian notion of purity and black sexual subjectivity.
[Here in my notes I wrote “Do not be hating on women for other shit,” which I think means that disregarding, disrespecting or hating other women for they way they execute their sexuality is antifeminist and counter-productive. I believe this in my heart, but I don’t always practice it, especially with women–and men–who maneuver sexually via infidelity and dishonesty–but that’s more of a personal moral issue than a universal feminist one.]
Akiba counters to Imani: “It’s not ABOUT our sexuality; when videos portray women only from the waist-down and with gyrating buttocks, that’s not sexuality, that’s OWNERSHIP. It’s not a conversation about real sexuality. It is ownership, it is power structure, it is psychological warfare.”

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7 Responses to Feminism & Hip-Hop Conference Notes, Part 1

  1. Candicissima says:

    I’m glad your posting up your notes about this because this was my senior essay topic in college and I spent a lot of time then (and do still now) trying to unpack many of these issues.
    I would disagree with Akiba’s position that black female sexuality is either dangerous or forbidden. If anything, it’s so in your face that the impression is left that it’s highly available if you contribute financially/socially into the presented lifestyle. And your “do not be hating on women for other shit” note: was that to the panelists or women at large?

  2. jshepination says:

    Ah–the “hating on women for other shit,” I believe, was an idea that came from the panel–someone, I think Imani Perry, posited that to outright vilify other women for how they are sexual, whether by acting in videos or through promiscuity, is ultimately counterproductive. I am not positive on that, but it wasn’t directed towards anyone–it was more an outgrowth of the conversation.

  3. although i don’t see what’s exceptionally feminist in this critique, apart from that it deals with the putative commodification of women, there’s no meaningful indictment (o.k. these are just notes) of capitalism itself. there’s an ideological poverty present in critiques of consumer culture – most notably that it presumes persons to be rational actors, which we’re not.
    not only does the dichotomy presented here lead to internecine violence in Victorian garb, it does a bad job of illustrating the manner in which the ways black women, or women, or anyone for that matter is exploited by capitalist production both coming and going – and that meanings are attached to them in the form of advertising as a rationale not only for the need of product X, but also its own mythology of usefulness or necessity. combined with the associative principles of historical paternalism/patriarchy, women are a property that come along as a perquisite of material fortune.
    this isn’t revelatory – engels was doing this in the 19th Century. if one casts a sober eye at certain feminist media crit, you find folks attaching meaning where there is none – a woman from the waist down isn’t ownership to everyone, not the least of which the woman who was likely paid to be a dancer with the understanding that she would be filmed in ways “sexy” to a broad market group.
    it sounded like there might be a cool discussion of agency in this talk, but maybe all will be forthcoming.

  4. julianne says:

    Yes–I want to make clear these are just my notes; not meant to be a critique at this point, and I am posting them in case people are interested in what went down. Someone else will surely have a different take on the whole thing.
    You have to understand that, while there were academics present and the conference was held at the University of Chicago, the defining context was HIP-HOP, not academic. Within that context, the very act of pairing the words and ideas “FEMINISM” and “HIP-HOP” in a setting like this is essentially radical, “radical” as defined by “tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions.” (Merriam-Webster)
    The overall purpose of the conference, from my persepective, was partly to discuss what it even means to be a “hip-hop feminist”–’cause some people weren’t trying to self-identify like that–and provide urgent, ground-level, real-world solutions as to how to maneuver as such within hip-hop communities. Ground-level, as in i.e. “How do I explain the meaning of ‘video hos’ to the 12-year-olds in my afterschool program?”
    I really wish I had the text and language you are dropping here, but I don’t understand what you mean exactly when you say “associative principles of historical paternalism/patriarchy.” I never went to college, though I am not anti-academic (my therapist would tell you I am PHILO-academic), but quite frankly some of your language is alienating. I would love to have a reading list, please–Engels first. And please specify what you mean by “certain feminist media crit.”

  5. jalylah says:

    I should echo everyone’s Thanks for the notes. I was there too and I actually taped the sessions until I ran out of tapes (after the Melyssa Ford, Jessy Terrero, Kim Osorio, Cheryl Keyes panel) and honestly I probably won’t ever transcribe them. I think as important as this conference was for the reasons that J pointed out “the very act of pairing the words and ideas “FEMINISM” and “HIP-HOP” in a setting like this is essentially radical” it was sometimes heavy. I cried at during the hubub that ensued at the conclusion of the last session.
    Anyway I think it was supremely important for all these women and their allies to connect the yahoo group is where its at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/hiphopfeminism/
    and the open mic performance arm Sat night was “Hot Fire” to borrow from Da Band’s Dylan

  6. Bemused says:

    first off – i recorded about 6 hours worth of sessions – from the Q&A at the Morgan/Fischer/Bennett panel through the Mark Anthony Neal panel. i’m like Jalylah – i’m not sure i’ll transcribe, but i will listen to them again.
    as far as akiba solomon’s commentary – i thought that the combination of the 3 (solomon/perry/rokafella) was a potent one. Perry’s comment about the poetics of female sexuality was a good point to akiba’s insistence that black women were being commodified.
    i agree with you, JShep, that it’s often difficult to not overreact to the overdone portrayals of black female sexuality by proclaiming that a return to purity is the only way to restore the sexual agency of black women.
    my view is “moderation in all things”; i’d rather deal with someone who HAS HAD EXPERIENCE with her/his sexuality – instead of a virgin or a hoe. neither extreme is qualified IMHO to discuss the metaphysics of sexual relationships – or even how sexuality configures male/female identity.
    so as much as Melyssa Ford played herself, i still respect her as a woman (and an entrepreneur in a limited sense).

  7. Akiba says:

    It’s January 3, 2006 and I just came across this blog and commentary. I thank Julianne (I think that’s her name) for posting the notes from the panel; they’re some of the most accurate I’ve seen.
    I’m not a big plugger, but the above exchange between the very, very, very, very academic-sounding sister and Julianne compelled me to share news of an upcoming event:
    On March 4 the Hiphop Archive is presenting “Know-The-Ledge:Hiphop Scholars Meets Hiphop Media.” At this one-day event at Stanford University, participants (including myself) will “discuss the relationship and conflicts between academic and journalistic reporting, writing and representation of Hiphop.”
    I think this kind of discussion is long overdue. Hope y’all do too.

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