Back in the day, being called a feminist meant you were a woman who was strong and righteous, armed with a scholarly approach and understanding of the women’s right movement.
Bell Hooks, Audrey Lorde, Ida B. Wells… the brilliance of these Black feminist icons (and the many others like them) is indisputable. They have paved the way for all the headstrong women who continue to stand on their shoulders.
It got us thinking, as sisters like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion top the charts and start to receive applause for their sexual autonomy and pro-woman political stances, we have to ask, ‘Are raunchy female rappers low-key ushering in the next wave of Black feminism?’
To be fair, sexually explicit female rap is nothing new. All you have to do is pull out a copy of Lil Kim‘s 1996 classic Big Momma Thang and its evident that Black women have been rocking lingerie on stage and giving male emcees a run for their money for almost as long as hip-hop has been around.
That, however, was a different time.
Thirty years ago rap music was considered a counter culture. Now, much to the chagrin of some, it IS the culture. These days, when a female lyricist gets on a stage to wax poetic about how she’s a Big Ole Freak, she’s probably been to college, is totally in control of her image, and has an audience full of young girls (along with their sex positive big sisters and fly aunties) singing along to her songs in the audience.
While the Foxy Brown‘s and Lil Kim’s of years past were often working under the umbrella of street smart men who could vouch for them in the male dominated and notoriously misogynistic shark tank that is hip-hop, the Cardi’s and Megan’s of today not only seem to be making their mark without a male sponsor, their men are often treated as mere accessories there to enhance but overall have no true impact on their marketability.
Arguably speaking, isn’t this sort of autonomy what our feminist forefathers (or perhaps I should call them foremothers?) had in mind for us? Didn’t they fight for us to have the right to tell our own stories, do what we want with our own bodies, and create our own opportunities without relying on a man for a hand out?
If so, then why do so many people bristle any time it’s brought up that Belcalis Almanzar the business woman may be setting a precedent that far exceeds how Many of us personally feel about Cardi B, the stage persona?
— #BETAwards (@BETAwards) June 24, 2019
‘I don’t want my daughter looking up to that’
It would be disingenuous for us to expect that Cardi, Megan Thee Stallion, Rico Nasty, Saweetie or any of the other young women currently making their mark right now could ever make it through an album without saying something that could be deemed problematic. Here’s the breaking news: WE’RE ALL PROBLEMATIC at one point or another. In hip hop, where boasting about accolades, over exaggerated power plays, and petty personal digs are literally the law of the land, folks are going to always be prone to say some crazy ish. Those are literally the rules of engagement. It’s a fact that every “woke” hip hop fan has to come to terms with at some point or risk walking away from the genre altogether.
Even so, I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve met who consider old Jay-Z albums (about Big Pimpin) to be classics, while in the next breath sneer in disgust at the mere mention of millennial female emcees.
There are fathers who have no issue with their sons listening to songs about male promiscuity and dangerous street culture, who suddenly become downright puritanical when they hear a City Girls summer anthem on the radio. And while they may believe their disdain is noble, what message are we really sending here?
It’s sad (but, not surprising) to see some folks truly want Megan Thee Stallion to fail.
Ask yourself… why would you want a Black women in college while juggling a career that she started ON HER OWN to stumble? Oh. And, she writes her own material.
Why are you upset again? pic.twitter.com/0sVAZM9lJp
— Kirk Moore (@KirkWrites79) June 24, 2019
Given all the reasons I’ve listed above, this all hints at a glaring double standard where men talking about sleeping with hoes, shooting folks and selling drugs is somehow less offensive to people’s sensibilities than a woman demanding sexual gratification and a healthy financial portfolio.
If you really want to “keep it all the way 100” as the kids say, we’d be able to admit why that is.
Respectability politics is a topic I’ve written about extensively and the one place where it’s effects become glaring is when we discuss who does and does not have a right to refer to themselves as a feminist or an advocate for women in our community. Even other woman grapple with this topic and find themselves dismissing their more sexually explicit sisters as nothing more than “stupid hoes.”
Are hoes really all that stupid? I mean just look at their receipts, free agency and financial solvency because they all seem to be saying something entirely different.
More than meets the eye
When people first found out that Cardi B had taken advanced placement classes in high school and went to college as a political science major (albeit before becoming a stripper), they were floored. This is probably because being “hood” and/or overtly sexual is often considered synonymous with being uneducated and/or unintelligent.
However, three years later when Megan Thee Stallion started to make her mark, suddenly, no one was surprised that she was in college, or that she cared deeply about social issues like women’s empowerment and saving the environment. If anything it’s a narrative that has now come to be expected.
Whether we want to admit it or not, in just a few years Cardi really has moved the needle on the assumptions that are made on girls like her. Major companies and fans alike are peeping game on these women’s keen instincts for business, branding, and marketing. As a result they’re now being treated as co-conspirators in crafting their images rather than having their likeness co-opted for pennies on the dollar.
In the 90s, a lot of female rappers were at the mercy of the men around them, with the rise and fall of acts like Foxy and Kim serving as cautionary tales to their peers. Now, women in the industry make it a point to tell not just men, but also major corporations, what they will and won’t stand for. They’ve also made it a point to create financial legacies for their families and take active roles in business ventures that go far beyond the world of entertainment.
With all this impressive “leveling up” taking place in real life (and not just on Instagram), what more will it take for us to collectively put our personal biases aside and admit that THIS may in fact, be the next iteration of feminist ideology? Why are we so resistant to give these women the props that we repeatedly give men for accomplishing and overcoming half as much?
I’m not saying you have to be a fan of their music or know every lyric to every song verbatim, but as Black women, we repeatedly tell white women that effective feminism must include ALL women and therefore be intersectional. I’d now like to take that logic a step further and say that effective feminism also needs to be intergenerational.
Which means yes, even the loud, ghetto girls rocking Fashion Nova cut off jean shorts deserve a seat at the table too…whether you find them respectable or not.
Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric