by Anne O'Connell

Any evaluation of gender representation in American mass media must take into account the phenomenon of gender socialization. Fixed images of specific cultural and gender groups presented by the mass media are ingrained into the minds of the general public, often creating stereotypes of these groups. In their fight for more dignified images, women have turned to the battle that has been waged by feminists. By Feminism, I mean the recognition and acceptance that women have been devalued. Feminism and feminist theory have exposed the myths that have caused women to be devalued. It is in this context that feminist theory becomes important in understanding female rap music.

Rap is a genre of music which may be seen as a cultural vehicle for the self expression and social reflection of the urban community. It reflects the African-American tradition of story-telling. Rap music, in fact, is part of a larger movement called hip-hop, which expresses the grim realities of contemporary urban life. It is interesting to know that, although women have always played a role in the construction of rap music, it is a predominantly male-dominated genre. Women's roles in rap music usually placed them out of the spotlight as back up singers or dancers. It was not until the past ten years that female rappers have made their mark and gained considerable recognition and respect as artists and lyricists in the field. The power of the lyrics heard in female rap music is derived from the genre of women's blues. Musicologists, like Hazel Carby have shown that in women's blues, African-American women used themselves as sexual subjects through song, as a means of empowerment. The lyrics of many early female blues songs subverted the fact that female sexuality was only the object of the male desire. Instead, female sexuality was used to serve other females with a positive and empowered image of themselves, lending to the ability of other women to relate. These women sang of the satisfaction that accompanies the rejection of female subordination and sexual exploitation. Female rap groups follow their predecessors with the use of powerful lyrics in order to dispute traditional gender roles prevalent in our society. This style of music has brought together some of the same politics and ideals as women's blues, adding to its agenda explicit rather than implied sexuality. Female rap music focuses on promoting women's importance, which in turn, demands equal treatment for women, and demonstrates the need for women to support eachother.

Popular female rappers like Salt-N-Peppa and Monie Love use explicit sexual speech to turn the tables on the men and let the women be the dominant ones. For example, Salt-N-Peppa's 1993 hit single "Shoop", broke the boundaries of female inhibitions, disputing the myth that women should not and do not discuss their sexual desires of men. The music video for "Shoop" features men in sexy, slightly objectified roles, and camera shots which do not pan to the face before or after a sexy body shot. The word "shoop" is a euphemism for the act of sexual intercourse. "I wanna Shoop" intends to relay a strong sense of sexuality absent of the traditional inhibitions placed on women. The use of erotic imagery portrays women's physical lust as being not only acceptable but enjoyable. The power of these lyrics serves to boost women's self esteem, also eradicating the stereotypical attitude that women need to be sexually submissive. In Monie Love's song, "Wheel of Fortune", she expresses the feeling of intolerance toward male sexual aggression, domestic violence, and female oppression. The song takes us through a personal description of Love's relations with men that have tried to dominate her through sex, violence, and empowerment. She rejects theses men, but keeps trying as she takes another spin of the wheel, concluding that "To find the perfect lover, you need a wheel of fortune." Both Salt-N-Pepa and Monie Love offer alternative positive images of women that contradict stereotypical images inflicted on African American women. Through the use of powerful lyrics, these artists use language and images which allow women to lessen their sexual insecurities and inhibitions. Following their predecessors of women's blues, female rappers have released their desires instead of repressing them, denying themselves to be victimized. Through the use of lyrics and style, female rap musicians have given all women, especially African-American women, a strong sense of self identity and empowerment.