Misogyny and the Evolution of Women in Hip Hop

RealClear Staff


Photo Source: AllHipHop.com

Early Hip Hop Culture

 Women have been an integral part of the history of hip hop, although they are not usually recognized and given due credit. Instead, they were introduced in early hip hop music and culture, by male artists, as merely sexual and material objects; not as people or as women who should be treated with respect. I believe that the misogynistic depictions of women in the beginning stages of commercialized hip hop music lead female artists to take action in their own (rather ingenious) ways to recreate their womanly image in the hip hop community. The pioneer African-American female artists, and even the artists of today, use their sexual lasciviousness and their strength as modern women to combat, and even satirize, the stereotype first put out there by male artists.

In the late 1980s through the early 1990s, men effectively dominated the mainstream hip hop scene, and misogyny was a ubiquitous theme in many of these songs that made the men so successful. These sexist male artists exploited the purely physical and sexual aspects of women, and in rap from a male perspective, women are often defined as objects or subjects. 

It could be inferred that the chauvinist male entertainers would basically rather have the women be purely ‘seen’ as sexual objects and not ‘heard’ as people or equals in hip hop music.


Photo Source: AP

Salt-n-Pepa, a pioneer female hip hop trio, in 1987.

The Changing Tides

Female artists ultimately began to respond to that objectification and stereotype of the ‘booty-shakin hoe,’ and took action by using their music to discuss real-life concerns facing black African-American women today—This sentiment is in agreement with Cheryl Keyes, author of the prolific Rap Music and Street Consciousness, “The rise of female MCs in the late 20th century represents an ongoing musical saga of black women’s issues concerning male-female relationships, female sexuality, and black women’s representations from a working-class point of view.” By countering the men through raising awareness to urban issues through their intellectual lyrics and music, I think the women forged their own path in hip hop culture; thus, demanding more respect and power as they went. 

Artist such as TLC, Salt-N-Pepa, Queen Latifa, and MC Lyte were just a few women who pioneered this effort. Furthermore, the awareness women artists wanted to bring to their own personal issues, including sexuality, lead them to begin to parody the misogynistic depictions placed upon them by men—who, in essence, advanced gender equality in contemporary hip hop and rap culture.

Due to the continually increasing assertiveness and control taken by the female artists in the 1990s hip hop scene, the women started to express themselves more freely and creatively by unleashing their erotically-lascivious nature. As a woman, I am obviously sympathetic to the struggle the women had to endure in the hip hop culture and society; A woman does not need to alienate her sexuality to be assertive, nor must she be a one-dimensional sex object. She can be allowed to express her sexuality, her body, and her own life simultaneously.

Photo Source: InStyle

Nicki Minaj embodies the progress of female hip hop artists.

Female Empowerment in Hip Hop

There countless other female rappers and hip hop artists of note, a few being Lil Kim, Da Brat, Eve, and Nicki Minaj, who have used and continue to use their sexuality in lyrics and videos today.  For these pioneer female rappers to turn around the negative connotation surrounding their sexuality was an immensely difficult challenge, which is how they became so triumphant and respected. The mainstream hip hop audience, and even the men of hip hop saw how challenging it was for the females, thus they started to see them more as equals in the genre.

 Although women have been part of hip hop music and culture since its conception, they first gained the most notoriety in through the misogynistic lyrics and sexual exploitation in music videos by the dominant male artists. Pioneer women artists like Queen Latifa, Trina, TLC, and Salt-N-Pepa struggled and challenged this negative depiction in the early 1990s by creating socially-conscious lyrics, music, and videos that spoke to the greater female African-American community and the issues constantly facing it. 

Throughout this effort, the women of hip hop maintained their feminine sexuality and began to earn respect, success, and power- Achievements which I believe ultimately lead them to gain enough authority in the industry to use their sexuality as instruments to move to the forefront of hip hop culture.

I believe that because women ingeniously used their sexuality to empower their music, and earn their respective place in hip hop culture, today the female artists are essentially on an equal professional playing field as the male artists.

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