Why Men in Hip Hop Need to Do Better

Hip hop is undoubtedly the most influential subculture or genre in the world right now. It has branded itself as a political voice of the impoverished. Hip hop is also a means of self-empowerment. JAY-Z was a drug dealer before his rap career and is now one of the genre’s first billionaires. Cardi B was a stripper-turned-rapper no one initially took seriously but is now an influential figure. Despite some empowering stories, misogyny and sexism are still dominating hip hop. This year in particular men proved how misogynistic, transphobic and outright disrespectful they have always been.

J. Cole vs Noname

In a tweet, rapper Noname called out rappers for not doing enough in the Black Lives Matter movement. J. Cole seemingly felt personally attacked by this and released a song, Snow on tha Bluff. In it he raps about not liking her so-called condescending tone. In response, Noname released Song 33 where she called him out on his terrible timing as a young Black transgender woman, Oluwatoyin Salau, had just been murdered.

The Lack of Empathy for Megan thee Stallion

After Megan thee Stallion was shot, men on social media were quick to sexualize her and make jokes about the situation. 50 Cent was one of many men who shared insensitive memes about her. He himself is someone who survived being shot. Then people shared false conspiracies about her alleged shooter, Tory Lanez, finding out she is transgender. This is an example of how people will use any excuse to justify violence against women.

The Transphobia Against Zaya Wade

When the daughter of Dwyane Wade came out as transgender, she received some hate. Rapper Young Thug deliberately misgendered her and said that “God doesn’t make mistakes”. Another rapper Boosie said that she should rather “be gay” than transgender. Young Thug had since apologized but Boosie still stands by his comments.

Sexual Assault and Slut-Shaming

The allegations of sexual assault against industry pioneer Russell Simmons continues to go under the radar. Women continue to be portrayed as “sluts” and sexualised objects. Because of Future’s cult-like influence, the phrase “She belongs to the streets” is part of *almost* every hip hop fan’s slang.  Or at least we are all familiar with it. Not to forget the other misogynistic words used to describe women.

“Who are you calling a bitch?”
– Queen Latifah, U.N.I.T.Y

Misogynoir is Everywhere in Hip Hop

Misogynoir is the double pressure of being Black and female. Noname’s political views may not be taken seriously by hip hop fans because she happens to be a dark-skinned Black woman. Some people have said that if Megan was lighter-skinned or white, people would have had more empathy.

As a fan of rap, I am tired of the patriarchy.

Hip hop is one of my favourite musical genres but male rappers continue to annoy me. Whether it’s my “favourite” artist Drake calling the mother of his son, a former pornographic actress, a “fluke” or Future being hailed as a hero by men for his cheating habits. It could be really simple, men in hip hop need to do better. Dear male hip hop fans, your favourite rapper making songs about how they love to fold clothes for their wives is not as feminist (or “simp”) as you think it is. J. Cole is the same artist who made “Lights Please” about having sex with a supposedly superficial woman and “Crooked Smile” about appreciating a woman’s inner beauty. The double standards and contradictions are tiring.

More men in hip hop need to actively acknowledge their privilege. Hopefully, then they will stop objectifying women as sexual beings or muses to their misogynist lyrics. Of course, this is not only a hip hop problem. Patriarchy is a societal problem affecting both genders. If hip hop wants to continue being the leaders and the voice of the overlooked, male rappers should do better. As bell hooks said, “feminism is for everybody.”

Why I Need Tori Amos

Why do I need Tori Amos right now?

Because I just can’t handle it all on my own. Roy Moore. Al Franken. The President of the United States. Hollywood. Brock Turner appealing his sexual assault conviction.

Living in a perpetually heightened state of anxiety – and having my friends share that anxiety because #MeToo inevitably brings up something for everyone. Having good men tell me they’re “shocked” that their friends, colleagues and family sexually harass and assault women – and finding out that some of the good men I know never were good men after all.

When I began working for girls’ rights I knew it would be tough. But I felt that I could do the work with my spirit intact because the emotional distress was softened in a landscape of continual progress. I was part of the good fight, and we were winning.

But what happens when it feels like progress is not only halting, but reversing? What happens when I wake up every morning to a fresh new misogynist hell? When I’m bombarded by news and blogs and conversations that reveal and excuse another case of sexual violence? When I feel like my life’s work is being trampled by cultural regression to a time when we simply accept that men assault women?

I plough forward relentlessly. I work harder, returning to my work after my kids are in bed. I put feelings on hold, muting emotion in the moment because that’s the most effective way to operate in a crisis.

And I listen to a lot of Tori Amos.

Since I was 18, Tori’s music has been just short of everything to me (hint: I’m not a natural redhead). It’s self-care. It’s a respite. Depending on the song it can be exciting or sobering, and it’s always reaffirming and recharging.

I was drawn to how she rocks out the piano and I fell in love with the feminine stream of consciousness she professes in heartbreakingly beautiful metaphors. In some songs she explores feminine archetypes and has conversations with characters like Persephone, a goddess in Greek mythology who was abducted and taken to the underworld. For someone who works with child brides, this has been a call to action, but now this metaphor is becoming more and more personal. On her new album, Native Invader, Tori imagines Persephone returning from this underworld:

“which taught you can’t escape anguish

But how to live with it

Then reports from the robins

Form in you an inner radiance

It’s as if they fused with a spirit you knew

Who’s come back again”

And boom, she just spat out a woman’s life in one song. And it’s not just about Persephone, but about me, too. And about #MeToo.

Right now Tori’s music is helping me process our culture as I struggle to continue my work with girls. She reminds me that it’s OK to feel angry and heartbroken and that we can’t always understand conflict. She also reminds me that pain does find a resolution because “one story’s end seeds another to begin.” And through her activism – her 23 years campaigning for US sexual assault helpline RAINN – I see her actively seeking out resolutions.

On her recent tour, Tori opened many of her concerts with her song, ‘Iieee’. To me, it’s always been a sultry song that evokes sex and male aggression and, like much of her music, mixes flirtation with vexation. When I saw her in concert this fall, I wasn’t sure how I would interpret the song that night and in this context, as her songs always prompt individual and quite visceral reactions.

Then there she was, opening the show with her red hair, funky glasses and dizzyingly high heels. When she wailed that “we scream in cathedrals,” I thought of #MeToo. When she then threw herself back as she cried out “why does there gotta be a sacrifice,” I thought of the tremendous loss of joy and dignity that so many of us are experiencing.

And then she tossed her red hair behind her shoulder and turned toward the audience in defiance as if to say, “we’re stronger than this.”

And we are.

For more information on navigating these potentially triggering times, read RAINN’s tips for survivors on consuming media.  

How Music and Theatre are Educating Young People in Uganda

Last Wednesday (March 8) marked International Women’s Day. The energy and effort within the women’s rights movement has clearly not slowed down from 2016. Events like the Women’s March on Washington (and the ripple effect that that has caused worldwide) as well as the consequent A Day Without a Woman campaign have showcased the creativity and inspiration that emerges when women come together to express their views on what they believe to be right and just.

Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) has been working to set the stage in Uganda for spreading messages on sexual and reproductive rights and health (SRHR) and gender-based violence (GBV) through creative means – music, dance, and drama. The initiative proves that the performing arts are an effective medium of ‘edutainment’ – challenging gender norms and creating spaces to discuss sensitive topics.

As a community-centered organization, it made sense for GUIU to partner with Plan International Uganda for a youth-focused program called Ni-Yetu (translating to It Is Ours in Swahili) – operating in five districts of Uganda. In Kampala, Ni-Yetu has introduced two activities to spread messages on SRHR and GBV- music campaigns and drama group performances.

Performing arts are a lighthearted but powerful way of conveying information with serious undertones that sticks with people; they are more appealing to the younger generation than traditional health marketing and are more easily digestible and interactive. These types of events also bring together the community in one place at one time to amplify issues.

Music is very popular among young people, and plays a key role in their socialization, learning, and behaviour adaptation. GUIU sought out lyrically talented young people to participate in an awareness campaign in Kampala, named “Positive Talent! Music Talent Against Child Marriages and Teenage Pregnancy”. The intention was to unearth local talents and promote positive behavior change messages based on the theme. 

GUIU held the music campaign, together with Plan International Uganda, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), and the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Community Development in November 2016. 76 young people attended the orientation to compete in the competition, of which 30 returned with music demos. A panel of judges selected the best 10 songs, and later gave the artists the opportunity to produce their song to be performed in the grand finale. The grand finale was a huge success, with a venue packed with over 800 youth excited to hear the songs and vote on the winner. It was evident that these young people truly love music, and that this is one of the most effective ways of delivering messages on SRHR and GBV.

Beyond the edutainment of the Ni-Yetu Project, GUIU has also produced our own songs on the rights of adolescent girls so that we can reach a larger audience with our messages on gender equality. These songs can be found on our Soundcloud station and on local radio stations. We’ve been working with upcoming artists to increase awareness, support young people’s talent, and provide a platform for young people to advocate for youth-friendly services. This year we will be hosting a Charity Concert with PJ Powers aka “Thandeka”, one of South Africa’s most famous recording artists.

Another approach being used by Ni-Yetu Program is to reach out with information and skills on SRHR and GBV through forum/community theatre conducted by youth drama groups. Forum theatre is a type of drama which encourages interaction between the audience and the actors. GUIU, together with Straight Talk Foundation, trained and supported two youth drama groups to conduct forum theatre performances in communities and schools.

Interactive drama performances allow youth to critically explore their life experiences and better understand  why they behave and act in certain ways. It attracts a diversity of community members who share their knowledge and practice decision-making skills. This approach is a unique way of making information and knowledge accessible by acting out relatable real life situations. This triggers reflections and generates discussions that has the potential to transform traditionally-held societal and cultural beliefs around SRHR and GBV.

We all have a role to play in promoting gender equality, so let’s consider new approaches of spreading awareness and knowledge in our communities through the performing arts. We live in a visual and auditory age, where music, dance and performance are effective mediums for knowledge transfer. At Girl Up Initiative Uganda, we look forward to further exploring the power and impact of various forms of ‘edutainment’ as a behavior change strategy to reach youth throughout Uganda.

Cover photo credit: Girl Up Initiative Uganda 

Underwater: A Song of Survival

He would make me feel like I was the most special person on the planet one minute and then turn around and not even acknowledge I existed. He would tear me down into little pieces of nothing and then light those pieces on fire. How can I face another day in this space, in this room, in this bed? I’m so scared right now. What did I do wrong? How many times has he come so close to putting his hands on me? I can’t tell you how many times, but his words might as well have been swords. 

I’m not saying I was a piece of cake or easy to understand or support, but I never asked or invited the kind of torment he brought to my life. The highs were out of this world and the lows made me wish I wasn’t alive.

gedina----building-top-750x380
Photo c/o Elisabeth Bekkevard

The feelings I expressed above are things I have experienced in past relationships.

When I hit bottom, I tried to find ways to distract myself. One night it was really bad. I could not stop crying and, in order to hide the tears, I went for a swim. And with each stroke I started writing this song, “Underwater.” The inspiration struck when I realized that my tears disappeared when I went under the water and I was still breathing, still surviving. I found my battle cry and repeated it to myself over and over.

The lyrics followed:

You put your hands around my neck, pulling me under

You put your chains on my feet, still you wonder 

Well you, can try but you won’t survive

Cuz I can…I can breathe Underwater

I found myself carrying on an internal conversation with the man who hurt me:

In order for you to survive you have to drag me down. In order for you to feel like a man you have to choke and pull and thrash against me. Pulling me under. I’ve been wondering how that feels for you? I’ve been wondering how to care for you and the inner turmoil that you choose to take out on me. But I can’t care about you anymore. Because I have to take care of me now. I’m gonna survive whether or not you do.

After a long swim, I put it to rest. Thankfully, the relationship eventually ended.

Later, NBC’s The Voice entered my life. I found a new license to dream. The elation that came with surviving each step of the audition process and the exercise of humility when I was dismissed from the show was so impactful.

Afterwards, I gave myself full permission to be brutally honest about the relationships that I had endured. Whether I was more secure, safely removed from the relationships of my past, stronger or just willing to take risks, I was finally ready to revisit the song that came to me that moment in the pool.

In the end, the song is not about a single moment, nor a single guy for that matter. It is a culmination of the many abusive relationships. There have been a handful of people that thought it was okay to ruin me, wreck me, and treat me like dirt and this song is my own way to send a loud message:​

I survived. I’m better than okay after all you put me through.

When film director Tim Carter discovered the song and approached me with his vision for an “Underwater” music video, I cried. I got chills. Carter’s appreciation for “Underwater” and its message strengthened the fighter in me that was still healing on the inside.

A few days ago, I was talking to my dad about the music video and the idea of working with domestic violence aid organizations. He remarked how fitting it all was for me. I grew up as a water baby, surfed my entire life (water is a key element in the video), and survived the cycle of abuse. I got out. I wrote the song, and now I may just get the chance to impact lives by sharing this undoubtedly beautiful video.

During our talk, I laughed a little and started to cry. My dad was right.

I don’t have all the answers but I can stand tall. I can be an example of resilience, of survival. I can be the one singing that song someone turns on and says, “No more.” I can be that voice for them when they don’t have one.

Support Gedina’s indiegogo campaign to film an “Underwater” music video and help her share her struggle and song so that others can have the strength to do the same.

An Unlikely Journey to Play

At 7:01 a.m.on November 15, 2013, I woke up and read the following CNN breaking news alert on my phone: “China to relax decades-long one child policy, state-run media say. The nation will also abolish labor camps.” My entire body slumped over. I remember suddenly understanding, in an entirely visceral way, where the term “it hit me like a ton of bricks” comes from.

These two sentences brought up an entire lifetime of emotions. You see, my parents met each other in a labor camp. I grew up in China under the one-child policy. Today, I’m a 33-year-old woman living in Atlanta, Georgia. My husband and I have a beautiful one-year-old son and a dog. I have a job I love, working in innovation at Turner Broadcasting. I’m also a really happy, silly person. Believe it or not, my playful nature stems from these unlikely beginnings.

I grew up in mainland China in the 1980s. For as long as I can remember, there has been one constant in my life: every single day, without fail, my mom and dad mention their “10 lost years.” Their story is burned into my memory.

Beginning in 1968, educational institutions in China were shut down. As part of a socialist re-education program under the Cultural Revolution, 17 million urban youth were “sent-down” to work in rural communes, state and military farms and inner Mongolia. Life in the camps was difficult and conditions were harsh. My mom and dad met each other as laborers on a mountainside tea farm, far from home.

For many of these people, four words encapsulated their experience:

We were the oxen.

Those 17 million kids are called China’s “Lost Generation.” When my parents left Shanghai, they were 18 or 19 years old. By the time they returned, they were nearly 30. It’s a story I know all too well. However, in some ways I know nearly nothing about that long decade, because there is much they do not talk about. By the time I was born in 1980, the government had already instituted the one-child policy.

I am part of an entire generation of only children.

My family had the fortunate opportunity to come to the U.S. in 1990, and in some ways we never looked back. In the 23 years since moving to America, we invented and reinvented ourselves in order to adapt. Being playful helped establish my American identity. Despite my parents’ history, or perhaps because of it, I experienced  a happy childhood. I consider myself lucky.

As a classically trained violinist, I now prefer playing an electric instrument with indie bands and experimental groups – not surprisingly, I find that I’m drawn to transforming traditions.

Photo Courtesy: Joshua Banstetter
Photo Courtesy: Joshua Banstetter

As evidenced by my engagement photos, I’m lucky enough to have found someone as equally playful.

Photo Courtesy: Jason Travis
Photo Courtesy: Jason Travis

I am continually working to infuse a sense of play into both my work environment and my city. Last year, I helped to transform a staircase at the CNN Center into a giant playable piano keyboard. And this year, I’m working on a number of fun projects aimed at inspiring individuals to see the entire city of Atlanta as a playground. Creative possibility abounds when people – especially adults – remember to play again.

Photo Courtesy: Karyn Lu
Photo Courtesy: Karyn Lu

After reading the story last November, it seemed there was little discussion in the media about the labor camps or the one child policy. However, the story remains fresh in my mind. When my children are old enough (I will never have an only child), I will teach them to never take freedom and choice for granted.

Our story has a happy ending, despite the unlikely starting point. It is not a coincidence that I love to play. My mom and dad lost 10 years of their lives and 10 years of play, but in the end, they made up for that lost time with me.

Watch Karyn’s TEDX Talk

Backbone Fest: Let’s Celebrate Artists!

Backbone Festival is a two day cultural festival that highlights talented women from across the southeast region of the United States. On November 1st and 2nd, both men and women celebrated local artists at the festival’s inaugural weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. Jessi Ford and Christina Edwards, Co-Founders of Birds of a Feather Creative, are behind the vision for Backbone Fest.

At the festival, women embraced and celebrated their artistry through speaking, poetry, singing and comedic performances. As I spoke with artists at the festival, they emphasized the importance of standing strong and true to yourself in the media and music industries.

It is my pleasure to introduce you to some of these women and I hope that they inspire you with their words and their talent.

Lace Larrabee, Comedian

Lace Larrabee is pursuing her dream of being a stand-up comedian. Her comedic wit and candid humor keep you laughing for hours. As a young child, Lace found humor as a fun and easy way to make friends. Lace encourages women in media and comedy to pursue their dreams and challenges them to not be intimidated in a field that is largely dominated by men.

Christina Lee, Media Journalist

Christina Lee is a media journalist in Atlanta. In a world where sexism and inequality is the norm, Lee describes the challenges she faces as a woman covering the rap music industry. She encourages journalists not to be silent but to empower each other as fearless leaders in the industry. Christina’s inspiration stems from other female journalists and editors in the music industry.

Megan Jean, Music Artist

I utilize music to promote women’s rights because music is subversive. People dance to it and before they realize it they have received a powerful message.” ~ Megan Jean

Megan is a talented artist and an inspiring woman who believes that all good music should touch people and inspire others into action. Her music and lyrics reflect her own struggles and challenges. Megan’s song Red Red was inspired by her passion to advocate for Native American women who have been victims of rape or sexual assault. Megan believes music is a powerful tool for healing and connecting people to real issues. 

http://instagram.com/p/gY4U6YwNZ7/

http://instagram.com/p/gPbBLzQNbO/

What women in the media and music industries inspire you? Tweet us @GirlsGlobe

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