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Culture //

Bitches be trippin’

Bianca Healey talks feminism and rap.

halfway-crooks

halfway-crooks

Like many women my age, I identify with feminism with convictions that are strong, but a philosophy that is vague at best.  I insist on splitting the restaurant bill with my boyfriend, and am adamant that my gender not disqualify or disadvantage me from any avenue that I might wish to pursue in life. But beyond these simple truths that I hold to be self evident, the specificities of my feminist self-identification lose their sharp edges. Of lipstick feminism, I am still on the fence; do I really agree that Rihanna and Miley’s sexualisation of their bodies is a form of feminine empowerment? While I expect a level of equality within the spheres of romance and work, any tricky questions about how much, and how far I am willing to stand for a more cement feminist agenda seems better left in the future until I have to deal with it directly.

The same line of thinking defines my enjoyment of rap music. As much as I decry rap’s promotion of violence, materialism, and sexism, I do enjoy the humour and silly revelry of buying into a unique cultural experience that, as a white Australian woman, I cannot relate to in any way.  I regularly attend the Phoenix’s Monthly rap party ‘Halfway Crooks,’ where the vibe is hyper-masculine and testosterone hangs thick in the air.  The male friends I attend with love it.

By day they participate in the system, working nine-to-six jobs, and consuming nothing stronger than a double shot espresso or boutique beer. But, on the first Saturday night of the month, they are a virtual part of A$AP’s crew; it’s a fantasy escape, laced with fantasy danger, which can be bought into by participating in rap culture. As white, upper-middle class guys, the sober socio-economic and racial issues that bubble darkly beneath all rap music are not recognisable to them as reality and thus become curiosities. For them, to listen to rap music is not be complicit to its values, but to experience a catharsis. And this is a part of my fandom too. It’s enjoyable, in the same way it is to dance to pop music at a cheesy club, to participate in an alternate reality for the night, however distant to your own experiences and values.

While cerebral and socially aware aspects of rap music do exist, the overwhelming dialogue projected by rap music and culture is one that treats women as sexual objects to be used as evidence of a male rapper’s virility and power. So I worry; should the vagaries surrounding my enjoyment of rap music, and the sexist values they promote be more of an issue to me, self-confessed “feminist” that I am?

Music consumption oscillates between the personal and the social, after all, from the intimate connection you might have with a song, to the collective cultural identity that you align yourself with when you listen to an artist or genre- indie music’s eschewal of a capitalist paradigm, for example. And I wonder which is of greater significance. This isn’t me about to stage a one-woman embargo of all misogynistic beats, nor is it a suggestion that is hypocritical to work on Wall Street and peace out to Bon Iver. But I think considering the implications of my own enjoyment of rap music on the way I approach what I believe in and how I hope music affects the wider world is valuable. Can I enjoy the music for music’s sake, whilst still deploring the rampant misogyny it propagates? Should rap’s portrayal of women be the defining factor in a genre in which complexities and creative diversities are coloured in far more shades of grey than a simple black and white judgment call?

I will probably still attend ‘Halfway Crooks’ next month, and enjoy the experience no less than I have in the past. But, shy of creating a social program for at-risk American teens, I wonder if there is a way to leave my political conscience at the door of the Phoenix before I go in, or if, in the end, it matters so much.

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