For me, the hardest part of reconciling Beyoncé’s life with feminist theory is when I consider the man she is married to.
While there is no doubt in my mind that Jay-Z is a very talented artist, his music is often anything but feminist, and from what I can see, the rap genre seems to follow this trend.
In the documentary “Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Videos,” the filmmaker explores how women are portrayed in music videos. In general, it seems that in hip-hop and rap music videos, women are treated as objects rather than people, and are often merely accessories for the artists who are performing in the videos. This documentary also points out that instead of using creativity to tell a story, often artists just throw in some mostly naked women dancing and call it a music video. And don’t even get me started on Robin Thicke’s video for “Blurred Lines.”
The lyrics of rap and hip-hop songs also add to the degradation of women we see in music videos.
In 2012, a rumor circulated that Jay-Z would no longer use the word “bitch” in his songs after his daughter Blue Ivy was born. This unfortunately turned out to be merely a rumor, and it seems Jay-Z has continued to use the word in his music.
Jay-Z did say he regretted the lyrics of one of his songs in particular, “Big Pimpin’,” in which he refers to a woman as “bitch” and a “ho.” This expression of regret seemed to be a step in the right direction.
However, more recently, Jay-Z’s part in Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” has been a controversial talking point. In the song, Jay-Z makes reference to Ike Turner, who has been accused of abusing his wife Tina Turner. The line “Eat the cake, Anna Mae” is a direct reference to a scene in Tina Turner’s biopic, wherein Ike yells at Tina and shoves cake in her face. Many chided Jay-Z for making light of domestic abuse, and Beyoncé for allowing that kind of content in her music.
While it has been argued that Jay-Z uses the degradation of women in his songs as a way to draw the public’s eye to ways that women are degraded, I feel that even putting that kind of negative language in the media is detrimental to gender equality and respect.
It’s difficult to understand how Beyoncé can propagate feminist ideals and beliefs while she is married to someone who seems to make light of these things in his music.
On this topic, Lily Allen recently released a music video for her song “Hard Out Here,” which parodies the hip-hop and rap music videos’ use of women as objects. She points out the ridiculousness of the women’s clothing, dance moves and roles in the videos, singing, “I suppose I should tell you what this bitch is thinking/You’ll find me in the studio and not in the kitchen/I won’t be bragging ‘bout my cars or talking ‘bout my chains/Don’t need to shake my ass for you ‘cause I’ve got a brain.”
This song points out the hypocrisies of the music industry in a smart and succinct way, proving that music videos can be both entertaining and enlightening.
And I don’t think that rap and hip-hop necessarily need to be in contention with feminism. Many have lauded mainstream rappers like Macklemore for singing about social issues rather than strippers and cars. The rap and hip-hop genres could easily be used as a way to teach more people about feminism, rather than degrade women.
While perhaps Jay-Z is a great husband and a wonderful father, his music often leaves me feeling uncomfortable, and I think he could set an example for the entire hip-hop community by refraining from using derogatory terms and phrases when describing women.
Ultimately, I think the music industry lends to a misogynistic view of the world, and artists like Jay-Z (and even Beyoncé) are merely perpetuating these ideas when they continue to rap and sing about women in a negative way. I hope that some nights Bey and Jay’s pillow talk is about gender equality, and they can both use their music as a platform to encourage respect for women as people, not expendable accessories in music videos.
Email HANNAH STRUMWASSER at firstname.lastname@example.org if you think you have 99 problems and Jay-Z is one.