Written by: Guest Contributor
Guest Author: Brandon Faske, @FaskeTimesatTU
September 25, 2013
Editor’s note: The “This Week in Class” blog series is written by students in Professor Harris-Perry’s class. This Fall, that class is “Hip-Hop and Feminism.” You can download the full class syllabus, and then join our students each week as they invite you to think about the class lecture and join the discussion.
This week, our class dialogue began with the question: is it possible to be a Hip-Hop Feminist? Professor Harris-Perry launched our class talk where all conversations on hip-hop and feminism ought to begin- with some background on Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract.
Professor Harris-Perry pointed out how the social contract prepared by our founding fathers left out citizens that were not white, property-owning males, and used that as a segue into our discussion on African American and women’s rights. To emphasize this, we hit upon the works of three important writers: Carol Pateman’s The Sexual Contract, Charles Mill’s The Racial Contract and Bell Hook’s Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center.
While the beginning of class gave us historical background and insight, a class with Professor Harris-Perry is not complete without making a connection to modern-day popular culture. In a hip-hop feminism course this transition is often smooth, and this week the class simmered with opinion on that “20-something” who decided to swing on a wrecking ball in the nude; you may know her as Miley Cyrus. In class we engaged in a back-and-forth over her role in feminist discourse.
Does Miley Cyrus’ new video “Wrecking Ball” represent her freedom as a woman or does it represent the oppression of women through the selling of their sexuality? This was a microscope through which I had not looked in my analysis of her. Personally, I find her to be a troubled post-teen star who needs help and a support system. To me, she is an outlier in the greater feminist narrative, but others in the class respectfully disagreed. Some students brought up Terry Richardson, who directed the “Wrecking Ball” video, viewing the video yet another example of the overt “sexualization” of young girls for which Mr. Richardson has become well known.
To conclude the first half of class, we spoke about the week’s reading, Joan Morgan’s When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost. Morgan’s book takes a provocatively informative look into the diverse and complex nature of the challenges facing African American women today. Poetically penned, the book tackles black female identity, the f-word (feminist), and the notion of the “STRONGBLACKWOMAN”; and that is just what’s on the surface. In class, Professor Harris-Perry had us delve into a few poignant passages, with one that elicited particularly interesting responses. “Can you be a good feminist if you admit out loud that there are some things you kinda dig about patriarchy?” asks Morgan.
“Of course!” appeared to be the sentiment of the class, as we dove into the issue of gender roles and the definition of womanhood. In fact, saying a woman cannot appreciate parts of a patriarchal society would be akin to denying her feminist right to think independently. Joan Morgan’s work provoked great interest in class and our guest speaker subsequently began her lecture by acknowledging the influence Joan Morgan has had on her.
Tulane English Professor Nghana Lewis, who is currently working on a book titled, “Women’s Health in the Age of Hip-Hop and HIV/AIDS,” led the second half of our class. Professor Lewis talked about taking the theory of “hip-hop feminism” and putting it into practice. Reflecting on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among African American communities, she seeks to highlight the profound efforts being undertaken by African American women to fight HIV/AIDS despite minimal coverage by mainstream outlets.
The talk also hinged back to our previous week’s class as we discussed the role of black female artists. There is a muting and hostility towards messaging in music, said Professor Lewis, that hip-hop feminists have not necessarily accepted. She talked about how artists such as Queen Latifah searched out alternate forums to express themselves and promote their message. When asked if she believes this strategy is effective, Prof. Lewis pointed to the example of “The Game,” a TV show that she believed was “creative genius” but sacrificed too much of its value when picked up by BET. There is a line black female artists must toe striking a balance between transmitting a message to a large audience without diluting the points they attempt to convey.
Professor Harris-Perry concluded our conversation by asking Professor Lewis the same question she posed to us at the beginning of class: do you think it’s possible to be a Hip-Hop Feminist? Professor Lewis responded perfunctorily, “Yes… it is a consciousness that you bring to everything you do.”
Brandon Faske is a senior at Tulane University. He is writer at Sweet Lemon Magazine and the Tulane Hullabaloo.