October 31, 2020

Speaker explores feminism in hip-hop culture

After being dissatisfied when her boyfriend-at-the-time’s article for The Village Voice excluded a gendered and race perspective on the Central Park Jogger case in 1989, Joan Morgan was given 36 hours to write a story.

She had never taken any journalism courses, but through her article “The Pro-Rape Culture,” Morgan explored the influence of gender and race in the infamous case where a white woman was brutally beaten and raped by a gang of teenagers while jogging in the park.

“It took the cover story, which was shocking, but more shocking was it said ‘black feminist writer Joan Morgan.’ They outted me as a feminist,” she said.

While she didn’t embrace the label at first, it now defines her career.

On Thursday, Nov. 18, Morgan gave a lecture entitled “My Mic Sounds Nice: Hip-Hop and Feminism,” presented by the College’s National Council of Negro Women in the Ernest and Mildred E. Mayo Concert Hall.

In 1999, she wrote the book “When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost,” which coins the term “hip-hop feminism” and shares Morgan’s journey of reconciling her role as a feminist with her love for hip-hop music.

She said that hip-hop has become “hyperaccessible” and “hypercomericial,” but there is more to it than that.

“Hip-hop is bigger than what you hear on the radio. Music is only part of the culture. There’s the dance, the art, the people,” she said.

“Hip-hop forced me to become a better feminist,” she said.

She read an excerpt from her book, where she refers to feminism as “the F-word” and says she wanted to avoid a “lifetime constantly explaining what I’m not,” referring to the fact that feminists are assumed to be male haters and lesbians. She may be a feminist, but still appreciates chivalry and prefers not to pay for her own dinner.

“This was not my foremother’s feminism,” she said, reading from the text. “We need a feminism dedicated to keeping it real. A voice to match our music.”

While working as a music critic, Morgan had to listen to “some pretty heinous shit” that degraded women, but began to wonder about women’s roles and responsibility in this occurrence. She referenced women who line up barely dressed to participate in music videos that depict “male fantasy worlds.”

When asked by an audience member if she thinks the depiction of women in videos has improved, the author said, “I don’t think things have changed, they just look different.”

An audience member then raised a question Morgan preferred not to discuss.

“I made a vow I would not talk about Nicki Minaj,” she said. “Nicki Minaj is not interesting to me as an artist. People raised the same kind of stink when Lil’ Kim came out and when Foxy did… I’m happy she has a career and presence in hip-hop, but she’s not my cup of tea.”

Morgan credits Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown for women’s involvement in hip-hop, but acknowledged that Minaj is currently holding down the industry, which is one where women have difficulty succeeding.

After the presentation, Morgan said people often ask how she became journalistically successful without any formal training. She was an original staff writer for Vibe magazine and became the executive editor of Essence.

“You can teach the who, what, when, where, why, but voice is something important to you and the way to strengthen it is to take chances with writing,” she said. Morgan said she may have broken all the rules of journalism, but through articulation of what she knows, she found her voice.

“She knows who she is and isn’t a man-hating feminist,” Lauren Sampson, senior health and exercise science major, said.

Sampson is president of the College’s NWC and says they chose to bring Morgan because she empowers women through hip-hop and shows it is more than just obscenities.

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