The new issue of Bust magazine arrived in my mailbox yesterday, and it finally prompted me to write about something that inspired me in the previous issue that I got in May . . .
Anyway, in the June/July ’08 issue there is a story entitled “Heavy Flow,” which profiles five up-and-coming female hip-hop acts. One of the women, Riskay, said in her interview: “Millions of male rappers exist at the same time . . . But once a female comes into the game, the first thing these guys say is, ‘That chick is your competition; you need to be the top female.’ We’re all queens, and we can coexist” (p. 74). Men try to pit women against each other in the hip-hop industry, and I’ve been thinking about why they do. And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I don’t want to say that all men are territorial, and they see the entrance of women into hip-hop as a threat to their own territory. But on the other hand, I’m sure that at least some of them are scared about the female presence in a male-dominated area of the music industry. I picture the same mindset that Susan Faludi’s interviewees iterated in Stiffed. In her book, many of the men who had lost their jobs blamed feminism for bringing women into the workforce and taking jobs away from men. They could not compete because they had to compete with more people. And I’m sure at least some men try to pit women against each other to try to keep women out of the industry as a result. But it also doesn’t seem right to say that all men think that way. Still, even if men in the hip-hop industry don’t believe that sort of thing, it’s nonetheless the culture of the genre. So it helps that women such as Riskay are calling attention to it and approaching their music and careers with the attitude of coexistence.
But what I also find interesting is that the idea of pitting women against each other exists outside of hip-hop. How many times has feminism been criticized for pitting women against each other? Riskay’s observation happens in business, in government, and it even seems characteristic of the “mommy wars.” But feminism is not designed to pit women against each other; it’s designed to create a more inclusive society. Is it really feminism that pits women against each other? Or do we still live in a culture where only a select group of women are “allowed” to succeed, and therefore the larger culture pits women against each other? And why does feminism get blamed? I think the second question is the accurate one. Women work against each other because they feel they each need to fight for individual success, which is not the case at all. In her observations of the hip-hop world, Riskay points to a problem which is symptomatic pretty much everywhere else in the United States.
While I never really thought about why feminism gets blamed for pitting women against each other, Riskay’s comment really enlightened me. We need to work on changing the perception that there are only a few opportunities available to women to succeed in traditionally “masculine” areas, because that’s just not the case. Yes, it may be harder for women, but all the more reason for them to stand in solidarity with each other and work as a team.