Subjects and objects
linguistic performances of sexuality in the lyrics of black female hip-hop artists
Keywords:hip hop, feminist stylistics, objectification, transitivity
An ongoing debate is the extent to which women’s explicit sexuality transgresses or reinforces the patriarchal status quo that serves to objectify and marginalize women. In this article, I consider this issue through the lens of hip hop. Specifically, I examine the sexually-explicit lyrics of two female rappers, Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliot, in an attempt to explore questions about sexual objectivity and subjectivity, language and agency, and linguistic productions of sexuality in female-produced hip hop. Through a feminist stylistic analysis of the transitivity choices and anatomical fragmentation exhibited in these lyrics, I link the overt sexuality in this music to larger discussions about women’s sexuality and post-feminist discourses.
Alim, S. (2004) Hip hop nation language. In E. Finegan and J. Rickford (eds) Language in the USA: Perspectives for the 21st Century 387–409. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/cbo9780511809880.023
Alim, S. (2006) Roc the Mic Right: The Language of Hip Hop Culture. New York: Routledge.
Alim, S, Ibrahim, A. and Pennycook, A. (eds) (2009) Global Linguistic Flows: Hip Hop Cultures, Youth Identities, and the Politics of Language. New York: Routledge.
Aubrey, J. S. and Frisby, C. (2011) Sexual objectification in music videos: a content analysis comparing gender and genre. Mass Communication and Society 14: 475–501. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15205436.2010.513468
Baker, L. (2003) Scary? Me? The Guardian (31 October). Retrieved on 12 April 2014 from www.theguardian.com/music/2003/nov/01/popandrock.missyelliott.
Baumgardner, J. and Richards, A. (2000) Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Bourdieu, P. (1977) The economics of linguistic exchanges. Social Science Information 16(6): 645–68. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/053901847701600601
Burton, D. (1982) Through dark glasses, through glass darkly. In R. Carter (ed.) Language and Literature 195–219. London: Allen & Unwin.
Butler, J. (1991) Disorderly woman. Transitions 53(1): 86–95. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2935175
Cameron, D. and Kulick, D. (2003) Language and Sexuality. New York: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511791178
Clark, K. (1992) ‘The linguistics of blame’: representations of women in The Sun’s reporting of crimes of sexual violence. In M. Toolan (ed.) Language, Text, and Context: Essays in Stylistics 208–26. New York: Routledge.
Collins, H. (2013) Gay rap, the unthinkable, becomes reality. The Guardian (12 July). Retrieved on 8 April 2014 from www.theguardian.com/music/2013/jul/13/gay-rap-becomes-reality.
Collins, P. H. (2000) Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciouness, and the Politics of Empowerment (2nd edn). London: Routledge.
Cornell, D. (1991) Sexual difference, the feminine, and equivalency: a critique of MacKinnon’s toward a feminist theory of the state. The Yale Law Journal 100(7): 2247–75. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/796823
Crenshaw, K. (1991) Mapping the margins: intersectionality, identity, politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review 43: 1241–99. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1229039
Cutler, C. (2003) ‘Keepin’ it real’: white hip hoppers’ discourses of language, race, and authenticity. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 13(2): 1–23. http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/jlin.2003.13.2.211
Davis, K. (1997) Embodying theory: beyond modernist and post-modernist readings of the body. In K. Davis (ed.) Embodied Practices: Feminist Perspectives on the Body 1–26. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Diep, E. (2013) Lil’ Kim doesn’t care what anyone things. XXL Magazine (5 December). Retrieved 11 April 2014 from www.xxlmag.com/news/2013/12/lil-kim-doesnt-care-what-anyone-thinks.
Duranti, A. (1994) From Grammar to Politics: Linguistic Anthropology in a Western Samoan Village. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Dyson, M. E. (2007) Know What I Mean? Reflections on Hip Hop. New York: Basic Civitas Books.
Eckert, P. (2002) Demystifying sexuality and desire. In C. Campbell-Kibler, R. Podesva, S. Roberts and A. Wong (eds) Language and Sexuality: Contesting Meaning in Theory and Practice 99–110. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.
Eckert, P. and McConnell-Ginet, S. (2003) Language and Gender. New York: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511791147
Ehrlich, S. (2001) Representing Rape: Language and Sexual Consent. New York: Routledge. http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9780203459034
Esposito, J. and Love, B. (2008) More than a video ho: hip hop as a site of sex education about girls’ sexual desires. In D. Boyles (ed.) The Corporate Assault on Youth: Commercialism, Expolitation, and the End of Innocence. New York: Peter Lang.
Fernandes, S. (2011) Close to the Edge: In Search of the Global Hip-Hop Generation. New York: Verso.
Fitzpatrick, J. (2005) What’s beef: discourse practices of battling in hip hop language. Master’s thesis, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC.
Genz, S. (2006) Third way/ve: the politics of postfeminism. Feminist Theory 7(3): 333–53. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1464700106069040
Gill, R. (2003) From sexual objectification to sexual subjectification: the resexualisation of women’s bodies in the media. Feminist Media Studies 3(1): 100–106.
Gill, R. (2009) Beyond the ‘sexualization of culture’ thesis: an intersectional analysis of ‘Sixpacks’, ‘Midriffs’ and ‘Hot Lesbians’ in advertising. Sexualities 12(2): 137–60. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1363460708100916
Goodwin, M. H. (2006) The Hidden Life of Girls: Games of Stance, Status, and Exclusion. Oxford: Blackwell. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/9780470773567
Hall, K. (1995) Lip service on the fantasy lines. In K. Hall and M. Bucholtz (eds) Gender Articulated: Language and the Socially Constructed Self 183–216. New York: Routledge.
Halliday, M. (1994) An Introduction to Functional Grammar (2nd edn). London: Arnold Edward.
Harzewski, S. (2011) Chick Lit and Postfeminism. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press.
hooks, b. (1989) ‘Whose pussy is this’: a feminist comment. In her Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black 134–41. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
hooks, b. (1997) Selling hot pussy: representations of black female sexuality in the cultural marketplace. In K. Conboy, N. Medina and S. Stanbury (eds) Writing on the Body: Female Embodiment and Feminist Theory 114–28. New York: Columbia University Press.
Kessier, T. (2001) Missy in action. The Guardian (4 August). Retrieved on 12 April 2014 from www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2001/aug/05/life1.lifemagazine7.
Keyes, C. (2000) Empowering self, making choices, creating spaces: black female identity via rap music performance. Journal of American Folklore 113: 255–69. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/542102
LaFrance, M. (1992) When agents disappear: how gender affects the implicit causality of interpersonal verbs. In K. Hall, M. Bucholtz and B. Moonwomon (eds) Locating Power: Proceedings of the Second Berkeley Women and Language Conference 338–43. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Women Language Group.
Lakoff, R. (1975) Language and Woman’s Place. New York: Harper & Row.
Lane, N. (2011) Black women queering the mic: Missy Elliott disturbing the boundaries of racialized sexuality and gender. Journal of Homosexuality 58: 775–92. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2011.581921
Lanehart, S. (ed.) (2009) African American Women’s Language: Discourse, Education, and Identity. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Lee, S. (2010) Erotic Revolutionaries: Black Women, Sexuality, and Popular Culture. Lanham, MD: Hamilton Books.
Levy, A. (2005) Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. New York: Free Press.
Lopez, Q. (2014) Aggressively feminine: the linguistic appropriation of sexualized blackness by white female characters in film. Gender and Language 8(3): 289–310. http://dx.doi.org/10.1558/genl.v8i3.289
Lorde, A. (1984) Sister Outsider. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press.
MacKinnon, C. (1989) Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
MacLeod, A. E. (1992) Hegemonic relations and gender resistance: the new veiling as accommodating protest in Cairo. Signs 17(3): 533–57. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/494748
McRobbie, A. (2004) Post-feminism and popular culture. Feminist Media Studies 4(3): 255–64. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1468077042000309937
McRobbie, A. (2009) The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Mills, S. (1995) Feminist Stylistics. London: Routledge.
Morgan, M. (2001) ‘Ain’t nuthin’ but a G thang’: grammar, variation and language ideology in hip hop identity. In S. Lanehart (ed.) Sociocultural and Historical Contexts of African American English 185–207. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.
Morgan, M. (2007) When and where we enter: social context and desire in women’s discourse. Gender and Language 1(1): 119–29. http://dx.doi.org/10.1558/genl.2007.1.1.119
Muhammad, F. (2007) How NOT to be 21st century Venus Hottentots. In G. Pough, E. Richardson, A. Durham and R. Raimist (eds) Home Girls Make Some Noise: Hip Hop Feminism Anthology 115–40. Mira Loma, CA: Parker Publishing.
Oware, M. (2009) A ‘man’s woman’?: contradictory messages in the songs of female rappers, 1992–2000. Journal of Black Studies 39(5): 786–802. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0021934707302454
Page, R. (2010) New challenges for feminist stylistics: the case of Girl With a One Track Mind. Journal of Literary Theory 4(1): 81–98. http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/jlt.2010.005
Perry, I. (2004) Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/9780822386155
Pough, G. (2004) Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.
Pough, G. (2007) What it do, Shorty? Women, hip hop and a feminist agenda. Black Women, Gender, and Families 1(2): 78–99.
Rebollo-Gil, G. and Moras, A. (2012) Black women and black men in hip hop music: misogyny, violence and the negotiation of (white-owned) space. Journal of Popular Culture 45(1): 118–32. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5931.2011.00898.x
Richardson, E. (2006) Hip Hop Literacies. New York: Routledge.
Rose, T. (1994) Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.
Rose, T. (2008) The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop – and Why It Matters. New York: Basic Civitas Books.
Simpson, P. (2004) Stylistics: A Resource Book for Students. New York and London: Routledge.
Skeggs, B. (1993) Two minute brother: contestation through gender, ‘race’, and sexuality. Innovation: The European Journal of Social Sciences 6(3): 1–23. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13511610.1993.9968358
Smith, D. (1995) Ain’t a damn thing changed: why women rappers don’t sell. In A. Sexton (ed.) Rap on Rap: Straight Up Talk on Hip Hop Culture 125–8. New York: Delta Publishing.
Smitherman, G. (2006) ‘I used to love H.E.R.’: hip hop in its essence and real Word From the Mother: Language and African Americans 82–107. New York: Routledge.
Tate, G. (2003) Nigs R Us, or how Blackfolk became fetish objects. In G. Tate (ed.) Everything but the Burden: What White People are Taking from Black Culture 1–14. New York: Broadway Books.
Wareing, S. (1994) And then he kissed her: the reclamation of female characters in submissive roles. In K. Wales (ed.) Feminist Linguistics in Literary Criticism 117–36. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer.
Weekes, D. (2002) ‘Get your freak on’: how black girls sexualise identity. Sex Education 2: 251–62. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1468181022000025802
White, T. (2013) Missy ‘Misdemeanor’ Elliott and Nicki Minaj: fashionistin’ black female sexuality in hip-hop culture – girl power or overpowered? Journal of Black Studies 44(6): 607–26. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0021934713497365
Wolf, N. (1990) The Beauty Myth. London: Chatto & Windus.