Bitchin’ about Bitches: The Influence of Language on Female Sexuality in Hip- Hop Culture

When we think of the word bitch in a hip- hop context, what is the image that comes to mind? We most likely envision a scantily- clad, racially exotic female gyrating her hips on some “famous” man in a darkened nightclub, on a beach, or in front of some really expensive cars. And there’s alcohol, booze everywhere. Music, partying- and not just one girl, tons of girls, loads of “bitches,” and a considerably unequal male: female ratio. What we are describing is not just the result of one’s mind’s eye, but also the aesthetic of a current- day hip- hop music video. This one word, “bitch,” put into this very specific and unique context, brings to the forefront a plethora of socio- cultural imagery. Language has lent itself to hip- hop culture in a fashion that helps to create the distinctive characteristics of the genre. In fact, language is the driving force behind what we come to associate with hip- hop. Without the words to give name to different trends, ideas and movements, all we as hip- hop heads or hip- hop neophytes are able to do is see, but not describe or make these experiences relatable through language. And in hip- hop, the name is just as important as the subject being named.

Labels, brands, tags- all of these things or names signal a certain precedent or expectation of/ from the hip- hop world. A specific instance in which language helps mold the aesthetic is in the discussion of females and female sexuality within hip- hop culture. Even before the explanation of why language is so important in hip- hop, right off the bat, whether or not we are an avid hip- hop listener, we knew what kind of person we were talking about when we thought “bitch”. The Adored Women in Rap: An Analysis of Philogyny in Rap Music notes that in rap and hip- hop,  “women… often tend to be identified as…. oversexualized, “baby mamas” and “gold diggers”(Jones and Tyree, 1). And the most intriguing thing about that is that we immediately thought about a woman. Try to tell me that when you first thought about it, that you didn’t think about a female- if you didn’t you’re lying, because it’s literally impossible not to associate the word “bitch” with the gender “female” in hip- hop culture.  We have been pre- conditioned to associate this one utterance of language, the word “bitch”, in a hip- hop music context due to the frequency with which the term is used in lyrics and in discussions of popular culture. The Hampton Institution, named after former Black Panther Fred Hampton, which works to provide commentary and analysis on a wide range of social issues, isolates the existence of “bitches” in hip- hop in its Women’s Issues Analysis, stating that “in rap music, the word “bitch” can be linked to the stereotypical image of… a woman who de-emasculates her man by running the household and being financially independent, or as a woman who simply does not know her place”(Now That’s a Bad Bitch!: The State of Women in Hip-Hop).

This definition addresses the two- fold view of the woman in hip- hop culture. There is the “bitch” who we can say “does not know her place” or her “role” in the male/ female relationship, that we see at the club grinding on all the men and strippin’ on the pole, but then there is also the bitch who becomes a “bitch” because she dominates the male role in a heterosexual context through her independence. Much like language analysis in any English class renders multiple interpretations and meaning, we can experience both the promiscuous bitch and the independent bitch simultaneously in musical and visual portrayals. The word signals to hip- hop creatives that they can present their “bitch” either or both ways, which appeals to various audiences of hip- hop listeners. Men tend to be the ones to extrapolate said “bitch” and cast her in the floozy, “gets around, is a slut” type of light, which occurs due to the general male- dominance of the hip- hop scene. This loose sexual role assigned to the female is also juxtaposed with the fortitude of the female sex that can potentially demasculinize its counterpart, which women hip- hop writers and performers more often touch upon. Wikipedia defines a bitch as “ a person, commonly a woman, who is belligerent, unreasonable, malicious, a control freak, rudely intrusive or aggressive. When applied to a man, bitch is a derogatory term for a subordinate”(Wikipedia.com).

According to these definitions, a bitch can be both someone who is sexually free and active, but also someone who asserts herself and does not demonstrate this subordinance. This one word both repels and attracts the male faction of hip- hop writers and listeners, who can find the appeal in capturing the attention of the unattainable and unretainable, sexualized female body, yet also see the value in a woman who doesn’t need them financially or domestically. In hip- hop music, to be a  “bitch” is a looked down upon, yet coveted female attribute. Usher’s most recently released song, “I Don’t Mind”, featuring Juicy J (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSKUXqJ5l1k)  highlights this desire for a bitch in on the hip- hop scene through its lyrical content:

“Shawty, I don’t mind if you dance on a pole

That don’t make you a hoe

Shawty, I don’t mind when you work until three

If you’re leaving with me

Go make that money, money, money

Your money, money, money

‘Cause I know how it is, go and handle your biz

Long as you coming home, girl, I don’t mind”(play.google.com).

 

In his lyrics, Usher acknowledges that by his love interest being a pole dancer, she would be considered a “hoe” or “bitch,” but because she is with him, this ideal male figure of fame, it doesn’t matter. He also states that it is through her “handling her business” and making her money independently, that her promiscuous behavior becomes acceptable and appealing to him. So, the sexually openly, accessible  and appealing “bitch” and the money making “bitch” are the same bitch that Usher is after. In fact, in another line, Usher says “I’m proud to call you my bitch”, about this woman that he admits to having met “in the club” which, as we know, is one of the top location where we would find “bitches”(play.google.com). Juicy J re- established this bitch- centric lyricism in his verses as he says “tryin’a take somebody bitch, turn her to a slut… throw some hundreds on that ass, walk her out the club (Yeah, hoe) Uh, lap dance for the first date… bet I threw a few bands, that’s third base”, so by her bitchy nature, she is both sexually suggestive and independent, she is sought after by all these men in the club, Usher and Juicy J included, even though she supposedly “has a man”(play.google.com).

Having the word bitch associated with your being means that men especially, look at you and think that you get with everyone. Hip- hop culture and its usage of the word bitch has been portraying this “womanhood that “undermines the mythologies of phallic power” in ways that both disvalue it and idolize it(Carby 1986, 21). It will be interesting to see what kind of a bitch Usher and his creative team plan to bring to the screen when “I Don’t Mind” ’s music video is released. Will it be the bitch that hip- hop language has created, whose primary value is her sex appeal, or will it be a sexy bitch who also intimidates the men with her attitude as well as her ass? We’ll see…

 

Works Cited:

“Bitch (insult).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 9 Mar. 2015.

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitch_(insult)&gt;.

 

“I Don’t Mind – Usher Feat. Juicy J.” – Google Play Music. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.

<https://play.google.com/music/preview/Tvfhe7sitzwbz6nchxztdj3ckji?lyrics=1&utm_so

 urce=google&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=lyrics&pcampaignid=kp-lyrics>.

 

Johnson, Imani Kai. “From Blues to B- Girls: Performing Badasss Femininity.” Women &amp;

Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory. No. 1 ed. Vol. 24. 2014. 22. Print.

 

Layne, Asha. “Now That’s a Bad Bitch!: The State of Women in Hip-Hop I The Hampton

Institute.” Now That’s a Bad Bitch!: The State of Women in Hip-Hop I The Hampton Institute. Hampton Institute, 24 Apr. 2014. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.

<http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/women-in-hip-hop.html#.VPyuKFPF920&gt;.

 

Tia Tyree, Tia, and Michelle Jones. “The Adored Woman in Rap: An Analysis of the Presence of

Philogyny in Rap Music.” Women’s Studies 44.No. 1: 1. Print.

 

“Usher – I Don’t Mind (Audio) Ft. Juicy J.” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.

<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSKUXqJ5l1k&gt;.

 

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