Getting Down and Dirty: Sexual Exploitation in Hip-Hop Music Videos May Have Gone Too Far

by Joy Manuel

In the hip-hop song “Salt Shaker” by Ying Yang Twins, the chorus, “She leakin, she soak and wet/She leakin, soak and wet/Shake it like a salt shaker (shake it like a salt shaker)/ Shake it like a salt shaker (shake it like a salt shaker)/,” there are many viewers, some children, who see this video, hear this song and do not take in to consideration of what the song is really saying or expressing; they just simply dance to it without thinking about how it may or may not be degrading to themselves.  Many critics feel that this is not what hip-hop music used to be.  And some time ago, many hip-hop artists would create songs to glorify women rather than exploit or degrade them.  However, many feel that hip-hop music gradually changed over the passed years due to the need of sexual content to sell and appeal to some viewers.  Many viewers of music videos might say that the main things they see when they watch hip-hop videos are thongs, bikinis, and women’s body parts jiggling and swaying from head to toe.  In many hip-hop videos many viewers as well as critics say this is true.  They argue that hip-hop music videos objectify women, as evidenced by the exposure of body parts, provocative dancing, and its negative effects on young children.
Diane Weathers, editor-in-chief, for the popular magazine Essence, states in her article “The Message in Our Music,”  “I’m mad at an industry that shamelessly peddles music videos with images of us as gangsters, players or pimps, surrounded by half-naked women eager to please” (Weathers 24).  Weathers points out that most of what people see on hip-hop videos are violent and sexual content.   She brings to our attention that the way women are portrayed in these videos, shaking their behinds and wearing skimpy clothing, exposes them and their assets to all who are watching (Weathers). 
Many might say this sets a negative and bad example for women, especially young women who are seeing these videos and thinking this is how they should act.  The women at Spelman College certainly do not agree with the idea of women being portrayed in that way, according to Richard Eldredge, the writer of the article, “Spelman vs. Nelly Dispute Goes National” (Eldredge).  Eldredge points out the controversy that occurred at Spelman College.  He explains, “Nelly had been scheduled to appear at the historically black school for a bone marrow drive sponsored by his foundation, 4Sho4Kids.  Some Spelman students objected to his visit because of the demeaning images of women in the video [‘Tip Drill’]” (Eldredge 2F).  The video is shown on “BET Uncut,” late at night (Eldredge).  Along with the Spelman students there are many other critics who agree that Nelly’s “Tip Drill” video is outrageous. 
Although the extreme body exposure is seen by viewers, many say that the provocative dancing is what catches their attention.  Joan Morgan, a writer for Essence magazine states in her article “Sex, lies, and the video: the images we see in today’s hip-hop videos are making our girls less that the sum of their parts,”  “the unavoidable message that shaking our half-naked asses in front of a man that is the only way we have to secure male affection” (Morgan 120).  Some say that when they watch most hip-hop videos, the constant shaking of rear-ends and breasts seems overbearing. Sonia Murray, a writer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in her article “25 Years of Hip-Hop: ‘No one is exploiting me’; Some women rappers say risqué portrayals just part of the business,” states in her interview with an occasional stripper named White Chocolate, the dancer’s answer to Murray question, whether or not she feels that she is being exploited in the videos she dances in.  White Chocolate replies, “No one is exploiting me…I’ve been in 27 music videos doing my thing…Hip-hop has been very, very good to this woman right here” (qtd. Murray 1E).  Murray points out that some of the criticisms of women in music videos include the statement that “they’re not women, they’re whores” (Murray 1E).  In addition to White Chocolate’s views about her dancing in hip-hop music videos, Melyssa Ford, interviewed by John Intini of People magazine in the article, “Baby Got Back-and a Business Plan,” had similar views about her dancing in hip-hop music videos.  Ford states, “unlike most girls, I only do videos when I don’t have a problem with the lyrical content of the song” (qtd. Intini).  Intini explains that “unlike most background talent, [Melyssa] has set rates for her services and runs her own company to control her image” (Intini).  There are some who feel as far as the dancers are concerned as long as they are getting paid, they might do almost anything asked of them to do in a music video.  As some say, sex sells. 
Even though to some it may take body exposure and dancing to make a great video, most viewers might argue that its negative effects on children may cause the objectification of women to continue to grow.  Victor C. Strasburger and Edward Donnerstein, both state in their article, “Children, adolescents, and the media: Issues and solutions,” that “sexual intimacy appeared in more that three quarters of the music videos studied and was more implied than overt [and] half of all women were dressed provocatively and were often presented as upper-class sex objects” (Strasburger, Donnerstein 291, 292).  Many critics say that the most people watching these videos should be adults rather than children.  Many argue that children are being exposed too much to provocative music videos.  Those who argue this, draw the conclusion that by seeing the exploitation of women in these videos, children in return might think that it is okay to do so because it is okay to watch.  Murray mentions that some of the women in the video actually expose their own children to their performances (Murray 1E).  Morgan also states that the way Black women are being portrayed is having a negative affect on young females who are watching.   Morgan mentions five-years-old girls, are swinging their hips and singing the hooks and verses to such songs as Nas’s “Oochie Wally,” “[He taught me how to work my body/He taught me how to do it with my mouth/He really really tried to hurt me hurt me/I really love his thug and gangsta style/],” in which the lyrics are sexual and not appropriate for a child to hear.  Morgan gave suggestions to monitor what young children are watching such as parents limiting what youth see on television; not being afraid to turn off the television, and parents speaking out against the negative things their young are exposed to on television (Morgan 120).  There are many that agree with Morgan in saying that parents should do these things; however there are some who choose to ignore what their children view.
There are some people who wonder why producers and hip-hop artists continue to come out with these explicit songs and the many effects their songs have on their viewers and listeners.  Most producers will say that they continue to do it because it is what the people want.  Critics argue another reason both producers and hip-hop artists use is that it is what goes on in everyday society; people strip, dance, and engage in sexual activity all the time.  Many people believe that there are serious effects to women and children being exploited in the hip-hop videos.  There are some who feel that most of them arouse men because they see these half naked, young women dancing provocatively, and sometimes target girls who they believe resemble or act like these young women in the videos.  Many say there are some girls who dress like the dancers and they draw attention to themselves. As a result, in most cases, some argue that they are taken advantage of, molested, raped, and even killed.   Jacques Schwarzstein, author of the article, “An Experience Not Unique: Naira’s Story,” points out that Naira’s mother blames her for the abuse from her stepfather because her mother claims that “the shorts [she] wears are too tight, [and] she said [her daughter] is leading him on” (Schwarzstein 18).  Some may say that some men see young girls in inappropriate attire as they see the young women who stimulate their sexual senses in music videos.  Many feel that this can lead to serious repercussions, such as rape, and even worse death.  There are some who say that these young girls who dress or act like the musical performers when they are on stage or in a video are mostly likely targeted due to the fact that sex appeal is what gets most people’s attention. As many might say, these young girls may get the wrong attention for someone like a sexual predator.
      Some viewers agree that hip-hop videos are not completely sexual in the sense of exploiting women.  J.R. Reynolds, a writer for Billboard magazine, states in his article, “Shocking lyrics earn ’90 R&B monstrous popularity, backlash,” that the critics who oppose the lyrics in R&B and hip-hop music and its videos are mainly parents and politicians.  However, Reynolds also points out that there are musical groups like “D-Knowledge” and “Arrested Development” who try to write lyrics that do not have negative content, which viewers and listeners would enjoy listening to (Reynolds 26).  In the article “Signaling Empowerment for Women for Student Nation, a Nod from Now,” written by Joshua Hudelson of The Boston Globe, Hudelson points out that women should get involved in their community somehow to prevent exploitation as much as possible (Hudelson 1).  In an interview with Sadie Provenzano, a DJ at LOG radio station explains to Hudelson that they do not play music that exploits women.  This is their way of making a difference in the community (Hudelson).  Hudelson reports that this idea came from seeing it in newspapers and on television.  It spread throughout the community and made women not only feel better about themselves but also that they have made a difference (Hudelson 1).  Some women and children are taking a stand to help improve what is being listened and looked at, but there are others that just sit back and let it happen. 
To some, hip-hop music videos objectify women in many ways and to others all people must do is simply turn the channel if they do not like what they see.  Many critics would say that hip-hop music videos are filled with sexual content and need some type of limit to how far they can go.  However to those in the business, it is not all that bad.  Most hip-hop artists say that they are trying to go back to the days where women were cherished and seen as respectably figures, rather than them degrading them selves and looking like strippers.  Many hip-hop artists and fans now-a-days agree that maybe it is time for a change in scenery.

Works Cited

Eldredge, Richard. “Spelman vs. Nelly Goes National.” The Atlanta Journal        Constitution 8 April 2004: Home ed. Lexis Nexis. Dacus Library. Rock Hill,          SC. 1Oct. 2004.
Hudelson, Joshua. “Signaling Empowerment for Women for Student Nation, a          Nod from Now.” The Boston Globe 25 July 2004. 3rd ed: p1: Globe                        Newspaper Company. Lexis Nexis. Dacus Library. Rock Hill, SC. 4 Oct.                2004.
Intini, John. “Baby Got Back-and a Business Plan.” People 31 May 2004: p93:            Rodgers Publishing Ltd. Maclean’s. Lexis Nexis. Dacus Library. Rock Hill,           SC. 4 Oct. 2004.
Morgan, Joan. “Sex, Lies, and the Video: the Images We See in Today’s Hip-              Hop Videos are Making Our Girls Less Than the Sum of Their Parts.”                     Essence June 2002. v33 (i2): p120(5): Essences Communication, Inc. 
       InfoTrack One File. InfoTrack. Dacus Library. Rock Hill, SC. 2 Oct. 2004.
Murray, Sonia. “25 Years of Hip-Hop: ‘No One is Exploiting Me,’ Some Women             Rappers Say Risque Portrayals Just Part of the Business.” The Atlanta                Journal-Constitution 28 Sep. 2004. Home ed: p1E. Lexis Nexis. Dacus                  Library. Rock Hill, SC. 2 Oct. 2004.
Reynolds, J.R. “Shocking Lyrics Earn’90s R&B Monstrous Popularity,                   Backlash.” Billboard 25 Feb. 1995, v105(n8): p26(1): BPI Communications.         InfoTrack One File. InfoTrack. Dacus Library. Rock Hill, SC. 30 Sept. 2004.
Schwarzstein, Jacques. “An Experience Not Unique: Naira’s Story.” UN                       Chronicle 1996. v33(n4): p18(1): United Nations Publications. InfoTrack                Web. InfoTrack. Dacus Library. Rock Hill, SC. 19 Oct. 2004.
Strasburger, Victor C. and Edward Donnerstein. “Children, Adolescents, and               the Media: Issues and Solution.” Pediatrics 103.1 (1999): 129.
Weathers, Diane. “The Message in Our Music.” Essence June, 2004: Essence              Communications. Lexis Nexis. Dacus Library. Rock Hill, SC. 1 Oct. 2004.