Within the subculture literature a number of scholars have talked about the virtual absence of women. Looking at the works that attempted to analyse the punk movement in Great Britain for example, it is almost as if girls weren’t present. No girls at the clubs, no girls in the bands, no girls in the “gangs”, no girls to even fight over/sing to/make out with. We see a similar deal in hip-hop. Of course the women are there–you can’t shoot a video these days without scantily clad women. But where are the female producers? The female breakers? The female djs (besides Spinderella)? Reading the central works of hip-hop one would think that women are sexual objects and little to nothing else.
Rana Emerson studies the images of women in black music videos (rnb and hip-hop) in her work “Where My Girls At? Negotiating Black Womanhood in Music Videos”. She finds what we would expect, that for the most part women are denied agency even when they are the performers. Although black women (and men) appreciate the beauty in a range of body types and skin tones, one wouldn’t be able to tell from the videos–which presented a very narrow vision of black “beauty.” In many cases black male producers appeared to exert a significant degree of control over the video to the point of appearing in them and even claiming the “agentic” lines for themselves!
Emerson is able to show how there is some wiggle room. Some of the female artists were able to express a degree of agency and self-worth that was healthy. But it isn’t quite clear to me how Emerson chose which was which. I understand how she filmed the videos, where she got them from, when she taped them. But what she doesn’t do is present a very clear idea of how she chose to focus on the aspects of the videos that she did:
The literature on Black youth culture, especially hip-hop culture, has focused primarily on the experiences of young men, with the experiences of Black girls being all but ignored. However, the recent appearance of Black women performers, songwriters, and producers in Black popular culture has called attention to the ways in which young Black women use popular culture to negotiate social existence and attempt to express independence, self-reliance, and agency. This article is an exploration of the representations of Black womanhood as expressed in the music videos of Black women performers. The author first identifies themes that reflect controlling images of Black womanhood, then those that exemplify an expression of agency, and finally those appearing ambivalent and contradictory. Overall, the music videos express how young Black women must negotiate sexuality and womanhood in their everyday lives.