The "Independent Woman" -- and Why She Gets a Bad Rap in Rap Music

Feb. 3, 2011
News Photo 5047Dr. Mia Moody, assistant professor of journalism at Baylor University.

Contact: Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321

Listen to the lyrics of popular rap songs, and they convey the notion that the ideal woman is "a combination of Tyra Banks, Barbie, Oprah and Martha Stewart," says a Baylor University researcher, who bemoans the connotation of "independent woman" in such songs.

"Oversexed Jezebels," "asexual mammies" and "gold diggers" are among stereotypes of black women, with some dating back to slavery but persisting in today's mass media, said Dr. Mia Moody, an assistant professor of journalism at Baylor. But these days, even the most positive image -- that of an independent woman -- often carries a negative message in popular rap music, she said.

In Moody's recent study, to be presented in Boston in May at the International Communication Association conference, she found that independent women in rap and rhythm and blues music are depicted as not being successful unless they are sexy, wealthy over-achievers. Even then, they don't get much respect from male rappers, who often portray them as narcissistic or emasculating.

While many scholars have said that rap's portrayals promote violence, sex and materialism, they have not addressed the theme of women's independence, Moody said.

Many of today's popular songs imply that a woman should be gorgeous, physically fit, educated, moneyed and able to handle family, children and housework single-handedly, Moody said.

One song even suggests that a woman be a Sunday school teacher with a perfect credit score.

"If we do all that and pay the bills, it lets men off the hook," Moody said.

Such lyrics are troubling because listeners -- particularly young ones -- may try to live up to such unrealistic standards. Furthermore, the songs do not place the same high standards on men, suggesting that a woman should be able to overlook the flaws of an average guy or even a thug, she said.

For the study, Moody looked at three popular rap songs, an R&B single and corresponding videos to analyze how independence is characterized: Lil Webbie's "Independent;" Yo Gotti's "5 5tar Chick" or "5 Star B----; Drake's "Fancy;" and "Miss Independent" by pop/R&B singer Ne-Yo.

At face value, lyrics promoting independence appear innocent or even pat women on the back. But a closer look shows the pat may be a slap.

Witness Drake's "Fancy:"

Hit the gym, step on the scale, stare at the number/ You say you droppin' ten pounds preparin' for summer/ And you don't do it for the man, men never notice/ You just do it for yourself you the (obscenity) coldest

Among the scenarios in song videos are women who are doctors, business executives and even the first African-American woman president. They wear short skirts, low-cut tops and high heels, while the men are comfy in oversized jeans, T-shirts and baseball caps.

Male role models are not mentioned in rap lyrics, and the lyrics often ignore the fact that some women better themselves for personal gratification or to take better care of their children -- not to impress a man or buy designer clothes, expensive hairstyles, manicures and pedicures, Moody said.

Rap music's depiction of independent women got off to a positive start in 1989, when rapper Roxanne Shanté debuted her "Independent Woman," Moody said. The song explored relationships and admonished women not to buy into the fairy tale that a man will take care of them. But these days, it is mostly male rappers who talk about independent women.

"Another sad truth is that women's aren't running record companies or are the major consumers of rap music," she said. "It's naïve to assume women can undo the spread of sexism on their own. It's going to have to be a mutual understanding between both genders."

Other researchers have concluded that some rappers exhibit hatred of women, referring to them with obscenities and boasting of male dominance and sexual prowess.

Parents and educators must work together to combat sexism and unrealistic messages, said Jessica Foumena, a Baylor graduate student majoring in international journalism. She added strategies to an article that Moody wrote recently.

Parents should listen to and discuss rap lyrics with their children. Educators and families should encourage boys to grow up to be faithful, caring spouses and good fathers, capable of supporting their families, Foumena said.

"It is important to look beyond the beat and catchy words," she said.

Contact: Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321

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