Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a shock jock uses incredibly offensive words to describe women, and justifies it by using Hip Hop as a scapegoat. No, we’re not talking about Don Imus and his “nappy-headed hoes.” Not this time. Instead, conservative talk-show host (and longtime Hip Hop-detractor) has been thrust into the limelight.
On February 29, Rush Limbaugh used the words “slut” and “prostitute” to describe Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student who testified in front of the Steering and Policy Committee Democratic members regarding private health coverage for contraceptives. The gist of Fluke’s argument: a lack of free contraception from private insurance plans would force many low-income students to be without contraceptives, and creates a demand that could not be met by already overburdened free health clinics. It should be noted that Fluke’s testimony came after she was denied the opportunity to testify in front of Congress about the very same issue, leaving no women witnesses to speak on the panel.
After a public outcry, Limbaugh offered a stock apology to Fluke. Later, after taking one step forward, he took two steps back, offering a foolish excuse for his diction. “Talk about a double standard,” stated Limbaugh. “Rappers can say anything they want about women. It’s called art. And they win awards.”
This isn’t the first time Rush has put Hip Hop on blast. In response to the infamous fight between NBA teams the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, Limbaugh made his take clear: “[T]hat comes right out of the Hip Hop culture… This is the Hip Hop culture on parade. This is gang behavior on parade minus the guns.” Limbaugh went on to predict he would be pegged as a racist, and at least regarding this matter, he’s right. Much like news stations and talk radio now use the word “urban” as a politically correct euphemism for “black,” Limbaugh uses “Hip Hop.” Never mind that all Hip Hop isn’t violent, or that all Hip Hop culture isn’t all black culture, or that NBA teams aren’t at all representative of Hip Hop culture or black culture. Those are conversations for another day.
Poltical Discussion Versus Entertainment
There’s a point here that Limbaugh is purposefully missing: while he claims to be a source of serious political discourse, rappers–from Boosie to Chuck D–are entertainers. Sure, a Hip Hop record may serve to generate sociopolitical discussions, but any emcee that has ever existed is a music artist. As listeners, we can impute whatever meaning we want to art – that’s the very nature of art. If I throw on a Public Enemy record, it can be because I want to rage against the machine, or because I simply want to get down to some Bomb Squad production. Limbaugh’s role is unmistakable: it’s political discussion from a right-wing perspective. As such, their responsibilities aren’t remotely comparable.
Perhaps the most troubling thing here is that Limbaugh believes that his rhetoric is no more damaging than that of your typical sexist rapper, an assertion that is as absurd as it is shortsighted. Yes, misogyny anywhere (in Hip Hop, politics, or otherwise) is indicative of institutionalized sexism that has been a pillar of every society in recorded history. But the problem is this: Diddy, try as he might, doesn’t have sway over voters. Rush Limbaugh, the most powerful man on talk radio, does. And what Limbaugh is trying to do is codify stripping women of the right to have access to essential healthcare, of the right to free speech, and of the right to be represented in a matter that predominantly affects women.
Limbaugh’s hope is that by using words like “slut,” he can shame brave women like Fluke into either (1) thinking that there’s actually something wrong with enjoying the same sexual carte blanche afforded to their male counterparts; or (2) forcing women to fear for their reputations, careers, and in some cases, safety, just for trying to claim their natural and constitutional rights. While 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” may be narrow-minded and harmful, it can hardly be said to have such calculated and sinister designs.
The Real Double Standard
Limbaugh is right about one thing: there is a double standard operating here. Namely, the one Limbaugh has developed for Hip Hop music as opposed to any other genre. Rush points to unnamed rappers who “can say anything they want about women.” Sure, Snoop Dogg and Eminem are just as guilty as anyone, but is there a more notorious misogynist in music than Frank Sinatra? Sure, Ol’ Blue Eyes made it sound classy in “Lady is a Tramp,” but let’s call a spade a spade: the reason Limbaugh doesn’t cite the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan is because his ultra-conservative base would never allow it. Why, the Stones and Dylan are American institutions! In other words, it’s easier for Rush to cry foul at “Bitches Ain’t Shit” rather than at “Just Like a Woman.”
It’s ironic, really. Hip Hop has long been criticized, and rightfully so, for being a source of much negativity in the ever-present struggle for women’s rights. But it seems that, at least in this instance, the battle for women’s rights and Hip Hop’s efforts to become a respected musical art form are in alignment. Hopefully, this unified front will result in more progressive thinking – both about women and Hip Hop’s place amongst more highly-regarded art forms.
Slava Kuperstein is an Ellicott City, Maryland native by way of Odessa, Ukraine who has been writing for HipHopDX since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @SlavaHHDX.