Misogyny: Do women get a bad rap in hip-hop?

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Bea Shepard, the woman affectionately known and respected by the rap world and beyond as the "hip-hop mom," is a wealth of knowledge and opinion. A former English teacher at Denver Public Schools, Shep is not just tough as nails. She is concise and professorial in her teachings, but in a way that does not alienate the students. She teaches and participates in the hip-hop community because she is completely immersed in its beginnings.

Her favorite Tupac song is the Mo' Preme-produced "Bury Me a G'." Shep -- as she prefers to be called -- is attracted to the realism that exists in the dynamic relationships in hip-hop. She is qualified to speak on the feminist objectives that both challenge and, in her opinion, hinder the growth of hip-hop, because she has honed the aspects of her life that speak directly to this concept.

Shooting directly from the hip, Shep delivers her message straight with no chaser, challenging both men and women to examine the parts of self that contribute to self-actualization and stop us from reaching that maturation.

"It seems that the slant here is toward an idealized state of hip-hop in which its rough edges get somehow sanded off by our brilliance and insight. I think it's more likely that hip-hop will remain an amorphous amalgam," says Shep. "Kids will scribble in notebooks, grab mikes and network to find producers and promoters -- sometimes using, but mostly ignoring, the best advice and guidance offered to them.... And the products of it will give voice to thousands of worldviews. And it will all be hip-hop."

Even a light conversation with Shep is intense. We chopped it up with the hip-hop mom to get a different perspective on misogyny in hip-hop and walked away effectively schooled.

Westword: Can you expound further on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as it relates to a man's -- in particular, a rapper''s -- development with a woman?

I don't think Maslow's Hierarchy can predict whether a man of any ilk will be successful in his relationships with women. We don't even have a social framework in which it's okay for males and females to develop genuine understanding of each other, because discussing gender traits is stereotyping -- God forbid. And so both genders actually believe that the other one thinks like they do.

Guys assume that girls know exactly how their behavior affects men. Girls don't know the first thing about it. Like Van Morrison said, "And all the girls walk by/Dressed up for each other..." We paint our nails -- name one guy that gives a flying flip about fingernails. We put on short skirts and sashay past construction workers and wonder why they whistle. We don't want to know how graphic their imaginations are. We don't want to hear our boyfriends say they wish we wouldn't dress so provocatively.

And then we women assume that they think like we do. We have a built-in need for protection from opportunistic men, and we translate it into an assumption that men need our protection from attractive women. So we try to keep our guys away from other women. If a girl's boyfriend says a kind word to another girl, all hell breaks loose. Our society is so deeply dysfunctional that it's unusual to see stable relationships. How can you have stable relationships in an unstable society?

The problem of developing empathy with the opposite gender -- men having female empathy and women having male empathy -- is that it goes against the grain of today's social fabric, such as it is. It's much easier to buy the party line that we all think alike -- "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" -- and skip the question, since it seems to threaten our legislated equality.

This is where I part paths with feminism. When a man has made the effort -- and it takes years of effort -- to really understand and empathize with women, and he then finds a woman who has done that same homework to empathize with men, the chances are that they will have a lasting and meaningful relationship. These will be people who know better than to look for perfect counterparts, people who have developed relationships with the only perfect beings, which are the gods and goddesses of the animus and anima, transformed and liberated through love, acceptance and reverence.

When we talked about a feminism oppressing a man's expression of sexuality, is there a way we are supposed to counteract this occurrence?

The realities of male sexuality are somewhat staggering compared to those of most women. Men have thousands of orgasms by age 21. A woman might have anywhere from none to a few. There's a reason for this. If men weren't as driven as they are sexually, they would never be motivated to be around women, much less marry them, because women are basically a pain in the ass -- yeah, I said it -- and it would be a lot easier to just hang out with the fellas hunting and fishing and playing with balls.

And if women were as driven sexually as men are, they would have no control over themselves, and that would not bode well for choosing fathers and having children. So nature designed women to mature much later than men in terms of sexual satisfaction, like around thirty years old, which gives them the opportunity to be choosy about partners.

So feminism came along and decreed that we were equal, that liquor was evil, and that all the brothels needed to be chopped down to the ground. As I've said before, Susan B. Anthony pretty much had to destroy all the brothels to have any hope of ever getting any -- girlfriend was butt-ugly.

But as feminism erupted, stomping out the places where men had previously taken care of their excess sex drives and their natural inclination to hang out with the fellas, the behaviors that had been normal and acceptable for thousands of years became utterly déclassé, and men learned to pretend that those inclinations didn't exist. From the earliest ages, little boys are taught that very normal physical reactions are naughty, and they learn to hide them.

Hip-hop emerged in a subculture that didn't want to be seen as respectable by middle-class America. The music was first scratched out in totally non-conformist block parties. Graffiti writers knew they were illegal -- the whole scene simmered and bubbled under the surface of the facade of so-called respectable America. The African-American music and dance scene had always been much more intense than the mainstream scene. I think that the more powerful feminism became, the more pressure it exerted on men.

The revolution called hip-hop began at the height of the sexual revolution, a few years before anyone had imagined a gay-rights movement. How does hip-hop respond to feminism? One of feminism's mantras that we're still grappling with is the idea that a woman's value is determined by physical beauty. This happens to be an inescapable fact of human nature, and it applies to all sorts of creatures, but feminism hates it and tries to make it not true, tries to blame it on men -- those lecherous bastards -- and builds a massive guilt trip on words like "objectification."

A huge portion of male sexuality really does objectify someone or something, and no amount of holier-than-thou wishing will change that. I knew a guy who had studied for his master's degree so incessantly that he would masturbate without much thought while studying statistics. He was later unable to get off without a book. Now that's objectification.

Can you reiterate the points you were making about the physical differences in men and women's music preference as it relates to the depth and tone of a woman's voice versus a man's?

Looking at the middle 50 percent of the continuum for men and the middle 50 percent of the continuum for women, it's possible to make some generalizations. So there are some physical barriers to total gender equity in hip-hop. First, women's ears can't handle the same noise levels that men's ears can. Women's ears go into distortion at about 90 decibels, which is nothing compared to the noise levels at most hip-hop shows.

Second, in terms of women on the microphone, the fact that most women's voices are higher than most men's voices can work against them when the speaking voice -- or shouting voice -- is so integral to the art form. Many people naturally prefer deep voices; they are soothing, while high voices are irritating.

Sometimes you just have to change the channel because some high scratchy woman's voice is bugging you: O'Meara Ford -- yecchh! Can you imagine that woman trying to make a rap recording? Even the highest men's voices -- Bootie Brown, for instance -- are not hard on the ears like a woman's voice can be.

Women producers and DJs are few and far between, although there are some. I would hazard a guess that very few of those few have children. The thing is that those skills require considerable concentration and the ability to ignore everything else for long stretches. Most women are not hard-wired for that sort of concentration.

This is another observation that feminism would rather no one ever made, much less broadcast: Most women are much more distractible than most men. But if you look at the survival of the human race from earliest times, it makes sense that the attention of the one giving birth and caring for the little ones would be drawn toward the slightest whimper, while the honker snoring next to her, scaring away the lions and wolves, would never look sideways at screaming children when there was a beast to be slain. These are some reasons that I say hip-hop is the province of the ordinary man and the extraordinary woman.

Are we, as women, supposed to possess some imaginary boundary with men about sex at all times, then?

I don't know what this question really means. It could refer to the guilt we feel when we offer ourselves and get turned down -- another phenomenon that wouldn't occur in a "stable" society, because in a stable society, young males can't just go out and get laid like they can here, so they never turn it down. We may have a genetic memory of all the eons of that sort of dynamic and so now feel awful, even hostile, when we get turned down.

Our grandmothers never experienced that because they never offered themselves. Instead they had the framework of waiting for the call, the flowers, the ring, the courtship.... So, yes, if you think you can deal with dozens of rejections the way a guy can, you're probably wrong and would be better off to be more reserved.

By the way, the rise in gangs correlates directly with the loss of a way for boys to prove manhood. The last truly righteous war was WWII, which established manhood for every vet who returned. By the time of Vietnam, that had dried up, and there were no manhood rituals for the average American guy. Note the major exception: Judaism, and note the relative paucity of Jewish gang members.

But what do gangs offer? Manhood rituals on a sub-cultural level. And that's how gangbangers become more dedicated to their gang brothers than to their larger society or other people. Even the mob, from before WWII, comprised a subculture that felt disenfranchised and found ways to compensate through underground money and power.

And while boys are searching for the satisfaction of some innate drive to prove manhood, what are girls doing? Proving womanhood, not by fighting and amassing power, but by being attractive to men and having babies. The most ancient and perennial proof of womanhood is carrying a baby to term... and the most daily reinforcement of that womanhood is being attractive to men, which has to be proved over and over in each woman's experience.

How should women who work in the music industry handle the heavy-handed sexism in hip-hop?

I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all answer to this. I occasionally call someone on it, but it's always in a one-to-one communication, and I think maybe I get away with it because I'm old and coming from a "mom" place. But mostly, when I see the sexist, even misogynistic, state of mind, I approach it the same way that I approach a child -- I don't expect a child to be interested in the things that interest me.

I know that there will be fairly predictable stages in the growth of a child (dinosaurs are fascinating to fourth-graders), and I see waves of young males coming up in hip-hop who have all sorts of issues that they can't deal with -- not won't, but really can't, since society and their various subcultures are so messed up.

And so they slap on a facade and march on through, proving their virility by shooting their mouths off and generally pushing all sorts of boundaries. Some will have epiphanies or tragedies that open them to better thinking, and some never will. Even that much perspective could enable women to avoid taking their unenlightened behavior personally -- if they don't want to waste their energy at that level.

Click through for a Q&A with Bianca Mikahn

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Ru Johnson
Contact: Ru Johnson