Friday, March 29, 2013

I Blame Myself: The Consequences of Enjoying Rick Ross, Rap, and Rape Culture

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Sophistiratchet. It's the term du jour for women with degrees and good jobs who like to do bad things with their friends on the weekends. Women like me who enjoy delving into books and foolishness equally adopt such monikers to resist the social expectations of ideal womanhood. Some of us don't care if you think we're "ladies" because we're defining ourselves and setting our own rules. But while my fellow sophistiratchets engage in, what we deem, mindless fun, it's easy to forget that the "ratchet" has consequences.

I wish I could get rid of it - that thing deeply embedded in my psyche that keeps me coming back to a music that despises me, but every time the beat drops I forget myself. My feminist faculties escape me. I bob my head, do my dance, and try my hardest not to think about the consequences of the lyrics filling my head. Most of the time I'm successful. I tell myself it's entertainment, and I deserve a release. Sometimes I even tell myself that enjoying blatant misogyny with the ease of a man is a feminist act. What better way to defy gender roles?

This thinking defies logic. In liberating myself from a certain set of social constraints, I'm reinforcing other, potentially more damaging, ones. But somehow I make the logical fallacy work until a rapper says or does something so vile that it forces me to relationship to the music and the imagery.

This week, those who love and care about women raised righteous hell over a Rick Ross lyric that implied date rape. Ross raps, “Put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.” The song serves as yet another reminder of the pervasive threat of rape and the miniscule consequences for assaulting both women physically and verbally.

I blame the industry, I blame rappers, I blame American culture, but I also blame myself. As hard as I tried to find outrage for Ross's lyrics, I could only muster shame. I can point fingers, and I can admit responsibility.

I carry the guilt of knowing that while I two-stepped, I sentenced another young, black girl to harassment and victimization. So, yes, I'm responsible because I condoned it. What do I do with the guilt? I pack it away. When something like this happens, I wish i found it easier to play the role "respectable" woman. But neither my education nor my upbringing could shield me from the allure of the rap fantasy.

Authenticity no longer provides the foundation of mainstream hip hop (see: Rick Ross's entire career). Now many rap listeners opt for the spectacle of big personalities, big bank accounts, and big chains. Rappers sell a dreams. To young women they peddle validation and acceptance via objectification. I admit there's a part of me that longs to be desired by a wealthy rapper. Even a Harvard education can't strip away that vulnerability. Little separates the sophistiratchets from the constantly maligned "ratchet chicks." Illseed of All Hip Hop attempted to draw a hard line between the dumb women, presumably with no goals and futures, who would enjoy the Ross lyrics and "smart women." The truth is those of us who know better don't always do better.

I find myself so immersed in rap's culture of misogyny that the misdeeds often evade me. Ross rapped the lyrics on a mixtape dropped in February; thus, it took a month for the backlash to brew. That says it all. We passively consume these lyrics, and they become the standard not the exception. And then you have to ask who sets the boundaries of appropriateness and how does one know when they're traversed? Successful rappers make their fortunes in this grey area with lines so blurry I'm not surprised Ross thought that explaining the lyrics as a "misunderstanding" or "misinterpretation" would be enough. He still doesn't seem to understand that normalizing the type of hatred for women that manifests itself in sexual assault will continue to reap consequences.

I believe in the usefulness of outrage, but self-reflection is equally imperative. The lyrics that don't raise eyebrows say more about our values than the ones that do. What will we allow? What will we excuse?

Millions of women listen to misogynistic rap giving no thought to the fact that the music we love holds us captive. We're the happy prisoners that undergird hip hop, but in order to untangle the web of internalized sexism, we must first recognize we're captives.

Moments like these can serve more than one purpose, and this week Rick Ross gave causal listeners of destructive lyrics a gift. As a young woman, I must re-evaluate my space. I'm tired, angry and disappointed, but, first, I need to make some changes.


Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or

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