Tuesday, November 3, 2009

KRS-One talks some feminist 'real talk', do we want to listen?

Yesterday in their regular end-of-the-day "What we missed" post, the fine women at feministing.com included the following link:

Hip Hop artist KRS-One talks about how we need more women in hip hop.

Though it's not technically 'my scene' or whatever, I was hooked. A respected, successful, veteran hip hop icon is talking about that status of women in a major genre of popular U.S.-American music? I absolutely had to read more.

Sadly, I was a bit disappointed. Here's what he had to say:

City Pages: What do you think is missing in hip-hop today?

KRS ONE: "I am not just saying this because you [a woman] are asking the question, this is my real answer: More women. More women. Not just emcees or b-girls, but women taking control of hip-hop. Let me be culturally-specific- hip-hop's women should teach hip-hop's men how to speak to them. Because when we learn how to speak to you, we can learn how to speak to the whole business world. It's not just about respecting you...it is...but it's deeper than just respecting another human being. Everytime you degrade a person, you degrade yourself, because you are standing next to that person. You can't diss a person, and not diss yourself...I should say 'she's a queen.' And what does that make me? A king. So now at the end of the day, what's missing in hip-hop? Knowledge of self, that should only come from women. I know that sounds feminist, but that's real talk.

KRS-One is right: it's about both respect for other people and for yourself, because treating another person poorly definitely is harmful to both the perpetrator and the victim. But is he right that we as women have to teach men how to speak to us? This is an issue that goes beyond gender relations within hip hop, that extends to other genres, including rock and punk, and beyond.

As it is, women are unfairly burdened with the task of taking care of the whole world. While we're shouldering this heavy responsibility -- which is a major part of gender-based oppression -- now it's also our job to bring about gender equality? It's our job to make men, and by extension, all of humankind, better, less sexist people?

KRS-One generally seems like a smart, conscientious guy. We're talking about an artist who has been around for a long time, and who has played a major part in the story of hip hop. (And who incidentally was apparently raised in the same South Bronx neighborhood where my mom grew up, Mott Haven represent!!) The man is responsible for the Temple of Hip Hop and the Stop the Violence Movement.

So the question is: when he tasks women with teaching men how to behave, is he inadvertently perpetuating sexist ideas about women and the work they've been told they're biologically predisposed to? Or is he just being realistic? I hate to admit it, but it seems that ultimately, women will have to demand and cultivate equality if we want it.

Or maybe I'm reading it all wrong. Maybe what KRS-One means is that, rather than mothering the entire world, women need to put themselves out there in hip hop, as performers, executives, promoters, and human beings. They need to get out there and teach by example, they need to work, to to work together, to work with the boys who are already in the business, and they need to take care of themselves and each others. And in the process, the need to set new precedents for how women in the genre are seen, heard, and treated by their peers and critics.

Link to the original City Pages article: KRS-One on One

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

I saw your comment on the Feministing website, and thought I would re-post my comment:

A clarifying point: I conducted this interview [of KRS-One] with a friend of mine, Cheverly Council, in Minneapolis. After he said the statement, I followed up with the following question (which is in the initial interview post, and was somehow omitted from this post):

CP: But men can be feminists, too.

KRS ONE: No doubt. But they are scared. They’re cowards.

I do hope this clarifies, and gives a little bit more depth to his statement about feminism. Realistically, it is not "cool" to be a feminist in Hip Hop-it just isn't. It takes people like KRS One to agree that men can be feminists, it takes journalists like myself and Cheverly to go out on a limb and ask challenging questions (especially of men in Hip Hop), it takes MCs like Maria Isa to stand up and say "I'm a feminist" on stage, it takes other men in Hip Hip to take a stand, as well...

Let's continue to challenge the status quo with our own actions, and support others who are willing to have the conversation.