Essence Magazine Makes a Stand
On Monday Stanley Crouch broke the story that the popular Essence magazine was taking on the omnipresent oversexualized and slutty portrayal of black women in hip-hop music and videos. Through dialogue and discussion, they hope to raise awareness and, hopefully, “Take Back the Music.”
When asked how the magazine decided to take a stand, the editor, Diane Weathers said, “We started looking at the media war on young girls, the hypersexualization that keeps pushing them in sexual directions at younger and younger ages.”
Things got deeper, she says, because, “We started talking at the office about all this hatred in rap song after rap song, and once we started, the subject kept coming up because women were incapable of getting it off their minds.”
At a listening session that Weathers and the other staffers had with entertainment editor Cori Murray, “We found the rap lyrics astonishing, brutal, misogynistic. … So we said we were going to pull no punches, especially since women were constantly being assaulted.”
Apparently, the people at Essence were inspired by the success of groups such as Dads & Daughters, who took action against Abercrombie & Fitch for their half-naked marketing style. Essence was further encouraged and confirmed in their beliefs by the protests of the students at all-women Spelman College and their male peers from neighboring Morehouse College who successfully kept rap artist Nelly off of the Spelman campus. Though the cause for which Nelly intended to promote during his appearance at Spelman, bone marrow donations, is worthy, the students were rightfully indignant over some of the lyrics to his songs. Though they may have sacrificed some good in their protest over something unacceptable, their actions called attention to the problem of hip-hop’s incessant objectification of women. (It’s not only hip-hop men, some hip-hop women and some female pop singers do a good job of objectifying themselves [CLICK AT YOUR OWN RISK]).
Essence certainly isn’t the first African-American publication to take on this issue, but that shouldn’t diminish their effort. They are not only interested in the way these negative images affect America’s young black, and white, women, they are also concerned with how these images are interpreted around the world. As such, they’ve tapped into the larger issue of how the American Mainstream Mass Media’s portrayal of their version of American culture plays to international stereotypes and doesn’t accurately reflect “real” America. However, international perceptions aren’t of immediate importance. Rather, encouraging healthy and wholesome examples for young girls to emulate, no matter what their race, should be a priority. Kudos to Essence for helping to make it so.
I don’t pretend to know the political leanings of either Stanley Crouch or the editors and staff of Essence, but, at the risk of imposing a stereotype, I feel confident in stating that they are left-of-center in their politics. Yet, in this instance such a generalization is not accurate or even appropriate. Their desire to promote more positive images, while knocking down negative and derogatory imagery, of and for young African-American women aligns them squarely with many conservatives. It is in such undertakings that the ideological walls that partition the fields of consensus can be broken down. Ideologues on the Left and Right need not agree on everything for them to join in a worthy cause that speaks to the core of their respective beliefs. It is inappropriate, callow and disrespectful to objectify young women. On that, we should all agree.