Essence Magazine’s response to hip-hop’s degradation of black women is Take Back the Music. Graphic: Essence Magazine.

Stanley Crouch, in a New York Daily News column, discusses Essence Magazine’s “movement”, as it were, to combat the image of black women in hip-hop. I’m no big fan of the music medium (I must be getting old), but the way women are treated and depicted in music videos is enough to make one sick. The pathology runs deep, as the women in these videos obviously don’t mind degrading themselves in the ‘ho vein.

Essence is taking on the slut images and verbal abuse projected onto black women by hip hop lyrics and videos.

The magazine is the first powerful presence in the black media with the courage to examine the cultural pollution that is too often excused because of the wealth it brings to knuckleheads and amoral executives.

This anything-goes-if-sells attitude comes at a cost. The elevation of pimps and pimp attitudes creates a sadomasochistic relationship with female fans. They support a popular idiom that consistently showers them with contempt. We are in a crisis, and Essence knows it.

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.”

Essence’s web site on this issue, Take Back the Music pulls no punches.

In videos we are bikini-clad sisters gyrating around fully clothed grinning brothers like Vegas strippers on meth. When we search for ourselves in music lyrics, mixtapes and DVDs and on the pages of hip-hop magazines, we only seem to find our bare breasts and butts. And when we finally get our five minutes at the mic, too many of us waste it on hypersexual braggadocio and profane one-upmanship. The damage of this imbalanced portrayal of Black women is impossible to measure.

An entire generation of Black girls are being raised on these narrow images. And as the messages and images are broadcast globally, they have become the lens through which the world now sees us. This cannot continue. We have debated this topic, often heatedly, at Essence. Some of us are fed up; others don’t see the big deal. But all of us agree that as representatives of the world’s foremost publication for Black women, we need to provide a platform for public discussion.

The question that is being asked now is why do these artists, these black men, feel it’s OK to portray women this way, and where is that sentiment coming from? Why have women allowed this portrayal to remain popular and accepted?

What this discussion of culturally-approved misogyny by a segment of the hip-hop community will bring to light is another view of the sad, seemingly widening gulf between black men and women in mutual trust and regard, and in education and economic opportunities. You see it in the disparity between college-educated black men and women, the incarceration and unemployment rates for young black men, and, if you read Essence regularly, the grim dilemma of women looking for “marriage material” with those long odds and concern about men on the DL.

It’s another case of “airing dirty laundry” in public that needs to occur, if for no other reason but for the sake of young black men and women. These images are not positive role models and everyone knows it; black women, up until this time, didn’t put it out on the table. Essence is. The magazine also asks for feedback on the topic on its site.

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding