Ashley Judd’s Remarks about Hip-Hop and Misogyny…..Why Are People Upset?

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It seems that these days when a celebrity has something to promote, they ( or their publicist) release something provocative (even though it usually has nothing to do with the actual product) in order to gain attention. For the actor/activist Ashley Judd, a snippet of her memoir, All That Is Bitter And Sweet was, ahem, “leaked” -- and Judd was forced to give a public apology.

From her book:

“Along with other performers, YouthAIDS was supported by rap and hip-hop artists like Snoop Dogg and P. Diddy to spread the, who? Those names were a red flag.”

“As far as I'm concerned, most rap and hip-hop music - with its rape culture and insanely abusive lyrics and depictions of girls and women as 'ho's' - is the contemporary soundtrack of misogyny.…….. I believe that the social construction of gender - the cultural beliefs and practices that divide the sexes and institutionalize and normalize the unequal treatment of girls and women, privilege the interests of boys and men, and, most nefariously, incessantly sexualize girls and women - is the root cause of poverty and suffering around the world." 

Ashley Judd
© Erik Pendzich/Rex Features/

After various Hip-Hop / Urban-centric websites and blogs reported on the story, Judd was forced to offer a public apology:

"The outcry regarding my remarks, 2 paragraphs of my 400+ page book, regarding hip hop and rap, has been as astounding as it is out of context … I have looked closely at the feedback I have received about those two paragraphs, and absolutely see your points, and I fully capitulate to your rightness, and again humbly offer my heartfelt amends for not having been able to see the fault in my writing, and not having anticipated it would be painful for so many. Crucial words are missing that could have made a giant difference.”

So why were people upset? First, some thought that Judd generalized a musical genre, a culture that is extremely important, emotionally and culturally relevant to many people (and extremely profitable) with one sweeping generalization -- they are all sexist bastards that oppress women. There are a number of Hip-Hop artists, like …..umm ….hold on….yeah, Common, The Roots, Talib Kweli, K'naan and several more who have been quite successful avoiding lyrics that demean women and violence. What happened to them?

Some artists went to Twitter to express their distain with Judd. From ?uestlove from The Roots:

hmmm. at least i got my answer as to why ash judd didn't give us so much as a nod on her last visit. im a criminal: than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

From Jay Smooth, a popular Hip-Hop DJ, journalist and cultural critic:

@dopegirlfresh I do think her original quote, in context, was clumsy & reductive, but I agree a lot of the reaction is overwrought, and..less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

@dopegirlfresh glosses over the underlying issues that deserve to be (and have been, as you said) addressed more precisely and in more depthless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Here in an interesting response:

ashley judd isn't wrong about hip hop & rape culture. annoyed that when black wmn say the SAME SHIT she did it gets little to no spin.less than a minute ago via HootSuite Favorite Retweet Reply

And isn’t this so? Haven’t women of colour been talking about the rampant misogyny in Hip-Hop music for over a decade? To the sound of crickets chirping? So why is everyone up in arms when a white female celebrity says what we have been saying for years?

Journalist Elizabeth Mendez Berry has been writing about this subject for years. It was Mendez Berry who wrote about domestic abuse in Hip-Hop for VIBE Magazine (where she discusses depictions of spousal abuse in Hip-Hop lyrics). six years ago. Mendez Berry also spoke at a recent conference, "Ain't I a Woman" in New York, where issues surrounding this topic were discussed. Where was the media?

Black feminist/womanist bloggers, journalists and authors have been discussing the role of women in Hip-Hop lyricism for years. Where is their microphone? Patricia Hill Collins anyone?

The reaction to Judd's remarks seems to be both because she is White and because her remarks were widely publicized -- also because she is White. She faced ire and in some ways, was celebrated, at the same time. A comment from Marquee, the CNN website:

I wish she hadn't apologized. She is absolutely right about (c)rap and hip hop culture. It is overwhelmingly misogynistic. Just because she is white doesn't make her true statement about the misogyny of the "hip hop culture" inaccurate or racist. Sometimes the truth hurts and it is way overdue that women speak out against rap culture. So what if a few of the perpetrators give to charities? Its the equivalent of an abuser beating you and then bandaging your wounds.

Goddess Rising writes that she first dismissed Judd's remarks as simply nonsense coming from a privileged white actor -- but after a while, there was something else that bothered her about Judd's comments:

Aside from the fact that Ashley Judd has no clue about Hip-Hop as an art form and a culture, her comment shows an underlying prejudice towards black men. She says that Snoop and Diddy's participation in YouthAIDS raised a red flag for her. If she knew anything about Hip-Hop or maybe even had a conversation with either one of these men, she'd know that neither condone rape or create violent music (at least not in the last decade), both are intelligent and savvy media moguls, and both are fathers (each has a least one daughter). So why wouldn't they use their star power and influence to spread the message to young people, and especially the Hip-Hop community, about the importance of HIV/AIDS prevention? Shouldn't they be lauded? If their music is so sexually irresponsible, isn't it a good thing that they are talking about safe sex considering that HIV/AIDS transmission rates are so much higher among African-Americans.

Personally, I have always liked Judd. She seems like a very strong, outspoken woman who has done more with her celebrity status in terms of charitable work than a lot of people. But her comments? I can see why people would be annoyed -- she was, in some ways, correct with her observations, but the true context of her comments is debatable. I also think that the reaction is a symptom of the times: Our society is wrought with racial tension, and people are sensitive. Bad timing, perhaps?

Related post: And You Even Licked My Balls: A Black Feminist Note on Nate Dogg

(Best title ever!)

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Contributing EditorRace, Ethnicity & Culture

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