Sistas n’ the Hood
Written by: J. Stokes – February 7, 2017
Super Bowl 51 was quite a show. The New England Patriots managed a historic comeback against the Atlanta Falcons, with Tom Brady, New England’s quarterback, winning his fifth Super Bowl ring, the most of any quarterback in NFL history. Lady Gaga’s halftime performance also grabbed the attention of many, with some amazed at the message she promoted while others remained critical of its similarities to past performances. However, one feature of Super Bowl 51 was particularly intriguing; the Schuyler Sisters. Before the game started, and even prior to Luke Bryan singing the National Anthem, original actresses of Broadway’s critically acclaimed Hamilton, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Phillipa Soo (known for playing the Schuyler Sisters), sang “America the Beautiful.” What made their rendition noteworthy was a minor change in the song’s lyrics. Instead of singing “And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea,” the Schuyler Sisters sang “And crown thy good with brotherhood and sisterhood from sea to shining sea.” See below for the full rendition of this song:
One can assume that this minor change in “America the Beautiful” is a reflection of the country’s present dialogue surrounding women’s rights. It should be noted that the events of Super Bowl 51 happened not too far away from the Women’s March on Washington, which took place on January 21st of this year. While the “sisterhood” line should be considered a bold statement meant to progress the nation, some took offense. Tucker Carlson, a political news correspondent and conservative host for FOX News, felt the Schuyler Sisters’ attempt at inclusiveness served no point. Let’s explore this idea a bit further…
Explicitly delivering a line that includes women in a widely known song such as “America the Beautiful” can be seen as a stepping stone towards the advancement of women’s rights. How is that so, you ask? First, this new line indicates that women are just as important as men who reside in the U.S. Moreover, the Schuyler Sisters were seen by millions of people, considering the fact that the Super Bowl is a highly watched event. This means their message was well broadcasted. Lastly, music is an important communication tool that has the ability to influence individuals.
According to Greitemeyer and Schwab (2014), “some recent studies have indeed shown that listening to songs with prosocial lyrics increases the accessibility of prosocial cognitions, empathy, and helping behavior” (Greitemeyer & Schwab, 2014, p. 543). Each of the aforementioned facts shows that this rendition of “America the Beautiful” does, in fact, serve a point.
On the flipside, one must consider how this song, though known by most Americans, measures up against other popular music. Last week, we highlighted how misogyny is often perpetuated by hip-hop culture. It is important that we specifically underscore hip-hop music here since it is global, widely popular, and mainstream. Some even suggest that hip-hop has permeated pop culture in the U.S. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that hip-hop music has the ability to influence many. Since hip-hop music collectively remains misogynistic in both mainstream and underground music, thus impacting the lives of many Americans, does the Schuyler Sisters’ attempt at changing the narrative surrounding women in this country through music stand a chance?
Maybe the key to influencing change through music rests with hip-hop’s approach to women. As was stated in our previous post, hip-hop music was originally intended for Black masculine performance and protection from everything, past and present, that poses a threat to the Black male body. Consequently, virility, power over women, and certain heteronormative ideas or practices became important to hip-hop culture. With this in mind, what can be done to change the norm? Some scholars believe adjustments in parenting practices is one possible solution. Robinson (2015) has asserted that “black males like rappers are verbally and symbolically, and in the worse cases actually, harming black women as reenactments of their own earliest childhood cruelty” (Robinson, 2015, p. 76). It is no secret that hip-hop music is usually associated with Black people and Black culture, especially considering the fact that Blacks are a dominant presence in the hip-hop music industry. Hence, it is important that our focus here be on Black hip-hop artists. According to Robinson (2015)
in an effort to raise the ideal black man, black mothers have distorted their perception of their cruel reality by refusing little black boys the emotional space to express authentic pain and anger and by suggesting obedience training will enable them to survive white racism (p. 81).
In other words, Robinson (2015) argues that Black rappers choosing to pursue hip-hop often have traumatic experiences with their parents, most notably their mothers. Therefore, a resultant misogynistic attitude towards women, specifically Black women, develops.
Issues with fathers is also said result in a disdain towards other men. While these claims can be seen as somewhat controversial, they may hold some truths. Hip-hop music originated in urban areas and was arguably used as a coping mechanism for individuals as an escape from their troublesome environments. Adding to the trouble encountered are police officers. According to Jones (2014), “poor, urban Black men in the United States now have the highest rates of involuntary police contacts” (Jones, 2014, p. 34). One can assume that in an effort to protect their children from certain dangers (especially racism), parents who live in urban areas must teach survival traits. This might comprise a lack of affection while teaching protection (how’d you like that rhyme?). Robinson (2015) has furthermore claimed that hip-hop artists who maintain misogynistic lyrics are fighting back against an “unconscious memory of a threatening father, mother, or caregiver” (p. 82). As a result, the hip-hop music can be seen as a cry for help or comfort from passed traumatic experiences.
Although hip-hop music, as a collective, is guilty of misogyny, we should note that it is not the only genre of music that denigrates women. Sexism has been seen in punk, metal, and Indie rock as well. Can Robinson’s (2015) theory on misogyny and childhood trauma be extended to include styles of music other than just hip-hop?
Do Robinson’s (2015) assertions seem plausible? One thing is for certain. The sexism and misogyny we see in hip-hop music is a reflection of American society. Robinson (2015) has purported that “without patriarchy, we could credibly argue that rappers, especially female artists, perhaps would not view women as the socialized “other,” thus making them unacceptable targets for venting their repressed trauma’s hatred and anger” (Robinson, 2015, p. 79).
Drawing to a close, we must revisit Carlson’s critique of the Schuyler Sisters. What’s the point of adding to “America the Beautiful” if the country won’t change its rhetoric regarding women, especially in music? Carlson specifically states, “I mean the point is to make the person who says it feel virtuous, and I guess maybe it’s comforting to them but, like, what does it add up to?” Hopefully, the Schuyler Sisters’ statement resonates with those who watched Super Bowl 51. Hopefully, other artists, especially hip-hop artists take note and begin to change the way they address women in their music. Lastly, we should consider Robinson’s (2015) theory. Though it is debatable whether or not hip-hop music’s sexist roots are partially the result of one lacking childhood affection, one can say that parental involvement may influence the narrative surrounding women’s rights. According to Jones (2014), research “has found that authoritarian parenting styles—a style of parenting that is high in demandingness but low in responsiveness, does not encourage healthy adolescent development” (Jones, 2014, p. 49). How many of you have experienced or practice such parenting styles? Maybe if one shows a responsiveness to their child’s behaviors through listening and working with that child, the development of misogynistic behaviors and sexist attitudes can possibly be avoided. Until then, we encourage you all to look at the Schuyler Sisters’ Super Bowl performance as more than just a comforting line, but rather a possible spark towards change.
**Let us know what you thought of today’s post! Leave your questions, comments, and concerns below!
Greitemeyer, T., & Schwab, A. (2014). Employing music exposure to reduce prejudice and discrimination. Aggressive behavior, 40(6), 542-551.
Jones, N. (2014). “The Regular Routine”: Proactive Policing and Adolescent Development Among Young, Poor Black Men. New directions for child and adolescent development, 2014(143), 33-54.
Robinson, R. L. (2015). Gangsta rap lyrics and early childhood cruelties: are these artists searching for enlightened witnesses and seeking to reveal the real truth of black mother-son love?. Journal of Research in Gender Studies, 5(1), 73-92.