Black Women Defining Themselves in the Music Industry

by Monica Stancu

Editor’s Note: In light of this year’s Women’s History Conference, “Breaking Boundaries,” we are happy to present this previously unpublished work from last year’s conference.

In Check It While I Wreck It, Gwendolyn D. Pough, a Women’s Studies scholar, argues that many scholars have ignored the achievements of black female rappers and limited themselves to criticizing the sexist portrayal of black women in hip hop culture. The author claims that although hip hop is indeed dominated by men, black female singers use this type of music to disrupt dominant masculine discourses.

At the Women’s History Conference hosted by Sarah Lawrence College (Bronxville, New York) on March 5-6 2010, scholars explored the ways black women expressed politics through music. The theme of the conference, “The Message is in the Music: Hip Hop Feminism, Riot Grrrl, Latina Music and More,” reflected Pough’s belief in the potential social and political influence of hip hop. The presenters argued that although hip hop can be problematic at times, female artists are not just marginalized or victimized by it: they use hip hop to offer counter narratives.

The scholars present at the panel “Love, Sex and Magic: Hip Hop Feminism as a Tool for the Creative Renegotiation of Black Female Desire” on March 6, argued that hip hop is not unique in its use of sexist representations of women and its commodification of black women’s bodies. The exploitation of these bodies for the privileged is one of many shameful relics of slavery, when they were used as cheap labor and objects for sexual relief. Continue reading

Queering Categories, Bringing Wreck

illustration by Cristy Road

by Kate Wadkins

In sync with Sarah Lawrence’s recent call for papers for 2011’s Women’s History Conference, I am syndicating my review of the plenary panel from this year’s The Message is in the Music: Hip Hop Feminism, Riot Grrrl, Latina Music & More with RE/VISIONIST (it is also currently published in this year’s Women’s History newsletter). Specifically Ngo and Nguyen’s papers, in the context of the Conference at large, really inspired me to pursue my thesis work on masculinities in punk rock. Watching other scholars dare to take on pop culture subjects like music gave me hope and certainty that cultural production is worthy of an historical treatment.

This article is also timely as it preempts the publication of International Girl Gang Underground, a compilation zine about the way riot grrrl has influenced punk feminist cultural production over the past twenty years. Nguyen’s early iteration of her paper, “Aesthetics, Access, Intimacy” or “Race, Riot Grrrl, Bad Feelings” will be included in the zine, nestled in among scene reports and personal stories from all over the world.

“I quit punk like 8 times,” Mimi Nguyen confessed to a full auditorium at Sarah Lawrence College’s 12th Annual Women’s History Conference: The Message is in the Music: Hip-Hop Feminism, Riot Grrrl, Latina Music & More, recollecting her contentious relationship with punk rock. As the first panel of the morning opened up, the groggy, packed audience, comprised of women of all ages and ilk, quickly awoke to Nguyen’s sharp wit and powerful presence. For the plenary panel, Fiona Ngo and Mimi Nguyen, both assistant professors at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, discussed grassroots punk scenes and their internal racial dynamics. A third panelist, Sarah Lawrence alum Christa D’Angelica, presented on what she termed a “second wave” of riot grrrl that traversed from zine[1] pages to dial-up modems in the late 1990s. Continue reading

Hip-Hop is a Discursive Sport

by Lisa Merolle

Two conference-goers chat with Women's History first year, Alexandria Linn. Photo by Nydia Swaby.

Spirits were high at the 12th Annual Sarah Lawrence Women’s History Conference The Message in the Music: Hip-Hop Feminism, Riot Grrrl, Latina Music, and More as attendees piled into the living room at Slonim House for the last session of the day. They were perched at edge of the overcrowded sofa, on windowsills, and stairs for the panel, “Love, Sex and Magic: Hip-Hop Feminism as a Tool for the Creative Renegotiation of Black Female Desire,” presented by four scholars from the University of Alabama. Despite the late hour and the long day the atmosphere hummed with energy from an audience eager to learn. Continue reading

Interview: Daniela Capistrano of POC Zine Project

by Kate Wadkins

Photo courtesy of Bashira Webb.

Say what you will about Twitter, but it brought Daniela Capistrano and I together. Daniela is a powerhouse working with media and culture in New York, while also being an activist, teacher, and the founder of POC Zine Project. As fellow RE/VISIONIST staffer Nydia Swaby and I began coordinating the non-profit tablers for this year’s Sarah Lawrence College Women’s History Conference, “The Message is in the Music,” we fell in love with POC Zine Project’s mission and invited them to join us. Daniela found some time to chat with me online so we could find out more about the project and her own experiences with activism and work.

RE/VISIONIST: Who are you and what do you do?

Daniela Capistrano: I’m Daniela Capistrano and I am a freelance multimedia producer currently gigging at MTV Tr3s as a Senior Producer and at Uncensored Interview as a shooter/producer/editor. I also crew on short films, music videos and other stuff. Continue reading

Music, Feminism & Women’s History Month

It’s clear that at Sarah Lawrence College, Women’s History month was all about the intersections of music and feminism this year. So in honor of the last day of Women’s History month (which also happens to be César Chávez Day and International Transgender Day of Visibility) I want to direct you to a blog I love about the intersections of feminism and music, called Rock and the Single Girl. Continue reading

Carmen Ashhurst Discusses the Music Industry

Photo by Rosamund Hunter

This year’s keynote speaker at the 12th Annual Women’s History Conference was Carmen Ashhurst, former president of Def Jam Records and Rush Communications.  Ashhurst’s invaluable perspectives on the music industry gave her an eager audience for the conference’s theme, “The Message is in the Music: Hip-Hop Feminism, Riot Grrrl, Latina Music, and More.”

Ashhurst worked alongside Russell Simmons before the commercial explosion of hip-hop in the early 1990s.  A former political activist in Grenada, she began working in the music industry at a time when it was more radical and subversive.

Ashhurst’s talk was rooted in the belief that hip-hop’s most popular acts now foster sexist, racist images and that much of the successful rap music today represents a “profound racial self-hatred.”  She emphasized that she and other women executives lost control as hip-hop became more popular and marketed to a mass audience.  Ashhurst asserted, “The music business is about selling music, not making music.” Continue reading

The Message is in the Music: Hip Hop Feminism, Riot Grrrl, Latina Music & More

As you may know, Sarah Lawrence College’s 12th Annual Women’s History Conference, The Message is in the Music: Hip Hop Feminism, Riot Grrrl, Latina Music & More is this weekend. The RE/VISIONIST team is super excited about it, and some of us will be moderating panels.

Schedule:

Continue reading