We live in a patriarchal society where sexism and misogyny impact social structures and institutions from religion and education to entertainment and music. This is found when churches use the bible to silence the voices of dedicated Christian women or when the music and film industry sexualize and objectify women to boost sales.
Many men who refer to themselves as socially conscious have responded to America’s misogynistic culture with more misogyny. Afrocentric scholars, politically conscious rappers, and Christian male figures have used their platforms to speak out against the objectification of women in mainstream American culture, but have either responded with an objectification of their own and/or with shaming women for their oppression.
Many Afrocentric scholars refer to black women as “queens” and create their own expectations of how an “ideal” black woman should behave. They advocate for black women who have a certain skin complexion, who wear their hair naturally and avoid the “commercial” look. By holding certain expectations of how black women are to look and behave, they are putting black women in a box and as a result, are reinforcing sexism. At the core of sexism in our society is locking women in a box and limiting who they can be. It is a form of slavery.
Similarly, “conscious” rappers critique the mistreatment and sexual objectification of women in the music industry and in particular, hip hop. However, much of the criticism is towards women, blaming the social pathology of black women for their conditions, similar to how white intellectuals and politicians have blamed the pathology of blacks (both men and women) for their marginalization.
This is evident in many examples, from Nas’ Black Girl Lost; where he lectures and shames black women who live lives deemed promiscuous, to Lupe Fiasco’s Bitch Bad; where he blames black mothers for objectifying themselves to their children through music.
While both Nas and Lupe Fiasco should be applauded for using their platforms to produce lyrically gifted critiques of social injustices and their refusal to engage in the overt sexual exploitation of women in much of their music, they should be critiqued for their failure to challenge patriarchal society and for their public shaming of black women. As a result, they reinforce much of the sexism in our society by blaming women for their plight without critiquing the institutions that create these conditions.
In the Christian community, many “conscious” Christian men critique how society uses and abuses women for sexual gain. Yet they regularly talk about the need for women to be “modest” in order to be seen as acceptable. Young men at Christian colleges around the country pray to find a “Proverbs 31” woman to marry despite the fact that Proverbs 31 is not referring to a real woman but rather positive qualities and attributes that both men and women should have. Furthermore, many biblical scholars suggested that the passage is referring to wisdom, as wisdom is referred to as “she” throughout the book of Proverbs.
The high expectation of Christian women to be “modest” in order to be justified is not a concept endorsed by Christ. It is a sexist notion that locks women in a box and expects them to fit a specific mode in order to be worthy of marriage and respect. Furthermore, Christian men who advocate for this fail to critique and challenge the sexism within their “faith based” communities and American society at large that objectify and limit the gifts, leadership, and contributions of women.
It is important for us to challenge the sexism that both openly misogynistic men and so called conscious men implore. We need to condemn the overt sexism that sexualizes women and enforces policies that prevent them from leadership and equal pay. At the same time, we need to challenge and condemn the covert sexism that at the surface appears to be valuing women, but reinforces the limitations and ridiculous expectations of what makes a woman worthy.
Being a conscious man who claims to respect women does not excuse or exempt you from using your male privilege to subjugate women. Be “woke” and challenge your “conscious” sexism.