The Height of Disrespect

New study on 'hip-hop' sexuality finds anti-woman strain—even among young women

A number of women said having multiple partners was the way to combat this devaluation. As for the chance to have lives of their own, these girls, the study's authors said, do not expect or "feel empowered" to achieve them. Since many do not expect exclusive relationships with partners, and sex is spoken of as a transactional relationship rather than an emotional one, keeping a partner by way of sex or pregnancy seems a viable strategy, at least temporarily.

A partner whom a male turns to purely for sex, dubbed a "shorty," is not a person he wants to take out—and if so, only "to McDonald's," and there is no escape: "Once a shorty, always a shorty." Marriage is not a priority, and committed relationships are often disdained by both sexes, though some males have steadies they call "wifey." One man described his preference: "That's the chick you want to be with; she's always got a condom, she don't want to have no kids, she doesn't want to catch nothing."

The prevalent disrespect for women has also, some teens suggested, resulted in more open homosexual relationships among females. According to the study, "overwhelmingly, across all nine cities, youth of both genders spoke openly about the increased occurrence of female-on-female sexual relationships." While some teens attributed the phenomenon to mutual understanding among women, others, including one of the scholars, cited mistreatment by men. Only lesbians cited same-sex attraction.

Teens in New York: Who's baggin' whom?
photo: Cary Conover
Teens in New York: Who's baggin' whom?

Dr. Maisha Hamilton-Bennett, a clinical psychologist, said, "Young women have told me they are choosing homosexuality in response to this whole ' 'hood rat/skeezer' definition that some of the heavier, darker, and less attractive women are getting." A study of factors such as color and size in the disparagement of black women in pop culture would be welcome information. Among black women, there are volumes of anecdotal material affirming our sense of marginalization from the beauty norms, and magazines and music videos imply that Beyoncé is the ideal of the moment.

The scholars who worked on the study suggest broad reforms along with further outreach on health issues. "What we're finding out from our HIV prevention research is that if you're able to re-create social fabric within a very poor black community, you have a greater level of social control over youth," said Carl Bell of the University of Illinois, "and they tend to delay their sexuality expression and their risk-taking behaviors. So [for] intervention strategies, the whole issue is rebuilding the village and trying to re-create social fabric if it's not already there."

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