The B-Word in Rap

If You're Dissing the Sisters,
You Ain't Fighting the Powers

Revolutionary Worker #972, September 6, 1998

The word "bitch" as applied to women plays the same social role as the word "nigger" applied to Black people.

Bob Avakian

People, we are heading into a new century and we are still having problems with the "B" word in rap music--and in life. Too many times we have to hear the refrain, "b*tches and hos"--including from some of the most rebellious and anti-system rap artists. From N.W.A. to Tupac Shakur, we have faced a painful situation--where brothers who are hard against the system's enforcers are way off base or, at best, seriously confused, about the sistas.

N.W.A.'s "Fuck tha Police" became a righteous soundtrack of the streets nationwide because it put out the sentiments of many millions who hate the subhuman prison guards plaguing the people 24-7-365. N.W.A. could devastate with a rhyme, and when they turned the tables on the enforcers it was funny and serious at the same time.

Tupac Shakur came on strong, taking Panther attitude into rap in the late '90s--and Tupac became a cultural touchstone for a generation. Under heavy fire from the system--for his music and his lifestyle--Tupac was constantly harassed and busted for a self-defense shooting of an Atlanta undercover cop.

The militant stand of these rappers against the system and their enforcers was righteous and earned them love from the people. But when it came to the sistas, these brothers had serious problems.

N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton" smacked us with lyrics like: "What about the bitch that got shot/Fuck her/You think I give a damn about a bitch/I ain't a sucker./This is the autobiography of the E...." And this was all tied up with the gangsta mentality.

Tupac was way contradictory. He had a fierce struggle going on within himself (and a lot of revolutionaries and fellow artists trying to struggle with him) about the thug-life and his attitude on women. His lyrical lows included slinging b's and h's in his music, in Makevelli he bragged outrageously about sleeping with Biggie Small's wife.

But at his best, Tupac soared with moving messages and a lot of heart for women, like in "Dear Mama" and "Keep Ya Head Up":

I give a holler to my sisters on welfare...
I know they like ta beat ya down a lot
and when ya come around tha block brothers clown a lot
but please don't cry, dry ya eyes
never let up
forgive but don't forget girl
keep ya head up
and when he tells you you ain't nothin
don't believe him
and if he can't learn ta love you, you should leave him.

For Tupac, these positive thoughts co-existed with the male-dominated gangsta scene where women are treated like things, not people--the rewards of male "success"--where sisters are disrespected as "b*tches and hos."

In life, as in art, Tupac was plagued by this confusion. Charged with the sexual abuse of a young woman--who had been invited to his hotel room, Tupac claimed he had not participated in the multiple rape. Bitterness at what he saw as a betrayal by female fans led him to lash out. Drawing a contrast between the charges of shooting an Atlanta undercover cop in the butt and the rape charges in the hotel incident, Tupac told Vibe in 1994, "It was all right with the police thing [in Atlanta] but this rape shit...It kills me....Cuz it ain't me...What was all that `Keep Ya Head Up,' `Brenda's Got a Baby'? What was all that for? To just be charged with rape?...I love Black women. It has made me love them more because there are black women who ain't trippin' off this. But it's made me feel real about what I said in the beginning: There are sisters and there's b*tches."

But later Tupac had to admit that he was in the wrong and criticized himself for not stopping his friends from gang-raping the woman who had come to see him. "Even though I'm innocent of the charge they gave, I'm not innocent in terms of the way I was acting." (Vibe, May 25, 1995) He later said that the Tupac who "would stand by and let dishonorable things happen is dead."

Tupac went down in a tragic blaze of confusion. And there are many who believe he would have been down with the people on the revolutionary path. But the questions live on.

The defiance of such militant rappers carries weight among the oppressed. This means that what they put on tape matters to the people today and to the future. When they're on target, they're a mighty force; when they mess up, it's a problem for the oppressed. And the whole point of going into these questions is so that the oppressed people can be stronger and clearer on our goals and how to get there. Because we understand that people can and will change themselves in the process of changing the world.

Clearly the people and our artists need to unite against the oppressors. The rulers of the system, their enforcers, and their media have no right to define the culture of the masses of people, no right to suppress this culture or these artists, and no right to whine about violence, PERIOD. But the stakes are higher than that! Our people--those who have nothing to lose but their chains--need to do more than fight the power just to survive on the streets. We need to prepare for the day when the people can rise up in revolution and seize the power--because without power in the people's hands, getting free is just an illusion.

As a May 1st Manifesto of the Revolutionary Communist Party put it:

"This ain't about the fight for personal power--the power to perpetrate our own and exploitate for private gain. This is the hour to get it right, emancipate, and break all the chains. It ain't about having Rambos, and Machos, brothers using sisters and out to dominate. That's the system's way: they say it's right, we know it's wrong. Brothers rising up with sisters, strong and proud, and with equality: our way, the way we all get free."

THE HOUR IS LATE ON THIS QUESTION. And the youth are the ones that have to make the change, to redefine the relations between men and women among the basic people. To hell with this code of "manliness" which makes it a sign of weakness to look on women as equals or to care about anything but yourself and maybe the brothers on the block. This ain't about nothing. IT IS A SIGN OF GREAT STRENGTH TO STAND UP AGAINST THIS MACHO MENTALITY.

The Chairman of the RCP, Bob Avakian, has said: "Fear nothing. Be down for the whole thing." So anybody that ain't afraid of the powers and ain't afraid to die shouldn't be afraid to take a hard look at themselves on how they relate to women!

Sisters Want To Be Free

A lot of sisters and brothers, especially sisters, want to ask rebel rappers: How are we gonna unite all of those who hate this system when the music puts down half of the frontline fighters? The endless torrent of violence against women in the music flows out of this dog-eat-dog mentality that sees the highest goal as defending your turf--whether it is as a "legitimate" entrepreneur or as gunman on the block. Women are seen as a piece of that property, and if they're "uncooperative" they have to be forced into line.

One young revolutionary woman told the RW, after she heard N.W.A.'s "I Ain Tha One," "I hear that shit and I wanna just flick it off. It makes me lose every shred of hope, at least for a minute. How are those guys ever gonna be part of the revolution?"

Let's be for real. All this carrying on about "dicking down the bitch" in some rap music has nothing to do with sex or having fun, any more than rape is about making love. It is not about being free or rebelling against prudish adults or "expressing yourself" sexually. It is not some street thing that "outsiders just don't understand." It is not a hip new version of the age-old "war between the sexes." And the selfishness in some of the lyrics is astounding--the characters in these songs don't even want the sisters to have a good time! It's about power, naked and cruel power over women. It's about putting women down and oppressing them.

It is about treating women as sex OBJECTS, not human beings. Women are treated like commodities--the way the Black people were treated under slavery. Sex is viewed as something to be bought or sold or traded for favors--and all on the terms set by the men. Fat white businessmen do it too, and it's just as ugly in those Wall Street cocktail lounges and suburban bedrooms, though their murderous rituals are more acceptable to "civilized" society simply because those men exercise their power over everyone, not just the women in their clutches.

We live in a patriarchal system where women (of all nationalities and classes) are systematically forced into a subordinate position to men. In a thousand ways, men are brought up, instructed and encouraged to do the work of the bourgeoisie within the family by dictating to the women. It's not the fault of the people, but the people have to recognize that the system sets us up to be oppressing one another. This male-dominating setup is very key to keeping the whole capitalist system cooking and provides some undeniable "rewards" to the men. In the households of the oppressed, the domination of the woman is often presented as the only "privilege" this system offers men, as twisted as this privilege is. This is why we have to overthrow the system. But we won't be able to do it if the brothers don't unite with the sisters and fight against this male domination NOW.

Clearing the Air

Why would oppressed people who hate what this system does to them to the marrow of their bones want to turn around and lord it over the women they know, who are also under the boot of the rulers? These are some of the reasons you hear:

"A lot of women are just out to get the man's money, they use sex to CONTROL them. No self-respecting brother will let anyone or anything control them, not without a fight."

First off, when you treat sisters in this way, you ARE under control, the near-total control of the powers-that-be, who have every interest in keeping women under the thumb of men. You are simply suffering under the illusion that you're exercising some "control" over your lives by ruling over the lives of your girlfriends, wives, sisters, mothers, daughters, and friends. When these women fight back, with whatever means is at their disposal, they are labeled "bitches" and treated as the enemy. Men who do this are acting the oppressor.

It is really wack for men to accuse women of "sexual control." First off, if brothers don't really like a woman and have some respect for her as a human being, why do they get involved in a sexual relationship with her in the first place? Let's be for real. It's just plain opportunism to blame a woman `cuz you wanted to use her sexually. This society pumps the twisted idea into men's brains that women are on this planet to have babies and please men. And then the men feel betrayed when a woman demands to be treated as a whole human being--not just a sex partner. But brothers need to wake up and stop playing by the oppressors' rules.

Finally, everybody knows that a brutal double standard operates like crazy when it comes to sexuality. If women go out on their boyfriends they are called "bitches" and "hos." But men who womanize all around town are called "players." And despite all the talk about the so-called sexual revolution, the same old shit goes down when the men get together and talk--it's the sisters that get a "bad reputation." And women who try to win this macho sex game end up getting burned by society.

"There ARE women out there like that who dog men, and they ought be dissed. I'm not like that, and I know they're not talking about me. I demand respect and they know it."

You hear this from sisters, including some rappers. But think about what it means when a lyric like "All that matters is bitches and money" gets popular and gets repeated over and over by thousands of youth around the country. Could this possibly increase the respect for women in general? Or does it reinforce thousands of years of women as slaves who deserve no better than the back of the hand when they "get out of line." If any woman thinks this doesn't apply to her: more women come into hospitals with injuries from their husband or boyfriend than from car accidents. There are real reasons why there's no big demand for battered men's shelters.

About the word "bitch." This word has specific social content at this time on the planet. Ice-T once tried on a Nightline show to redefine it as anyone (man or woman) who's just after the money. But in reality the word is really about men saying to women, "I'm taking the power in this relationship, and I can put you down to the level of a female dog." Everyone knows this. After all, when it comes to men getting their money, the subject of many rap songs, there's no problem--they're "gettin paid" and proud of it. "Bitch" is the equivalent of "nigger" in this society.

The capitalist system inserts the brutal cash nexus into every human relationship. Sex becomes capital. So it is no surprise that "All she wants is the money" is hurled against some women who have the attitude of: "No romance without finance." In this method of sizing up friends and lovers, no one wins, but the woman, as usual, is the chief target. Why are there special words for WOMEN who have this capitalistic attitude? Why are women who have this attitude called "bitches"? Why don't people criticize these women for being capitalistic? Why, even when women are criticized for being "bourgeois," is the term "bourgeois" almost always followed by the word "bitch"?

For one thing, women who do have these attitudes are treating men the way men are brought up to treat women--like objects! This infuriates men because this is not how women are supposed to act: according to the "rules," women are supposed to be the property of men, not the other way around! And, as this property, women are supposed to behave a certain way--like "ladies." When a man calls a woman "bitch" it means one way or another she has stepped outside the bounds of what women are allowed to do and be. Women who call each other "bitches" are actually only in competition for who can be the best "lady" for some man.

Isn't it time for a full-scale revolt against these degrading terms over which men and women relate to each other?

"Our way of relating to each other historically--from the dozens and standing on the corner and talking shit about each other--the love is still there. And we understand the subcontext. Our use of language is so ridden with subtexts and a cultural understanding underlies it. If you ain't part of the club you ain't gonna get it."

You hear this from Black men. Sorry, but the subtext is the oppression of women. When people howl at a male comedian cussing out an "uppity woman," the subtext is that such uppity women need to be brought down. And specifically, as Chairman Avakian wrote:

". . .the notion has been propagated that inequality between women and men and the oppression of women by men does not exist or apply in the same way among Black people as among others--or even that it is reversed! This includes the idea (whether stated straight-up or slightly disguised) that the `emasculation of the Black man' has created a situation where it is necessary for him first to realize his `manhood,' including by lording it over women, and then maybe the question of equality between the sexes can be taken up.

"It is a truth and a searing indictment of America that Black men in the U.S. have suffered barbarous oppression--including literal emasculation--at the hands of slaveowners and other white oppressors. But oppression has assumed forms no less barbarous with regard to Black women. And the answer to the centuries-long oppression of Black people, women and men, in the whole historical development and present-day reality of the U.S. (an oppression which has, however, had different features in different eras) is not to `restore the rites' of patriarchy. Patriarchy and `male rights' serve imperialism, the bourgeoisie, oppression, exploitation, and the division of society into classes and everything that goes with them: they will never serve the struggle to abolish these things.

"Secondly, the oppression of Black people has never resulted and does not result today in a situation where Black women have a position of equality with--nor still less that they have a superior position to--Black men (or any other men). The fact is, Black women are oppressed--by Black men as well as more generally by men and most fundamentally by the whole system. (Of course individual cases where women have fucked over men can be cited among Black people as well as in general, and the same could also be said in terms of individual Black people fucking over individual white people, but we are talking about basic social relations here.) And the ending of these unequal and oppressive social relations between men and women is an integral and indispensable part of the overall struggle to end all oppression: the emancipation of the proletariat--and of mankind itself from the fetters and evils of class-divided society--is impossible without the emancipation of women. If you think being free means or must include having a woman (or more than one) to oppress, then you are still striving for the `freedom' of capitalism, not the emancipation of communism."

All-the-Way Liberating

The youth are under the gun these days--and a whole generation of Black and Latino youth are being criminalized. Lines are being drawn sharply around many problems in U.S. society and the fate of the planet is in the hands of a new generation. There are some key dividing lines: Where you stand on opposing the oppression of women is gonna count for a lot. The people have to be strong and united in the face of the enemy.

There are millions of women right now going into battle for their lives. They are fighting against rape, battering, attacks on abortion--their right to control their own BODIES--and they are being thrown into prison at an alarming rate. Yet there are brothers who ought to be standing shoulder to shoulder with women against this common oppression, and all they have to say to them is "You can only lay me girl/You can't play me girl"! Fucking and fucking over women. And for what?? To prove what?? Manhood? Control over your lives??

Let's get some real control. We have a world to win, and there is a serious revolutionary alliance that needs to be built between different sections of the people. Attitudes which stand in the way of that need to go.

This is not just a problem for rappers and youth who dis women. It is a problem for the revolutionary class, the proletariat who have nothing to lose in going all the way to overthrow this system. And it is a problem we will solve. How can we do less?

This is the challenge we put out to the youth: take that leap into REVOLUTIONARY struggle. And to the rappers: make the music that will move millions to end this madness and make a new world.

Think about what must be done to that system--to bury that system and free the people, worldwide. There is no greater love and nothing more real than this.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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