Keynote speaker Joan Morgan discusses feminism and hip-hop culture

On April 14, award-winning journalist Joan Morgan discussed the portrayal of women in hip-hop music – what she calls "hip-hop feminism" – as the keynote speaker of Geneseo's second Hip-Hop Symposium.

Joan Morgan, author of When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, made her debut as a journalist after being asked to discuss her opinions about the Central Park Jogger rape case in a New York magazine called The Village Voice. Morgan soon began to develop her written voice as well as her feminist beliefs.

Morgan said she "grew up on hip-hop culture" and felt highly empowered by black history and feminism.

As she became a more prominent writer, Morgan began to write as a music journalist, reviewing albums and interviewing artists. "At first it was really comfortable," Morgan said. "I just wrote about what I liked and what I disliked."

As misogynistic and violent lyrics common to hip-hop music stirred controversy, though, Morgan began to question whether the music she loved expressed messages that conflicted with her beliefs. She said she was surprised that she could enjoy a misogynistic song while also holding feminist beliefs.

"[I felt] conflicted with being a woman and [also] really liking this song," Morgan said.

Morgan explored the apparent contradiction in writings about hip-hop feminism that were published during a controversial period for the music industry. She examined the gender roles of songs and received much criticism for her honest critiques of lyrics.

According to Morgan, hip-hop music serves as a "mirror into our own dynamics within the hip-hop community" and its songs encourage a closer examination of the world's cultures and gender roles.

Several people asked Morgan how she could consider herself feminist and yet still enjoy hip-hop music that incorporates such "degrading" portrayals of women; each person claimed that supporting both seemed an incongruous reflection of her beliefs.

"Aesthetic recognition does not stop me from saying that lyrics are problematic," Morgan said, noting that hip-hop culture is as much a part of who she is as being a woman is. Asking her to make a choice between the two, she said, would be an unfair request as she would be forced to compartmentalize her identity.

The complicated questions that arise from the differences between the two subjects enable people to find answers about themselves and about the world, Morgan said. Though she acknowledged that it is difficult to be a supporter of both hip-hop and feminism, she said it is not wrong to be a feminist and still enjoy the music.

Morgan said she hopes that individuals who enjoy hip-hop will "take responsibility and engage in different conversations that the culture presents [them] with."