Sarah Lawrence College Hosts Women’s History Conference on Hip-hop

Noting that most popular music is misogynistic, Dr. María Cristina Santana, interim director of women’s studies at the University of Central Florida, began her talk on women and rap by posting the question, “How do we find respect in popular music?”

Santana was among the several media gurus and women’s studies scholars who exchanged notes and had robust discussions this weekend at a conference hosted by Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y. The event, “Womens History Conference: The Message is in the Music: Hip Hop Feminism, Riot Grrrl, Latina Music, and More,” started Friday evening and included the former president of Def Jam Recordings, Carmen Ashhurst, as the keynote speaker.

Santana presented on the queen of reggaeton, Ivy Queen, during the “Women Rap” panel discussion. Ivy Queen is staking a claim for women in the popular genre yet perpetuating women’s objectification and oppression with her video-vixen look, Santana said.

“I don’t always like what she says but I really like that she’s there. And I really like that she’s singing,” said Santana.

Ivy Queen has gotten multiple plastic surgeries and wears provocative clothing, but her crude, direct lyrics incite women to own their sexuality and discard loser men. Her concerts are like a catharsis for the mostly female crowd, while men consider her message too aggressive.

The Latin Grammy nominee has to portray herself in a hyper-sexualized way, said Santana, to be taken seriously in a male-dominated genre. As Ivy Queen continues to make the crossover from Puerto Rico to the U.S. market, she is altering her image to be less ethnic.

“Without Ivy, reggaeton remains mostly male, oppressive and sexist,” said Santana.

Daniela Capistrano, a freelance journalist for MTV Tr3s and media literacy advocate, said she enjoyed Santana’s presentation because it was pithy and came from firsthand knowledge. “It’s not something you just read in books,” said Capistrano.

The second presenter, Emma Carmichael, an undergraduate student at Vassar College, impressed Capistrano with her in-depth research on hip-hop and Black culture during “Women Rap.” Carmichael spoke of her senior thesis on female MCs.

For this, she interviewed several Black female artists who self-produce and promote their own albums. Because these women are not conforming to the hyper-sexualized commercial look or being brought into the hip-hop realm by a male, they have to redefine what success means for them, said Carmichael.