Study: Rap Music Brings Out, But Doesn’t Cause, Sexism

Raleigh, N.C. — Exposure to ambivalent sexism may increase a person’s likelihood to be sexist, but it doesn’t create it, according to a recently published study.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology by two North Carolina State University professors, tested groups of students on their reactions to rap music and how it affected their level of sexism. The study is titled “Ambivalent Sexism and Misogynistic Rap Music: Does Exposure to Eminem Increase Sexism?” According to the authors, while rap music had an affect on a person’s sexist attitude, they could not say the music was the cause.

“Rap is not causing people to be sexist,” says Dr. Michael Cobb, an assistant professor of political science at NC State. “There’s no evidence that shows it. (Sexism) is already in the culture we live in. It’s priming sexist attitude and it pops up when we’re stimulated. It’s a temporary attitudinal effect. This isn’t alarming. It simply means they’re more likely to endorse sexism.”

The study grew out of the uproar that erupted when Eminem was nominated for and won a Grammy the Best Rap Album category for his “The Marshall Mathers LP” in 2001. Groups protested the awards show for its alleged nonchalance to the lyrics included on the album. Cobb and Dr. Bill Boettcher, an associate professor of political science at NC State, partnered for the study.

“I thought no one’s ever done a study to show that Eminem’s music is making people sexist, and that’s when I got interested in it,” Cobb says.

An initial study on the topic was scrapped because it utilized unreliable measures for sexist attitudes, Cobb says. Their second study utilizes successful parts of the failed investigation, but expands upon it by adding measures from the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory.Test groups of men and women were split into three groups. One group was not given music to listen to.

Another group was given the song “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys, which was devoid of sexist lyrics. The third group was given the song “Kill You” by Eminem, which has a message of violence and anger toward women. Cobb says the songs were chosen because they contained a similar beat. They also demonstrated two extremes when it came to sexist lyrics.

“Benevolent sexism is ‘I love women, but cook for me, don’t talk back to me,’” he says. “Hostile sexism is a ‘I hate you (expletive)’ kind of attitude. Pure anger. Close to the antipathy.”

All three groups of men experienced an increase in their sexist attitudes, while the women saw decreases in the levels of theirs. With the control group listening to the Beastie Boys song, females in the study had higher levels of sexist attitudes. Cobb attributed the levels to the rhythm of the tune more so than the record itself.

“Under most situations, I’m not sure women would stop and think about the lyrics,” he said. “What happens is you’re caught up with the beat, but every now and then, you hear a word. There’s never any reason to stop and think, ‘Would I censor myself?’”

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