Broken Systems

Watching Oxygen this week - which I liked, although I don’t know if enjoyed is a word I can apply to an episode with that little joy - I was struck by how much this season has featured systems as villains. And in most cases, it’s not even that the system was originally crafted to be evil, but rather that any system when taken to extremes has the potential to cause great harm. 

Thin Ice and Oxygen both feature the system of capitalism, taken in the former to levels of evil we are familiar with and in the latter to levels that have not come to pass, but are scarily easy to imagine. Smile gives us the system of an artificial intelligence designed to make us happy, but through no malicious evil decides the best way to do that is to kill anyone who is sad. And Knock Knock has the system of the wood lice, which to save Eliza’s life kill many generations of housemates. The Pilot is perhaps an exception to this, in that the puddle is not trying to kill Bill, but it is still a system that becomes terrifying as it tries to fulfil it’s goal of running away with a pretty girl. 

This could be chance, but five episodes in a row without a malicious or chaotic evil, without deliberate corruption or even malfunction outside the original parameters, looks very much like a narrative choice. And it’s a narrative choice that very much echoes current affairs. The capitalism episodes are a very direct parallel, but we are also seeing national pride turn into xenophobia and populism elect Trump. Our systems are breaking, and not even the most moderate or apolitical person could deny that now (although many people have been screaming about this for years). 

We’re also becoming more aware of systemic racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia, and how even if you stop people from being explicitly bigoted that still doesn’t solve the problem, because the problem is with the system not the individuals. This adds another narrative element, because we have the first lesbian companion (the first explicitly queer full time companion), and she’s also black, meaning she and people like her suffer from at least three types of systemic oppression.

I don’t think this can go on forever in Doctor Who, because Doctor Who is not a nihilist show. That’s kind of how I’m feeling about the world right now, even as I’m slowly chipping away in my own way. But Doctor Who is a show that always falls back on hope, on joy, on the idea that we are perhaps not quite as fucked as we though. And now that systems have been established in the Doctor Who universe as susceptible to evil at their extremes (or even slightly outside of normal parameters), it’s time for a string of episodes which break those systems, or reject them entirely.

I think it’s fitting that the next episode, Extremis, features both the Catholic Church - the epitome of a system corrupted by it’s own rules - and Missy - chaotic evil incarnate. And though Missy is definitely the Queen of Evil, she also rejects order and systems, and so is yet again an ally. For now.

I’m interested to see how this reading stacks up at the end of the series, especially because I think it depends very much on how the latter half goes, and the way Doctor Who provides hope and rebellion in a systematically fucked world. We could do with some of that around here.

Women in Hip Hop: Empowerment

           I define women empowerment as women taking control of their: minds, voices, bodies and sexuality. While they are empowering themselves they are also empowering others to do the same. Women empowerment started in the 1800’s with Women’s suffrage; women were fighting for their right to vote with leaders such as: Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. This movement had very little to deal with black women. While a nation of women were fighting for their right to vote, they are still leaving out a race of women who could make a change as well. Sojourner Truth at the time was the voice for black women all around the world with her speech: “Ain’t I a Woman?” Truth was stated in her speech like white women, black women have rights and voices as well. Then there is World War II, where majority of the men in the United States were away fighting the war. Women had to “man up” and provide for their families, while their husbands were away. Working women of this time looked up to the poster: Rosie the Riveter. She exhibited a man’s strength but still had a feminine side. Then there were the 1990’s or the phrase: “I’m a woman of the 90’s.” Meaning that women are no longer going to live up to society’s misogynistic opinions. Women in the 90’s, started taking control of their voices, the way they were presented in the media and their sexualities. Female rappers such as: Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, Eve, Da Brat, Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah, and MC Lyte, made it okay for women to have voices and sexual creatures in a male dominated industry. Women in hip hop serve as a symbol of empowerment and self-definition rather than misogyny.

           For years’ women of color in the media and/or hip hop have been depicted to be; weak, voiceless, disposal, and sexual objects. Society has made it seem that a black women’s voice does not matter. As Audre Lorde once said, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” An empowered woman is empowered because she knows the definition of herself. She can explain who she is to society, she is secure and knows her self- worth and empowered woman knows that her voice will be heard. A weak woman does not know the definition of herself, she does not know her worth nor does she know that she has a voice. A weak woman will spend her whole life trying to create a version of herself that is not authentic, so she can be accepted by society. Therefore, she will be eaten alive because she has spent her whole life not knowing her true definition.

           In the late 80’s and earlier 90’s a pattern of female rappers, started a trend of taking control of their voices and letting men know that black women will be respected. Queen Latifah’s: U.N.I.T.Y. made it clear that black women are more than derogatory names and that they have voices that need to be heard. Mc Lyte’s: I Am Woman, stated that just because she is a woman does not mean I cannot make her mark in the male dominated industry of rap. Yo-Yo: You Can’t Play with my Yo-Yo, simply stated that women are more than sexual objects and they need to be treated with respect. These rappers not only changed that hip hop is a male dominated sported, but they also gave women that were once voiceless that could not express their problems a voice. These women helped paved the way for other female rappers that would later help further empower women of color and change the rules of hip hop. An excerpt from the book It’s All in the Name: Hip-Hop, Sexuality, and Black Women’s Identity. Talks about how the evolution of black women in hip-hop and black female artist did empower black women around the world. The author argues that today young black girls do not have that, all they hear today are female artist telling them to use their sex to get a head in life. This argument could not be more wrong. Female artist such as Trina, Nicki Minaj, Dej Loaf are not rapping about using their sex to become more successful. They are simply doing the same thing men have been doing for year and that is put black women in category where they can be only seen as sexual objects.

           Reversing the male fantasy is something that not only female rappers have accomplished but also a few R&B singers have been able to do as well. Beyoncé released a song called, Blow. Blow is often the slang term used when a man has received or wants fellatio, but Beyoncé took the term to refer it to her receiving cunnilingus. Also hinting that she is in the dominant position while her partner is being the submissive one. Lil’ Kim does the same in her song: Not Tonight, she raps about her many sexual escapades. Although throughout the song she raps about how her partners have pleased her sexually, there is only one thing she truly wants from them and that is oral sex. Kim also states that she only using them until she gets what she wants, but in a sense she is coming for their manhood as well. By stating the he’s a punk if he does not do this for her. Lil’ Kim is taking charge of her sexuality by rapping about what she wants, similar to male rappers. Foxy Brown has also reversed the male fantasy, in Jay- Z’s song Ain’t No N***a. Brown raps, “Remember the days you was dead broke. But now you style and I raised you. Basically made you into a don.” Brown is stating that she was there when no one else was there for him. Now that her man has money he wants to front and forget about her, she is also saying that she raised him into the man that he is today. Brown’s method is similar to what men do when a woman is done with them. He will remind her of all the things that he has done for her to make her better or elevate her life style and that’s what Foxy Brown did.

           Fashion for women in hip-hop has always been a thing to look forward too. Many critics argue that female rappers who don’t have on as many clothes are and will be objectified. That these female rappers are whores and setting a bad example for the young girls that watch their music videos. When in actuality these rappers are setting the example that you do not have to always conform to the wants and demands of society. Female rappers are also stating that women, no matter what size they are should feel comfortable in their skin and confident enough to wear she wants.

           Melyssa Ford who is one of the highest paid video vixens, believes that what she is doing is empowering women to take control. Balaji states, “Although video vixens have been typecast as the sexualized other, some have acquired a degree of fame outside of music videos and have taken ownership in self-definition.” Most video vixens are only looked at by society as disposal sexual objects and that they have no respect for themselves. A lot of vixens seek fame outside of being in music videos. Some women take on a career of being a video vixen, and a lot of them go in with the mindset that they are going to make millions, so they depend on that as their only income. Others do not only depend on a vixen career, they also want to build and make it bigger. Women who already know what they want, have a game plan: be a video vixen long enough to get their names floating in the right places, then they begin to rub elbows with the right people, then they begin to get bigger video gigs and get a lead role in the next big rappers video. Most video vixens know their self-worth and know their limits. To them it is like a business deal, to see what video producer can give them the best offer the quickest.

           Black women have struggled with self-definition, which is mainly because of how they are presented in society. When a woman does know her self-definition, she will always let her voice be heard. The term “I” is always in their vocabulary, to not only express how they are feeling, but to remind society that they have high self-esteem and self-perception. Ford states in an interview, “I would turn down videos that were too misogynistic or when I just don’t like the artists.” Here Ford is showing us her self-definition, by sharing that every music video she was offered she did not accept. Ford knows her boundaries and who she is as a person.

           Many critics believe that Keran Steffans and Melyssa Ford express synonymous values and views, when it comes to a music video modeling career. It may appear that way, but when Steffens’s Confessions of a Video Vixen was released, which is a tell all novel about her escapades with celebrity men. Generalized black women into a category that they too often compromise their values to be identified by their sexual prowess. The downfall for Steffans career is that she started getting her career and personality intertwined. At the peak of her career she turned to drugs.

           Although all these points are valid, it fails to mention that Ford grew up in a two parent household and attended York University where she was majoring in Forensic Psychology. This argument also overlooked the fact that Ford stated, “Doing videos was only a part-time interest for me.” Ford had no real desire to presume a music video modeling career unlike Steffans who let the industry consume her. Another valid point the argument above fails to realize is that Steffans was a stripper turned video vixen and at the peak of her career became addicted to drugs. Where Ford was working as a bartender when she was discovered and her vixen career took off. The big difference between Steffans and Ford that was failed to be mentioned is that Ford does not let her job consume how she is in real. She explains that she was never the fun girl on set and that when the camera is on she is in character.

           In conclusion, women in hip hop serve as symbols of empowerment and self-definition rather than misogyny. Women like: Sojourner Truth, Melyssa Ford, Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, Beyoncé, Queen Latifah, Mc Lyte, and Yo-Yo and many more are an empowerment to women of color. They not only challenge the views of society, but they have let it be known that black women have voices and take control of their bodies and sexualities. They have also helped women realize that they are more than disposal, voiceless, and sexual objects. Black women can be sexy without being considered whores that women of color are educated and have voices just like any other race of women. Black women in hip hop are an empowerment that society needs to pay closer attention to.