“Femme de Combat”: Gendered Representations

Yugen Blakrok in Johannesburg, South Africa

This chapter examines the cultural (local and global) environments in which women in hip-hop operate. The chapter argues that the hip-hop tradition of braggadocio is used by artists to force a space for themselves in hip hop communities. Female emcees use their platform as a tool to combat the gender oppression many of them face. The ways in which female emcees represent  gender identities and sexuality in their music and persona varies. Some female emcees choose to hyper sexualize themselves, and are often seen as portraying themselves negatively. However, these same artists may instead be seen as rejecting the stigma placed on women, which is another way to show their power in who they are. The chapter argues that female artists present varying and more nuanced representations of women, female sexuality, sexual pleasure, and sexual identity.

Images of artists mentioned in the book




This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Discussion Questions

  1. What similarities are there between your country and South Africa regarding cultural views towards women and sexuality?
  2. What similarities and differences are there in the themes found in the music of women MCs in your country and those in Africa?
  3. How does sexuality play a role in the  music of women MC’s?
  4. Discuss the ways that that female MCs have chosen to challenge patriarchy.

Relevant podcast episodes

HHAP Episode 7: Gigi Lamayne on Feminism & Politics in South Africa
HHAP Episode 14: African (Women) MCs & Hip Hop Lyricists
HHAP Episode 15: Kanyi Mavi on Hip Hop, Xhosa, & Rap Culture in South Africa
HHAP Episode 17: Abena Rockstar on Hip Hop and the Music Industry in Ghana
HHAP Episode 20: Nazlee Saif on Hip Hop, Sexuality, Race, & Protest in Cape Town
Student Project: South African Visual Feminism

Relevant links

Our blog posts about women in hip hop and women MCs

“A female rapper busts onto Senegal’s male-dominated hip hop scene” – article on GOTAL and the all female rap collective in Dakar, Senegal.

“Sarabah” – Documentary discussing Sister Fa’s fight to stop the practice of female genital cutting (FGC) in Senegal.

Sara ‘Saartjie’ Baartman – Information on the life and death of Sara ‘Saartjie’ Baartman. She was a Khoi woman born in Southern Africa in the late 1700s. She was taken to Europe and paraded around nude as a spectacle because of her large breast and buttocks. She would later be driven to prostitution, before she eventually died in her mid-20s. She is often seen as a symbol of the sexualization of Black women, in Africa and the Diaspora.

Relevant scholarship

Clark, Msia Kibona (2014). Gendered representations among Tanzanian female emcees. In M.K. Clark and M. Koster (Eds), Ni Wakati: Hip Hop and Social Change in Africa . Lanham, MD: Lexington Press.

Diabah, Grace. (2013). “I cannot be blamed for my own assault”: Ghanaian media discourses on the context of blame in Mzbel’s sexual assaults. In Lilian Lem Atanga, Sibonile Edith Ellece, Lia Litosseliti and Jane Sunderland (Eds), Gender and Language in Sub-Saharan Africa: Tradition, struggle and change. John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Haupt, Adam. (2003). Hip-hop, Gender and Agency in the Age of Empire. Agenda, 17(57), 21-29.

Haupt, Adam. (2016). Queering Hip-Hop, Queering the City: Dope Saint Jude’s Transformative Politics. M/C Journal, 19(4).

Loots, Lliane. (2003). Being a ‘bitch’: Some questions on the gendered globalisation and consumption of American hip-hop urban culture in post-apartheid South Africa. Agenda Feminist Media, 57, 65-73.

Mwangi, Ewan. (2010). Passion in a Mathree: Metropolitan love in Nazizi Hirji’s “Kenyan Girl/Kenyan Boy”. Women And Language, 32(2), 25-31.

Morgan, Marcyliena. 2005. “Hip-Hop Women Shredding the Veil: Race and Class in Popular Feminist Identity.” South Atlantic Quarterly 104 (3): 425–44.

Neff, Ali Colleen. (2015). Roots, routes and rhizomes: Sounding women’s hip hop on the margins of Dakar, Senegal. Journal of Popular Music Studies, 27(4), 448–477.