“Sad, but one day our kids will have to visit museums to see what a lady looks like. So if you find one, I beg of you, hold her tight. Yes, if you spot one, good sir, treat her right.” -Andre 3000
A few months ago I attended a listening session for Ne-yo’s new album. There were about 40 industry professionals packed inside a tiny studio in North Hollywood rating each song between 1 and 5. I’m not big into R&B these days, but everything sounded pretty standard to me. He sang about sex, “love”, and money, and topped it off with a Juicy J feature to give it just the right amount of ratchet. It had everything 2000-something R&B albums are made of.
As we left, my girl Dominique asked me what I thought of the album. “It was cool,” I told her. “What about that song where he was trying to convince his girl to have a threesome?” she asked. “It was cool,” I replied for the second time. “Are you serious!?” she snapped back, “I thought it was disgusting. I mean seriously, who does he think he is?” I was confused and couldn’t understand why she was so upset. It wasn’t until I took a step back and really thought about it that I realized how valid her point was. I also realized how and why I had become so desensitized.
I have been around the “industry” in some way or another since I was 19. My first trip to Miami during BET’s Spring Bling Weekend was the first of many experiences into a world that most people will never witness firsthand. My love for hip hop, traveling, and for other cultures has landed me in the middle of a diverse array of environments and situations that have shaped the way I think and process the world today.
I’ve been in love with hip hop since the moment I first heard “Hypnotize” bumping out of my speakers in 97′ on the top 7 at 9. Even though back then hip hop was laced with misogyny, there were many other more prevalent themes. It was about rebellion, it was about hustle, and it was about having heart. Over the years, it’s transitioned into odes to money, drugs, and strippers. Having heart is now not nearly as important as having Instagram followers. Having respect is valued less than having naked girls shaking it for singles in videos. Creative content is less important than having a Tuesday night Supper Club smash. The music has transitioned, and subsequently, so have the women.
I recently saw a video Jada Pinkett Smith posted about human trafficking in America. A lot of the victims she spoke to had gotten their start in the strip club. This turned into other extracurricular activities with clients and before they knew it, many of these women were sold into the sex slave trade. She was shocked at how glorified stripping had become in our society, remarking that when she was a young girl, it was considered shameful. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment the shift occurred, but some time in the last ten years, stripping became a glamorized and coveted profession. Mainstream music has become more and more disrespectful towards women and Instagram has become a breeding ground for aspiring models who take their clothes off daily to gain “likes.” Bar tending in thongs and hosting parties have become desirable career paths for many young women who value red soles on their shoes more than college degrees.
While I’ve never stripped or posted nudes on the Gram, I have definitely felt the effects of this cultural shift. I’m reminded of this often when I tell stories to my friends who have had very traditional or religious upbringings. Because of a lot of the things I’ve seen or been around, certain things are “normal” to me that would leave my more traditional friends with their jaws on the floor. While I don’t participate in many of these questionable activities, I don’t flinch when I see or hear about them. From seeing girls prostitute themselves out for a few hundred dollars, to seeing rappers getting top in public, to hearing famous men blatantly and publicly bragging about cheating on their equally as famous wives, not too many things shock me these days.
Many women today seek attention and gratification the easiest way possible. We’re so insecure in this world where even some of the most successful people are living paycheck to paycheck. We no longer have a lot of the traditional options that were available to our parents and grandparents. We’re confused and we’re not sure where we fit in society. We want to be desired, but at what cost? We inflate our breasts and asses and talk in baby voices in our selfie videos in hopes that some baller will see it and come wife us up. We aspire to things that have no long term benefits. We are taught to be desirable above all other things, and a lot of us are sitting around waiting to be saved.
The bad news? No one is coming to save us. The good news? We can save ourselves. If there is anything we even need to be saved from, it’s the limits that we place on ourselves. It’s the belief that looking a certain way, dressing a certain way, and acting a certain way to appear attractive to the opposite sex is the purpose of our existence. It’s the belief that we have to “do the most” to compete with other females to snag some man that is going to trade us in for a newer model in a few months anyways.
My grandmother and mother always told me to “be a lady.” I used to laugh when they’d tell me this but one day it hit me, and it all started to make sense. I thought about my recent actions, all of which appeared harmless, and dissected each one of them on the “lady-like” scale. Not to sound like a housewife from the 1950’s, but I was curious what would happen if I took my mother’s advice. Going to the club? Not horrible, but not the most lady-like thing to do, especially if it’s often and not work-related. Drinking heavily? Not lady-like. Cursing? Not lady-like. Wearing tight, short clothes. Not the most lady-like, though I am all for wearing what makes you feel comfortable and confident. Letting guys who don’t deserve your time or attention into your bed or personal space, not lady-like. Even though I considered myself to be quite “lady-like,” I realized that there were definitely some areas in my life that I could clean up a bit.
I stopped going to the club for the most part and realized that I actually don’t enjoy it much at all. I cut way back on drinking and started waking up so much clearer and happier. I stopped letting guys that I had no intention of dating all up in my personal space. I felt empowered. I started experimenting with different cuts of clothing, and surprisingly felt very confident in clothes that didn’t hug every curve. I cut back on cursing as much as I could, and I started to feel so much classier. To the outside world, the physical changes may have been barely noticeable, but the way I began to feel about myself changed drastically. When you feel like a lady and feel like you deserve the respect a lady deserves, the energy you emit and the reactions you receive are in line with your intention.
The clearest example of this is the experiences I had at two different, yet similar events. The first was at a sports awards after party in Beverly Hills, before I had performed my “lady-like evaluation,” and adjusted my behavior accordingly. This event was shortly after I had quit my last job, when I was feeling insecure and unsure of my next move. I wore a tight, bandage dress and had more than a few cocktails. My energy was nervous and self-conscious. On the outside, I held my head high and made friendly conversation, but inside I was full of anxiety. The first half of the party was fine, but a turning point came when my friend was inside dancing, leaving me to roam the party solo. Athlete after athlete approached me, each one’s motives appearing more sexually charged than the last. One of them even approached me with his wife standing right next to him, leering at me aggressively and commenting on my attractiveness. I felt beyond uncomfortable. I woke up the next day with a bad hangover and a horrible feeling. Even though nothing physically happened, I felt violated. I had had what many girls dream of, the attention and admiration of several professional athletes, and it felt like absolute shit (I know, no cursing!)
Several weeks later, I was in a much better place. My lady-like evaluation had caused me to reevaluate many of my actions and intentions. I had started a new job, and was feeling confident, secure, and powerful. I had been invited to a private ESPY’s party at the Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Blvd, and I walked up to the red ropes in great spirits with peace in my heart. My flowing white dress hung nicely on my frame and I smiled at each person I walked by. A man outside kindly and respectively commented on my figure, which led to me giving him exercise tips. Our exchange was short, but I could tell that I was already being perceived differently than I had been at the last party. Once inside, I limited my alcohol intake, and spent my time having great conversations with several party goers. I was acting like a lady and had the expectations of being treated as such, and I was. When I left the party a few hours later, I had received glowing reviews from 5 or 6 men I had spoken with. I got comments like “I can tell you’re so successful just from the way you carry yourself,” to texts like, “it’s so rare to meet a woman who is so kind and carries herself with such class, especially in LA.” The difference was astounding. I felt empowered, respected, and full of peace.
What started out as an inquisitive experiment, ended up being a life-changing realization. Yes, many of us may not measure up to the “lady” that 3Stacks is referring to, but maybe it’s because we’ve never tried. Maybe we’ve become so accustomed to being degraded in our culture that we just fall in line. Maybe we’ve become so comfortable with the cat calls and ass grabs, that this is the only attention we know how to receive. Maybe because every female celebrity we see is on stage in a thong, just maybe, we feel like we need to do the same thing to get attention. Excuse my un-lady-likeness right now, but fuck that. Maybe what we really need is to step into our full potential and go after the things we really want in life. Maybe, if we knew what it felt like to be respected, we would demand that respect. Maybe if we saw how gratifying is was to be praised for our minds and our work rather than our bodies, we would blossom. Maybe we would become so addicted to the positive attention that we would stop worrying about snagging a baller and start focusing on becoming one ourselves. Because, as Miss Lauryn Hill reminds us, “babygirl, respect is just the minimum.”