By Shifani Reffai
I just watched a new music video that came out a week ago, by Sri Lankan rappers Mandira N Maliga (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nm…).
The video has got a lot of views, probably because it’s shot in better quality than most of our Lankan videos, and the song itself is a catchy, generic slice of typical modern hip-hop. That is to say, it features girls dancing seductively and lyrics that are just as unimaginative as most songs on the radio are lately – ‘Shake That Thing’ being the self-explanatory title.
Now normally, when I don’t like a song I leave it alone and move on with my life. But something really disturbed me about this one.
It is not a new trend: the whole world has been talking about how women are objectified in music videos, especially in hip-hop. Well, that was always something that happened far away, in that part of the world, and our only brush with it was through YouTube comment threads and armchair-activist discussions on blogs.
But I feel like it’s finally trying to come here in full force.
Sri Lankan hip-hop has always been a classic case of cultural appropriation, for the most part – the baggy clothes, the fake accents, the gold chains, and the obsession with the female body. The only reason we don’t get as much flack for it as, say, Miley Cyrus or Iggy Azalea, is because we’re brown.
And also probably because we do it so badly – it’s a poor imitation at most. I wouldn’t dismiss the entire scene, of course. For example, I love Krishan Maheson’s work, and not all rap music universally is about bitches and money.
So this isn’t some kind of hater rant – I don’t hate rap music, and I don’t hate Sri Lankan hip hop. This is something I’m writing out of genuine concern, and genuine fear.
Till now, our imitation of US rap culture has been harmless entertainment for the group of fans here who happen to love it. But this imitation — done apparently unthinkingly, out of childish admiration for a popular image of American hip-hop — poses an actual threat.
It’s the stuff of many sociological articles I’ve read, written by professors in other countries, about what their musicians are doing. About how their music videos turn women into unthinking sexual objects, decorative props, with the man standing there and passing commands (‘Shake It’, ‘Grind It’, ‘Tonight I’m F***ing You’ — all actual songs by the way), commands received by a silent, submissive female figure.
This figure in such music videos doesn’t only exist in the fantasy of the video, but also becomes a symbol in the minds of many (though not all) impressionable male viewers. It could quickly (and incorrectly) become a symbol for women they encounter in their real lives.
My fear is that this trend is quietly sneaking into Sri Lankan music. This is not the first time that our rappers have treated women in their music in this manner. But this particular music video really made me notice.
Maybe because of higher production quality and the catchy beat, it’s going to popular. People will watch it more and listen to it more. And I had to say this before they do: I don’t want this to be part of our music.
Sri Lankan women are not sex objects for you to point and leer at. They aren’t your property, please stop treating them like it. You probably mean well, but think before you act, mindless sexualization of women in our music is only going to further the already existing misogyny in our culture.
Case in point, some of the comments under the video:
“Good… but the ass department should improve on the next one“
“Next time need more Booty bro”
“nice song men..get some more bitches to decorate it..keep it up!!”
You can still make great music videos where you look like a stand-up baller, without having to act like the ladies are your bitches and hoes – without having to disrespect women. You can still have women who celebrate their power and sexiness in your videos, without them seeming like blatantly silent, idiotic objects in a male fantasy.
I know you probably think it’s an honorable thing, and a wise step up in your career, to follow in the footsteps of some of Europe’s successful rappers, who enjoy basing their careers on singing about asses, tits, money and booze. But actually just stop and think for a minute about the consequences of doing that, of how you have the power to affect the minds of Sri Lankan boys, and the lives of Sri Lankan women they meet.
I think the reason why I took this so personally is because I’m a Sri Lankan woman. I don’t want to be represented in our music this way. I’m cringing just thinking of boys now watching this music video, and thinking: “OK, it seems it’ll make me cool if I talk about women this way” , or “girls in short clothing like in the video exist just for my viewing and sampling pleasure”.
Now the makers of these videos may not be aware of the effect that their work has on society at all, but that’s how it works, and this isn’t some lone feminist ranting on the inter-webs, it’s a very old sociologically proven observation.
I hated this video. I don’t hate the musicians or the makers of it, but I hate what it stands for and the door that it is opening for more music of the same kind. The girls in the video are just in tight skirts and swaying seductively – not yet the G-string ass-in-man’s-face vulgar objectification of hardcore American rap videos – and so it feels we are just beginning to flirt with the idea of making this a thing in Sri Lanka. I don’t want it to be a thing, and I don’t want Sri Lankans to accept female objectification in music as just a matter of fact. This is me asking the people in our music scene to stop it. You have so much power to be heard and seen in the country, and so much talent, use it to empower and celebrate women, not to turn them into disempowered objects, just because it’s the fashionable thing to do.
Shifani Reffai is a Sri Lankan writer and artist, with years of journalistic experience and a love of starting discussions through her work around gender, race and pop culture.