As a feminist who loves hip hop, I was intrigued to see Love & Hip Hop on VH1. I am overwhelmed 10 minutes in. To see Fabolous’ girlfriend in tears because he has kept her a secret for 8 years is the behind-the-scenes look at the hip hop industry that the listeners don’t usually see. I think about the lyrics and videos of rappers like Jim Jones and Fabolous and can’t imagine what these ladies feel when they hear/see them. As a listener of both of these artists, I had NO idea either of them were in long-term relationships.
Part of me was frustrated that the women stick around for years with infidelity and no commitment but then I realized I was participating in victim-blaming of sorts. Many of the women have children and are in the relationships still not only for love but also for economic support for themselves and their families. These women are often called gold-diggers but this minimizes the institutional economic inequality that keep women, and even more specifically women of color, from earning equal pay in the public sphere.
Emily, Fabolous’ girlfriend and the mother of his child, works as his stylist so he says he can’t walk the red carpet with her because that’s “his job”. This keeps her economically dependent on him not only in terms of their relationship but also in terms of her job. Emily makes an interesting point when talking to Mashonda, Swizz Beats’ ex-wife (who he left for Alicia Keys); she points out that because she is not married to Fab, he can walk away at any point and leave her with nothing. This points to our current structure of marriage and the 1,000+ legal benefits that one receives from entering into the patriarchal institution. Should Emily push Fab to get married to secure her financial future even though she feels disrespected by the way he treats her? Seems like a catch 22.
This calls for not only institutional changes in the paid labor force to allow women to earn more than $.67 (as is the case for black women) to every man’s dollar but also individual women’s empowerment so that they feel they can realistically walk away from relationships where they are truly unappreciated.