“Skirts on Rappers?” “Is this the beginning of the end?” ” Get outta here with that mess!” are the typical responses to the many articles and individual posts on my friends social media networks about the demasculization of rappers concerning their wardrobe choices.
I remember when I first saw the trend I was reminded of a Boondocks episode where Riley, the brother of the adolescent, but incredibly mature main character Huey Freeman, wore skorts (a shorts and skirts combo) and cut offs tops in the style of his favorite rapper, who just happened to be gay. In that episode there were plenty of “you’re gay” statements lobed at Riley for his choice in clothes. In the end Riley stopped wearing the clothes, but maintained his friendship with the rapper out of loyalty, and the rapper in question denied engaging in homosexuality of any kind, despite the fact that his character kisses men repeatedly.
The connection between choices that are seemingly ‘feminine’ when that person is a male and believing the person is gay is one reason I believe people are so upset, disgusted, and discomforted by rappers wearing skirts. Although truthfully they are kilts, an Irish and Scottish tradition, and I think ample fodder for a conversation of cultural appropriation but I digress. Femininity in men and accusations of homosexuality have been around a long time and ‘the rappers in skirts’ thing is a new manifestation due to a trend in the music/fashion scene. And it being a trend is something that should be duly noted. Back in the 80’s cut off tops for men, white, brown, and black were normal, particularly if the guy was muscular and wanted to show off his physique, but if that trend came back today it would more than likely be considered another attempt at demasculinzation.
I am not of the mind that people have nothing to fear concerning the demasculization of the black male. It is a behavior and form of oppression spanning several centuries for the black populace in America. From slavery to Jim Crow and calling black males ‘nigg—’ and ‘boy’, white establishment has made a concentrated effort to demoralize and denigrate our males. But with that being said; foregoing gender norms and stereotypes, and engaging in alternative forms of sexuality have been gaining force and momentum across the country, even in the African American community where acceptance of homosexuality whether you are a woman or a man has notably lagged behind the majority of the country. From black pride parades/picnics to programs that specifically target individuals who are minority and transgendered, our community slowly but surely is becoming more inclusive to all types of self expression.
And being free, open, different, artsy, avant garde, etc is part and parcel with being a musician and celebrity in our age. Even athletes like Dwyane Wade sport pink shirts, flooded pants, and polka dot bow ties. Constantly being seen in the public eye and knowing your marketability and earning potential are directly related to being considered ‘hot’, trending, and discussed ad nauseum are strong reasons to support non traditional forms of self expression. Something to remember in things that trend is that someone decided to capitalize on the rising popularity of a particular behavior and/or product in the hopes of raising their own status whether it was solely about how others viewed them or whether they were actually able to earn a profit from it. If anything these rappers are hard core capitalists and in that demasculization is not what I see, I see businessmen molding and manipulating their brand because these artists know they are the product. Their personality and expression is what’s for sale.
What we’re seeing in this commercial music/fashion trend is something that is happening all over the country; a change in normative gender roles. From an increase in the number of willing stay at home dads (in all racial and socioeconomic demographics) to more female scientists, gamers, and admired athletes it’s obvious that the behaviors, products, and pattern of thought we associate with the boxes ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ need some flexibility and room for growth. Because quite simply, what works for you in maintaining a steady healthy identity and sense of self will not always work for someone else, and indeed it cannot. There are thousands of experiences to encounter in the world and each one of them can influence individuals to behave in unpredictable ways.
What makes for a healthy adult regardless of gender and what box you check on your medical form is being mature, taking care of family and friends when they need you, taking responsibility for your actions and emotions, removing poisonous people from your life, and accurately applying steadfastness, firmness, compassion, and understanding when life demands it of us. If any of these rappers are living that adult life, then wearing skirts may not be the biggest or most worthy battle to fight in the disenfranchisement of the black males. And if he is not living a healthy adult life, then wearing skirts are the least of his problems.