TV show 'Empire' is redefining masculinity in hip-hop

by food4life on November 9, 2015 - 4:47pm

 The article, “Hakeem Mans Up” written by Spencer Kornhaber, reviews the masculinity crisis of the character in the latest episode of “Empire”. It is a drama television series about a family's struggles and their careers in the entertainment industry. This show is apart from others because it offers viewers a new perspective about gender in modern hip-hop culture. The article does a good job highlighting the show's gender themes and how one characters defies the stereotypes of masculinity in hip-hop.

In this episode, Hakeem was kidnapped but survived. He had a hard time adjusting back to his life as a performer. The rapper questioned his masculinity because he didn't use physical violence to defend himself against his kidnappers. He begins to act like an alpha-male to reaffirm his manhood. He does this by; having a sexual encounter immediately after being released from the kidnappers, he refuses to share his experiences with his family, refuses the doctor to nurse his wounds and plans to violently shoot his kidnappers. A documentary, “Tough Guise 2”, explains this behavior, “ [...] guys are put into a box that turns out to be the perfect breeding ground for violence. We can't show emotion except anger, can't think too much or seem too intellectual, we can't back down when someone disrespects us, we have to show we are tough enough to inflict physical pain and take it in turn [...]'the tough guys' is the front so many guys put up to shield their vulnerability and avoid being ridiculed [...]”. Hakeem's reaction is natural in a hegemonic masculinity world view but it doesn't help him overcome his stage freight.

In a later scene, Hakeem's father, Lucious Lyon, causes him grief when he notices that his son is acting weak. He tells him that violence should be used so that he can be a man, he quotes; “if you point a gun you should pull the trigger even if you end up in jail 'as long as you grow a sack'”. He justifies this reasoning by saying, “ I'm giving a lesson on how to man the hell up instead of wallowying in self-pity [...] If you gon use my name put a man behind it”. This scene relates to a segment in “Tough Guise 2” about men policing gender, the speaker Jackson Katz, elaborates; “[...] father's, coaches and older male role models, who take it upon themselves to school young men in what it takes to measure up to a patriarchal ideology that says that being a man is about domination, power, aggression and control [...] it doesn't matter how unnatural, complicated or ridiculous the role is, boys are expected to learn their lines and master the tough guys or else risk being shamed as less than a man”. Hakeem disagrees with his father and opens up to his older brother's. They were successful in being a positive male role model because they reassure him that he made a smart decision by not using violence which makes him a better man that their father. Hakeem simultaneously overcomes his stage freight and masculinity crisis.

Empire is redefining masculinity in the hip hop culture by offering viewers new perspectives of manhood. The show addresses gender issues in a strategic and entertaining way that helps break the negative expectation that some may have of men in the hip-hop culture.  






Works Cited

Ha          Hakeem Man's Up. Spencer Kornhaber, 2015. Web. November 7 2015.


 Tough Guise 2: Violence, Manhood & American Culture. Dir. Jeremy Earp. A Media Education Foundation Production, 2013. Film.




The hip-hop culture is very familiar to most of the populous and it is something I personally try to keep up with as well. Although I do not follow the TV series "Empire", I have chosen to respond to this summary because the title was simply appealing and the idea of masculinity in hip-hop being redefined picked my interest. From what I know about masculine stereotypes, there are many individuals who are affected by this social issue on a daily basis. It has become a culture for the male population and also a controversial statement that can infuriate certain women. Growing up many of us were taught how to be a "man" or at least given indirect guidance to seek out the ideal man many expect you to be. You had to be tough, physically strong, be brave, never cry and for some, they learned to be violent. Males are unfortunately socially influenced to become the dominant figure, nobody wants to get called out for being any less than a man. This idea affects many young individuals because they're afraid to lose their pride, just like Hakeem who thought he had it all but then suddenly he came to realize that he was not what society claims a man to be. Therefore it resulted in him becoming very aggressive, sexual, ignorant, in other words, what is truly defined as being less than a man. Now to relate this to race and racism, it can be seen as a type of discrimination in the sense that any male that is weak, innocent or emotional is clearly not the ideal type of man. When you look at race, there are certain cases where white privileges prevail and African American men and women do not have equal access to what the Caucasians have because they are just not ideal for the job or whatever the case may be. If you are not manly then you are not appreciated or welcomed especially when it comes to hip-hop culture because they were socially built to be the toughest. What it all comes down to in the end is the fact that everyone is shaped by stereotypes and will sometimes judge others according to the labels that were stigmatized to their race or gender. With that being said, social media has had its positives and many negatives towards the issue of gender and race, should we consider using more TV series or movies such as Empire to convey positivity towards true masculinity and to get rid of racial stereotypes as well?

I chose this post because I have heard about the show Empire, but the topic of masculinity also interests me. When we think of gender inequalities, we automatically think of issues concerning women’s rights and although this is a huge issue, men also face hardships concerning gender. This particular situation can easily be compared to the issue regarding stereotypes about black people. The man in this situation could just as easily be fighting against the stereotype that black males are violent and dangerous. As Smedley explains, slavery and scientific racism caused African Americans, Native Americans and many other ‘races’ to be categorized as inferior ‘races’. They are branded as lower class citizens in our predominantly white society. All of this negative propaganda about other ‘races’, especially African Americans, has caused these people to have an identity crisis. This crisis leads a lot of African Americans to internalize a lot of these negative stereotypes, they start to believe that their culture is primitive, they are unintelligent, not able to do much more then low level jobs or violent crime. The character from Empire, could be thinking that he might as well just kill his kidnappers because society expects him to be violent as a black man. The internalization of such stereotypes and ideas can be very dangerous especially in a society like ours, where we place negative beliefs on anything or anyone that doesn’t conform.