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.
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.