The Hip Hop Feminism of #HotGirlSummer

As this third season of #HotGirlSummer comes to a close, I want to recenter Black women social media users as the innovators of the ‘hot girl summer’ phenomenon that took the internet by storm after rapper Megan thee Stallion coined the phrase in 2019. Kyesha Jennings, a lecturer in the Department of English at North Carolina State, tackles this topic in a 2020 article for the Global Hip Hop Studies journal titled “City Girls, hot girls and the re-imagining of Black women in hip hop and digital spaces.” To analyze #HotGirlSummer, Jennings draws on Black feminism and hip hop feminism conceptualized by Joan Morgan in her 1999 book When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost. Specifically, Jennings brings together these frameworks in conjunction with Black digital studies to propose what she calls a digital hip hop feminist sensibility (DHHFS) to examine how Black women use hip hop discourse to navigate online spaces, engaging with each other and making themselves visible in a way combats the internalization of oppression, particularly around respectability politics.

To make this argument, Jennings builds on several scholars of Black digital studies, including André Brock and Sarah Florini. Additionally, Jennings draws on Kyra Gaunt‘s 2015 study of Black girls twerking on YouTube. The article connects Black digital studies and Black feminism, including Patricia Hill Collins’s conceptualization of the Black women’s standpoint and Ratchet feminism conceived by Brittany Cooper, Montinique McEachern, and Hunter Ashleigh Shackelford. Primarily drawing from Joan Morgan’s hip hop feminism, Jennings offers DHHFS as a methodology to equip researchers investigating how Black women actively participate and connect in digital environments.

A Sensibility of Digital Hip Hop Feminism

According to Jennings, digital hip hop feminist sensibility (DHHFS) enables researchers to understand better the ways Black women use hip hop discourse to:

  • evoke a politics of disrespectability
  • promote a gender expansive self-presentation
  • reverse patriarchal sexual dynamics
  • reveal their agency through online personas in digital spaces

Therefore, DHHFS encourages a kind of Black feminist epistemology of self in digital spaces that also incorporates an ethos of hip hop feminism. In this way, adherents of DHHFS adopt what Joan Morgan calls a politics of pleasure, celebrating practices of Black women frequently demonized in mainstream society. Overall, Jennings views DHHFS as a theoretical framework that helps light how Black women contribute to current feminist discourse in digital settings.[1] To demonstrate its utility, Jennings uses DHHFS to analyze posts on Instagram and Twitter.

The Role of Digital Media in Hip Hop Feminism

Jennings emphasizes that the multimodality of digital media creates the ability for Black women and girls to bring their authentic selves to the internet. Additionally, preserving these interactions in virtual form distinguishes the environment from other social settings where hip-hop feminist discourse emerges, such as university classrooms.

For example, Jennings points to #SmartBrownGirls created by Joulezy, a Black woman influencer particularly popular on YouTube. With Joan Morgan’s book as the first read, Joulezy created a reading guide with questions that prompted readers to reflect on hip hop feminism and the role of women in hip hop. According to Jennings, #SmartBrownGirls exemplifies how social media and digital spaces influence hip hop feminism. For example, this online discussion moves hip hop feminism beyond academia, reflecting the epistemology described by both Collins and Morgan.

The Memeing of Hot Girl Summer

Jennings also analyzed how Black women Instagram users used memes that they captioned with #HotGirlSummer. Below is an example of images similar to those found in Jennings’ article.

#HotGirlSummer on Instagram

#HotGirlSummer on social media reflects the ways this presentation of self aligns with the hip-hop feminist sensibility Jennings describes. For example, Jennings’s analysis of #HotGirlSummer on Instagram revealed:

  • pictures of black women of all ages and socioeconomic statuses.
  • Celebrities and non-celebrities who tagged their pictures with #HotGirlSummer.
  • Mostly non-sexual pictures showing ladies enjoying themselves in everyday life.

The Instagram users that Jennings observed adopted hashtags like #BlackGirlMagic and #CurvyGoddess in the captions of their images, disrupting dominant ideas about beauty and redefining the value of plus size and dark-skinned Black women. These captions reflect how these women use social media and hip-hop discourse to retain power over how they are perceived.

The Importance of Black Women’s Digital Practices

In addition to #HotGirlSummer, Black women affirmed themselves with hashtags such as #ProfessionalBlackGirl by Yaba Blay and dance video challenges such as #SavageChallenge, #TwerkChallenge, and #BigOleFreakChallenge. Often these dance challenges featured Black women twerking, which Jennings sees as an affirmation of Black women’s sexual agency and pleasure in the face of the respectability projected onto them by spectators. These digital media enable hip-hop fandoms to reject conventional gender and sexual scripts creatively. According to Jennings, these digital practices reflect how a digital hip hop feminist sensibility (DHHFS) concerns itself with the joy of self-expression among Black women and girls online, including personal presentation, receiving likes, belonging to a community, and being free.

  1. Kishonna Gray calls this Black cyberfeminism . ↩︎