Nicki Minaj shows feminists what’s good

by Tony Betances / Beacon Correspondent • October 21, 2015

When The New York Times Magazine published its recent article, “The Passion of Nicki Minaj,” the top comment on its Facebook page, with 967 likes, was a succinct accusation—that she somehow wasn’t fit to address Miley Cyrus’ dismissal of black women’s struggles, because she’s “hardly socially conscious” and “far more damaging” to their plight. In reality, anyone who's paid attention to Minaj’s social media and her radio, TV, and magazine interviews knows that she has been outspoken on a variety of social issues for a long time, especially at the intersection of blackness and womanhood.

Commentators like these don’t agree with Minaj's feminism—or, arguably, feminism at all. Instead, they subscribe to the notion that women should adhere to and respect the social constructs that have been set up by men to confine their own actions and rights. They are more concerned with policing women's sexuality than ensuring that they even have the agency to express themselves in whatever way they see fit, as us men do.

Subscribers to this narrow view of feminism engage in respectability politics, discounting the validity of some contributors because they do not present themselves in a manner that society deems modest, controlled, and “respectable.”

Respectability politics are the greatest sham—fruitless promises from the majority that its members will treat you as they treat one another, if you just make an effort to conform to their standards.  Fulfilling this condition, however, never changes the fundamental reasons for society’s discrimination. The rise of a black man's pants has never protected him from a police force that targets people of color for drug crimes statistically committed more often by white people nationwide. Sandra Bland, who died in prison after a single traffic stop, had a college degree that never shielded her from the wrath of police brutality or afforded her the privileges of whites.

Similarly, women electing to “cover up” and not dress "provocatively" doesn't stop men from catcalling, following, sexually assaulting, or even murdering them after being rejected. When it comes to gender, respectability politics are slut-shaming, and if an action is not performed specifically and only for the male gaze, then it has no purpose. There's no questioning the incorporation of bikini-clad video vixens in men's rap videos or the "babes" in crop tops and Daisy Dukes in country videos. But when a woman with the agency to use her sexuality and profit from it actually does so, she crosses some delusional boundary of morality. For enjoying sex, a basic human function, without inhibitions—for caring more about herself than society asks her to—she is degraded.

Nicki raps about sex, often with the broader agenda of women's own choice and fulfillment. Her “Anaconda” video best exemplifies this, taking an immensely popular song that sexualizes the female body (Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”) and flips its narrative to describe her enjoying men’s bodies. It’s evident in the visual cues, from her playfulness with the phallic fruit in the kitchen scene and her subsequent rejection—displayed with a threatening bite and one sharp knife—to her slapping Drake’s hand away and walking off when he tries to break the cardinal rule of lap dances (see it to believe it).

But she also raps about grinding to provide for her family, industry politics, haters, opening doors for women in a male-dominated genre, and much more. She's the talented business mogul who's won several well-deserved awards, broken multiple chart records, and become the first-ever woman on the Forbes Hip-Hop Cash Kings list. Nicki is the compassionate human who denounces sexist double-standards and promotes women's—especially black women's—self-determination, and also speaks out against racial injustices, such as the Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown cases, things anyone might learn from the most basic Google search.

Critics may dislike Minaj as a whole for their own problematic reasons, and they may not be into her music as consumers of media (which is valid), but constantly disrespecting and slandering her is more harmful to black women than whatever she can be accused of. There is no such a thing as a singular acceptable experience of womanhood nor sexuality; women are as complex and multidimensional as anyone else, and don’t deserve to be reduced to a one-dimensional plane as punishment for exercising personal autonomy.