On Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and women ‘owning’ their sexuality

nickiminaj

I’m no Beyonce fan. I don’t try to hide it. I ain’t scared of Beyhive, Bey-lievers, Bey-bies, or whatever they wanna call themselves. I like her voice, she’s incredibly talented, and I admire her business acumen, but I don’t appreciate a large portion of her lyrical content or her image. Neither am I a fan of Ms Minaj.I could add Katy Perry and Lady Gaga to this list, and everything I say applies to them too, but I’m more interested in Beyonce and Nicki Minaj because of how their images relate to black women specifically. Also, if I talk about Katy Perry I’d get myself into a fit of annoyance about cultural appropriation and how her and Miley Cyrus use black women’s bodies as conduits for their success without having any respect for those bodies, or their experiences – and that’s a really, really long post. (And please don’t get me started on folks trying to claim that Beyonce is not black because her Mum is a light skinned Creole woman, because #ijustcant. Could she have been a legitimate extra in 12 years a Slave? End of discussion).

Anywho, Ms Minaj has released a song entitled Anaconda, with accompanying video, and both song and video are pretty much about sex – more specifically about the magical sex appeal of Nicki’s rear end and its ability to obtain cars, shoes etc from men. I quote:

“Oh my gosh, look at her butt
Oh my gosh, look at her butt
Oh my gosh, look at her butt”.

That was legitimately the most innocuous line I could find in the whole song.  Oh, and perhaps “This dude named Michael used to ride motorcycles..”.
As usual, this has precipitated lots of conversations over the internet about feminism, female sexuality, media portrayal and all that good stuff.

There is an argument that goes a little bit like this:

1) Women have historically not been ‘allowed’ to be overtly sexual or sexually demanding in a similar way to men. (Due to patriarchy often practiced by religion and wider society in general).

2)Nicki Minaj and Beyonce are being subversive by being overtly sexual in a way that was previously denied women.

3) Therefore, Nicki Minaj and Beyonce are asserting their right to defy standards imposed on them by male supremacy and are acting progressively. They are feminists.

4)Also, they’re both curvy so they’re pushing back against mainstream standards of beauty.

Erm. Nah.

I don’t deny that there are elements of both artists approach that are progressive for women in some respect. I suppose the fact that they are both so successful in their field arguably automatically makes them progressive. It does beg the question of whether bad representation is better than no representation at all though?

Additionally, I’m not buying the idea that for black women specifically, the idea of us being overtly sexual is anything new. There’s a reason why the majority of the Caribbean and African Americans have stray white ancestry. It’s not because of some 19th century style Kim + Kanye interracial love fest. Black women have consistently been characterised in recent history (past 400 years or so), as passionate, overtly sexual and as a means of sexual pleasure for white men. Both white and black women have been oppressed historically by white men, but the coupling of racism and sexism meant that black women until recent years (post segregation in America, and probably slightly earlier in most the Caribbean) couldn’t even have the protection of their husbands to prevent the abuse of their bodies sexually. As in, if a white man wanted his way with a black woman, the fact that she was married made no difference – in fact one of the ways of emasculating black men during slavery would be to rape black women. It was a not so subtle reminder to black men that they weren’t really men, because they couldn’t even protect their women.

One of the ways this behaviour was justified was by promoting the idea that black women were ‘hot’ that and they ‘wanted it’, and that therefore, sleeping with them wasn’t really rape. So Nicki Minaj rapping “oh my gosh, look at her butt”, in reference to herself doesn’t strike me as radical. It’s just more of the same old stuff. Society has been looking at our butts for quite a while and at the same time denying us our personhood.(By the way, celebrating curviness is nothing new in black culture – we’ve never largely ascribed to the mainstream idea of skinny = beautiful, so nothing revolutionary there either – it’s just that white folk have begun to notice our celebration of it).

Even if we remove race from the equation, we still live in a misogynistic society where sexism is very much rampant so I’m not sure that any woman in popular media who is overtly sexual can claim that it’s entirely her own choosing. If we live in an environment where women’s bodies are still seen as commodities, where sex sells, where the majority of big business is owned and managed by men, where the directors in the porn industry are largely men, where media images are controlled by rich white men, do you honestly think you can rise to the top economically purely on your own terms? I just don’t believe that’s possible.

I’ll have a bet that a lot of the people watching the Anaconda video are teenage boys. I’ll also have a bet that although most of Beyonce’s fan base are women, part of the reason so many women emulate her is because her sexuality is ‘male approved’. I’ve heard it said that we overestimate the effect Beyonce has on young teenage girls, but I actually think we underestimate it. We underestimate how powerful images are in conditioning the minds of young people. We underestimate how many boys will listen to Anaconda who won’t decipher the video and realise the fact that it IS a group of women in a jungle, alone, outside of the ‘male gaze’, and so perhaps Minaj is trying to make a statement about women ‘owning’ their sexuality. What they’ll see is half naked women twerking. What they’ll internalise is women being available for their sexual pleasure.  What teenage girls will see when Beyonce is writhing on stage scantily clad as Jay Z poses next to her, calm and collected spitting “eat the cake Anna Mae” (a reference to Ike’s abuse of Tina Turner), is that men appreciate that. They won’t necessarily read female empowerment into it.

Why should we sift through all the negativity and rubbish to try and cling to the straws of goodness? Can’t we just admit that two light skinned black women with straight blonde hair being sexual objects is the same old, same old? Can’t we just admit that in 2014, a half naked woman sells more records than a fully clothed one and that really, the most subversive act would be singing about sex in a hijab, not a thong?

What do you think guys?

6 Comments

  1. September 11, 2014 / 9:24 am

    Hey,

    Another great post! I’m quite surprised you didn’t mention that Acaconda is a (lazy?) adaptation of Baby got Back, using the sampler at the start and in the “oh my god, look at her butt” lyric you mentioned.

    I know we both weren’t alive when Baby Got Back came out so make a first hand comparison of the reactions, but I wonder if you think things have gotten better, worse or just bigger since 1992? To me the proportion of misogynistic, almost soft-core porn music videos seems to be vastly increasing, but it might have been that now I’m aware of what’s going on I notice it more. It rarely fails to make me sad as it’s so… commercial…

    • September 17, 2014 / 11:45 pm

      Sorry for my late reply mate, hope all is well! Yes, I do think it’s got a loooott worse. As you said, there were more cheeky songs then, I think the ones now aren’t even trying to be subtle they’re just downright crude and softcoreish. Sad and a bit awkward really.

  2. September 12, 2014 / 10:39 am

    Nicki, Beyonce and Lady are not real. Sure they are real people, but professionally (by which I mean ALL public appearances including interviews etc) they are all performing characters, just like Borat is a character, not a real person, even when he is on the red carpet or being interviewed.

    Just about everything these pop characters say, do, sing and wear is carefully contrived by the industry which employes them. These days the music corporations, the media corporations, the advertising corporations and military industrial corporations (many of which literally OWN the media corporations) all work together to create a CULTure which best serves their collective interests. It’s called social engineering.

    What is the difference between an TV advert which is entertaining to watch and which is attempting to change your beliefs and world view and a pop video which is entertaining to watch and is attempting to change your beliefs and world view? There is no difference! All media is propaganda. Entertainment is the vehicle for the message… it is not the message itself.

    Western mainstream entertainments are no less controlled than they were in Nazi germany, the only difference is that it’s so much more slick these days so people don’t notice (although to be fair they did not notice at the time in nazi Germany either). In simple terms, just because they are wearing bikinis and are covered in baby oil (instead of buttoned up cardigans and long skirts) people assume there is no state/ corporate censorship happening.

    But the entire culture (at least at that level) is contrived.

    These pop figures are no less contrived than any politician delivering a pre scripted (and NLP laden) speech from an autocue…. or some receptionist who is the ‘pubic face’ of a large corporation and whose job it is to meet and greet potential customers with a smile.

    The aim of modern corporate pop/ rap/ movies is to promote the ideals of corporatism (corporate fascism) in a way that appeals to the youth. Corporatism itself follows the tenets of satanism which consist of moral relativism (there is no right or wrong), serving oneself is the highest goal in life (hedonism), violence is cool (might is right, war is good), ego is to be worshipped and served (narcissism, self obsession), power means power over others, rather than power over oneself (focus on dominating others within a hierarchy instead of focusing on philosophy AKA self knowledge), acquiring money and objects is the goal in life (reptilian brain rules over the higher brain) …. the list goes on.

    When you break it down all modern corporate culture reinforces those ideals. Everything which challenges those ideals or just offers an alternative world view is censored. For the last few decades any rapper or pop act who dared to even include one lyric which was critical of the establishment found their career over…. and many of them wound up dead soon afterwards. Michael Jackson started to speak out against the industry after he finally was free of his contract with Sony (there’s a few clips on youtube where he starts to really speak his mind). Suddenly the guy was a free agent, and a powerful figure in the music biz (owning major shares in labels). His recent songs (They don’t care about us) featured many references to the music industry and how it treats artists and controls culture. If he’d really started to speak out about the industry he would have reached a global audience within hours. Then just as he was about to embark on a world tour he ended up dead. Go figure.

    • AuthenticAudacious
      December 10, 2014 / 4:11 am

      Curiosetta, your response is so on point. ThatGirlwithAfro I support and agree with your thoughts on Nikki and Beyonce 100%. However, Curiosetta has nailed it. Corporatism is the reason these ‘artists’ are promoted and revered. The hyper-sexuality is alarming for us as adults, when we think of how this is affecting the developing minds of our youth. Unfortunately, the envelope of shocking and attention grabbing behaviour has been pushed time and time again over the last 20 years in the entertainment industry. It is just the bright flashing lights required to hold the minds of the observers enough to place products and further fuel consumerism and materialism. Nikki’s butt will shift how many Beats Bullets this Christmas? All the twerking, sexism, hyper-sexuality and cultural appropriation are part of the grand game. It really does boil down to an agenda that ensures our consumerist enslavement.

      Morality, compassion and goodness – that has to come from us as individuals. The media does not serve us, but the corporatist agenda.

      Keep posting articles GirlWithAnAfro. You are thoughtful, eloquent and inspiring. Curiosetta if you blog I’d really be interested in reading more of your thoughts too.

  3. AuthenticAudacious
    December 10, 2014 / 4:13 am

    GirlWithThaAfro sorry for the name miswrite (twice too -I know)

  4. October 27, 2015 / 9:05 pm

    Beautifully on point.

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