What does Nicki Minaj have to do with Feminism? A lot, it seems

A while ago I was talking to my feminist friend. It was a rather interesting conversation. Sadly, I don’t have many feminist friends, which is a shame. I was watching a Nicki Minaj video, I believe it was her “Super Bass” video. It’s a video where a gyrating Minaj raps quickly with slick dance moves, crazy wigs, and skimpy outfits. The video has great entertainment value, and I wasn’t thinking about the possible implications for the female population whilst watching it. It is possibly one of Minaj’s tamer videos, which are often sexually charged and contentious.

After seeing my video choice, my friend exclaimed in horror. She explained how Minaj is an awful woman, who single-handedly promotes the Sexualisation and Objectification of women as little more than “Barbie dolls”.

While accepting this possible view-point, I found myself delving into the depths of my argumentative mind. If the essence of freedom and equality is the ability to make your own choices, surely Minaj is just exercising her right as a woman to dress as she likes? Why does this have to make her anti-feminist? And what is it about the way she dresses/behaves that makes her such a threat to women?

There is no doubt that she is a ground-breaking woman. She is the first female rapper to gain worldwide recognition in a very male industry, and whether people like it or not, she is very popular. This in itself I feel makes her somewhat a “feminist icon”, even if she is not consciously a feminist herself. Being a feminist icon, after all, is not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk. Minaj definitely walks with defiance and a “screw you” attitude and her whole persona is dissenting and challenging. She also obviously has the respect of men in her field, and can “own” many of them when featuring in their songs. In “Roman’s revenge” with Eminem, Minaj easily competes for attention and shock value, proving she can do it like a dude, if not better. And unlike many manufactured singers such as Cheryl Cole, Minaj writes her own stuff. In Minaj’s video “Stupid hoe”, a video that is probably her most controversial, Minaj disses her rival rapper “Lil Kim”. If Nicki was a man, diss songs would be expected. But somehow, because she is female her song is suddenly “misogynistic”. The truth is, controversial women are always demonised.

So how exactly is Nicki “representing” for us women? Isn’t she just a tasteless whore? The answer to that is she can be both, or neither. One of the ways Nicki represents her power and femaleness is through what she wears. She undoubtedly wears very risqué  and sexualised oufits. But, why does this have to be a bad thing? Why can’t she celebrate her feminine beauty and sexuality without being a slut or whore? I’m sure most of us wouldn’t choose to style ourselves like her, but neither would we choose to style ourselves like a 70’s Bowie. So, what gives us the right to attack her? To me it is more to do with society’s negative attitude towards female sexuality and stereotyping; part of a “slut-shaming” culture that is the problem here, not Minaj. Theses words are thrown around too easily. I almost find that she dresses the way she dresses as a form of protest. Like Bowie, she challenges the norm: “Yes this is my body, so what?” Except, Bowie was celebrated and became an icon for his fashion sense, whereas Minaj is challenged; highlighting the double standards. Of course though, it wouldn’t matter what she wore. People would still be constantly putting her down over her shape, claiming her to be too thin, too fat, too white, and everything in between. Nicki herself points out the sexism she faces:

“When I am assertive, I’m a bitch. When a man is assertive, he’s a boss…No negative connotation behind ‘bossed up,’ but lots of negative connotation behind being a bitch.”

“You have to be dope at what you do, but you have to be super sweet…you have to be sexy, and you have to be this, and you have to be that, and you have to be nice…it’s like, I can’t be all those things at once. I’m a human beiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing.”

Nicki puts it succinctly. To be a powerful woman, you have to be innocent, talented, and nice, but essentially repressed. Nicki destroys this image with her crazy style and her lyrics.

In an ideal world, a woman would be able to dress exactly as she wants, without the fear of violence or rape. But we know, demonstrated by the backlash people like Amina Tyler and Nicki face, that we are a long way away from this.

Misogyny is lurking in our civilised western society, whether it be the media, or from other women, waiting to tear us down and make us feel not good enough.. I am sure Minaj has experienced extensive abuse and hate from her large group of “haters”, much more than her male counterparts.

But Nicki’s plight is echoed by women around the world. Only recently, a brave 19-year-old Tunisian woman, Amina Tyler from Feminist group Femen posted topless photos of herself online with slogans “My body is not the source of anyone’s honour”, and “F*ck your morals”. Predictably, her reactionary Islamic culture took very unkindly to her protest. Fatwas were issued for her execution, stoning, and whipping. It prompted mass protests “Free Amina!”, and women from all around the world writing slogans on their breasts in protest. They were using their breasts to shock, but also to desexualise themselves. For example:  “Underneath our clothes we only have slabs of fat, not weapons.” And “Get over it”. Indeed, the issue is raised that when people have such violent reactions to a topless woman, the problem lies with them, not the woman.

It is evident that even in relatively progressive countries such as Turkey, a country where women cover up daily, the covering up seems to have the opposite effect. Men seem to think it is okay to harass and embarrass women on the street regularly, as I experienced when I went there. It was an unpleasant experience, and made me thankful that this sort of thing does not happen in the UK, where women dress a lot more “provocatively”. The truth is, covering up does not solve the problem of sexual harassment, it can make it worse. These negative reactions on both sides of the argument; both to women covering up and covering less shows that the problem does not lie with the woman, it lies with the way we choose to see women. People like Amina, and to a lesser extent Nicki Minaj challenge these perceptions. And I say, go Amina and Nicki. Misogyny will only disappear when people’s perceptions change. So, trying to change women won’t change anything.

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