Thursday, February 13, 2014
Nicki Minaj's "Looking Ass Niggas" & the Conundrum of Feminist Politics
[Trigger Warning for Discussion About Sexual Assault and Rape.]
I am a very huge fan of Nicki Minaj. Every time she releases a new video I am sure to watch it. So naturally, I found myself watching her new release "Looking Ass Niggas." Before the video release, fans were teased by stills from the shoot. Nicki seemed to have drastically changed her aesthetic for this video. She was a lot more "natural" than she normally is and seemed to be going away from her traditional Barbie look.
This excited many of her fans who have never fully embraced her Barbie image. Although I personally like her no matter what persona she sports. To me that is one of the strengths of Nicki Minaj. She is versatile. And she is creative. She captures attention. Another one of her strengths is that she has unapologetically spoken up in favor of women. But maybe not always in the best way.
Her latest song is definitely dedicated to the TLC "scrub." In the song she decided to say, "I'm raping you niggas" which is a line that has been severely critiqued by many feminist thinkers.
Most rape survivors are women, however, any gender can be a victim of sexual assault. It is a life-changing and serious crime that terrorizes people all over the world. And yet, it is routinely used casually as a synonym for power and dominance in popular culture.
While some may be more forgiving because she is a female artist, I believe that this line is just as problematic coming from her. But even as I say that I wonder if I am contributing to a double standard in how we judge music. In how we judge women.
But nevertheless, I feel that I have to reject a Black feminist version of power feminism.
Let me explain.
There is a tendency within the feminist movement to celebrate women in power no matter if they are embracing a liberating politic or not. Black feminism is not immune from this, although it is largely immune from celebrating white women such as Sheryl Sandberg who are proponents of it. But we often let power feminism propagated by our own slide.
And understandably so. Black women face obstacles white women do not. We are dealing with white supremacy, class oppression, and numerous other intersecting forms of oppression. Some may argue we have no choice but to acquiesce to a capitalist and patriarchal ideology in order to be successful.
I am sympathetic towards this idea because I am sympathetic towards Black women. But it's like bell hooks is tapping me on the shoulder and reminding me that women can internalize patriarchal thinking. Women can use patriarchal ideology to assert their individual power and this is not a genuine vision of liberation. Nor does it serve the interests of women as a collective.
I feel a double guilt. I feel guilty that I get uncomfortable by a female rapper mocking men because of their lack of money and prestige. Don't many men do the same thing to women over looks and pussy? I feel guilty that I am hesitant to embrace Nicki's vision of power feminism. Am I not here to support all Black women? Am I really going to critique a female rapper who has dealt with so many instances of gross misogyny in a song that is clearly meant for Nicki to assert herself?
But I feel even worse about the mention of rape and the cissexism inherent in the "no-man ass nigga" line. Although I believe judging (Black) men by their penises is problematic for many historical reasons, it is also fundamentally cissexist.
The lyrics are clearly meant to subvert patriarchal norms in the sense that it reverses them. Now Nicki is dominant and men are subordinate. Go Nicki!
But therein lies the issue with power feminism. It is about individualism and capitalism. It is about judging one's value by quantifiable (and mostly monetary) means. It is about domination as there must always be someone dominant and somebody submissive. It is about keeping existing hierarchies in place but allowing more versatility in who is able to assume the role of oppressor.
So while I may enjoy the song and I certainly enjoy Nicki, I am not going to claim that it is Black feminist and empowering to me or contributing towards anti-sexism.
It's difficult. And I feel disheartened to even make this argument but my tendency towards radical Black feminism won't allow me to say otherwise.