Tags: Feminism • Music • Race
Fade in on me among a group of merry makers. “Starships” begans to play. Although it might have been “Pound the Alarm.” Bright eyed with beer and enthusiasm I say, “I’m 31 now so it’s time for my Nicki Minaj phase!”
It’s true. I’ve recently discovered that something about her music really resonates with me. I think Amanda Marcotte explains it here in her post about Beyoncé.
“Single Ladies”… is clearly for the women in the audience to sing along to… the idea is to boost yourself up and say that you deserve to have standards.
When Diana Ross sings, “I’m coming out, I want the world to know,” it is taken by the audience as a call to say fuck you to other people’s perceptions and just be yourself. It’s not just about Diana Ross. When Pink claims the party isn’t started until she gets there, she isn’t actually trying to make the people at your party feel bad because Pink is never going to show up. The listener is supposed to project herself into the song and borrow the confidence from it. The listener says to herself, “The party starts when I get there.” If Pink didn’t expect you to relate to the song, then it would just seem assholey. Now it seems fun.
Commenter Stuart Underwood pointed out the double standard:
Mick Jagger was no shrinking violet when expressing his appraisal of his own prowess, at least in the character of Jagger the rock star. In an uncharitable and overly literal interpretation, one could label the lead singer of damn near any 1960s-1980s “rock” band as a strutting egomaniac.
Was the braggadocio what these singers really thought about themselves or was it a vehicle to reach out to the audience to put them in a certain frame of mind?
Why should Beyonce be held to a different standard than Jagger or Plant or Presley?
I’ve told people that what I love about Nicki Minaj is her bravado. I think it’s powerful. Minaj’s music makes me feel more awesome about myself. She’s also one of many modern women artists who really own their sexuality. One of my feminist lightbulb moments was listening to the “Oh What A Night” remix when I was in middle school and realizing that if a woman had a song about joyfully and wrecklessly losing her virginity…the universe might explode. I’m glad it’s not 1994 anymore.
My pleasantly buzzed head bobbing was interrupted when a dude said to me, “No. She’s so annoying. She’s terrible, she should just shut up and get naked.”
This was more than a cheesy record scratch moment. It wasn’t a personal insult as in “The bands you like suck.”
No matter the topic, an argument I often find myself making is that words have meanings and context matters. “Shut up and get naked” in another context might be playful and fun. But when dripping with contempt it’s repugnant. Add in the racial and gender dynamic of this specific situation, and it’s even uglier. He said Nicki Minaj needs to stop talking and show more of her body. Her words, no matter how much acclaim they have garnered, mean nothing compared to the feelings he gets by looking at her. “A (black) woman’s confidence and pride threatens me. Quickly! Reduce her to a sex object!”
I ain’t gotta get a plaque, I ain’t gotta get awards
I just walk up out the door all the girls will applaud.
All the girls will come in as long as they understand
That I’m fighting for the girls that never thought they could win.
Cause before they could begin you told them it was the end
But I am here to reverse the curse that they live in.
-Nicki Minaj, “I’m The Best”
So Threatening. Such Girl Power. So Man Tears. Wow.
There were many things I could have said and many ways I could have said them.
Earnestness. “When you say things like that, it makes me think less of you as a human being.”
Sarcastic. “Who knew you were a man of such refined taste and erudition?” or “I know you’re a straight guy and all but you don’t have to flaunt it.” or “Wow, I didn’t know you’re a misogynist. How did I miss that?”
You got that hot shit, boy ya blessed
Let me feel up on your chest
Flex it, you the man
You the man 100 grand
This same poll, game goal
Yes I play it very well
Come baby lay down, let me stay down
Lemme show you how I run take you to my playground
Come and get this va va voom, voom
-Nicki Minaj, “Va Va Voom”
What kind of man finds this threatening? Oh, wait.
Later a few things came to mind that misogynists call “feminist shaming tactics” but most other people would probably call being a smart ass. There’s the classic “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” Or just a condescending “Oh, I’m sorry. Are you feeling insecure in your masculinity today?”
What I did say, as cheerfully as possible, was, “You know she’s the best selling female rapper of all time, right?”
He didn’t have much of a response. I think he said “So what?” or “I don’t care.” Sure he doesn’t. Fade out on me swallowing everything else I wanted to say with another sip of my drink.
I’ve written before about embracing my inner smartass. But sometimes it’s difficult to know the right tactic to take. Tone, word choice and delivery interact to make you either a loveable troublemaker or a mean spirited jerk. You may win over the crowd with your wit, but if you come on too strong people will roll their eyes and think you’re a killjoy. Even in this situation, my response didn’t explain why I objected to what was said, though I doubt that would have helped. Knowing when to blurt out the first thing that pops into your head, when to give a more measured response, and when it’s best to respond with only a raised eyebrow takes practice. In the meantime, jam to Super Bass.