February, 02 2015
Why Nicki Minaj is My Feminist Icon

Think Nicky Minaj ain't got none but gyrating buns? Think again. Not only is this controversial artiste is a skilled rapper, she is also a big-time feminist, this writer argues.

by Fedina S. Sundaryani
Culture
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If you look at the songs I typically listen to on my commute to and from work, a majority of them would probably be songs from Nicki Minaj or songs in which she is featured in. My obsession with Nicki Minaj and what she represents have irritated some of my peers who find it strange that someone as strongly feminist as I am would like her, but why wouldn’t I?
 
To me, Nicki Minaj represents a feminism that is oft frowned upon because she is brash and unashamedly sexual. However, does this make her any less a feminist than the celebrated Emma Watson, who was recently appointed as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and helped launch the UN Women campaign “HeForShe”? Or is she less a feminist compared to Beyonce who had the word “FEMINISM” plastered on the board behind her during a performance?
 
I am not saying that any of these women are better than the other – grading women on how “feminist” they are completely contradicts the notion of feminism – but we have to accept that there needs to be more representations for feminism to really move forward.
 
My first foray into this slight obsession was when I watched My Time Now, a documentary made during the time she was recording her album and when she was mostly known as a wacky but extremely skilled woman rapper who featured on everyone’s songs. There was a scene in which she discusses a photo shoot where she was presented sliced up pickles as a snack and instead of quietly accepting – and bitching about it behind the crew’s backs – she flat out refused them and left. How rude, you might think, how ungrateful. But, hold up, she has her reasons:
 
“When I am assertive, I’m a bitch. When a man is assertive, he’s a boss. He bossed up. No negative connotation behind ‘bossed up’, but lots of negative connotation behind being a bitch. Donald Trump can say, ‘You’re fired.’ Let Martha Stewart run her company the same way and be the same way. [People will say] ‘Fucking old evil bitch!’ But Donald Trump, he gets to hang out with young bitches and have 50 different wives and just be cool. ‘Oh, Donald, we love you, Donald Trump!'"
 


Here she pointed out the double standards of the entertainment industry, and, to be fair, almost every industry right now, when a woman has to be twice as good and work twice as hard to be recognized. She knows she’s a skilled rapper – don’t believe me? Listen to her verse on Kanye West’s “Monster” where she proves herself a rap queen – but because she’s a woman, she’s not seen to be as good as the men. Her hard work has paid off though, she was the only woman to be on the 2014 Forbes “Hip-Hop Cash Kings”, and her newest album “The Pinkprint” has garnered praise from the public and music critics.
 
She explains herself further and says there are a gazillion societal pressures women face on a daily basis, whether that’s to be attractive, to be maternal or to be compliant:
 
“When you’re a girl, you have to be everything. You have to be dope at what you do but you have to be super sweet and you have to be sexy and you have to be this, 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 being'."
 
Think those words are just a one-off, or, worse, scripted? Search interviews with her up on YouTube or Tumblr and you’ll find her spouting more feminist words than you can count, often as offhand comments. Not only that, she encourages young women to stay in school; to hone their skills so that they can break boundaries; to maintain good relations with their families, friends and partners; to support fellow women; and to practice safe sex.
 
Now to people who say that Nicki’s sexuality is too aggressive to be feminist and her overt sexuality is playing into the hands of the male gaze: I believe Nicki’s overt sexuality is more than that. In her lyrics and her videos Nicki is undoubtedly sexual and she knows she’s sexy, but she never shows she’s sexually available; she demands consent and she’s not shaking her ass for you.
 
One of the most recent examples of this occurred in the controversial video for her single “Anaconda”. Nicki is surrounded by women in this ass-shaking, ass-grabbing, floor humping, banana-chopping video, and it seems like she’s challenging you to think that she’s doing it all for the male attention, but it is clear that she is not.  She proves this point by giving fellow “Young Money” rapper Drake a lap dance for the ages.
 
Nicki unabashedly grinds on Drake – who told the media that he got a boner during the recording session – but she never allows him to touch her. His disappointed face and hand hovering just above her ass might seem hilarious to viewers everywhere, but it emphasizes the importance of consent, consent and consent.
 
Of course, Nicki is not without her problems — her lyric video for “Only” was oddly reminiscent of Nazi propaganda videos, for which she eventually apologized, though stopped short from removing from YouTube – but she is a woman in the spotlight who demands gender equality while also celebrating herself as a sexual being. And that is why I will be listening to “Feeling Myself” on repeat for the next couple of months.
 
Fedina S. Sundaryani is a budding journalist who has travelled all her life and who wishes to settle down and find some place called home. She graduated from Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in the tiny city of Beppu, Japan, with a degree in the ambiguously named Asia Pacific Studies. Her interests include side-eyeing meninists, reading and watching makeup videos on YouTube.