Hip-hop icon Nicki Minaj has faced an avalanche of slut-shaming because she's pushing the boundaries of how society views sexuality. Her video for "Anaconda" was called "hypersexualized," and that comment in turn was rightly called "sexist bullshit." Minaj's image might push people out of their comfort zones, but that's exactly the point: What better way for society to progress from its archaic notions of female sexuality?
Minaj is a business mogul, an MC and a woman. Those who fear her disregard for boundaries call her dangerous, but every move she makes is strategic. She's extremely vocal about her opinion that women are subverted in the music industry and in society as a whole. Here are the most insightful thoughts on feminism from Minaj herself.
"I always feel it's important for me to show females that they can be in charge of their own situation. ... When I win and when I lose, I take ownership of it, because I really am in charge of what I do. There are a lot of strong male rappers, who've influenced me a great deal in terms of my skill, my flow and my business-savvy side. But at the end of the day, I still want to inspire women." — V Magazine
Though she was led into the rap game by Lil Wayne, now Minaj maintains creative control of her music. She was inspired by Jay Z's The Blueprint when she wrote The Pinkprint, not because she wanted to copy what he did, but because she wanted to change the game for women in the same way that Jay changed the rap game with his legendary album.
"I've always had this female-empowerment thing in the back of my mind — because I wanted my mother to be stronger, and she couldn't be. I thought, 'If I'm successful, I can change her life.'" — Details
When Minaj was young and growing up in Queens, her father was an abusive addict. At one point, he set fire to the family's house with her mother inside, in an attempt to murder her. From that point forward, Minaj said, she always tried to be strong for her mother.
On Hard Work
"I want to be seen as a hard-working businesswoman who really takes pride in writing and rapping in a way that still shows that I'm hungry. ... I'm my worst critic and I always want to give people something better than I gave them before." — Vogue
That hard work ethic has paid off: Since she first made it big rhyming on Lil Wayne's "High as a Kite," she's gone on to release three albums and become the "most-charted female rapper in the history of Billboard's singles chart," according to the magazine.
On Being Whole
"Every woman is multifaceted. Every woman has a switch, whether she's going to be maternal, whether she's going to be a man-eater, whether she has to kick ass, whether she has to be one of the boys, whether she has to show the guys that she's just as smart or smarter, she's just as talented or creative. Women suppress a lot of their sides." — Complex
Talking about The Pinkprint, Minaj told Complex that it's a "dope balance of vulnerability and strength, of inspiration and of not being politically correct. It's the best of both worlds." She says that's what makes a woman complete, too — the many different sides that make up who she is.
"There are sexual things that I do that aren't for a man. I feel empowered sometimes by being sexy and being comfortable enough to be sexy on camera — a lot of woman struggle with that. But there are some days that I don't want anyone to see me. I'm just a regular girl. Some days I'm super strong; some days I'm super insecure." — Vogue
Minaj faced a lot of slut-shaming from all sides for her NSFW video, "Anaconda." As Derrick Clifton wrote for Mic, "Sadly, it appears a woman can't celebrate her curves without being sneered at and shamed for it online. That goes doubly if your name is Nicki Minaj."
On Being Real
"I don't mind being called a weirdo. There are a lot of people in hip-hop who are probably never going to get what I do. But, by just being myself, I end up touching a lot more people who might never have paid much attention to a female rapper." — Interview
Early in her career, Minaj relied on her skills as an MC to get attention in the industry; that, and her personality, are what caught the eye of Lil Wayne in 2009. Be yourself, she says, and the rest will come more easily.
On Double Standards
"You never know how much is too much – too much emotion, too much vulnerability, too much power. Everyone wants me to be something different. Women in the industry are judged more. If you speak up for yourself, you're a bitch. If you party too much, you're a whore. Men don't get called these things." — Time
Minaj isn't the only woman in the music industry who's tasked with walking that fine line. Yet on The Pinkprint especially, she's found a way to be vulnerable on songs like "Pills N Potions" while also being taken seriously as an artist. She's outspoken about the disproportionate pressures women face. And she isn't alone: Björk told Pitchfork recently, "I want to support young girls who are in their 20s now and tell them: You're not just imagining things."
"I talk about record executives telling me, 'Oh no no no. Female rappers don't make it anymore. You'll never get away with that, and you'll damn sure never get away with rapping and singing.' People who I loved very much attempted to deter me from experimenting with my craft, but I felt I represented all kinds of girls, not just one girl." — V Magazine
If you can believe it, Minaj used to be penniless. She'd steal bread from her wait job to feed herself. But she ended up making a huge splash in the world of the female MC: 2014 was the "Year of the Female Rapper" and Minaj's The Pinkprint played a big part in making that reality.
"People view sexy as weak. If you're overtly sexy, people don't expect you to be smart. Sometimes women are dressing sexy for themselves — not necessarily because they want to have sex with some man. Sometimes that's what makes them feel good and empowered." — Time
Minaj hits the bull's-eye with this quote about sexism in society today. And, for the record, "powerful and strong women are sexier than submissive weak women." It's science (although that assertion isn't without its problems). Women shouldn't rate their attractiveness on men's terms, but it's comforting to know that powerful women really are appreciated.
"With a video like 'Anaconda,' I'm a grown-ass fucking woman! I stand for girls wanting to be sexy and dance, but also having a strong sense of themselves. If you got a big ol' butt? Shake it! Who cares? That doesn't mean you shouldn't be graduating from college." — Rolling Stone
When the video for "Anaconda" came out, Minaj faced major criticism and intense slut-shaming for "pushing her hypersexualized image." Her curves were automatically "oversexualized," instead of simply being "beautiful."
On Being an Icon
"I don't want to be a predictable rapper. When I think of the female icons I love and look up to, I don't think they were ever predictable. I just want to be unpredictable and fearless." — Dazed
At this point in her career, Minaj is already a female icon in her own right. And the women who look up to her have a fantastic role model: Her video for "Anaconda" has been lauded as a big win for feminists everywhere, and Minaj speaks fiercely and openly about women's rights in the music industry and beyond.
On Owning It
"People don't know how heavily involved I am in my own career. I'm on 15 to 25 conference calls every few days strategizing with my team. I think a lot of artists sit back and have it done for them. Sometimes as women in the industry — if you're sexy or like doing sexy things — some people subconsciously negate your brain. They think you're stupid." — Billboard
Everything that Minaj says on an album, she wrote. When people thought she publicly called out Iggy Azalea over not writing her own rhymes, Minaj was quick to clarify that it wasn't an attack on all women in the industry: She wrote on her Twitter, "I will always take a stance on women writing because I believe in us! I believe we're smart enough to write down our own thoughts and perspective, just like the men do."
"One rule is 'no more self-judgment.' I'm not judging myself; I'm not dissing what I do. I'm proud of what I've done and I'm proud of what I'm working on. I've accomplished something and I'm not going to be ashamed to be happy about what I've done." — Complex
With The Pinkprint, Minaj bared her soul on tracks like "All Things Go," a song about losing her cousin to a violent death and the guilt she felt surrounding his death. She told Complex that writing that track inspired her to be honest in all the things she does, and not to judge herself but be happy with what she's accomplished.
On Not Settling
"I just want women to always feel in control. Because, we're capable — we're so capable. It's one of the reasons that I have these women that I look up to — because they did not allow being a woman to make them feel like they should settle for less, financially. No, money doesn't mean everything. But it says a lot." — Dazed
Minaj has been vocal about the fact that her biggest role models are Oprah and Madonna — women who have continually reinvented themselves and have come out on the other side successful. Minaj no doubt took cues from the two icons when she staged her own reinvention for The Pinkprint.
"There's nothing wrong with speaking my mind, as long as when the song cuts off I'm still a businesswoman and I still respect myself. That's where the true balance lies in my life. Women should be allowed to be as hardcore and sexual as we want, because men do it all the time." — V Magazine
It's unfortunate that Minaj has to so openly display her work-life balance, lest she be slut-shamed. That double standard isn't anything new, but with artists like Minaj speaking out about it, at least we're making strides.
"As a woman in the industry, you try so hard to remain strong and to not let your guard down. And once you let the walls down and let people see that you were a regular person who has feelings, sometimes people take advantage of that." — Vogue
Minaj traded in her costumes and wigs and got real on her latest album, The Pinkprint. The result was breathtaking honesty, but the hip-hop icon was pensive about revealing so much about her personal life, especially with the not-so-subtle gender bias present in music.
"If a man did the same video ['Anaconda'] with sexy women in it, no one would care. ... They don't say anything when they're watching the Victoria's Secret show and seeing boobs and thongs all day. Why? Shame on them. Shame on them for commenting on 'Anaconda' and not commenting on the rest of the oversexualized business we're a part of." — V Magazine
"Anaconda" was definitely NSFW, but that does not make it "slutty," and it certainly doesn't give critics the right to berate and slut-shame Minaj. In an interview with Vogue, Minaj called herself Mother Theresa. It's not exactly PC, but seriously: How much shit does a female have to take before she's treated respectfully?