I started out mad at Nicki Minaj. My intent was to write a piece about how she was betraying her sisters and selling-out to a misogynistic, male-dominated music industry. With song titles like “Stupid Hoe” and lines like “Bitches better get on they knees,” and “If I had a dick, I would pull it out and piss on 'em [bitches],” Minaj makes an easy target for feminist critique. Her raps aimed at women are disrespectful and often downright disgusting. But Minaj is not the problem.
It’s true; the female rapper-pop star is making millions off dissing other women, but she is the only one. As Feministing writer Samhita points out, Minaj is the only woman in popular hip-hop: “I just see her role as the only woman in mainstream hip-hop as patently unfair and probably dictates a lot of her creative choices.”
Samhita is right. Instead of tearing down Minaj for her anti-woman rants, we should be asking ourselves why? Why would such a talented, smart woman turn on her own sex and feel the need to tear her sisters down? Why would such a strong, powerful woman need to develop a violent, sexist male alter-ego named Roman Zolanski to get respect? As Minaj points out, it’s because of the industry’s deep-rooted double-standards:
“You have to be a beast. That’s the only way they respect you. When I am assertive, I’m a bitch. When a man is assertive, he’s a boss.”
Sadly, it wasn’t long ago that woman in hip-hop were the boss. Groups such as En Vogue and Salt-N-Pepa weren’t building their careers on the backs of other women; instead they were were empowering their sisters – giving them permission to be sexual, smart and powerful. Songs like “My Lovin’,” “Shoop,” and “None of Your Business” encouraged woman to take control – both in the bed and in society. Artists such as Monie Love and Queen Latifah took pride, not shame, in being a woman with lines like: “Believe me when I say being a woman is great, you see I know all the fellas out there will agree with me. Not for being one but for being with one. Because when it's time for loving it's the woman that gets some.”
So what has changed? Why, almost 20 years later, have we regressed so? Backlash.
In the early-to-mid 90s women were new to the mainstream hip-hop scene. They were able to push boundaries and speak for themselves. But eventually, the industry pushed back. Female artist were encouraged to dress like video girls and rant about “bitches and hoes.” Monie Love became Little Kim, became Nicki Minaj. Patriarchy did its best to silence the new-found female voice and, in many ways, succeeded. As second-wave feminism founding mother Gloria Steinem puts it, “You know what you’re saying is important when the power structure brings in people who look like you and think like them.”
Minaj is one of those who looks like us and acts like them. In a way – she has to.