Can women in entertainment be sexy without selling sex?
Hip-hop music has always been a serious passion of mine, but not everyone feels the way I do. My parents used to pity me for my bad taste in music. Lately my music has attracted eye rolling from friends who think it’s sexist and annoying.
I don’t care, and I still unabashedly turn up Lil’ Wayne in the car (yes I’m one of those people) while driving around Boulder, making me appear a bit crazy, but hey, you’ve gotta be who you are. At the same time though, I cringe a little bit every time my favorite rapper calls a woman a “bitch.” Women are people, not disposable sex toys!
Lately, to my delight, female MC Nicki Minaj has stepped on the scene. Feminist blogs have been blowing up all over the place with excitement about her success in the male dominated hip-hop industry. She’s refreshing, creative and totally unique.
I love her eccentric style, which includes enormous wigs and colorful clothing, and she isn’t afraid to be more than a little weird. In her part in Ludacris’s club banger “My Chick Bad” she raps, “It’s Nightmare on Elm Street and guess who’s playing Freddy!” in a loud, intimidating tone. In the video of the song she sports a straightjacket and long metal claws. Girlfriend is wild, and she clearly doesn’t care what people think…
She also expresses herself through many personalities in her songs, and her distinctive voices are accompanied by entire personas. She switches between them at will, making her amusing and unique to listen to.
One of her personalities is a “bad boy” named Roman. In an interview with MTV she said, “Roman is a crazy boy who lives inside of me and says the things that I don’t want to say. I think he was born out of rage.” Her British accent is the voice of Roman’s mother, Martha, who tries to keep him in control. Martha appears in “Super Bass” (below) and “Moment for Life” (also below).
She also has a sweet innocent voice she calls “Barbie” she uses in “Super Bass.” These multiple personalities may border on schizophrenia, but you can’t say that she isn’t original, and that she’s only being used as a sex symbol.
Notice in Super Bass she plays up her femininity with pink clothing, a sugary chorus, and she has some very sexual dance moves, but at the same time the men in her video are shirtless and voiceless. They are not celebrated for anything but their bodies and sex appeal. It’s almost like she is objectifying them, an interesting reversal in the male dominated hip-hop industry.
I’m crazy about her music videos. For the ladies reading this: do you remember when you were a little girl and fanatical about anything that had to do with pink, Barbies, sparkles and fairy tales?
Nicki lets you back into this world in her videos, but gives it a powerful adult twist with her creativity. It’s like she captures everything that is stereotypically feminine but makes is a powerful and original with her rapping style. In her song “Moment for Life,” she plays royalty about to be married to Drake, also a member of the Young Money record label.
However her powerful lyrics in the rap about her personal success suggest that her union with Drake is more about two equal rappers celebrating their success together than a typical love story. Nicki even says, “In this very moment I’m King.”
Even though Nicki’s incredibly sexy and beautiful, she doesn’t completely sexualize her pink sparkly world. I think she’s just sexy in it. Because she is so commanding in her songs, and unafraid to express her personal vision, she isn’t selling sex. Nicki’s selling art, and sexiness is a part of it.
However, many people don’t agree with my arguments that Nicki is an independent artist. They can’t get past the fact that she is so sexual in her videos and wears revealing clothing. They think that no matter what, the industry is using her body to make money, and this is a form of oppression.
But I argue back that women need to be represented wholly, and I think it’s unfair to dismiss sexual expression because society “can’t handle it.” It’s 2011, shouldn’t we start expecting more from men? I know that sex sells, and that’s part of the issue, but why can’t we be sexy without selling sex?
Just because sexuality is often sold as a commodity should women stop expressing it altogether?
Is Nicki a powerful woman expressing herself? Or is she a pawn in the male dominated hip-hop industry that is using her body to make a buck? Let me know what you think…
Mallory Ayres is a Boulder native who just graduated with a degree in political science. She is passionate about journalism and has interned for Skiing Magazine in the past. She now is one of Elephant Journal’s new interns and works for the outdoor gear website ActiveJunky.com. She loves hot yoga, creative writing and loitering in Boulder’s coffee shops.