“Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke… She will need her sisterhood.” ~ Gloria Steinem
I love feminists.
I was raised by loud, opinionated Puerto Rican women. They routinely discussed female empowerment and equality while cooking elaborate meals for their families. In college, I minored in Women’s Studies just to continue that conversation.
I also love pop music. In a zero-shame, dance in my underwear, sing into a hairbrush kind of way.
The allure of feminism and pop music has created a soft spot in my heart for strong, talented, assertive female pop stars. And these days, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift are at the top of the girl-power game.
So the heated Twitter exchange that recently took place between them was bound to cause ripples. Some downplayed it as a catty feud between entitled celebrities. I saw it as the perfect example of how the sisterhood of feminism is being used as a weapon instead of a refuge.
In a series of tweets, Minaj expressed frustration that her video for “Anaconda” (which celebrates the voluptuous curves of the black female body) was passed over for a Video of the Year nomination at the upcoming MTV Video Music Awards.
She stated, in part, “If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year.” And followed that up with “Just tired. Black women influence pop culture so much but are rarely rewarded for it.”
Swift, whose video for “Bad Blood” (which features a slew of skinny, mostly-white super model assassins) was nominated for Video of the Year plus eight other awards, assumed she was being called out by Minaj.
She fired back with “@NICKIMINAJ I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot…”
Twenty-four hours later, both parties were doing damage control, tweeting each other love and insisting the conversation was just a misunderstanding.
The feminist in me is still fuming.
What will it take for women to support women these days? Why does race still impact how we show up for each other? Can a sisterhood truly exist when our default response is judgement and shame?
In an attempt to answer these questions, I decided to dissect Swift’s tweet. And I realized that the chipping away of our collective sisterhood can be perfectly illustrated in three seemingly innocent statements:
1. “I’ve done nothing but love & support you.”
I’m a woman. I get that being a woman is a personal experience. I’m also a fairly slim woman. I understand that body image issues are personal. I also understand that every time someone comments about “skinny bitches,” they are not waging a personal attack on me.
What I don’t get is why Swift made this discussion personal. Why did she feel the need to insert her ego into a conversation that required honest dialogue, not petty hurt feelings?
Note to Swift: not everything is about you.
Minaj discussing the frustration of black women in music in no way diminishes her love for or support of Swift, but with one tweet, Swift casts herself in the victim role. Guess that makes Minaj the bully.
2. “It’s unlike you to pit women against each other.”
And here comes the “bad feminist” shaming.
Yes, Minaj was showing the dichotomy of how women of color (and their bodies) have historically been devalued when compared to the white-washed standard of beauty in our society. You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.
But Minaj wasn’t looking to start a feud or pit women against each other—she wasn’t being a bad feminist. She was expressing her view on a situation that affects her both personally and professionally.
I also find it ironic that Swift’s video for “Bad Blood” is reportedly based on her now-strained relationship with singer Katy Perry and features a gang of women seeking revenge on another. How’s that for “pitting women against each other”?
3. “Maybe one of the men took your spot…”
And the final nail in the coffin of sisterhood – bringing it all back to boys.
Talking about racism and sexism in this country makes people uncomfortable. Need proof? Turn on the news. So it’s no surprise that Minaj’s tweets ruffled feathers.
But what she needed from other women in her industry was support, someone to say: “I may not fully understand your plight, but I’m here to help.” Someone to say “I hear you.”
What she didn’t need was Swift’s backhanded implication that perhaps skin color or body shape or gender wasn’t the issue; maybe she just wasn’t as talented as her male counterparts.
With this one comment, Swift not only dismissed Minaj’s entire argument, but regressed us back to middle school, where everything (success, validation, worth) was in direct correlation to boys.
Minaj, Swift and the Twitterverse all seem to have moved on. But I’m not so quick to walk away from this topic. I still believe in the power of women working together and supporting each other. And I would have loved to see Minaj and Swift engage in an honest, intelligent conversation about race and gender in the music industry.
I’m not suggesting women blindly agree for the sake of feminism. Smart women who speak their mind are the reason feminism exists. But how about discussing uncomfortable topics and sharing differing viewpoints without judgement, shame or ego.
There’s nothing more powerful than strong, talented women who can disagree on an issue while still operating with the highest level of respect and maturity. That is badass. That is sisterhood.
Author: Nicole Cameron
Assistant Editor: Rachel Alarcon/ Editor: Travis May