The first time I heard the term ‘enlightened sexism’ something clicked. There were depictions of ‘empowerment’ (some self-proclaimed, some labelled by others) out there that didn’t quite sit right with me. I’m always hesitant to call something empowering or argue that it isn’t when other people claim the opposite, because what we take from the media and culture we consume is entirely subjective. My favourite example is Sex and the City. There is so much justifiable and absolutely correct criticism of the problematic content in that series. But watching it as an elementary and then junior high aged girl (my grandmother trusted me to watch what I wanted and think critically about it) was incredibly empowering for me. I’d go so far as to say that it was an integral part of my developing feminism, and helped me to see that my blossoming sexuality was okay. For all the problematic things in that series, there were a lot of really positive elements as well. But today I’m not so concerned with Sex and the City as I am with Iggy Azalea’s increasing fame.
I first discovered Iggy Azalea back in 2012 when I was searching for Azealia Banks on Youtube. It wasn’t love at first sight, but I was intrigued by the song “Pu$$y” and loved to hear a song about female pleasure. At some point I went from liking but not really caring about Azalea to following her on Twitter and Instagram and memorizing the lyrics to a lot of her songs. It was once she was upgraded to minor obsession that I started to see the problems.
In one of her early songs, “D.R.U.G.S.”, she calls herself a “runaway slave—master”. Azalea was rightly called out on her thoughtless behaviour, and released a public apology acknowledging “it was a tacky and careless thing to say”. Since then she released a video for the single “Bounce”, which features the shameless appropriation of Indian culture and uses Indian people more or less as props. It’s absolutely appalling, more so because there has been no acknowledgement on her part about how insulting this is. It was not so long ago India was under British control. Azalea takes for granted the fact she is a white woman taking part in an industry built upon a tumultuous history on black politics and culture. She forgets that hip hop grew out of the marginalization of people of colour, and consequently disrespects it.
Unfortunately her foot-in-mouth doesn’t end there. While Azalea personally has been the victim of gendered discrimination, she also perpetuates it. A few days before Halloween she posted a photo on Instagram of someone dressed up a Frida Kahlo with the hashtags #DontJustGetYourPussyOutBecauseItsHalloween, and #iHateHalloweenWhores. This was shortly after a rant on Twitter about a ‘slutty’ Mario costume. I don’t think Azalea realizes that dressing up on Halloween is not drastically different from what she does on stage or in her videos.
By the time the video for “Change Your Life” came out, all I could offer was skepticism. The raw sexuality I once praised began to seem more manufactured, and contradictory to the opinions she was putting out there. Shortly after its release Azalea got #fashiontits trending on Twitter in defence of the nudity in her video, and to show that women should “still feel good” about having small breasts. I wanted to view this as a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough to advocate for the empowerment of some when she feels like it, and then cutting down others when she doesn’t.
Performance art is about creating an image, and so are Halloween costumes. The only difference is that Azalea lives her image. She has the luxury of dressing however she wants every day and defending it as a form of personal and artistic expression. But the reality for the rest of women is our clothing choices are policed 24/7. I always seize the opportunity to wear a ‘slutty’ Halloween costume because it is the only time of year it is socially acceptable for me to liberate myself in this way. While people use the saying “less is more” to instill guilt over modesty in women, I like to subvert it on a personal level to mean less clothing is more comfortable. Azalea does not get the monopoly on revealing clothing, and she does not have the right to dictate what other people’s Halloween costumes mean. The blatant demonstration of internalized sexism and the total lack of awareness surrounding it is cringe-worthy to say the least.
Being a young woman in a genre frequently criticized for misogyny is not an excuse to get away with saying whatever you want. Even more so when there are other rappers out there like Angel Haze and Mykki Blanco challenging the norm and the status quo. It’s not enough to say you’re doing things differently, you have to actually be original. Recycling the same oppressive views is nothing new, nor is it even remotely interesting. Iggy Azalea generated a lot of interest from critics and fans alike with a song like “Pu$$y”. She’s at her best when she’s unapologetic about her sexuality or her come up, not when she’s defending her mindless racism or ‘whorephobia’.
I have to be honest, I’m still going to get The New Classic when it finally comes out. I really enjoy a lot of her music, even though I take issue with a lot of her actions. There are a lot of problematic things in pop culture that contradict my political beliefs but I still enjoy despite myself. That’s something I think most people can relate to. I don’t have answers for how to reconcile that. I can’t change my taste, it’s not as though that’s something we choose. But I do make an effort to be critical about the media I take in, and I don’t plan on letting an artist off the hook just because I like them. You can be a fan without following blindly.
Iggy, as a rising female star in hip hop your voice is gaining lots of power. I hope you consider the criticism you’re getting and learn to do better. If not for yourself, for all the fans you disrespect and hurt every time you say something thoughtless.