Fem2pt0: “Her Body, Her Choice: Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda”

Nicki Minaj Anaconda

Her Body, Her Choice: Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”

 

Unsurprisingly the revelation of the cover artwork for Nicki Minaj’s upcoming single “Anaconda” was met with shock, debate, and criticism. The picture itself is relatively simple: it features Nicki Minaj crouched down looking over her shoulder. She just happens to be wearing a thong that shows her enviable cheeks. But it’s not as though our culture isn’t already heavily saturated with images people’s rear ends. In fact it’s at the point where white people like Miley Cyrus, Iggy Azalea, and Jen Selter have insinuated an ownership over a ‘trend’, without acknowledging that their cultural appropriation reflects a very specific type of oppression. People of colour have been aggressively categorized as Other in a multitude of ways for centuries, and having body types that differ from idealized white bodies continues to be a massive part of that. So what is this really about? Exploitation? Her race? The fact that she’s doing it herself for her own single? All of the above.

One of the most visible reactions is concern over a perceived exploitation. It’s easy for people to distance themselves from her lived experiences by questioning whether or not she’s crossed a line, or talking about how it’s all part of the act to sell records. It is true that her career has involved personas, sexy Instagram photos, and boundary pushing lyrics. Yet that doesn’t mean Nicki Minaj isn’t an authentic part of Onika Maraj. While there’s no way for anyone to know her motivations, it’s outright sexist for critics to ignore her agency. The worry people express over Minaj neglects the possibility that a woman is capable of showing her body for her own pleasure and enjoyment. Even when she is given the benefit of the doubt, her actions are analyzed with skepticism and hesitancy. This continues to occur despite the fact that Minaj has demonstrated awareness of gender in the music industry. Nearly as soon as the gossip popped up she shut it down.

And her response can’t be overlooked. On her Instagram she shared photos of various magazine covers and photoshoots that featured thin white women in thongs. Not only she is highlighting the hypocrisy of what is ‘acceptable’, she’s giving plain evidence of the racial politics that determine which bodies are appropriate and which ones are too much. Minaj is asserting her own confidence and sexuality, but she’s also speaking to other women. With one photograph she is promoting the beauty and power of her black body and demanding respect.

When controversies like this arise I always think of Missy Elliot’s song “Work It”. I listened to Under Construction countless times as a teenager, and without realizing it Miss became a role model for me. The specific line that comes to mind is “Ain’t no shame ladies do your thang / Just make sure you’re ahead of the game”. We all live in a system that constantly subjugates women in more ways than we can count. Society is dominated by the omnipresent ‘Madonna-Whore’ complex that criticizes women for being too slutty one minute and too prudish the next. We just can’t win. As a result there’s always going to be a negotiation between conforming to the norms and rebelling against them. What that looks like for each individual person varies; we all have different paths to empowerment. Nicki Minaj is working the system and enjoying it.

This also speaks to me on a personal level. As a curvy woman of colour I have been treated differently than my white friends for my body. Even the ones who are curvier than I am. Even if we’re wearing the same types of clothes. Since I was a teenager and people realized that I have a sizeable booty, and even more so when my upper half caught up in adulthood, I have been made uncomfortably aware of my distinct appearance. The behaviour I’ve encountered has had a noticeable and sometimes even overt racialized connotation. But like Minaj (and as I’ve written about before), I’m happy to express myself by showing some skin. This summer I’ve been most at home in crop tops and high waist shorts or tank tops and short skirts. I don’t believe I should have to change the way I dress to make other people more comfortable, and I certainly can’t do anything about the how my body looks in the clothes I like. I’m not the problem in this scenario, and neither is Minaj. Seeing powerful women like her stand up for the way they choose to represent themselves is necessary and inspiring. Even more so because the bodies of women of colour are being erased as much (if not more) as they’re being embraced.

People tend to applaud actors for refraining from nude scenes in film, or talk about the ‘elegance’ that comes from a more conservative style. The implication here is that some bodies are wrong, and that there is a ‘right’ way to share and dress them. When we praise some women for their choices and shame others for doing the opposite, we are failing all women.

Update:

My article was quoted in a ThinkProgress piece! I love that site so this is a big deal to me.

Fem2pt0: Dissecting Masculinity in Hannibal

A proper article to go with all my Hannibal recaps! More or less spoiler free.

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Dissecting Masculinity in Hannibal

 

The second season of NBC’s Hannibal has received critical acclaim for the way it’s pushed boundaries on artistry, violence, and depth on television. But one of the most integral and perhaps overlooked aspects is the progressiveness of masculinity in this series. In what is an increasingly male-centric series we see a distinct comfort and openness with homosocial intimacy, and challenging depictions of male sexuality.Hannibal is not only delivering a fresh take on a popular and well known franchise, but further expanding on the trope of the male anti-hero.

Male anti-heroes and morally gray men are not only the norm on TV today, but the hot trend. Some even say it’s a tired trope, taking up too much space at the cost of other characterizations. Personally I still thoroughly enjoy characters that make me challenge my own ideas of morality and ethics. The typical heroes of shows rarely speak to me the way flawed characters do. Even as a kid I preferred to root for Faith over Buffy or Pacey over Dawson. But it’s impossible to miss the growing uniformity in this trend and how the representation of female anti-heroes lags far behind. This is why it can be easy to skim over the way gender works in Hannibal.

One of the many things that makes this critic and fan favorite special in season 2 is the fact that its two male leads are both protagonists and antagonists in their own right. Of course Hannibal the Cannibal is obviously the villain. The whole premise of the book series and all the adaptations that followed is that the center of this fictional universe is the horrific yet somehow appealing psychiatrist turned cannibal. In Bryan Fuller’s TV series Hannibal is fleshed out even more than in the source material. The audience is finally able to see what others saw that allowed him to elude capture for so long. But the second season also develops the darkness and ambiguity in the characters we’re supposed to cheer for. Will Graham approaches Walter White levels of boundary blurring. Jack Crawford and Frederick Chilton justify their own questionable actions with dubious logic.

It is in part this disregard for conventional characterization that allows the show to also transcend some of the usual trappings of masculinity. One major difference between Hannibal and other shows is the comfortable inclusion of homosocial relationships. How often are men seen spending time together just to enjoy one another’s company on serious TV dramas? Male friendships are a common feature of comedy series where they can get into hijinks together or talk about the women in their lives. But it isn’t normalized to a portray men just hanging out without the pretext of a joke. One of the primary features of this show is Hannibal having his friends over for dinner. Women talking over cocktails or a coffee is a given in these post-Sex and the City days, but not the reverse. Sure the meals are used to frame his cannibalism or subtly discuss major themes in the series, but it also goes a long way in showing male friendship is not only okay but a regular part of life. No homophobic jokes necessary. This is incredibly important because it helps to break down the depictions of men only in each other’s lives for beer, boob jokes, or competition. Even on a horror series that often stretches plausibility, representation matters.

Sexuality is also more fluid in Hannibal than its counterparts. Fuller intentionally wrote in homoerotic subtext between Will and Hannibal. He has suggested that Hannibal is a sexually flexible person with attractions that go beyond gender. While unfortunately Fuller has not been explicit with expressing various characters’ queerness on or off screen, he has them room to exist in non-binary ways. Not even the creator himself has been able to silence the debate surrounding Will’s sexuality and the nature of his relationship with Hannibal.

Another notable aspect on Hannibal is the sexualization of male characters. Season 2 features the first overtly erotic moments and sex scenes of the series, but the gaze is focused more on men than women. Whether or not this is problematic is a whole other conversation in itself, but it’s significant that the female and queer gaze is being acknowledged. But the most meaningful aspect is that the violence of the series is not eroticized. Bodies belonging to problematic men? Yes. However the common link we see in the media that fetishizes male violence and violence against women is not present.

Nonetheless, how progressive is the show really if it still leaves its female characters underdeveloped? In comparable series like Mad Men and Dexter women are featured as leading characters and are crucial to the stories being told. While characters in horror series are all potentially expendable, women onHannibal seem to be particularly disposable. The issue isn’t female characters dying or taking extended absences, the problem is that Fuller offers them so few moments to shine. No woman gets as much screen time as the three leading men. Still in its infancy, there’s room for improvement. But if Hannibal wants to continue developing its unique bond with fans it needs to give the women in the show and the audience more consideration.

Fem2pt0: Iggy Azalea is Empowered at the Cost of Others

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Iggy Azalea is Empowered at the Cost of Others

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.

Fem2pt0: Why We All Need Beyonce’s Feminism

Beyonce and Jay-Z performing at the Grammys

Why We All Need Beyonce’s Feminism

2013 has been a major year for feminism in the media, and feminist victories. Perhaps most importantly, thanks to Mikki Kendall and her hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen, it’s been a year for recognizing the way white mainstream feminism has been failing at intersectionality. It is time for white, cisgender, heterosexual, able feminists to sit down and listen to the other equally important but further marginalized voices. This is partly why Beyoncé’s new album couldn’t have come at a better time. What better way to end a productive year than with a deeply personal and powerfully feminist album by themost popular and loved black woman in pop culture?

Her self-titled album, just released December 13th, has already been hugely successful. Fans and critics alike adore it. The combination of visual media, total secrecy surrounding its creation, and surprise release has everybody talking about it. But arguably the biggest achievement is her unashamed embracement her own identity and feminist perspective. Kendall praised the album for the way Beyoncé silences her many critics who claim she isn’t feminist enough or is the ‘wrong’ kind of role model for women. Proudly in “Flawless” she samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk about why everyone should be a feminist. This demonstrates that she hears those attacks, but is confident in her woman-positive music and beliefs regardless of those determined to bring her down. The album is all about her loving her body, sexuality, and marriage, while acknowledging the struggles she experiences as both a woman and a celebrity. Beyoncé opens up about jealousy, having her appearance critiqued and attacked, and contemplates the way motherhood has affected her marriage and her life. It’s extremely vulnerable, which is one of its most important strengths. Over at Gradient Lair Trudy rightly calls the album “a manifesto of Black womanhood and freedom”. She notes the undeniable way Beyoncé has triumphed, writing that “all of the hot air and hatred in the world couldn’t silence this work, this art, this manifesto”. In a world where black women’s pride and experiences are aggressively suppressed and vehemently ignored, Beyoncé is subversive and revolutionary in her own right.

Beyoncé’s album is one of the many things I’ve encountered this year that has opened my eyes to the ways white feminism has let me down. I’m as guilty as anyone for focusing too much on white feminism in the past, even though my Asian and African ancestry dominates my appearance and the way people see me. Growing up in racially diverse yet culturally ‘white’ Alberta, raised by my white European family, it has taken time for me to embrace the non-Caucasian aspects of my identity. If white feminism doesn’t care about my journey to find wholeness in my identity and choices, Beyoncé does. What Beyoncé’s album has taught me is acceptance, despite of all the forces in my life telling me otherwise. The music is all about unapologetic self-love. It’s an inclusive feminism. She tours with her husband’s last name, revels in her blissful marriage, and features her daughter on the song all about her. There is no shame, only joy and liberation in her choices. For years I have dealt with guilt over being a married feminist who wants to have children as much as I want to have my career. I’ve wondered where I fit in a movement dominated by white women. While on an intellectual level I know these things are not incompatible, there is a distinct dearth of proud feminist narratives that include marriage and children as sources of strength. It’s great that there’s focus on the way the sexuality of women of colour has been commodified and objectified, but not enough about the ways our sexuality is valid or how we can own it.

There are so many white anti-sex, and anti-marriage voices dominating mainstream feminism that there’s a guilt attached to choosing a different path. I feel that when I see people look at my white husband first, and then me. Slut-shaming and a general lack of respect for other women’s choices is rampant in sex and gender journalism. Judging and shaming women for how they choose to live their lives is a form of anti-woman oppression in itself. So it is crucial to have dissenting voices that tell women it isn’t anti-feminist to thrive in marriage and own their sexuality in their chosen way. In this ongoing debate between sex negative and sex positive feminism people seem to forget that ‘one-size’ sexuality does not fit all. It’s okay to identify as either, but not if it comes at the cost of other women. Beyoncé is here for women. While white mainstream feminism has been busy drawing lines in the sand, Beyoncé is telling women of colour that we can have what we want out of life and that we are good enough.

None of this is to say that Beyoncé’s feminism is flawless or exempted from critique. Her version of feminism is not without issues and will not speak to everyone. But we all need to see this powerful black woman in the media owning her version of highly sexual, happily married version of feminism. We need to see a wide array of feminist perspectives and voices in the media, since feminism isn’t one unified movement. Beyoncé may not be your ideal feminist role model, but what she does and says has a meaningful impact. I’m immensely grateful to have her voice be a part of the discussion.

Fem2pt0: Don’t Give Up On Feminism Yet

Originally published in March 2013 on Fem2pt0. A response to articles by Hanna Rosin and Tracy Moore on Slate and Jezebel. Links are in the article.

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Don’t Give Up On Feminism Yet

I feel like a serious debate is beginning, and I have to throw my two cents in. I need to, because I am worried what the consequences could be I stay silent on the subject. Slate recently ran a well-articulated piece by Hanna Rosin called “Marissa Mayer Thinks Feminists Are a Drag. Is She Right?” As suggested by the title it is about the value of the term feminism. Rosin discussed Yahoo’s female CEO Marissa Mayer who has chosen not to call herself a feminist. The implication is that if a woman can be this successful and still make room for equality in her business, she doesn’t have to call herself a feminist and there’s nothing wrong with that. Rosin points out that many young women are reluctant to call themselves feminists as well, so perhaps there is a trend there.

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Fem2pt0: 20-Somethings in the Era of Girls

Originally published March 2013 on Fem2pt0.

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20-Somethings in the Era of Girls

Lena Dunham is not the voice of my generation. Girls is not all-encompassing. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the show and I’ll watch anything Dunham does in the future. But that doesn’t mean it is an infallible guide to being or understanding a 20-something woman. Here’s what it does get right. Each episode, especially in the second season, offers a brilliant moment of clarity where the characters realize they are lost. Whether they have the job or not, the boyfriend or not, they have yet to figure out who they are and what they want. I know this isn’t exclusive to 20-somethings. Anyone can experience that feeling of drifting at any age, at any point in history. But as a 20-something I can tell you there’s an immense pressure to do something and be someone, but this expectation that we’re too young to really know. It’s a confusing dichotomy, and lately I find myself caught up in it.

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