The Other F-word: Feminism in Pop Culture


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Is it weird to feel bad for feminism? It has been getting a bad rap in pop culture these days which makes me a bit worried about the future. While young stars like Shailene Woodley and Lana Del Ray have publicly declined accepting the capital-F Feminist label for their original, lauded and uniquely feminine work, stars like Lena Dunham and Taylor Swift are trying their best to re-educate the public on what is it to be a modern-day feminist and it has nothing to do with bra-burning, guy-bashing or lacking sexuality or femininity.

Being a feminist is not a uniquely female experience. In fact, I see more and more men coming forward as feminists, as more men are growing up raised by single-mothers and seeing first-hand in their formative years the inequalities that woman can often face.  At its root, feminism is about equality. Equal wages for equal work is a pretty simplistic concept but in 2014, women still earn on average 20 per cent less than men in similar positions across the board.  I feel like that is a very boring and exhaustive conversation that inevitably ends up devolving into some archaic argument about how women’s biological clocks interfere with their ability to get ahead in the corporate world or how since girls are raised to be sugar and spice and everything nice while boys are encouraged to ask for  and do what they want; they inevitably have an easier time climbing the corporate ladder since they are not encumbered by worrying about what others might want or being perceived as polite.

To me, the more interesting conversation is about sexuality and feminism.  Can you still be sexy and be a feminist? Where does femininity fit into this chasm?  I don’t really know the answers.  But I like the questions.

There is no bigger advertisement for feminism right now than Queen Bey. She is sexy.  She is in control. She is feminine.  She is on top.  She is girl power. Whenever she does anything, of course it’s calculated and meticulously well-thought out but that’s why people listen.  I had no idea who Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi was before I heard Flawless, but I sure do now, in fact I can recite lines from her TED Talk on command.  She wants us to think about feminism and femininity and sexuality: so let’s do it.  That’s a scary thing to do for many people.  When do you feel the most feminine or sexual? Just how deeply are your feelings about femininity and sexuality rooted in patriarchy?  I feel feminine when I wear a pretty dress and heels but not so much when I’m wearing pants.  Will that every change?  Probably not. Even though some shirts guys wear look like dresses and some pants girls wear look like dresses?

And what about sexuality? Are you the bad-ass bitch or the pure princess? The angel or the whore?  Women, like men, are much more complicated than that.

If Beyonce wants us to think about feminism, Nicki Minaj wants us to think about sex, specifically sex with her.  I have been oddly hypnotized by the Anacoda video.  Obviously, I think it’s great to have different body images out there for women and men of all shapes and sizes to appreciate and identify with.  It’s awesome that she’s sampling Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back.  Everyone needs to know and appreciate that song.  I also love that she spits that line about not skipping meals:

He can tell I ain’t missing no meals
Come through and fuck him in my automobile. 

I mean the song is dope as fuck.  She’s powerful and she’s hot and she knows what she wants which is great.  But if I’m being honest, it kind of gives me agita – which is a Yiddish word that means general anxiety and agitation that can’t be fully expressed or articulated.  Which is kind of perfect because this video makes me feel like a prudish Jewish grandma. I wish I was cool enough to be so down with all the dance moves and imagery in this video but I’m not. I seriously have had at least five conversations this week speculating where and when girls dance with their asses touching in da club.  I started wondering and worrying about what the preteens in my hip hop dance class would think of this video.

Obviously the video is sexual, and rightly so because the song is about sex.  But is it sexy? I thought it was tongue-in-cheek and cartoonish at first.  I mean Nicki is nothing if not flamboyant.   But the more I talked to people and read the reactions on Twitter the more I realized that Nicki Minaj had tapped into some kind of extremely overt counter-culture sexuality where little is left to the imagination. It’s like her ass and her vagina are her lures and she’s showing what they can do throughout the video but never relinquishing control to anyone.  She’s teasing you with her assets.  It’s very powerful imagery.  But is it sexy? I’m not sure. If I say no does that automatically mean my views on sexuality are clouded by patriarchy?  Is she is too confident to be sexy?

You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful. 

My gut reaction to this video is so perplexing.  I like it and I don’t.  It feels both powerful and degrading somehow.  Would the song be as big a hit if she was spitting her sexually-charged lyrics wearing long pants and a hoodie, Da Brat style?   Sadly, I don’t think so.

But the more I watch it the more and more I feel like an old  stick in the mud.  And the more I realize that the Pussy Cat Dolls pole dancing classes my friends and I took a few years back were like the lukewarm tea equivalent to Nicki Minaj’s scorching, extra hot quadruple shot americano version.

All and all, I’m glad the video is out there along with the other thought-provoking songs, imagery and articles about feminism in the modern world.  If nothing else, it has people thinking about feminism, sexuality and femininity and how they can all co-exist within each of us in the modern world.



About preetybird

Just another run-of-the-mill mysterious microcosm of magic, music, merriment and malevolence.
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