Written for COMM120M – Media Stereotypes
I am super proud of this essay!! The task was to take two articles we read in class and use them to analyze a piece of media. The two articles I used are cited below. I am far from being an expert on this subject, but I love Nicki Minaj. There is no denying that.
Within the hip-hop and rap community, there is an overarching theme of sexism and misogyny, powered by the ever-present male gaze – particularly towards women of color. There is a growing concern about the hypersexual portrayal of black women’s bodies in male-created music videos and rap lyrics – which have created nasty generalizations and stereotypes (e.g. black women being “animalistic” and sexual) about all black women’s identities and sexualities (Reid-Brinkley 253). Due to these generalizations, a rift has been created between the ideals of femininity within the space of the hip-hop and rap genres. As these personas clash, it appears there is no way to compromise them. Despite this conflict in the media, there are female hip-hop and rap artists that seem to challenge this rift in these cookie-cutter stereotypes – one of them being rapper Nicki Minaj. Minaj appears to challenge the norm and combine the stereotypes types of black women in a way that empowers women of color and of different body types to embrace their minds and the way they carry themselves, while participating in a male-dominated space – the rap industry. The controversial music video for her hit single “Anaconda” challenges the male gaze and subverts it, allowing Minaj to take full control of the portrayal of her body and her autonomy as a woman trying to navigate her way to the top of the rap scene.
Women of color are constantly degraded to nothing but sexual objects within rap music videos and in the lyrics of rap songs. Within the various online scribble boards created by Essence magazine a few years ago, it was apparent that the main concern of respondents was “the popular representation in rap music and videos of black women as over-sexed, licentious, money hungry, sexually aggressive women who are sexually available (to any man)” (Reid-Brinkley 254). There appears to be a conflict between what is considered a “good” (“Queen”) black woman and a “bad” (“Ho”) black woman, the latter meaning an overtly sexualized, “animalistic” woman. Black womanhood is seen as performative, and the ideas of dignity, value, and respectability in order to re-shape the idea of black women in the media seem to be favored above all. There appears to be dissatisfaction in the way women are presented in rap videos – they appear to take away any other distinctive features of the “good” black woman (Reid-Brinkley 253). The “ho” is seen as the being who degrades her own people in the public eye by being overly sexual without any real purpose in life.
The two distinctions between the types of women above do not take into consideration the idea of the male gaze – the patriarchal erasure of women’s desires and personalities within the video, stripping them of everything that makes them unique. There is the stigma that “men’s personalities and bodies vary, but women are primarily interchangeable sex objects” (Wade and Sharp 165). Men are constantly presented as sexual creatures with a desire to respond to the hyper-sexualized women in videos – an emphasis of their masculinity. It appears that more of the blame is put on black women by black women in the case of the responses in the scribble boards, without any deeper look at the industry itself. Therefore, this distinction can appear problematic, as it is not intersectional and collaborative – and that is where Minaj’s Anaconda video comes in. While black women in other videos may have been presented as submissive, Minaj is the exact opposite. She takes on the role of a sexually liberal woman who knows what she wants and goes for it – she appropriates the role of the male gaze and sings about her own sexual ventures and praises her own body.
Minaj’s video has four primary scenes and locations, the first one being a jungle scene where she is flanked by three other women – two black women and one white woman – with Minaj dressed in a golden bikini and the other women all dressed equally in black plain bikinis. The other scenes include a tree house, a plain white room, and eventually, a dimly lit room with a male individual in a single chair. Minaj immediately assumes the role of the ringleader of the women in the video, cuing the women with her to dance along to the famous hook of Sir Mix A Lot’s “Baby Got Back” – “My anaconda don’t want none/unless you got buns, hon.” It is interesting that Minaj samples Mix A Lot’s hook as the original song objectifies women who are dancing in a club. She takes the lyrics and instead of submitting to the male gaze she makes it about herself, and encourages women to attain the sexual freedom she has rather than making the song about the way that she is nothing but a sexual object. She appropriates the hypersexual personality expressed by the male rappers who came before her and makes the song about herself and women like her. The video and the song become sort of a “safe space” to discipline girls like Minaj to accept who they are and gain more confidence in their life choices in contrast to the use of a “safe space” to create performances of seemingly appropriate, sexless, and “good” femininity (Reid-Brinkley 254). Each of the scenes in the video – except for the last one with the single man in it – only features Minaj and about three or four female dancers. The video is very centered on the confident and headstrong female individual.
According to scholars Lisa Wade and Gwen Sharp, “both men and women tend to accept men’s sexual subjectivity and women’s sexual objectification” (168). However, Minaj does not accept male subjectivity – there are a variety of physical and metaphorical markers of male castration within her music video. There is a scene wherein Minaj plays with fruit from a smoothie she is making within her tree house – her “safe space” of sorts – and swiftly cuts a banana into little pieces, scoffing at the peel and throwing it away as if it is nothing. This particular scene takes place while Sir Mix A Lot’s hook plays in the background – and it becomes obvious that the banana doubles as a penis in order to represent that she does not need to be under the watchful eye of a man to be confident and expressing her sexuality. The images of Minaj and her dancers lying on the floor and shaking their behinds upward create the image of a snake – an anaconda. While the anaconda represented the male phallus in Sir Mix A Lot’s song in Nicki Minaj’s it represents her sex. She flips the entire meaning of the original sampled song and created a power anthem for sexual freedom.
Another way Minaj represents her sexual freedom in Anaconda is through the final scene of the music video – wherein she juxtaposes herself standing in a river, wet and wearing a bikini with images of her giving a lap-dance to singer/rapper/actor Drake in a dimly lit room. Minaj’s face is very passive, and Drake is clearly aroused by her actions. She constantly swats his hands away every time he attempts to touch her behind, and after one last grind on his lap, she ups and leaves him there as he buries his face in his hands. She proves that she ultimately does not need a man to validate her sexuality. She commands Drake’s gaze – and the gaze of all men watching the video – and teases without giving output. One can argue that the over-sexualization of Minaj and her dancers still reverts back to stereotypes of the “ho” in conflict with the idea of respectability – but not only is Minaj promoting sexual freedom, she is also promoting a body positive self. She commands everyone in her song to “look at her butt” – but the video implies the idea of “you can see, but cannot touch” – emphasizing the need for consent. She again appropriates the masculine sexual subjectivity and makes it her own, being headstrong in the way that she presents herself and her body to the public. She does not give Drake consent to touch her.
Despite the seemingly positive image of a confident sexual women presented in the video, one questionable aspect of the video is the blatant product placement for Myx Moscato, Dr. Dre’s Beats Pill (Bluetooth iPhone/iPod speakers), VSX Workout Clothes, MateFit (a detoxifying drink), and AirJordan shoes. Attractive women, who are scantily dressed, in some cases, are featured alongside products being sold (Wade and Sharp 164). Here, Minaj reinforces the idea that women are objectified in order to sell goods to a male audience. However, one can say that within the parts that featured blatant product placement, Minaj and her girls, who do not appear to say anything or do anything but dance around her sexually, are objects that do not have feelings or preferences as “someone desires them, [so] they can be had” (165). These parts of the video bring out the fact that while she is empowering female viewers, she is also conflicting her confident narrative with aggressively objectifying advertising. She brings back the subjective male look. However, one can argue that the fact that most of the products featured were pink could be pandering to a female audience rather than a male – and while she is promoting body positivity, she is also creating a space for women to become consumers as well.
While there are conflicting ideas of how women of color should present themselves, Nicki Minaj presents a type of femininity that can be both empowering and confident in terms of sexuality. She takes full control of her body within her music video, commanding to be looked at as a work of art rather than being passively looked at, and has full autonomy of how she should be handled as a person, especially in the scene with Drake. She creates a safe space of consent, confidence and sexual freedom for young women. Though she may appear hyper-sexualized and uses a myriad of innuendos in her video, it is because she is appropriating hegemonic ideals of black women in rap videos. There is the question of the juxtaposition of her sexual image and the various products placed in the video, but the overall message of the song and the content of the video shows that while she may have showcased the aspects of the “ho” – she also showed the “good” black woman as well as she looks to be intersectional – freely sexual and confident about her career and life. She clearly states that she wants nothing to do with a man’s “anaconda” – she’s perfectly okay with hers and will use it when needed with consent.
Reid-Brinkley, Shanara. “The Essence of Res(ex)pectability: Black Women’s Negotiation of Black Femininity in Rap Music and Music Video.” COMM120M: Advanced Media Production: Media Stereotypes. U Readers. 37-59. Print.
Wade, Lisa and Sharp, Gwen. “Chapter 12: Selling Sex.” Images that Injure. 164-171. Print.