Track 1 of the series Feelin’ Myself: Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj on Sexuality, Agency, [M]othering, Identity and Millennial Feminism
Feminist– The person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. ~Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Black feminist thought takes many forms including writing, music, poetry, and spoken word— all with the common goal of escaping, surviving or opposing systemic oppression (Collins, 11). Still, while there appears to be an inclusive approach to the forms of Black feminist thought created by Black women, the criteria to identify as a feminist appear to be far narrower given that considerable debate has centered on whether Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé can even be considered feminists. Putting aside the absurdity of anyone, including feminists, determining whether another woman has the right to self-identify as she chooses, arguments have been made that the images and works of both Knowles-Carter and Minaj are anti-feminist and harmful to women. Bell hooks has gone so far as to label Beyoncé a terrorist. Feminist love? The weight of such a label on Beyonce’s psyche potentially results in the same harm that hooks charges Beyonce with enacting. In her critique, hooks invokes the “elder pass” in calling Beyoncé a terrorist since African diaspora code prevents Beyoncé from responding in a similar manner without being considered disrespectful. Hooks’ critique of Nicki and Beyonce is reminiscent of the differences between SNCC and elder civil rights leaders. Younger generations often have different paths to the same summit and are sometimes viewed by elders as reckless and harmful to the movement’s big picture. As movements evolve and revolve ideologically, so do their members. While the goal of equity remains the same, millennial feminists have carved their own path to the summit of equity.
Women of color (WOC) millennial feminists are unapologetic—metaphysically, epistemologically, and sexually. Their existence and resistance defined by shared theorizing and concrete experiences. WOC millennial loudly and proudly live their contradictions and use such to inform the discourse of living simultaneously Black and female in the U.S.A. WOC millennial feminists understand the need for internal critique while eschewing the notion of respectability politics. She can take therapeutic writing breaks to twerk while completing a dissertation on the impact of misogynistic music. A WOC millennial feminist knows that the identity she occupies might appear to be very similar to identities socially constructed for her but understands the difference—choice. That is to say, WOC millennial feminists are aware that expressions of sexuality might lead to the label of Jezebel but will not censor herself simply to avoid such labels. A WOC millennial feminist will not not be sexy if she chooses simply because doing so plays into the heterosexual male gaze.
To lend credence to the argument that they are not feminists, Beyonce and Nicki Minaj have been consistently compared to socially constructed identities of Jezebel and to Saartjie Bartman (A.K.A. Hottentot Venus). Comparisons between Minaj, Knowles-Carter, and Saartjie Bartman are fair only in the slightest sense. All three are Black women with large butts who travel the world on public display creating spectacle and ultimately profiting men around them (in the cases of Minaj and Knowles-Cater, label heads, producers, managers etc.). There is however, one key distinction between the Baartman and Minaj/Knowles-Carter— Saartjie Bartman was never compensated for the display of her body, Nicki and Beyonce profit greatly from theirs. That is to say, while there may be some similarities, the key difference is that the ability to choose to engage in, and benefit from, the display of their bodies renders them not Jezebel.
To say that women should not be sexy, in whatever way they desire, simply because doing so plays into the heterosexual male gaze is to say that women should change their behavior based on the desires and behaviors of men. It further suggests that women are responsible for the same. Both notions amount to sexism and are central components of rape culture. NIcki directly confronts the male gaze in her track, “Lookin’ Ass” (more on that later).
Throughout various waves of feminism, women have utilized multiple mediums of discourse and action. WOC millennial feminists are no different and their goal remains the same—equity and the ability to live their lives free from the threat of violence with full agency of their person. WOC millennial feminists might choose to express such in an op-ed, term paper or by dropping sixteen bars. Her experiences are valid in the boardroom, the bedroom and the beauty salon and she’s not checking for anyone else to validate her, not even fellow feminists.
Stayed tuned for Track 2 “You Bet Not Come Home Without a Pack of Cigarettes; Black Girls and Bodies as Commodities.”
Track notes: Black feminist thought is the result of collective theorizing and shared concrete experiences. My writing draws on the works of Black feminists before, and surrounding, me. A full bibliography for the series will be posted. In the spirit of Patricia Hill Collins, I embrace personal pronouns “we” and “us” when speaking of Black women, a category of identity I proudly occupy.