This is the kind of blog post I have to pump myself up to write, so at this point I’ve watched Nicki Minaj’s music video for Anaconda approximately fifteen times (and counting) and needless to say I’m getting a little crazy, cranky, and tired.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I want you to watch Nicki’s Anaconda video. You might be scarred, fair warning. Then come back and we’ll talk about women’s rights and butts.
Back? Okay. Timeline.
Beginning of time-1900s: Female sexuality has long been stigmatized by society, and seen as an evil and shameful, preventing sexual freedom and promoting continued sexism.
1907: Annette Kellerman was arrested in 1907 for wearing a form-fitting one-piece bathing suit at a beach.
1916: Kellerman was also the first major actress to appear nude in film, in the movie A Daughter of the Gods.
1920s: Flapper girls illustrated sexual freedom, seeing non-marital sex as natural and normalizing the idea of casual courtship – flapper girls were some of the young people who attended the “petting parties” of the 1920s and popularized the idea of foreplay.
1925: Women were by law unable to divorce their husbands on the same grounds as men were able to divorce their wives until 1925.
Wartimes: As the majority of the male population went to war, the number of women working in Canadian industry went from 57 000 to around a million within five years.
Pre-1969: Unavailability and illegality of birth control prevented women’s control over their own reproduction, and birth control was illegal in Canada until 1969.
1989: The Supreme Court of Canada decided that sexual harassment was a form of sexual discrimination (for reference as to how recent this is, 1989 was also the year Taylor Swift was born — that is way too recent).
2010-2014: In 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban for her advocacy of women’s right to education.
From the time they are in Grade Six to the time they are in Grade Ten, the number of teenage girls who identify themselves as self-confident drop 22%, and half of all girls wish they were someone else.
Of all reported sexual assaults, 82% of victims are girls under the age of 18.
One poll in Amnesty International UK in its Stop Violence Against Women campaign was reviewed by the Daily Mail:
A third of Britons believe a woman who acts flirtatiously is partially or completely to blame for being raped, according to a new study.
More than a quarter also believe a woman is at least partly responsible for being raped if she wears sexy or revealing clothing, or is drunk, the study found.
One in five think a woman is partly to blame if it is known she has many sexual partners, while more than a third believe she is responsible to some degree if she has clearly failed to say “no” to the man.
Let that sink in, and then back to Nicki Minaj:
Women have worked their asses off (no pun intended) for the right to drive a car, wear pants, own land, have a career, divorce their husbands. Women are still fighting for these simple rights all over the world. Women are dying.
Women have fought society for decades for the right to their own sexuality. It wasn’t so long ago when fathers, husbands, and brothers literally owned a woman’s sexuality. In many places, they still do.
The fact that many women in the world can sexually express themselves is wonderful. I am very pro-sexual freedom, confidence, and expression. I think women of all ages should be able to be happy with their bodies and have control over their sexuality.
But here’s where the area gets grey.
There’s sexual empowerment, the act of having the power and confidence to use one’s sexuality for personal enjoyment/equivalent.
And then there’s sexual objectification.
Everyday Feminism blogger Melissa Fabello writes about the difference between objectification and empowerment: “Sexual empowerment is active. It’s ownership. Autonomous. Self-serving. Objectification, on the other hand, is a passive relenting of control. It’s powerless. Self-sacrificial.”
Some will argue Nicki Minaj’s racy music videos are her exercising sexual empowerment. Maybe she is. It’s great she’s confident enough in her body to share it with the world, especially a world where for so long skeletal models were the most dominant “role models” (I use the term lightly). She isn’t the typical tiny, thin-hipped, rib-showing singer/model/actress. Great. Go Nicki.
Some will say she’s being objectified in her Anaconda video, but not by men, so it doesn’t matter, right?
This isn’t about Miss Minaj. She’s a public figure. Millions (billions!) of people around the world can watch her videos. The fact that she might be exercising her own sexuality is kind of irrelevant at this point since everything she creates belongs to the public. It’s how art works. It belongs to the people.
When Nicki, and others in the industry, portray themselves in ways that turn sex into a commodity available to buy (buy the music! buy the music video! buy her concert tickets!), it’s taking us back too far in the history women have had to overcome. Commoditized sex isn’t healthy. Nicki’s video isn’t portraying her or any of her backup dancers in a sexually-free way. They have become nothing more than sex objects, human sex machines designed to bring in views and cash and apparently pleasure men.
How does this affect girls and women around the world?
Worldwide accessibility to technology like the internet and television makes witnessing sexual objectification of women in media unavoidable. The social implications of such exposure to male-controlled displays of impersonal sexuality are severe. Girls from a young age are faced with these men-pleasing sex machines in media, in their movies and television shows and music videos.
How can a girl live up to sexual standards of society, while the public think she deserves to be attacked if she is seen in a sexual or vulnerable manner? It has become normal for a girl to receive unwanted sexual comments and advances from acquaintances and strangers alike.
With song lyrics like “my anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun,” a depressing amount of music is telling young women what is desirable and what isn’t. Speaking as a young woman, it’s very normal to desire to be desired — and with music videos, movies, and commercials describing and showing us what’s hot and what’s not, it’s easy to see why low self esteem, eating disorders, and dangerous thinspiration movements are rampant among women, especially teens.
So the fact that maybe Nicki is expressing her own sexual confidence doesn’t really matter. She can exercise that right on a less public platform where she won’t be subliminally telling millions of girls that to be sexually desired by men they have to have massive butts they need to shake in people’s faces. You are more than a butt, ladies. You are more than sex appeal and “something he can grab”.
You are a person. You are a personality. You can express yourself sexually and otherwise. And women have come a long ways to say that. Let’s not spoil that by telling our girls that to be desired they have to be Nicki Minaj.
Notes: as always, my opinions. You’re free to share yours. I also very pointedly didn’t include a picture of Nicki Minaj in her Anaconda video because I don’t want to spread the message of seductively shaking your butt makes you beautiful.I have the references for all the stats I wrote above; if you want them I’m happy to provide them if you leave a comment below. I’m not a professional historian, so if I have a stat wrong, I apologize and will fix it if it comes to my attention. I’m very pro-female sexuality and male sexuality. I believe in equal rights for both genders and I think both men and women need to be more aware of what effects sexual overexposure in media have on children, boys and girls. You’re all awesome. Xox.