Does Nicki Minaj’s Butt Become Our Problem When She Markets It To Kids?

The new art for Minaj's "Anaconda".

The new art for Minaj’s “Anaconda”.

This is an interesting conversation around Nicki Minaj, hip hip culture, influence of media on children, the responsibility/or not celebrities hold as role models, men commenting on sexualization of women, and the commercialization of sexuality.

At the root of it is a father concerned over the cultural role models his daughter is seeing and giving voice to that concern. And while not all consider Minaj to be a role model, she is most certainly a regular and accessible celebrity to many children as she has appeared on the Ellen show with two young starlets, worked as a judge on the family-friendly American Idol, and voiced a cartoon character from the Ice Age movie franchise.
Minaj or any artist has the right to take their work in any direction they choose. But if Minaj and her handlers have clearly marketed her to children, is she then responsible to take on the consideration of “role model” as she reportedly moves her content to “more mature”? And is it okay for dads to call that out?
Another good question is if a star has his or her body surgically altered in order to establish their brand – and make it worth $45 million – in order make themselves more marketable to the public, does that body become a product and are we then allowed to comment on their body, or parts, as consumers speaking up about products marketed to us?

The conversation hosted by Marc Lamont Hill isn’t really about Nicki specifically, but rather a look into sexualization vs sexuality and how the commercialization of such impacts young media viewers and consumers. Also at question is if and when men, especially in the role of fathers, can comment on that without being accused of policing women’s bodies and sexuality as Chuck Creekmur of AllHipHop.com experienced.
Yet can this really be Onika Tanya Maraj’s true sexuality when she is acting as her stage personna “Nicki Minaj” and what is on display is for sale in order to rack up sales? Can men be free to comment when the “sexuality” is a product and possibly not an authentic expression?
You can read Creekmur’s letter here.

The thoughtful counterargument presented by Ebony.com’s senior editor Jamilah Lemieux and titled “Nicki Minaj’s Butt Is Not Your Daughter’s Problem” is that Minaj is the least of hip hop culture’s problems and while Minaj is conflicting and multi-layered, other artists male and female alike present far more damaging content.
You can read Lemieux’s response here.

Minaj in true conflicting Minaj fashion (why I personally love/despise her) fires back to the criticism by pointing out the racist and sexist tones in this controversy by posting photos of white women in nearly identical poses for mens’ magazines. She makes the point and solidly so that when white women do this for the male gaze it is acceptable, but when a black woman does it through her own sexual agency we have a controversy. Minaj calling this out created…..you guessed it, more controversy. But on this I absolutely agree with Nicki — while Minaj’s image is slapped with a parental warning label and questioned for ruining society’s youth, the Sport Illustrated issue published for the male gaze was sold in plain sight, and at eye level, of my young children at the grocery and book store. Go figure.

Nicki Minaj astutely calls out the double standards at play here.

Nicki Minaj astutely calls out the double standards at play here.

Then again, is this “sexual agency and ownership over her own body” when she is using her body as a vehicle for sales while she plays the patriarchal bargain? Stated perfectly by Tiffanie Drayton at The Frisky, This implicates Nicki Minaj and her brand in an unforgivable way. As the face of the modern perpetuation of a stereotype created to serve and justify White male dominance, Minaj and her multi-million dollar empire represents everything wrong with our current perception of blackness and more specifically, Black female sexuality. If Nicki Minaj existed in a world where racial bias and stereotypes did not reign supreme and the Black female body was treated with the same respect as the White female body, then her brand would be a major fail. For that reason, it is best that she not challenge the status quo — not if she wants to continue having a successful career, anyways. For us, the consumers and participants in this continued injustice, we must begin to question and challenge our beliefs if our shared goal is, indeed, equality for all women. And we most certainly should not wait for those participating in and profiting from the degradation of the Black woman’s image to tell us to do so.”

 

Whether you are a fan of Minaj or not, what are your thoughts on the big picture issues that are at play here, especially with concern to how all of this impacts children and shapes their perceptions of gender, race, and sexuality?

Comments

  1. While I’m still learning about many of the issues discussed here, I have to admit I’m confused about the comments on “stereotypes created to serve….White male dominance” and “if..the Black female body was treated with the same respect as the White female body” I see no difference between the photo of Minaj and the cover of Sports Illustrated. Aren’t they both sexual, “perfect woman” stereotypes serving the White male dominance? Aren’t they both being objectified therefore both the white and black bodies are being treated with the same degree (or lack of) respect?

    • Melissa Atkins Wardy says:

      Hi Alicia –
      My personal opinion to your question about both types of bodies being treated with the same degree of disrespect is that yes, both the white models and Nicki Minaj are being objectified for the male gaze in order to make money for the male power holders in both situations (magazine owners and record label). There really is no difference between the two sets of photos.

      But some would argue that Minaj is not putting herself out there as an object for the male gaze, she is simply owning her body and expressing her own personal, raw sexuality and that is different from the three swim suit models who are objects. I don’t buy that, but that is the counter argument to how you and I feel.

      Regarding the aspect of level of respect between white and black bodies, while both images are sexual the white image is nonthreatening because white female bodies and sexuality are an acceptable commodity in our culture whereas the hypersexual black female is considered taboo and causes outrage. The white models are the all-American girl next door angels and the black body is stereotypes as the exotic jezebel. Note – Minaj’s skin is highlighted and lightened so that she doesn’t appear “too black”, just caramel-coffee brown so as not to be too dark to offend our sensibilities.

      I hope you keep reading the blog and questioning these things!

  2. Hi Melissa,
    Thanks for your reply. I don’t buy the counter argument either, as they are both being used to sell commodities-music, magazines, etc in an industry that has established that becoming an objectified sex symbol, or using them, is a near surefire way to success.

    Also, I think when it comes to people who, as you pointed out, are marketed to children (the Nicki Minaj Barbie comes to mind, as does Miley Cyrus’ large tween fanbase) it is definitely acceptable to question their actions and expect that they should be aware of their responsibility.

    Thanks for running this great blog!

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