A field guide to Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, and intersectionality
After MTV announced the nominees for the 2015 Video Music Awards yesterday, Nicki Minaj took to Twitter to express disappointment that her record-breaking video for “Anaconda” received neither a nomination for Best Choreography nor Video of the Year — and that “Feelin’ Myself (feat. Beyoncé)” wasn’t nominated at all.
Minaj rightly pointed out that, regardless of your personal opinions on the video, “Anaconda” had a huge impact on pop culture last year — and that it was easily one of the most notable, watched, discussed, meme-d, and parodied videos of 2014. Minaj further discussed the double standards at play, and the racism still very much apparent in the music industry. She argued that while it received nominations for Best Female and Best Hip-Hop Video, “Anaconda” definitely also deserved a nod for Video of the Year.
Taylor Swift, whose video for “Bad Blood” was nominated in the coveted category, took the tweets as a personal attack, and responded directly to them on Twitter — interpreting Minaj’s critique of the music industry as a critique against other women, specifically Taylor Swift.
Minaj then countered that none of what she said was in reference to her, before retweeting multiple tweets about racism in both the media and the music industry. (T-Swift later responded, “If I win, please come up with me!! You’re invited to any stage I’m ever on.”)
The brief exchange led to a flood of articles about the “Twitter feud,” with “Bad Blood” jokes abounding. But the non-fight between Minaj and Swift actually brings up some pretty important points about feminism, solidarity, and the importance of intersectionality — and it’s important that we discuss all of those things here.
Let me preface this by saying I love both Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift very much. They’re both immensely talented, hardworking, and all-around badass ladies and it’s obvious that we’re all about supporting other ladies here at HelloGiggles. But it’s equally important that we realize not all women experience the same privileges and prejudices, and critiquing the system that upholds these privileges and prejudices isn’t always the same as critiquing the people who benefit from them.
In its simplest form, intersectionality refers to the “intersections” within and between forms of societal oppression. For example, a woman of color might experience both racism and sexism, along with a blend of the two that is unique within either. (See: Nicki Minaj.) Many people are hesitant to embrace intersectionality, because it means acknowledging privilege; it “complicates” feminism and gender equality; and many feel it “distracts” from individual issues. But that’s far from the case. By fighting to end prejudice of all kinds, we have the potential to lift all women (and men, for that matter), rather than a select few at the expense of the rest.
While it’s likely that Minaj was, in fact, referring to “Bad Blood” in her tweets — given that the video featured a ton of T-Swift’s besties, many of whom happen to be “very slim” — it’s important to note that she doesn’t actually tear it down or say that it was unworthy of recognition. Quite the contrary: She acknowledges its cultural impact and power, and instead questions why her video wasn’t recognized in the same way.
To call Minaj a “sore loser” is to miss the point of her argument entirely. As Corinne Redfern pointed out in an article at Marie Claire, “When Britney Spears got naked and covered herself in sequins for “Toxic,” she was nominated for Best Music Video. When Emily Ratajkowski got naked next to Robin Thicke in Blurred Lines, he was nominated for Best Music Video. When Miley Cyrus stripped off and broke a million health and safety rules by riding a piece of construction equipment, she wasn’t just nominated for Best Music Video of the Year — she won it. All of the above videos have been controversial, but they were acknowledged by the industry for their impact nevertheless.” That’s markedly different treatment than what Minaj is facing.
“Anaconda” was certainly not the first time that a woman has owned her sexuality and stripped down for a music video — but when Nicki Minaj did it, it was met with an onslaught of criticism, basically because it celebrates a Black woman’s body in a way that makes our society uncomfortable. This is extremely problematic — and exactly why intersectionality is more important than ever.
Being a feminist means supporting equality for all women, and sometimes that means acknowledging the privileges that have been afforded to you because of your race, class, or other factors. We are all subjected to a unique set of struggles; but rather than look at it as a game of “oppression Olympics,” it is essential we acknowledge the diversity of oppression in order to overcome it. There are some experiences and injustices that all women share (#YesAllWomen), but there are many that we don’t. In the case of T-Swift and Nicki, sometimes female solidarity means just offering your support. As Spencer Kornhaber wrote for The Atlantic, “When female solidarity shuts down someone’s honest expression of frustration at society, inequality, and racial and body-type bias, that’s hardly progressive.”
Acknowledging the importance of intersectionality is essential in our fight for equal rights. All too often, we hear that racism and ableism and classicism and homophobia and transphobia and ageism are not feminist issues — but if an issue is something that affects women, then it should be considered one. Gender equality shouldn’t be achieved at the expense of marginalized groups of women. Rather than handling bigotry one type at a time — which can ultimately pit allied women against one another — we should be working towards equality for everyone.
Both Minaj and Swift have done so much to prove just how powerful women’s voices are, and both are worthy of recognition for their achievements. When it comes to equality, there should be room — whether on the stage or otherwise — for all of us.