Nicki Minaj shut down a sexist question in the absolute smartest way
Nicki Minaj has had *quite* a year, and we are here! For! It! The rapper collaborated with BFF Beyoncé on the ladies first anthem “Feeling Myself,” is working on a comedy sitcom about her childhood, and notably, challenged music fans to examine the intersections between race and sex within the pop landscape. (What’s good?) While so many amazing women in music are speaking out about and for themselves and the fans who look up to them, they’re still sometimes subjected to sexist lines of questioning. Case in point: Minaj’s latest cover story for the New York Times Magazine.
The interview actually opens quite beautifully, with seasoned writer Vanessa Grigoriadis extolling, “Minaj has become expert at modeling the ways that women can wield power in the industry. But she has also drawn attention to the ways in which power can be embodied by a woman standing up for herself and speaking her own mind.” Throughout the profile, Minaj showcases a nuanced worldview regarding herself, her fame, and her ambition. This line of questioning stops abruptly when the interviewer starts to ask Minaj not about herself, but about the private lives and public disputes of the men who work with Minaj.
For those of you who don’t follow the hip-hop world, two particularly high profile beefs have been going on throughout the year. There’s Drake and Meek Mill; the former is Minaj’s labelmate at Cash Money and a longtime collaborator, while Meek Mill is Minaj’s tourmate and boyfriend. Then there’s the case of Lil Wayne and Birdman; both men are part of Minaj’s label, and Birdman is a co-founder. Neither case directly involves Minaj, whose silence on these matters (especially as regards to Meek Mill) is notable since she’s never shied away from using her considerable social platforms to boost social issues, air out pet peeves, and side-eye entire industries.
“Is there a part of you that thrives on drama, or is it no, just pain and unpleasantness” — that’s the question the interviewer, who is a woman, poses to Minaj. While there’s certainly something to be said about addressing all aspects of a performer’s life in a profile, Minaj rightly snaps at the assumption that her involvement with the men in her life boils down to a need for “drama.” While the word on its own isn’t sexist, the implication in this case — that Minaj somehow feeds off of the lives of the men around her — is. Reality TV and satires like Mean Girls (“A little bit dramatic”) represent two different ideas of engaging with female-centric conflicts, but as a whole, we’ve come a long way from people seriously believing that women alone live for oftentimes petty, personal conflicts, or that women will fan the flames of those conflicts for entertainment value.
Minaj fired back in her trademark candor: “That’s disrespectful. Why would a grown-ass woman thrive off drama? What do the four men you just named have to do with me thriving off drama? Why would you even say that? That’s so peculiar. Four grown-ass men are having issues between themselves, and you’re asking me do I thrive off drama?” She continues by further dissecting the interviewer’s intent; it’d read a bit like armchair psychology if it weren’t for the fact that she’s been at the center of so many similar situations recently:
To her credit, Grigoriadis immediately recognized what she’d done (and included it in her piece): “As soon as I said the words, I wished I could dissolve them on my tongue. In pop-culture idiom, ‘drama’ is the province of Real Housewives with nothing better to do than stick their noses where they don’t belong”; AKA, an insipid line of questioning for one of the biggest personalities on the planet. It’s not that all celebrity profiles have to be glowing and unquestioning; the interviewer herself suggests as much when she writes, “This was not the game Minaj was here to play — interviews in the social-media era are about being adored, not interrogated.” (A statement that isn’t true.)
But, there are ways to dig deeper without invoking sexist ideas—intentionally or otherwise. Minaj is in the unique position of existing in multiple theaters of personality; her experiences inside them are grist for the gossip mill, but at the end of the day, they are also her life. To suggest that she does anything in a trifling way is to dismiss the real effort she puts into maintaining her work and personal relationships, and there’s nothing dramatic about that.
A field guide to Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, and intersectionality
Nicki Minaj is the biggest fan of the new Zendaya Barbie
Image via Shutterstock.