If we only acknowledge white women and educated minority women as feminists we are ignoring an entire pool of people that obtain the ideals of feminism. Feminists are people who acknowledge that equality surpasses gender. Some would even expand that statement to include that the current feminist movement also fights against homophobia, classism, and racism. Since women are present in every race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality, this causes feminists to be a diverse multitude of people. Even those that lack exposure to the term feminism often obtain beliefs that correlate with feminist values. An example of the current state of diversity within feminism is portrayed in mainstream hip-hop. Anyone who has exposure to American hip-hop has heard of Nicki Minaj. She is a Trinidadian rap artist who is known for her lavishly loud wardrobes, sexual rap lyrics, curvaceous figure, and her ability as a female rapper to gain respect in the entertainment industry. After listening to her radio hits and seeing a few videos, the average person would not categorize Nicki as a feminist. Many stereotype her as a freak, a whore, and a bad influence on young girls. Although her radio rap lyrics are extremely explicit and her videos overtly sexual, Nicki’s first album Pink Friday embraces womanhood, addresses the difficulty of women staying true to themselves, and encourages young girls to succeed. However, it does this in a language and a culture that has yet to be embraced by feminist and intellectuals within the academia.
Nicki touches the 25 and younger generation, just as Lauryn Hill once did, but in a uniquely successful way that stays true to the male dominated hip-hop world. Instead of Nicki consistently displaying the “empowering black female” stereotype (i.e. one that does not curse a lot, does not embrace the word “bitch” or “nigga,” does not expose their body sexually or discuss sexual gratification in a raw and raunchy manner), Nicki does the exact opposite. She takes on many of the characteristics of male rappers that society deems as degrading toward women. However, she then uses this language to relay a messages that empowers females with confidence, motivates them to overcome struggles, and teaches the world that we are living in a new age of feminism. The song “I’m the Best,” a cocky track where she boasts about her talents, is a prime example of this portrayal. In the song Nicki raps, “…I’m fighting for the girls that never thought they could win, because before they could begin you told them it was the end. But I am here to reverse the curse that they live in.”
Although the appearance of feminism is evolving, many of the struggles women face still remain the same. Regardless of our day in age, the term “sex sells” has yet to be outdated. When Nicki Minaj entered the hip-hop scene she was always talking about sex, ménage à trios, and being a lesbian. Although she rapped about a spectra of other things, her mainstream songs and features where sexually oriented. However, Pink Friday shows another side to Nicki. One song entitled “Dear Old Nicki” is about Nicki speaking to her past self prior to achieving fame. One verse states, “I had to make them changes, I hope you understood….You was underground and I was mainstream. I live the life now, that we would daydream.” This line displays how she had to become an image of something that she was not in order to gain mainstream acceptance. The image she became was an overly sexed black woman, which has been an ongoing struggle for black women since the days of Saartjie Baartman. Nicki realizes that her over-the-top sex appeal was only for attention and had the potential to deteriorate her true goal of uplifting and empowering young girls and women. In an interview she states, “I made a conscious decision to try to tone down the sexiness…I want people—especially young girls—to know that in life, nothing is going to be based on sex appeal. You’ve got to have something else to go with that.” (See http://www.interviewmagazine.com/music/nicki-minaj/). Being able to combine her confident sexy hip-hop style with her mission to uplift and encourage females, Nicki is a remarkable example of how we can reach younger generations that some push off as a lost cause.
Young people of today are not a hopeless case; they just have a different culture and perspectives on the world. As intellectuals and mentors, we need to cater our style of outreach and influence to meet their ability to understand and relate to our message. As bell hooks always states, “Feminism is for everybody”. It comes in various shapes and forms but the bottom principle remains the same: equality, opportunity, and basic resources for all, regardless of gender. As feminists, we need to begin to acknowledge the different ways to portray feminism to various cultures and age groups. Feminist efforts will be lost if we do not include and educate all people, not just those in the academia.