Perhaps I should explain before anyone gets really offended. In most hip hop videos you get a typical formula: Rappers, various displays of wealth (cars, chains, etc.), and the “bitches/hoes.” Every video has the scantily clad models or dancers who are casually on display. Their very presence implies that the rappers can and do bang foxy ladies. Videos by female artists are much the same, though I find the objectification is usually toned down in comparison. Even the singer herself is usually portrayed as a sex object, usually passed off as a fashion statement (see any Beyonce video). It’s not just hip hop though. I’ve seen women objectified in every genre. However, I don’t know if I have ever seen a video for a female artist take it the level that Nicki Minaj does in her videos.
When I first saw Minaj’s “Beez in The Trap,” I was surprised. Maybe I am just behind in the times or something. I admittedly don’t watch music videos much anymore, but that video takes female objectification and sexuality to a whole new, blatant level. Minaj usually has at least as much skin exposed as she does covered. In fact her bikini top is noticeably too small for her breasts. Her most conservative outfit is worn when she is behind barbed wire (and don’t tell me that isn’t symbolic). When our eyes aren’t directed to her booty, there are plenty of other women to provide the same distraction. Not to mention the close up shots of the gold bikini clad stripper, whose face we never see. Don’t even get me started on the obvious and gratuitous hints at bisexuality. The implications really are just for image sake, because Minaj identifies as heterosexual (though she is resistant to labels, she admittedly has sexual relations with men but not women). There’s a lot to get worked up about in this video.
Note that earlier I said objectification and sexuality. For me this raises a question: Is it exploitation or expression? Shouldn’t a woman be able to dress and behave how she wants in her own music video? If she wants to express herself as a strong, sexual being, isn’t that her business? When Christina Aguilera did it back in her Stripped days, defending female sexuality, I loved it. I mean, okay, obviously female empowerment wasn’t her only motivation for taking off her clothes. But when she said in one of her songs “I don’t understand why it’s okay/the guy can get away with it and the girl gets named,” I thought to myself “Good point!” If Christina Aguilera could wear what she wanted and not be a slut, why couldn’t I? If she could talk openly about her sexuality, couldn’t I do the same? Female empowerment doesn’t have to mean high necklines, nor does wearing short-shorts equate to exploitation. This made a huge impression on me, as I am sure it did for other young women.
Isn’t is possible that there are no men using her, and it is Minaj’s own choice? Isn’t it possible that she is doing the exploiting? I’m referring to your wallets now. In Missy Elliot’s song “Work It” she says “Ain’t no shame ladies do your thang/just make sure you’re ahead of the game.” As cliché as it may be, sex sells and Minaj is rolling in cash. Who is to judge how she dresses, or how she earns her money? For me, less is more (literally when it comes to clothing) and it is all my own doing. I enjoy my low cut shirts, and I wear them for me. The only reason why I don’t get accused of being exploited is because I am not in a position where anyone cares how I dress (except of course my partner).
But in this day and age it’s difficult to tell who is doing the exploiting, and who is doing the expressing. I suspect this is not an issue that will be resolved any time soon. How is it even possible to know? I wish I could offer you some sort of definite conclusion, but I can’t. I think in the end what matters is in this media saturated society you learn to watch objectively, and respect other people’s choices about how to express their sexuality.