Nicki Minaj’s Feminism Isn’t About Your Comfort Zone: On “Anaconda” and Respectability Politics

The hype over Nicki Minaj‘sAnaconda” has been a long process. It started when the cover, which featured a controversial image of Minaj’s behind, leaked on the Internet to much dismay; it continued to play out after the track’s audio release as the lyrics were heralded as feminist gold, and it all came to a much-needed climax in the form of the music video featuring Minaj, some backup dancers, and Minaj’s ass. Oh, and Drake was there.

Folks are now, as usual, scrambling to decide: empowering, or not empowering? If anyone had actually been paying attention to Nicki all these years, they’d already know the answer.

When Beyoncé‘s feminist credentials came under fire by feminists in the past year, there was hell to pay. It was fire-and-brimstone kinds of hell, too. People who expressed distaste for the “Mrs. Carter” tour title or Beyoncé’s subtle sexuality were called into question as fellow feminists lifted her up to prominence as the epitome of Goddess. Look, I’m all for Beyoncé and I used to listen to “Why Don’t You Love Me” on repeat, but her feminism is not everyone’s feminism. Beyoncé is married with a child — married to the man she’s been assumedly exclusively sleeping with and dating for pretty much my entire life. She’s been raising money for feminist causes, reclaiming the movement for women’s social, political, and economic freedom, and penning additions to the Shriver Report in her free time. In terms of the image Beyoncé conjures up in the minds of men and women across the nation, it’s pretty clear that it’s one of moderate respectability and responsibility. Beyoncé is not Nicki Minaj.


Nicki Minaj is not a woman who easily slides into the roles assigned to women in her industry or elsewhere. She’s not polished, she’s not concerned with her reputation, and she’s certainly not fighting for equality among mainstream second-wave feminists. She’s something else, and she’s something equally worth giving credence to: a boundary-breaker, a nasty bitch, a self-proclaimed queen, a self-determined and self-made artist. She’s one of the boys, and she does it with the intent to subvert what it means. She sings about sexy women, about fucking around with different men. She raps about racing ahead in the game, imagines up her own strings of accolades, and rolls with a rap family notorious for dirty rhymes, foul mouths, and disregard for authority and hegemony. While Beyoncé has expanded feminist discourse by reveling in her role as a mother and wife while also fighting for women’s rights, Minaj has been showing her teeth in her climb to the top of a male-dominated genre. Both, in the process, have expanded our society’s idea of what an empowered women looks like — but Minaj’s feminist credentials still frequently come under fire.

To me, it seems like a clear-cut case of respectability politics and mainstreaming of the feminist movement: while feminist writers raved over Beyoncé’s latest album and the undertones of sexuality and empowerment that came with it, many have questioned Minaj’s decisions over the years to subvert beauty norms using her own body, graphically talk dirty in her work, and occasionally declare herself dominant in discourse about other women. (All of these areas of concern, however, didn’t seem to come into play when Queen Bey did the same.) Minaj’s perspective has always been multi-dimensional; she comes forward as an immigrant, as a black woman, as a female rapper, as a sexual being, as an artist, as a storyteller, as a survivor, as a bad bitch. She comes forward in order to tell her own story, be it one of domination or declaration. Minaj has even come forward as a feminist. She’s actually done it over and over again. And yet, instead of simply embracing her own discourse on the topic, feminists often can’t wrap their heads around it.

I’m not here to pit Beyoncé and Minaj against one another, of course. I love them both. But it frustrates me that feminists can so obliviously overlook a perspective rooted in self-determination, and it grates on me because the reason is rooted in respectability politics.

“Anaconda” was praised for being a track that both reclaimed the gaze-inspired “Baby Got Back” and also for reversing the narrative of human sexuality in which women’s bodies are worthy of appreciation only when they please men. And when the “Anaconda” album artwork premiered online, feminists were quick to claim the Minaj ass-shot heard ’round the world as revolutionary, despite much debate over how the image of her behind played into the male gaze. nicki-minaj-anaconda   “Whenever black women own their sense of sexuality and it appears to not be controlled by the hetero-male gaze, the whole world gets into a tizzy,” Feministing writer Mychal Denzel Smith wrote. He continued, “If black women aren’t allowed to own their sexuality, then who does it belong to?” What his piece touches on is the ways in which women, and black women especially, are often criticized for expressing themselves sexually despite the repression those expressions fight with every inch of skin. To say Nicki Minaj is modest would be a damndable lie; Minaj has been scantily clad and sexual since the beginning. But are any of us modest? When I put on a short skirt or a crop top, I do so outside of the male gaze, and I am not alone. Women who choose to express their sexuality are not contractually obligated to do so in line with the male gaze, and Minaj’s own choices often call that gaze into question. The integral spirit of defiance that exists within Minaj’s self-imagery is undeniable. The perfect example of this defiance is the video for “Lookin’ Ass,” in which Minaj poses in a revealing outfit while literally destroying the male gaze.

Minaj also frequently juxtaposes sexualized imagery with lyrics about her own sexual desires or the men she is accepting — or, frequently, rejecting — as partners. In Big Sean’s “A$$,” which was literally about men appreciating women’s rear ends, Minaj questions Big Sean’s own endowments. “He like it when I get drunk, But I like it when he be sober,” she tells us in “High School.” In “Barbie World,” she remarks: “Yes, sir, I am that bitch. Fuck you silly like the rabbit,” right before giggling. These lyrical decisions make it clear that she exudes sexual desire, not sexual availability. She owns and defines her own sexuality, time and time again — be it in conjunction with or in opposition to the desires of men, desires which she repeatedly calls into question. And when feminists make the mistake of questioning Minaj’s depiction of her own sexuality, they fall into oppressive and problematic matrixes which situate sexual pleasure as antithetical to self-respect or empowerment. This is what brings me to the latest feminist point of contention in Minaj’s career: her lap-dance with Drake in “Anaconda.”

nicki drake lap dance

“The song ‘Anaconda’ is a bold, sex-positive statement about a woman’s ability to own her own body and sexuality. The video, though, completely fails to follow through on the song’s potential for a powerful feminist message, instead relying on the tired trope of hypersexualizing women’s bodies,” Sophie Kleeman wrote for Mic when the video dropped online. “It opens with Minaj and a gaggle of backup dancers in a jungle setting, writhing and sweaty as they grind against the ground and each other. It also features Minaj in a kitchen, chomping down on a banana and covering herself with whipped cream. Drake also makes an appearance — but only as a prop for a lap dance during which, as Gawker informed us, he got a ‘boner.’ This maybe doesn’t count as empowering anyone except Drake.”

What Kleeman misses in this analysis, however, is critical. Drake’s own sexual pleasure has nothing to do with that lap dance, and his “hover hand” says it all. Throughout the lap-dance montage, Drake sits absolutely still, unpermitted by Minaj to touch her at all as she gyrates and grinds on and near his body. As Kevin O’Keefe wrote for The Wire, “He’s just here to experience Nicki’s butt.”

Throughout that lap dance, Minaj is the one in control, and she’s acting on her own sexual desires. She’s simply expressing her sexual desire. Her lap dance is an act of seduction, not of submission. So is the rest of the ass-slapping, ass-sliding, ass-centric hot mess of a video. Making a video about her own ass might seem contradictory to the values of feminism, but if you take a closer look, it’s happening outside of and in defiance of the ideal beauty standards that hold women down and the male gaze that controls their bodies.

As Lindsay Zoladz wrote for Vulture:

Plenty of people — prominent among them, Nicki Minaj — are happy to talk about Nicki Minaj’s ass, but fewer want to confront a certain sense of unease that she creates in her most provocative videos, like the stark, black-and-white clip for the 2014 single “Lookin’ Ass” (in which she quite literally guns down the male viewer) or her great 2012 collaboration with Cassie, “The Boys” (which plays out like a candy-store-hued pop-art Thelma & Louise). And it’s there in “Anaconda” too. These videos enact a certain bait-and-switch violence toward the viewer who has the audacity to think Nicki is shaking her ass for him; they draw you in with their neon-bright, sexually charged imagery, and then they suddenly, unexpectedly turn confrontational.

It isn’t the male gaze, dominant narratives of sexuality, or hegemonic femininity which reigns true throughout Minaj’s work. It’s her own sexual state of being. And when Nicki Minaj struts out in a string bikini or exudes her own sexuality in the middle of something otherwise empowering, it isn’t an inherent contradiction or a cause for debate. It’s simply a reflection of how many women — women who, often, feel comfortable with and empowered in their choices — are living their sexual lives. As sexual beings, we’re allowed to indulge in self-directed pursuits of pleasure without shame. We’re allowed to be frank about our own exploits. We’re feminists who fuck, and a lot of times it looks like both things happening at the exact same time. That’s what central to the revolutionary aspect of Minaj’s work: She’s never been shy about her own sexuality, nor has she been subtle or polite about it. Her lyricism has been consistently vulgar, shocking, and delightful — and often, has embraced a more realistic narrative about sex than songs which describe it using only metaphor. Whereas Beyoncé might say “it’s sweetest in the middle,” Minaj is more likely to say, “I let him play with my pussy then lick it off of his fingers.” Same sentiment, but with a much different place in the matrix of respectability politics, gender politics, and mainstream music.

“Anaconda” wasn’t an isolated incident, and it wasn’t Minaj’s first time articulating her own identity nor her last. Throughout her feminist declarations, however, has appeared the same specter of doubt. Feminists refuse to take Minaj’s statements seriously, continuously torn between embracing her sexually raw and eccentric persona with her own self-declared girl-power focus. It’s clear that when Minaj is making feminist statements in a language that resembles mainstream feminist discourse, folks are giddy to jump on the bandwagon — but her oversexualized state of being, her sexual aggression and occasional sexual dominance, often worry them. This is hugely problematic. It’s the impossibility of ultimately marrying the image of a sexually empowered woman to her state of existence which allows for the distorted view of women’s sexuality to prosper. When feminists honor Minaj’s feminist lyrics, as they did with “Anaconda,” and then admonish her for expressing herself with sexually charged images and videos, they are playing into the same dominant narratives about women’s sexualities that perpetuate victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and the subordination of women.

Despite the debates over “Anaconda,” Minaj remains one of the few artist willing to explicitly confront the gender parsing that puts pressure on her career every day, be it in music or in interviews. Early on, Minaj declared herself apart from the other, more submissive girls of the world. She declared her intent to “Go Hard.” She was open in her own self-doubt on “Can Anyone Hear Me?,” articulating her desire to stay true to herself as she progressed as an artist. She spoke out about her intent to make room for other women in rap in “Still I Rise.” In “Here I Am,” she describes an abusive relationship — and articulates her own self-worth as she breaks free from it. She spoke frankly about her power to represent unseen and unheard voices in popular music in “I’m the Best.” In “Fly,” she spoke about breaking out of the constraints placed on her in her industry. She partook in some navel-gazing on “Dear Old Nicki,” publicly lauding and embracing the rap persona she’d presumably laid to rest since hitting the mainstream in a brave act of self-acceptance. She compared herself to Marilyn Monroe in a track named after the starlet herself, admitting both her faults and her own self-determined self-worth. She “Endorse[d] These Strippers.” She sang about being the shit with Ciara on “I’m Legit.” The proof is in the pudding, respectability politics be damned.

Nicki Minaj is a feminist, and she expresses that in her work. In the long run, what Minaj has contributed to the existing and ongoing dialogue of women’s oppression is the perspective of someone who refuses to be defined by any categories she doesn’t claim for herself or constrained by the desires of other people. Today’s feminist blogosphere can get super hung up on who self-identifies as a feminist and who should be allowed to, but what that conversation ignores are both the variances among us as women and the real, lived experiences of women living in those variances. In a universe in which we are still enslaved to the dichotomy of “slut” or “virgin,” Nicki Minaj has chosen to live within her own spectrum of sexual expression — and she’s proven that at no matter where we land on that spectrum ourselves, we’re still whoever we damn well please, feminism and all.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: All credit for the phrase “Hover Hand” should be directed toward Brittani Nichols. 

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


  1. I really liked this article, despite not really being a fan of music that isn’t A.) rock or B.) harder rock.

    I definitely agree with the idea that women can be feminine and very sexual outside of the male gaze. I identify as femme and I love makeup and skimpy dresses and lacy undies and bikinis–and I like wearing them both for myself AND to please my girlfriend. I don’t understand why my doing so is somehow anti-feminist and “pandering to the male gaze” when the last thing I want is to be gazed at by males. My girlfriend dresses in sports bras and suits and ties and tight men’s shirts and a leather jacket to express her own sexuality and to please me, yet when she does it it’s subversive; our reasons are identical but the clothes are different. How is one subversive and the other anti-feminist?

    Additionally, I don’t understand how submissive sexuality is always seen as anti-feminist in women. Yeah, sometimes I am dominant in the bedroom–and sometimes I am coy, and soft spoken, and submissive. That’s what I enjoy, and on top of that, those words and expressions have an entirely different meaning in BDSM subculture. Just because I submit to my partner when I feel like it doesn’t mean I’m not a feminist.

  2. I just can’t with this video. Nicki is desperate for media attention since pills n’ potions flopped HARD.

    This is some stunt queen shit and the song isn’t even selling well even with her pulling some Lady Gaga level antics.

    • Oh my! How DARE she seek out ATTENTION! How DARE she want to MAKE MONEY? Don’t you know that if you really want to be Best Feminist Ever you have to be modest and not want to be noticed and do it solely for the ~love~?

      Oh come on. So what if she wants attention? So what if she wants to make money? How does that invalidate any of her choices? “Attention-seeking” is such a damaging sentiment that gets disproportionately placed on women – what, you want them to be invisible? If she wants attention, good on her!

  3. “Feminists” were nasty and awful as HELL to Beyonce when her album dropped, non-Black people of EVERY ethnicity were dealing in anti-Blackness in droves and clamoring not to let her do the speaking, but do it for her. The whole idea that OTHER people are the ones deeming these Black women feminists or not feminists or whatever else, getting into myopic details about the nunyabizness aspects of their lives like how faithful they are to their husbands or partners of however long or how may boys or girls they let hit it, etc, is to me, a large part of the whole problem. OTHER people are the ones who got mad at Beyonce naming herself Mrs. Carter instead of just letting her be whomever the hell she pleases. OTHER people are the ones who whined that she is selling out and being “too assimilated” instead of just respecting that even if you disagree, she has a right to express her Black womanhood how she pleases. There’s trying to back up and support a Black girl given yr context and experiences with the same shit she goes through day in day out, then there’s speaking for them, or inadvertently pitting them against other artists. I adore Nicki beyond words, but this is harsh on Beyonce (and didn’t mention that she came in and gave Nicki a diamond-encrusted gold matching “Flawless” necklace before her VMA performance!). Often pieces aren’t about praising and supporting Black womanhood, they are about just giving accolades to one specific artist. That doesn’t help. The struggle we have is reclaiming our identities and bodies in whatever way they come without the overtly hilariously dehumanizing politicizing from all ends.

    • Yeah,that was my main problem with this article. It made a lot of great points, but it seemed like comparing to Beyonce was unnecessary to make said points. Could have been better to have a variety of examples from various artists, giving more breadth and not making it seem like pitting them against each other.

  4. I’d never heard of Nicki until I saw her perform with Drake on Saturday Night Live. I was hypnotized, because she is simply amazing. Thanks for the article, Carmen!

  5. Posting this thing I found on Tumblr (source because I think it’s highly pertinent to the point you are putting forth here:

    “I. love. the. Anaconda. video. but the writeups I’ve been seeing keep referring to Drake as a co-star, which I think misses a big part of the point.

    The reason this video rules is because Drake is an extra. Drake is a prop. Drake is a bro in the comfy-casual clothes that he rolled up to the set in, who has no lines or purpose other than the be ground upon, and whose face is obscured by shadows most of the time.

    This is not a continuation of the Drake/Nicki/Rih media narrative. This is a dank-as-fuck feminist power play. This is, “Drake is whatever to me.” And this is a man who, if he isn’t at the top of his game, is close to it. A huge celebrity. And here is Nicki looking fucking amazing, tormenting him into a boner, then swatting his hand away and walking out of frame.

    Your anaconda don’t want none unless she got buns, hun? Maybe she doesn’t want your anaconda. Maybe she’ll do whatever the fuck she wants with her buns, and it doesn’t matter what you think or feel.”

    • I was about to come down to the comments and quote this very post! “Tormenting him into a boner” is a phrase that’s been bouncing around in my head ever since I read it. This and Carmen’s response to the video/to Nicki as a feminist are v. important to me. Awesome piece Carmen!

  6. I get so angry when “feminists” start trying to police other women’s bodies and sexuality. Part of the point of feminism is to assert women’s freedom to make our own choices about how we want to control our bodies and our sexuality! My god.

      • I believe I said PART of the point of feminism, and women supporting other women’s personal choices DOES help dismantle the patriarchy, by not helping to enforce the policing of women’s bodies and sexuality.

    • Commenting here several months later because I’m disappointed this video didn’t get nominated for Video of the Year at the VMAs because of its empowering and controversial take on feminism. The bigger issue with the VMAs is the music industry’s blatant whitewashing of POC artists. I don’t want to rant in comments, but I wrote more about it because I’m so disappointed by this outcome

  7. Yes! Thank you, thank you. I feel like this article gave words to everything I was feeling. Thank you, Carmen!

  8. The concept of respectability is endlessly fascinating to me. Thanks, Carmen for once again defending all sorts of feminism.

    • Congrats on the amazing article and analysis Carmen, and congrats on the term “hover hand” Brittani. The fact that Nicki’s ass is pretty much the only thing that can make Drake’s hand stop moving is pretty remarkable.

  9. I think the only problem I have with Anaconda is when she says “fuck you skinny bitches”
    Why do we need to put down one set of woman in order to empower another? Taking claim of your own body and sexuality should not mean shaming someone else for theirs.

    • Every time I hear that part in the song, I laugh, because I’ve interpreted it as “Fuck you, society, for prioritizing skinny bodies over bodies like mine”. I’ve never seen it as an attack on thin women directly, but the social discourse that values only those bodies.

      It’s just easier to say “Fuck you, skinny bitches” instead of rapping “Fuck you, patriarchal standards that decree that only thin women are attractive” maybe?

      • I don’t disagree that saying “fuck you skinny bitches” is much easier and fits much better in a song then “fuck you patriarchal society for saying only skinny is attractive.” And the second might in fact be the intention of that line. But no matter what, it is worded in a way that sounds to me like an attack on thin women. It feels a little like placing the blame for that view on the “skinny bitches” themselves and not where it belongs, on society as a whole. It feels similar to “but dressed like that, you were asking for it.” Those “skinny bitches” may not be seeking out the male gaze any more than another girl, but they get it, no matter if they want it or not. Adding on a “fuck you” directed at those skinny girls is not helping them take control of their own bodies or sexuality.

        And while yes, we can handle a “fuck you skinny bitches” once in a while, and yes, that body type is celebrated in the media, I don’t think it is celebrated in a way that places value on that body type as anything other than a sexual object. And part of why I like this song is because she pushes against that very view. How can we value the message that women with different body types are all sexy, and in control of her own sexuality, if part of that message is “fuck you” for being more “conventionally” attractive?

        I don’t know. That line bothers me. Maybe I am overthinking it, but it does. She may have meant “fuck you patriarchal society” but that’s NOT what she said. And this is coming from someone who has been both a “skinny bitch” and a “fat bitch” at various points in life. At no point, and no weight/body size would I be comfortable with being viewed as a sexual object, and someone saying “fuck you” to me for ANY body type, celebrated by the media or not, is harmful and a put down.

        • I think that including the audio clip of the stuck-up white women going “Oh my god, look at her butt” in a denigrating fashion to precede Nicki’s rant gave a context in which I interpreted it as Nicki’s response to ‘those’ skinny bitches, rather than saying any and every single skinny woman is a bitch and needs to go fuck off.

          BUT I had a good conversation about this with my girlfriend who interpreted the lyrics the same way you did, and she brought up that Nicki could have easily changed a few words around to not make it sound like she’s putting down other women. There are ways to empower herself without bringing others down, which I totally get. So, overall, I can agree with what you’re saying while still interpreting Nicki’s lyrics to mean something else.

    • i am a certified skinny bitch, and i see my body type celebrated pretty much constantly in the media. it always has been and probably always will be. so i think we can handle a “fuck you skinny bitches” every now and then, maybe even a million billion times over. (also, everything paper0flowers said)

    • I’m also a skinny bitch and every time I get sensitive about people saying less-than-flattering things about being thin, I just remember that if there weren’t idiotic standards for women’s bodies and fatphobia, no one would have to say things like “skinny bitch” because they wouldn’t have to reclaim their bodies as desirable. So really I should just be fighting the people perpetuating all the gross body-shaming and not other women who are hurt by them.

    • I don’t think she really meant fuck the skinny bitches, because they’re skinny. I think she meant it as in, “You are beautiful in your own right you big fat ass bitch, I love you. No, don’t pay attention to the skinny bitches. Yes, they are pretty too, but you are pretty in your own right.” I think it was supposed to offend skinny girls because as you can see, the media basically says it to fat women all the damn time. But subliminal though. She just says it blatantly.

  10. This post reminds me a lot of Camille Paglia’s argument for Madonna as a representation of the strongest, and often ignored, form of feminism. Where I get confused is how either the patriarchy is either controlling all aspects of feminism, or in this case, it’s not. Is our patriarchal society left out of NM’s production company decision to create this media, or is the patriarchy very much a part of selling this current media? Is NM a self-aware feminist, or is her image sold to the consumer as a self-aware feminist because it is a popular thing to be these days in U.S. media? Does her awareness of feminism even matter anymore if we supposedly live in a post-feminist society? Many questions still linger when it comes to feminism in popular culture, and yes, I do think questions matter because the world is watching.

    • a) We do not live in a post-feminist society.

      b) Nicki has self-defined as a feminist and advocated feminist causes and opinions unprompted in many interviews, so yes, she almost certainly is self-aware.

  11. Okay, but can we talk about the Mystery Science Theater 3000 presence in that video? Is Nicki herself responsible for that? I need to know where to direct my high fives.

  12. You know, overall I agree with this, but you did lose me here and there. “Drake’s own sexual pleasure has nothing to do with that lap dance, and his “hover hand” says it all. Throughout the lap-dance montage, Drake sits absolutely still, unpermitted by Minaj to touch her at all as she gyrates and grinds on and near his body.” — you know that’s not something Nicki invented, right, but how lap dances actually work? So Drake’s sexual pleasure, in the context of him portraying a guy getting a lap dance, has as much to do with the lap dance as…that of any guy getting a lap dance, which is hard to argue is “none,” if you follow.

    I don’t know, this just doesn’t seem like a new thing to me. I realize I’m a hell of a lot older than you (I gather you’re what, twelve, if Beyonce and Jay-Z have been together your whole life? *g*) but there is *always* a woman getting rich off people wanting to watch her transgress sexual boundaries. It’s just Nicki Minaj’s turn. I don’t think it’s cause to freak out, because she won’t be the death of feminism, but that doesn’t mean we have to crown her the savior of feminism in response. She’s a very good artist, but I don’t see why we have to pretend everything she does is motivated by the purest love of expressing her soul; obviously she’s also moving a product, which means her artistic choices exist in a conversation with what her market wants from her. That doesn’t make her NOT FEMINIST or THE BEST FEMINIST, it just makes her a woman existing in the world.

    • Thanks for the comment. I’m not really a fan of pop music today, but I had recently viewed the MTV Video Music Awards and had somewhat mixed emotions about all the scantily clad, writhing female flesh on display. “Feminist” is about the last adjective that came to mind. Virtually all of the performances look like something out of a gentleman’s club fantasy. This is nothing new really. It seems that any female pop star that wants to succeed in the music industry must be a)drop dead gorgeous, b)must have a body type that closely resembles a barbie doll’s proportions (although Ms. Minaj has a bit more back!), c) barely semi-clothed in a provocative manner, and d) to all appearances, sexually available to both sexes. It’s not that I’m a prude, but the libidinous act all of these women exhibit is just that, an act to sell records. And I don’t have the exact numbers, but I can guarantee you the marketing and business direction of these labels is dictated by men. Beyonce is more than just a pretty face. She can really sing, but damned if everytime I see her perform, from the Super Bowl on, she’s slinking and humping like a cat in heat. Sure, she looks enticing, but you never saw Aretha Franklin or other great vocalists back in the day presenting themselves this way. Obviously times have changed, and not for the better. Somewhere there’s a singer that looks like Mama Cass or Janis Joplin that we’re all missing out on because she doesn’t have the looks to be strumpeted out. Off stage and off camera, maybe some of these artists are great feminists, but I’m just not seeing it when they perform.

      • The fact that the physical attractiveness of a preformer influences their success is problematic, but it is not new, nor is it the fault of sexually provocative female artists. People like Mama Cass and Janis Joplin succeeded in spite of highly restrictive standards of beauty (just as contemporary artists like Adele have), not because these standards did not exist in the past. Men controlled the industry to an even greater extent than they do today, and female artists dressed more modestly because that was what was considered acceptable at the time, not because they were more somehow more feminist than today’s preformers.

        The fact that less classically attractive artists have a harder time in the industry is an issue worthy of feminist’s attention, but it is a seperate issue from whether being sexually provocative is somehow anti-feminist. I’d like to see the music industry evolve to the point where women are not pressured to show more skin than they are comfortable with. I’d also like to see it evolve to the point where bigger woman, women with visable disabilities, and anyone who doesn’t fit within the narrow definition of “conventionally attractive” are allowed to present themselves as explicitly sexual beings (if they choose to do so) without being mocked and ridiculed.

        I don’t see pitting female preformers against one another based on how they dress as something that is beneficial to women.

      • Agreed. I feel reluctant to say I just don’t understand how this is a really good thing for women. If you want to fuck men for designer clothes and BECAUSE they sell cocaine (I understand that’s exciting, but I never let anyone hit it simply because they sold drugs, but that’s just me), then do you. But It’s hard to distinguish what’s what. And with the hyper sexualized image of Black women’s bodies for so long, it just seems unfortunate. I know Nicki isn’t responsible for all of that, but I think it needs to be taken into consideration. I guess it’s a fine line between doing whatever the fuck you want because you can and living in the current world where there are everyday consequences for everyday women. I don’t think I like respectability politics or anything, but I definitely feel confused. If I think this is not good for women, and if I don’t see Nicki this way, but more as an ass to make Cash Money and Lil Wayne money, is that wrong? Am I not really a feminist? It’s not my job or place to decide who is what or whose intentions are really legit, but I feel like I have a sense of empowerment, and I know it when I see it. And to me this isn’t it. But I’m open to hearing the discourse so I can evolve and get some clarity on how I really feel.

    • Nailed it. This article is sad and the authors age is definitely part of the reason why. They’re grasping at straws to make this (male written) song, and (male directed) video about empowerment. It’s not. Nicki’s the prop here.

  13. Thank you for this article. I get so frustrated when people criticize women simply for dressing provocatively or adopting a sexual image. If someone is expressing herself in a way that feels comfortable for her (as Nicki seems to be), then that’s great. If she is dressing a certain way because she feels pressured to pander to the male gaze, then the problem is patriarchy not the woman herself. Whatever a person’s motivation is for dressing the way they dress, shaming them for it is never the solution.

    • Patriarchy plays a role, but what about personal responsibility? Then the woman has no agency if everything is the fault of the system. Then she really doesn’t have a voice. That seems to negate her. I agree, shame is the devil.

  14. Nicki Minaj’s existence can be credited to those who came before her: MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Salt N Pepa, Missy Elliot and most notably, Lil Kim. (I didn’t even touch the litany of other strong, sexually charged female MC’s) Lil Kim successfully broke the barrier for speaking and exhibiting female sexuality and dominance. I used to sit in my sisters Volkswagen and blush at some of the lyrics in her songs. I think the Feminism tag gets thrown at any scantily clad famous woman nowadays. Does Nicki Minaj really incite pride in equality of the sexes or is she just another performer making money? There are those that are the epoch and those that are just along for the ride. She fits the latter no matter how self-made she is. The Queen Bee really pushed the stone miles ahead for equality in male dominated rap. Nicki is bad as hell, but Lil Kim changed the game both lyrically and sexually.

    • Yes, I totally agree that Lil Kim set the stage, and think Nicki is trying to imitate her a bit.

      I would also add to that list Foxy Brown, who I thought for a while was dating Jay-Z(& Nas) for a while. I am not familiar with Nicki’s work, but fairly sure both Kim and Foxy have a record(which really isn’t something to be proud about, but in the rap world real cred goes a long way).

    • Oh my god, thank you! Nicki Minaj does not deserve credit for copying something countless female artists did much more convincingly before her. And if we’re talking about women who were really in charge of their sexuality, Trina is a FAR better example than Nikki, but Trina just didn’t have the cross-over success that Nicki has [i.e. Trina never sold out by watering down her music for white people.]

  15. I think we need to stop looking to pop culture for our feminist icons. The capitalist exploitation of women’s bodies is not something to celebrate, and even if a woman chooses to allow her body to exploited for her own personal gain it’s still harmful to women as a whole.

    • This is a good point, however even if all of *us* reading this right now on this website look elsewhere for our icons (and I would claim that most of us do), my little sister in Bumfuck, Minnesota (the conservative part) is going to get her feminist icons from pop culture. There’s just no way around it. So these conversations are still important.

      • Fully agreed with both of you. While I personally think we desperately need to look outside of pop music for feminist icons, we also need to have these conversations in feminist circles, because we must realise that most people WILL embrace pop icons, look up to them, and listen to not only their music, but their interviews, and what they have to say to the masses.

        Criticism is very important, and we certainly like to go deeper than most people would, which is good. The two platforms where I’ve read discussions on the Anaconda videoclip have done so a good job of analysing the video past the obvious first layer of “sex sells”. Opposite point of views are so necessary! It helps us form a full opinion on the matter. I think Autostraddle should analyse more videoclips, as this media’s impact is so huge on mainstream culture, nowadays.

  16. This article is very pleasant to read, and it does raise a few very valid points that I’ll go think about right away, but I as I said on another platform where the very same video was being examinated (you said it, we’re all usually standing there, asking ourselves “empowering, or not?”, every single time!), I have a very hard time viewing a song and videoclip that has a 100% male executive team as “feminist” or “empowering” material. The performer Minaj here is indeed a strong woman, and when I’m criticising Anaconda, I am not criticising Minaj the woman and performer (who, indeed, is navigating a “man’s world” with her very own style). I am questionning the team of dozens and dozens of people who have been making money off this videoclip, and its sexual imagery (which does target a male audience to an extent.)

    My reflexion when it comes to all videoclips featuring sexualised pop artists, wether it is Gaga, Perry, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, etc. is to look at the video production’s lineup. It will be no surprise to you that there is almost never any woman involved in the production of ANY such videoclip. The industry is so male-dominated, it hurts. This is why I’ve drawn the (very personnal) conclusion that pop culture music featuring female performers is very rarely “feminist material” in our modern day. Is it about a strong woman flaunting a confident sexuality, or is it about a male producer giving directions, a male cameraman asking for specific shots and angles, a male choreographer, a male writer collaborating to the “sexy” lyrics? I do not want to criticise the female artists or matronise them, this trap is too easy to fall in, but I won’t hesitate to criticise the whole team that brought us the clip.

    I do realise that Minaj made her own choices and had her word to say, but we can’t just brush off the all-male “hidden faces” behind the video, if we are going to talk *specifically* about feminism.

    Here is the full lineup for Anaconda, which is something I think we should at least consider when talking about videoclips, and their feminist value.


    Director : Colin Tilley
    Director of Photography : Joseph Labisi
    Editors : Vinnie Hobbs, Colin Tilley
    Production Company : London Alley Entertainment (Company managed by some of the males on the list above and below)
    Choreographer : Casper Smart
    Producers : Luga Podesta
    Executive Producer : Brandon Bonfiglio, Jamee Ranta
    Directorial : Jamar Hawkins, 1st AD
    Video Commissioners : Jeffrey Panzer, Keith Brown, Reagan Henderson
    Director’s Rep. : Tommy LaBuda
    Record Label : Cash Money Records

    • I’d like to add, because that might not have been clear from my comment, that I would never question Minaj’s choice to call herself a feminist, and that her presence in the hip hop world is important. This feminist identity belongs to her, and we need to stop defining feminism as a firm frame of values with a specific “way to think and act”.

      HOWEVER I really doubt that the doucheassbros that produced the video identify as feminists?

  17. This is my favorite line and a really good point: “These lyrical decisions make it clear that she exudes sexual desire, not sexual availability.”

    • “I let him hit it cause he slang cocaine”

      “And when we done, I make him buy me Balmain”

      The amount of cognitive dissonance is astonishing.

  18. Thanks for this super-insightful post Carmen. Another thing I wanted to mention is that in the original Sir-mix-a-lot video, there’s a kind of black girls vs. white girls thing going on, which I always thought added an extra layer of weirdness to the objectification in that song, and I notice that in her Anaconda video, Nicki Minaj has dancers from a variety of racial backgrounds, including black women and a white woman. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I thought maybe that was also a subtle response to that aspect of the original Sir-mix-a-lot video. I was just wondering if anyone else had noticed that or had any thoughts on it. (I admit, maybe I’m reading too much into it.)

  19. Honestly, I have always thought of Nicki as a feminist icon – especially after she killed it with the “bitch/boss” comparison. I also love the video. But I am a little conflicted about the “my anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun” shit plus the “he want something he can grab” line. It reminds me of Meghan Trainor’s whole “boys like a little more booty to hold at night” thing which I find super annoying.

    One one hand, I fucking love that Nicki is celebrating the ways in which her body transgresses white supremacist beauty ideals. But I also feel like some of her lyrics play into the well-worn “this kind of body is better because men like it better” discourse, esp because all the women in the video do conform to certain patriarchal standards of beauty.

  20. As someone who is studying for a career in the music industry, I just wanted to point out that it’s incorrect to analyze the lyrics as if they were Minaj’s own statements. The vast majority of radio pop hits are written by multiple collaborating songwriters, usually with little to no input from the singer him/herself. All of the writers for Anaconda were male (I checked Wikipedia). Minaj is listed as one of the writers too, although most superstar performers like her are able to work out a deal where they get writing credit (while still giving little to no input) to get a higher % of royalties.

    My point is, this song was not written with any sort of ideology in mind, feminist or not. Pop songs are carefully crafted to be catchy and get radio airplay/sell records. Sex sells, and Minaj’s marketing team correctly predicted that a risque video would get lots of attention.

    • “Minaj is listed as one of the writers too, although most superstar performers like her are able to work out a deal where they get writing credit (while still giving little to no input) to get a higher % of royalties.”

      This. I don’t study the same field as you do, so I’m usually not confident enough to throw statements like these around with no actual facts to back it up.

      But I’ve been reading about the music industry and the “machine” behind it for a while now, and the same names always pop up when it comes down to who mixes the hits, who writes them, who directs the video… It’s, in fact, a very select club of people who produce most radio hits. Not even kidding. Most mainstream recording studios belong to the same people anyways, way up the ladder.

      And when someone is good at their job, they will dabble in all the fields. Write, produce, mix… Pharell, for example, is currently surfing a good wave with his personnal career, but he’s produced HUGE hits before, from behind the curtains, most notably the song “Milkshake”.

      Sia Furler, the woman with an angel’s voice, has written tons of hits too, and we’re only now starting to really hear her name, because she sing her own latest hits.

      And while Pharrell and Sia are clearly the ones who “make” the hits from scratch, their names in the writing /music credits (if they make the song for Britney, Rihanna, etc.) usually only come in second or third only, after the names of the performers.

      The music industry is a very ferocious machine. What you see isn’t always what you get.

    • I don’t think it is accurate to categorically say that:

      “…this song was not written with any sort of ideology in mind, feminist or not.”

      We don’t know the level of involvement Minaj had with the lyrics, not to mention video, styling, casting etc BUT we do know she was involved and must have some sort of final say over her eventual product and image. So I think we can still consider it from her voice on some level.

      Though I do agree that there should be more women in this collaborative effort.

  21. Another White blogger who has no concept of how Black bodies have been objectified, treated, and SOLD throughout American history. And has non concept of what it’s like being a Black woman, let alone a Black industry artist. Anaconda was written by men. Anaconda (the video) was directed by men. Nicki Minaj was told to by men to “sex up” her image, as were Kim, Foxy, and numerous woman rappers before her. You… are clueless. When will mainstream feminism stop failing at discussing feminism as it pertains to people of color. How about you stop speaking on it and just listen… otherwise you make a fool of yourself like you just did. Fail. 2/10

    Oh, and lastly… the patriarchy doesn’t really care why we’re dancing naked… so long as women are dancing around naked. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Those “choices” are hardly choices. Especially when dictated by men.

    • There’s a long history of stereotyping black women as promiscuous, but that doesn’t mean that the only valid choice for them is to go in the exact opposite direction. As Carmen wrote, that plays right back into “the same dominant narratives about women’s sexualities that perpetuate victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and the subordination of women.” We should be removing restrictions on the roles that women are allowed to play, not adding to them. The patriarchy does enough of that.

      Also, Carmen has previously written about her biracial identity on Autostraddle.

  22. Women who are overtly sexual are attacked by the partriarchy just as much, if not more, than women who choose to cover up (both of which are totally valid choices). When I look at the comments section on women’s music videos, particularly if they used to have a more “family friendly” persona, the comments are always filled with people talking about how the performer is a disgusting whore, has no self-respect, is a sell out, should be ashamed of herself, etc.

    Patricarchial culture puts women in a bind where there is simultanious pressure to be both sexually available and sexually pure at the same time. There is no choice that won’t subject you to vicious critique – you’re fridged or you’re a whore, you’re a boring prude or you’re damaged goods. I think that feminists adding to this type of criticism by shaming women for presenting themselves sexually is extremely counter-productive.

    You make a good point that many videos, such as Anaconda, are directed by men. This is problematic, and we desperetly need to have more women (particularly women of color) in the director’s chair, and elsewhere behind the scenes in the entetainment industry. However, that doesn’t mean that an artist’s choice of how to present herself lacks meaning or that there is anything inherently wrong with being sexual.

    Also, I just want to point out that the author of this article is biracial, not white.

  23. I don’t understand why people are so quick to try and extend feminism into an umbrella term that is used so liberally and encompasses people and ideas that aren’t about equality or actual feminism. This article is one of those all too frequent instances of armchair popularized feminism.

    If you look to this type of media for empowerment, you’ve been misled. You’ve had your integrity compromised by mass media. They’ve presented you with a husk with your consent.

  24. I would criticize this track’s being labeled as “feminist” not on the basis of the visual sexual elements, but rather on the problematic gold-digger trope employed by the lyrics. It’s something straight out of a men’s rights tirade: confident, sexually empowered women are probably dangerous.

  25. I agree that Minaj is exercising a particular agency while expressing her sexual appetite. But her privileged and the claims she can make as a result of such position is the real question here. Let’s not forget here that a bootylicious sexuality is already a “hot commodity” and only those “buns” pass off as perfect bodies. While feminism grapples with the representation of unrealistic female sexuality, Nikki Minaj is certainly not helping!

  26. Carmen, nobody, and I mean absolutely bloody NOBODY, can get me to read about pop music, let alone give a shit, the way you do. For instance, I hadn’t even seen that video yet!

    I don’t know how you do it but it really does save me from being a total snob in this regard, so you have my deepest gratitude.

  27. Commenting here several months later because I’m disappointed this video didn’t get nominated for Video of the Year at the VMAs because of its empowering and controversial take on feminism. The bigger issue with the VMAs is the music industry’s blatant whitewashing of POC artists. I don’t want to rant in comments, but I wrote more about it because I’m so disappointed by this outcome (

  28. I’d never heard of Nicki until I saw her perform with Drake on Saturday Night Live. I was hypnotized, because she is simply amazing. Thanks for the article, Carmen!

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