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Physical and sexual violence against women is a global problem. But less-discussed are the more subtle acts that are just as damaging as a means of putting us in our "place."

Written by jaz for RHRealityCheck.org - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Over the last week, I became moderately obsessed with blog posts and internet chatter about Regis Philbin and Nicki Minaj. If you don’t know, Nicki Minaj is the hottest commercial female emcee right now and she is both loved and hated because of her lyrical content, allusions to being a "Black Barbie," and sexually explicit lyrics which at times reference her on-again/off-again bisexuality. She is often looked at as a Hip-Hop version of Lady Gaga because for each, their spectacle is a large part of their performance persona. A couple of weeks ago, Nicki performed on the Regis and Kelly show during Thanksgiving and things got pretty creepy during the interview when Regis grabbed Nicki’s butt and waist. Yes, on national live television. Here’s the clip so you can be the judge for yourself. (For extra fun, read the comments)

I’ve read a lot of great posts about this including one by Super Hussy that reasonably suggested that Regis and Kelly treated Nicki Minaj like a modern day Saartije Baartman. I also commend the Women’s Media Center for taking a stand and writing a letter to ABC denouncing Regis’s unacceptable on-air behavior. What many posts did not mention is Kelly’s inappropriate gushing over the size of Nicki’s waist. Kelly says that women are dying to know what size waist she has. Really? While it seems harmless and probably well-intentioned, it’s still an uncomfortable objectification of Nicki Minaj’s body, in particular her butt (note how she is amazed at her waist to hip ratio). At the end of the awkward conversation, Nicki says "Oh it's not that big," implying she too understands that Kelly is actually fascinated by the size of her butt, not her waist. She is visibly uncomfortable but smiles through it. There is a clear gender dynamic at play but also a racial one. Would Regis be feeling up on Lady Gaga like that? Would Kelly be so amazed at Gaga's tiny waist and frame? I was waiting for them to gush at any moment, "You're so exotic!"

Reading the comments at many of these blogs highlights the idea often used to blame rape victims: "look at how she was dressed." Nicki is known for her hyper-sexual lyrics, clothing, and posing. That is a major part of what she has built her image on, just as many female emcees have before her. But that does not give anyone the right to fetishize her or touch her without her consent, particularly in a public forum where she is presenting herself as a professional. Her job is to make music and sell records, and her goal of appearing on these shows is to promote her work and her livelihood. Both Regis and Kelly’s actions were reprehensible because they are completely discrediting her as a business-person and a musician by primarily focusing on her body. They do take the time to talk about her album but considerable airtime is dedicated to her figure, her outfit, her wig and Regis's desire to "go hard." Ewww.

We are at the end of the annual campaign, "16 Days Against Gender Violence." Most people think of gender violence in terms of rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, trafficking and other clear and concrete acts of physical violence against women. But what’s lesser discussed are the more subtle acts of violence that don’t always involve physical assault but are just as damaging to women as a means of putting us in our "place." These include emotional, psychological and even economic violence...all are ways in which men (and sometimes other women) assert their power as a means of controlling women's autonomy.

This situation with Nicki Minaj highlights what many lesser-known women deal with on a daily basis. The battle of being an open and self-expressed sexual being and being taken seriously as a woman with a brain. So much of our society operates on the assumption that these two things must remain mutually exclusive. Our sexual expression should not open the door for sexual exploitation. 

I've been in professional settings where I haven't been taken seriously (and been touched inappropriately) because of being an attractive (if I do say so myself) young woman who wore form fitting clothing. Remember Deborah Lorenzana who was fired from Citibank for being "too hot?" I've battled with the idea of telling people that I do burlesque dancing because it may somehow negate that fact that I am a business owner of almost 7 years with a Master's Degree. How many times have I and many of my cohorts had to deal with being hit on when you are trying to conduct business and make money as a professional?

That's part of the cycle of violence. It's one of many means of subjugation that women face and considering that women make 77 cents to a man's dollar, it's economic abuse. How dare we speak explicitly about sex and not expect to be groped and objectified? Who do we think we are to take pride in our appearance and expect to be treated as professionals? I may not love Nicki Minaj's music, her expression, or her politics, but she is a woman who is playing the capitalist game and is stimulating conversation and debate about sexuality as a commodity. She is trying to make a living using her assets: physical and artistic. She at least deserves basic respect and for people to remember that besides all the spandex, (possible) implants, and makeup lies a woman with a mind...and a heart.

Originally posted to RH Reality Check on Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 08:34 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Racism too tbh (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kitsap River, princss6
  •  Not that there's any excuse for (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SpamNunn, cee4

    inappropriate behavior on the part of Regis and Kelly, but shouldn't Nicki Minaj have the ultimate say regarding how much and what kinds of objectification of Nicki Minaj are acceptable?

    Barack Obama in the Oval Office: There's a black man who knows his place.

    by Greasy Grant on Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 08:58:13 AM PST

  •  Regis has always been a bit "weird" (0+ / 0-)

    Isn't that why Sarah Purcell left his sorry behind?

  •  Had to fast forward (4+ / 0-)

    to the incident in question since I'm not impressed with her "talent." Was Regis wrong, yes but as someone said, he's always been weird and there has been questions asking if, "baby has natural back" so maybe he wanted to cop a feel to find out.

    This is one of those instances where I can't get outraged. She makes her living being controversial and sensational, if she's conformable with it, who an I to say it's wrong for her.

    Me?... national TV or not he would have drawn back a nub, but that's just me.

    I will Not give up, I will Not give in, I will Not quit!

    by JupiterIslandGirl on Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 09:24:13 AM PST

  •  Deborah Lorenzana (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greatdarkspot, cee4

    had other employment issues, and drew a lot of publicity to her web-based modeling business from alleging that Citibank fired her for being "too hot."

    Marketing yourself as a sex object can be very profitable.  It seems a trifle disingenuous to complain that others objectify a woman when she has adopted a sexual marketing strategy for herself.

    No, it's not an open solicitation to harassment or sexual overtures.  But it's also common sense that if you're an entertainer marketing a certain look, that look will provoke intended reactions.

    As women we are free to market ourselves any way we choose.  Not everybody needs to adopt my treehugger preppy style.

    "Right wing freak machine" General Wes Clark

    by Tracker on Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 09:34:11 AM PST

  •  Part of the act (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mikeconwell

    Not that I'm any big fan of Regis, but this seems a bit much.  Nicki Manij has made her body part of her act, and good for her!  She's got a really nice body.  I don't see what race has to do with it.  People made all sorts of comments to J Lo about her butt and reporters have been asking Dolly Parton about her breasts for years.  Good looking people in the entertainment industry are selling sex as part of the product and they are foolish if they don't recognize and acknowledge this.
    As for Regis putting his hand on her waist, that part of it just looks like an innocent embrace to me and even the other thing is hardly a grope.

  •  Anyone who watches Regis regularly saw this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Deep Texan

    as an awkward moment. He was oblivious. Kelly tried to smooth it over and ended up making it worse. I live with a faithful Regis & Kelly fan and I saw this when it happened. Regis touches a lot of his guests on the thigh, arm, waist and shoulder. It is what he does.

    The thing is Regis objectifies everyone, you'd have to hear him talk about Matthew McConaughey to know what I mean. As to Kelly, when is someone going to call her on her constantly remarking how good Bryant Gumble smells? I mean, really.

    That said, I think if Regis had a do over, he'd do it without the butt/thigh tap. This interview was awkward live. Gelman probably had a brick when it was happening and was yelling in Kelly's ear to smooth it out.

    I don't think you're going to get a guy who is liked by just about everyone, who's been on TV for 40+ years on this one. Despite what you see on the video, he's a professional and probably would make a private call to Ms. Minaj to apologize if it comes through to him that she's offended.

    If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never has and never will be. Thomas Jefferson

    by JDWolverton on Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 10:29:54 AM PST

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