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People need to understand that women who present provocative images of themselves are not automatically making a feminist statement. This isn’t to say that a woman can’t express herself, but when this self expression is deeply hinged upon supporting oppressive systems it is not a liberation moment. This is why Nicki Minaj can express herself and still glorify Nazi propaganda. Kim Kardashian can express herself #ALLDAY and still glorify the hypersexualization of women’s bodies. Provocative imagery does not automatically equate to activism or empowerment.

feministtheoryThis point of confusion was described by bell hooks in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center:

“A central problem within feminist discourse has been our inability to either arrive at a consensus of opinion about what feminism is or accept definition(s) that could serve as points of unification. (p. 18)”

This statement feels even more relevant in 2014 as it did in 1984, especially with the emergence of what some are calling “Millennial Feminism.” Across the digital sphere conversations are constantly springing up around feminism. Still, few are actually producing or referring to a substantial definition of feminism.

The fixation on women’s butts, I’ll call it “assism” is a well documented form of objectification, deeply rooted in the commodification of Black women’s bodies. Kim Kardashian accentuates this fixation, layering it with the benefits of whiteness to score on monetary profits. Though Nicki Minaj is Black she comes as close as she can to Kim K by combining anti-black sentiments with the commodification of Black phenotypes to yet again benefit monetarily. Additionally neither of them are bothered by classism as a form of oppression. They are not feminists. Stop trying to make fetch happen.

ButSomeOfUsFeminism is hinged upon an awareness of oppression in conjunction with working towards ending all forms of it. In All the Women Are White, All The Blacks Are Men: But Some Of Us Are Brave, Barbara Smith explains:

“Feminism is the political theory and practice that struggles to free all women: women of color, working-class women, poor women, disabled women, lesbians, old women–as well as white, economically privileged, heterosexual women. Anything less than this vision of total freedom is not feminism, but merely female self-aggrandizement. (p. 49)”

To refer to Nicki Minaj or Kim Kardashian as de facto feminist icons is to minimize the anti-oppressive backbone of feminism. It’s reductionist thinking. Neither of these women have exhibited any substantial work towards ending sexist, racial, or economic oppression.

While some may point to their open display of sexuality as a liberation moment, this thought process over looks the fact that their displays are based more on the history of women’s commodified bodies under the patriarchal gaze. Yes, they make a lot of money doing this but that does not necessarily translate into freedom. They are riding the constant wave of hypersexualized images of Black women’s bodies with no intention of challenging the status quo. In fact it becomes a competition of who can promote sexual commercial objectification more, who can more closely embody the mainstreamed fantasy of women in sexualized positions.

Yet none of this is new or shocking. It’s actually pretty underwhelming. Another day another booty. Where is the triumph in that? It’s an attention getting tactic but it is not a feminist manifesto or challenge to oppression. The recurring statement is that they were “free” enough to show themselves. However if the only way for them to gain the public’s attention is through a constant stream of butt shots what does that say about society? That’s a far cry from freedom or liberation.

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Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda was an act of desperation used to counter the emergence of Iggy Azalea. Iggy then responded by appearing alongside JLo in a video for a song literally called, “Booty.”

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Since the emergence of her sex tape with Ray J, Kim Kardashian has been profiting from racialized butt adoration for years.

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The sentiment has been, “You want to see more? Here you go!”

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Perhaps for her that’s winning. But is it winning for women overall? It doesn’t challenge the realities that women face everyday as constantly sexualized beings. This imagery plays up the dehumanization and never dares to deconstruct or even acknowledge it. This article is not suggesting a policing of women’s bodies. It’s about recognizing a thing for what it is. Nakedness can be a political empowering statement  but Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj are not examples of that. This may be provocative but it is not feminism.

We already have a plethora of mistruths floating around about feminism. Why add to the list? It’s very dangerous for feminists to automatically embrace commodified sexual images as feminist modules. There are levels to this. Where are the discussions about about intentions and context? It is a teachable moment. But it is not a grand moment in Women’s History.

Sorry folks but assism is not feminism.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.

Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.


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24 thoughts on “Assism Is Not Feminism”

  1. Feminism needs a new PR person and I nominate you! The fact that any woman celebrity can sprout up and instantly be called feminist for just about anything reflects a laziness in our current culture.

  2. First of all, thank you. I’ve been there as a younger woman thinking that sexuality and free expression equals liberation and to some degree it is a freedom from traditional roles and societal norms around women’s piety but as you point out, this objectification is not feminism. I think we need to take the time to connect with our younger sisters so that they are informed enough to know the difference.

    1. I think one of the main problems is a lack of institutional knowledge. Many are just swayed by mainstream ideals and not referring back to discussions that were had by feminists over the years. If they did, it they would see that Nicki Minaj and Kim K are not showcasing anything new or empowering. They are falling for the okey doke.

  3. Beautiful. As a man looking at this new form of attention seeking imagery from these depraved and empty women fed by their so called adoring ‘fans’ I am saddened but like you not surprised. Humans have constantly shown their attention span are no longer than how far they can see their own nose. Sex sells and this is constantly served for the three main dishes by a media controlled by the 1% . Their goals are achieved when these ladies succumb to the veil of deceit and so too are the millions that shout this is the new feminism. Feminism died when morals became liberal. As a woman and an african american woman you speak for millions in the female diaspora and by forward thinking men that ‘assism ‘ may be the lure and lighter switch to many a horny and sexually immature society , but it is just that, assism and not feminism.

    1. The short attention span has been exacerbated by social media. Unfortunately what’s being presented in the mainstream entertainment realm is not new, only re-appropriated and being confused for feminism. The activism and anti-oppression role of feminism is now taking a backseat to celebrity fawning.

  4. “The fixation on women’s butts, I’ll call it “assism” is a well documented form of objectification, deeply rooted in the commodification of Black women’s bodies.”

    Perhaps it’s just deeply rooted in biology and we overly-complicate biological tendencies with opportunism and prudish morality.

      1. Oh c’mon, JAM! “Lackadaisical denial of nuances” is pretty much a cop-out against an assertion that you fully understood. Perhaps I should have characterized that quote as an oversimplification instead….

  5. What does a feminist world look like as relates to female sexuality and body (booty) image? where is the line between self expression (even hyper sexualized) and exploitation?

    1. Thanks for asking this question. I think it’s more so about the message, intent, context and results and less about a line. The overall point is that imagery of sexuality are not always anti-oppressive or symbolic of feminism. A woman can celebrate her body as a form of liberation, Kim K and Nicki Minaj are just not examples of that. An example that I would refer to in terms of music, artistry and a message of liberation is Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu (especially in their collaboration Queen).

      1. I agree with the overall position that “assism is not feminism” generally (although as a man, I’m not entirely sure what is) but this also feels like a class, culture and economics issue. Assism can be feminism, Just not in th hands of Minaj or people like her (?) who don’t seem to have ever expressed a genuine thought about social justice issues.

  6. THIS is EXACTLY what I’ve trying so desperately to explain to this entire generation of young women who think that objectifying themselves is empowering. I understand that my generation has let them down. We have let them be raped, molested, abused, and used. We have let them grow up in a society that shames them for their sexuality and conversely celebrates men’s sexist behaviors. My generation dropped the ball. We never told or taught them that being sexy should not be their objective. We never taught our daughters to love themselves as unique human beings and individuals, instead we told them to be beautiful to get a rich man, to sell pussy to pay the bills, to be be competitive and petty with other women. We didn’t show them examples of love, of respectability so they rally against it, they reject and hate it because they feel as if it invalidates their place on the planet. We didn’t teach them to lift themselves up, we let them wallow in dysfunction and we turned a blind eye to it because we never addressed our hurts from the men who used us, who violate us.

    We let our daughters be raised by Zane’s tales of adultery and promiscuity without offering a healthier alternative. We didn’t give them guidance and direction about becoming a woman and understanding their sexuality, we let them raise themselves. Now, we have a generation of women who believe that showing your ass is empowering. We have a generation of women who believe that being degraded and humiliated during sex is normal and healthy. We have a nation of young women who righteously want to strike out and rally against the oppressive forces that look to silence them and diminish them for their identity as Black women but we haven’t properly armed them for the fight. We have allowed them to set their standards so low that they consider barely literate criminals, thugs, and violent males as ideal partners. We’ve not given them anything to strive for, no standards to set for themselves so they rally, they fight, they violently defend conforming to sexist, patriarchal, and demeaning sexual objectification because that’s all they know.

    My generation has to take full responsibility for dropping the ball. We are to blame. We let our daughters think that having a big ass gave them value, that having a man with money was more important than having a man with integrity. We didn’t teach them the difference between not being ashamed of their sexuality versus being proud of being vulgar. They think the world is defined by their flagrant sexuality. Deep inside, they want to feel valued and loved and understood for more than their sex, they have the very human need to be connected and partnered but we haven’t shown them anything close to a healthy relationship let alone how to sustain one so they get offended if a man speaks to them, they are disgusted when someone suggests that all they’ve known to be true and right is wrong.

    Assism is not Feminism but to tell that to a generation who has been raised with Beyonce flaunting her sexuality, with the degradation of women in porn available 24 hours a day before they become fully mature sexual adults, the subculture of weavism and housewives who don’t do any housework but who marry one dimensional, sexist men with money has completely handicapped the Black community. We’ve let boys continue with their emotionally immature, sexist, oppressive, and bullshit and we’ve let girls think that wearing seven inch heels that cost as much as rent makes them have more value.

  7. This is it! The only thing that I would add is a little of Ms. Patricia Hill-Collins. (You know she’s my favorite) The assism is exhausting. Assism is a Trojan horse for body shaming of other women. By glorifying the ass and the ass alone as an African trait we reduce the culture, poise, and aesthetic to one body part. So that anyone having that asset then “becomes black” or desirable to “the black”. People begin to question black femininity without it. Then you have the acceptance of only one type of ass being “enough” people are running to get injection, and implants dying to have THAT ASS. I’ve heard so many people say that Kim Ks ass had made her an ” honorary sista” give me a break! She may be a lot of things but feminist isn’t one of them.We’re taking about a person that states that she was basically unaware of racism until she had a biracial daughter. I think the qualifications for being called a feminist are a bit more rigorous than that. I’m insulted I’d rather have Peggy McIntosh, Susan Faludi, and Sut Jhally on my team.

  8. Well Written article. But, it can benefit from showing an actually example of positive feminist sexuality. Just to have in the minds of readers.

  9. I love your analysis on this topic! Clear, lucid, well defined. Keep doing what you’re doing Jessica! Another “Standing O” for you!

  10. Thank you for this. Thank you for not dumbing down. Thank you for not justifying blatant objectification of the Black woman’s body. I recently was on a website discussing the top “offensive moments” in the music industry and while they got a lot of points right about what was offensive and demoralizing, they praised Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda video and lyrics for being uplifting to women…I was like, wait? Did I miss something? I saw the video once and never want to see it again, it honestly made me embarrassed (I guess I’m a little prude) but I was just overwhelmed with the over-sexualization, like so over-the-top…it was just cheapened. There’s a way to make sexuality liberating, that video was just cheap.

    Anyway, I don’t want to go on and on, but this article describes exactly what I was thinking when I saw her song lyrics and video praised as uplifting and “feminist”.

    Thank you.

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