See this picture? I’m kind of annoyed by it.
Here we have a picture of a cute little black girl, maybe between eight to 10 years old, with two ponytails, who I guess is pondering that age old question most kids her age think about: “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Judging by the picture, she has it narrowed down to two things: a pearl-wearing Michelle Obama or a spread eagle lollipop-sucking Nicki Minaj. Over her is the caption: “Decisions, Decisions.” I guess in real life you can only be one or the other, right?
The message, which is included beneath the picture, means well: “We must teach our Children OUR History, educate them on who they are, & what GREATNESS runs through their veins…our children are in dire need of Love & guidance. Instilling self-worth in our children is the key investment for OUR bright future. ~AHS” AHS is short for African History and Spirituality, which is some sort of black folk empowerment meme page on Facebook.
But something about this bothers me. I think it is because the message of self-worth hinges so much on the same recycled Madonna/w***e image, which is so established in our culture. As Sigmund Freud once theorized, society has divided women into two sects: the serious marrying kind and the ones you have fun with. And since girlhood, women have been told that one version is what you should aspire to while the latter is a cautionary tale. I always found this perplexing considering that in the lives of virtually all of the women I have ever met in life, including myself, the way in which we define our own personal femininity is a little more varied and dimensional than what is presented in this picture. SO, why do we continue to push on the younger generation of women this singular version of what is acceptable, or desirable, womanhood?
Okay, so Nicki Minaj’s artistry is not everybody’s cup of tea. But is she really the epitome of all things wrong with womanhood, particularly black womanhood? Sure she makes funny voices, wears even funnier clothing and sings about sex, but she is also a savvy businesswoman who has managed to turn her act into a multi-million dollar brand. If she was a male rapper, she would be Jay-Z. And we certainly admire him for his business decorum. So in this context, I have no problem seeing Minaj as a positive inspiration or role model too. In some aspects, she is probably more easy to relate to than a figure like Michelle Obama.
Think about it: Most people cite Michelle Obama’s greatest achievement in life as being the black first lady of the United States of America. However, there is no first lady training course in college or even through one of those certified degree training programs. There is only one Barack Obama. And even if you manage to marry a psuedo-Barack Obama, the odds that your spouse would become the president of the United States is probably close to nil. In fact, you probably have a better chance of becoming an actual Disney princess than the FLOTUS. So in the off-chance that you don’t become the first lady like Obama, why not put the time and effort into your own brand and become a successful single lady like Minaj?
And that’s not to say that Obama is not an accomplished woman or even that being a wife and mother isn’t an accomplishment in itself. It takes a lot to hold a relationship – let alone a family – together. I’m saying that in the context of this picture, her version of femininity should not be considered of no greater value or less desirable than that of Minaj. Nor should it be considered in contrast or held as the sole beacon of positive black womanhood. It’s just not honest to do so.
I can imagine that for a young woman trying to find her self-worth somewhere in between a Minaj and an Obama might feel excluded from this dichotomy we see in this picture. This is why it is not healthy to continue to push these outdated, one-dimensional and sexist expectations for girls and women. We should tell them the truth. That that we know some financially secure, married Nicki Minajs. And we also know some very single and very broke Michelle Obamas. We also know some women, who are a combination of both women – plus some archetypes you haven’t even thought of. And if you happen to fall outside of the two options, there is a life of happiness and fulfillment out there for you too.