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“White Feminism” vs. “Intersectional Feminism”: What You Missed at the VMAs

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Co-Written by Rachel Levy and Delaney Ratzky

The Video Music Awards, which premiered this past Sunday night on MTV, have stirred quite a bit of controversy,  fueling Twitter wars between A-list musicians and causing several confrontations.

Earlier this month, after the nominees were announced for Video of the Year, Nicki Minaj took to Twitter to show her anger over the “Anaconda” music video not being nominated, despite breaking numerous YouTube and other entertainment records. Minaj elaborated on how only certain types of artists were nominated. Her real complaint focused on the inherent racism of her video being overlooked in favor of similar white artists, but some misinterpreted Minaj’s message.

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Taylor Swift took to Twitter to respond to Nicki Minaj over how women should not bring each other down. However, this reaction may have been misplaced.

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Minaj responded, explaining she did not intend to attack Taylor Swift, but that she is discussing issues much larger than what Swift perceived. Swift was responding from the perspective of “white feminism,” unintentionally ignoring Minaj’s message. Swift advocated for promoting all women, rather than Minaj’s request to promote women of color specifically.

Many other celebrities chimed in on the controversy, including Katy Perry, Kim Kardashian, and most notoriously, the host of this year’s VMAs—Miley Cyrus. In fact, Cyrus gave some problematic responses when asked about the controversy in a recent interview with The New York Times.

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The controversy came up again at the VMAs this Sunday, when Nicki Minaj accepted the award for Best Hip-Hop Music Video for “Anaconda” and openly called Cyrus out for the way she talked about Minaj to the press. Cyrus’s reaction was, in our own words, unprofessional and inappropriate.

While Cyrus has valid reasons to be skeptical of Minaj’s claims, her reaction to the confrontation truly shows her views on the issue—she is perceiving everything in the same way Swift did, through a specific brand of “white feminism.” This becomes especially apparent as Cyrus, in both her interview and her live response, paints Minaj as “angry,” relegating her to a harmful stereotype of the “angry black woman” so that it becomes easier to ignore Minaj. While Cyrus is in full support of typical feminist issues, such as body policing or LGBT youth, she is ignoring important tenants of feminism that do not promote herself. She is willfully tearing Minaj down in terms of racism, body positivity for other races and body types, and especially abolishing female competition in the entertainment industry. Rather than help, Cyrus is fueling a controversy, further pitting women against each other, and showing her own biases along the way.

And all considered, Cyrus is not even the worst player in all of this. Her behavior is fueling more than just controversy. The media is eager to help pit woman against woman, covering the next big “celebrity catfight.” Even as we go through our newsfeeds and dashboards, every media outlet is reporting on “The Twitter War” or “The VMA Drama” or any headline they can attach to this story to stir the most conversation. However, the conversations facilitated ignore the central issues Minaj raised, and instead are discussing Swift and Cyrus’s growing brands of “white feminism.” Even worse, everyone is moving on, but the media is still coming up with new takes to overdramatize the situation yet again. If our news outlets focused on relevant issues instead of the latest drama, maybe our feminism would be more inclusive, and our celebrities would be advocating for more important causes. If this proves anything, it’s that not all publicity is good publicity.

One of the largest issues of this controversy boils down to one match-up: “white feminism” versus “intersectional feminism.” Swift and Cyrus have not been wrong when they speak out against pitting women against each other, or speak in favor of their own work. Both women herald themselves as “feminists,” striving to contribute to a growing culture that empowers and praises women across the entertainment industry. But the problem lies in how both women are silencing Minaj, on the grounds that she is “bringing race into” an unrelated problem. She is doing nothing but raising a relevant issue. Swift, while unintentionally, silenced Minaj by misinterpreting what Nicki was talking about; she discussed a “white feminist” issue of pitting women against each other, and ignored Minaj’s valid concerns about how she was being ignored on a high level in her industry, predominantly because of her skin color. Cyrus, however, intentionally silenced Minaj and her message, took a stance against her, and used a classic “angry black woman” stereotype to belittle and negate her confrontations at the VMAs. Both women, while not wrong, are acting inappropriately in response to Minaj’s complaints. If both women truly believe in not pitting women against each other, where is Minaj’s overwhelming support in the face of a patriarchal system that praises some women and puts others down? Where are the claims that these women will fight alongside another strong, empowered woman? Instead, we are left discussing these women and their brand of “white feminism,” ignoring Minaj and “intersectional feminism” in the process.

 This year, the VMAs have truly been a showcase for the importance of feminism, racism and societal change within the context of the entertainment industry. With an award show this memorable, we can only imagine what next year’s nominations will bring.

Check out what happened below:

http://www.mtv.com/videos/misc/1235973/miley-and-nicki-minaj-have-a-heated-moment-at-the-vmas.jhtml#id=1737437

Photo Credit: Cover,1-56-7

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