Bizarre is the word that comes to mind when I watch Lady Gaga and Nicki MinajâÄôs music videos. Both artists, with their multicolored wigs, doe eyes and outrageous outfits have become cultural phenomena.
A sociology professor at the University of South Carolina who admitted to attending more than 28 Gaga concerts worldwide recently told the New York Times that heâÄôll be teaching a course next semester about the sociology behind her unprecedented rise to fame.
Though Nicki doesnâÄôt have that kind of popularity yet, one thing both stars have in common is their self-objectification and reduction of female identity to mere sexuality and sex appeal.
There are some differences between the two: One is a pop icon who has been compared to Madonna. The other is hip-hopâÄôs latest craze known for her auto-tune rap lyrics and Barbie image.
But the similarities between their personalities are striking. They both made a conscious decision in creating a larger-than-life persona for themselves.
TheyâÄôve both changed their names, wear outlandish outfits and keep us guessing about who they are. Both also use cheap, over-sexualized lyrics.
I donâÄôt understand either of them: their image or fame. I donâÄôt think either one is particularly talented, unless you count putting together a garish wig and sunglasses made of cigarettes as art. But thatâÄôs my bias because I listen to artists like Lauryn Hill, Nneka and Erykah Badu.
Lady Gaga in particular dumbfounds me. She is the embodiment of contradiction and obscurity, especially when it comes to sexuality and sexual empowerment.
In an interview with a Norwegian journalist last summer, she said she represents "sexual, strong women who speak their mind" and denied being a feminist. "I hail men! I love men!" she asserted.
But in a later interview with the Los Angeles Times, she said sheâÄôs "a little bit of a feminist."
Leaving aside her assumption that being a feminist means hating men, the implicit message that being a strong woman is about being sexual is inescapable.
She continued, "When I say to you, there is nobody like me, and there never was, that is a statement I want every woman to feel and make about themselves."
Growing up, most girls are told something to that extent. As a teenager, I was told to be confident with my body image and that success is gained through smarts and character.
But thatâÄôs not Lady GagaâÄôs message of empowerment. For starters, she wore a dress made of meat at the MTV Video Music Awards in September. Meat is typically associated with patriarchy.
Her character for her "Telephone" video is a skimpily dressed convict in a sexualized womenâÄôs prison. After being bailed out by BeyoncÃ©, they poison a man then kill other customers in a diner.
Throughout the 10-minute video, the camera unceasingly focuses on the singersâÄô bodies.
Female objectification in music and movies isnâÄôt new, but letâÄôs not get confused: Lady Gaga does not represent female empowerment and she does not break gender stereotypes.
She frames her success only in terms of her sexuality. Last year, for example, there were rumors about her being a bisexual hermaphrodite. She confirmed the first rumor, denied the second but attributed her success largely to her androgynous appeal.
Is sexuality the only part of a womanâÄôs identity that must be embraced, flaunted and attributed to for a womanâÄôs success? Empowerment can also be intellectual, political or spiritual, as various female leaders of social movements have demonstrated.
Unlike Gaga, Nicki Minaj doesnâÄôt claim to challenge stereotypes, but she conforms to them nonetheless and is also getting famous for it.
Her image started off with the Barbie doll gimmick (her alter ego). Provocative music videos feature her stiffly posing with a bright wig and scanty clothing âÄî the epitome of objectification.
Nicki also succumbs to âÄî and even flaunts âÄî racial stereotypes. Besides conforming to the stereotype of black women being hypersexual, Nicki seems to praise domestic violence against women in one of her latest songs, "Your Love," when she compares her love for a man to rapper Eminem. Eminem is infamous for his abusive relationship with his ex-wife.
In the same song, Nicki shamelessly uses Asian stereotypes and Yellowface to make her eyes appear slanted.
Playing off of gender-based or other stereotypes to gain fame is not new. Not unlike Gaga or Nicki, actress Marilyn Monroe was a sex icon who fashioned her own image as a representation of female beauty.
But she was also known for playing the "dumb blonde" stereotype in movies.
Madonna, referred to as the Queen of Pop, was touted as a symbol of youth, beauty and sex.
Like Gaga, she seemed to break down social norms. But again, she exploited her sexuality in order to gain fame, thus conforming to the same stereotypes over and over again.
What also isnâÄôt new is how our society eats it all up. I realize most of my peers may not see it this way, but should we be OK with women comparing themselves to dolls and meat?
Every woman should embrace her own sexuality, and I respect that feminism in itself has multiple meanings.
But there is something wrong with a culture that idolizes those who are so uncomfortable in their own skin that they need to warp their own images in order to be successful.
Obsessing over women who objectify themselves is unhealthy and it certainly isnâÄôt female empowerment.
Lolla Mohammed Nur welcomes comments