Undergraduate short piece: Subverting Gender Norms; Nicki Minaj as Barbie


I have come across another piece I wrote at Level 6 undergraduate level, I have put a shorter version here. Hopefully this will be of use to other undergraduates or those new to Sociology.

As you can see the doll theme was definitely on my mind.

Any comments/ feedback/ problems (especially with my references to Transgender) / suggestions gratefully received.

I would like to write a paper on Nicki Minaj in the near future.

Subverting and Transgressing Gender Norms

A further twist in subverting gender norms is women performing drag, taking the male-constructed ‘woman’ and twisting it further, a caricature of the caricature, until it turns into an androgynous creation. This highlights the fluidity of gender and questions the assumptions of gender-related behaviour. “At its most complex [drag] is a double inversion that says,’ appearance is an illusion” (Newton cited in Butler, 1990:137). This can take two forms, a woman performing as a man such as Lady Gaga performing as Joe Calderone (Marikar, 2011) or a woman performing an ultra-woman. A man dressing as a female in the Western world is deemed entertainment, funny, harmless, but a woman performing as a man is deemed ‘creepy’ and menacing (Ibid). It is deemed more radical for a woman to ‘gender bend’ (Smelik, 1996). A woman can also perform woman, the hyper-sexualised, Hyper-commodified ‘doll woman’ that the media bombards us with. Rapper Nicki Minaj is performing Barbie, and subverting the ideal feminine stereotype. By playing with performance, Minaj is highlighting the absurdity of the doll expectations, a “clever subversion of Eurocentric standards of beauty” (Gregory, 2012). Although many feminists will dispute the validity of Minaj’s claims of empowering females through performing Barbie, Gregory argues that “Nicki reinterprets and reclaims Barbie, and in doing so, empowers young women who, like Alexis, know that “no one in this world is a Barbie” (Ibid). Minaj also takes on male and female “I’m not Jasmine, I’m Aladdin” (KillerHipHop, 2010). Minaj further transgresses gender norms by being the Barbie who challenges misogynistic lyrics such as her reworking of ‘Girls Fall Like Dominoes’ in which the original celebrates and mocks the disposability of women. This leads on dismissing the original.

Minaj’s Barbie, and Lady Gaga’s hyper-woman, both indicate of the “imitation that mocks the notion of an original” (Jameson cited in Butler, 1990:139). “Laughter emerges in the realization that all along the original was derived” (Ibid). This attacks the invisibility of the hegemonic norm, or the power system of male/female which stands dominant. Butler argues that “performativity of gender itself in a way that destabilizes the naturalized categories of identity and desire” (Butler, 1990:139). If the body can change and gender can be transformed, “If the text inscribed on the body can be changed and translated, the body is no longer a mere passive object of inscription by an all-powerful history” (Lindenmeyer, 1999:55).

Transgender is a key site for subversion and transgression of gender norms. Transgender is not acting as the ‘other’ or performing the binary categories, but it transcends the binaries and threatens the system. “If I have a penis and big tits that’s gender fuck, if I wore makeup and butch clothing that’s gender fuck. And what’s quite interesting is that androgyny is acceptable because there’s a reason for that, but gender fuck isn’t, because people go ‘oh, OK’ but with gender fuck it’s this thing of ‘shit, I’m getting two sets of signals’” (N’ Ha Ysabet cited in Munro, 1997). Glick argues that transgressive practices dislocate and displace the dominant (Glick, 2000:24). In Foucaultian terms, power is everywhere and is “exercised at innumerable points” (Foucault cited in McLaren, 2002 :37). The system can be destabilised by these performers who oppose hegemony and play outside of the lines. Transgender artist LaGrace says: “As a gender variant visual artist I access ‘technologies of gender’ in order to amplify rather than erase the hermaphroditic traces of my body. I name myself. A gender abolitionist. A part time gender terrorist” (Del LaGrace Volcano, 2005). The system can be destabilised and hijacked by denying gender, because as ‘between gender’ people show, the male/female explanations are not enough and restrict possibility and experience. Storm the ‘genderless baby’ invoked outrage through the media when it was revealed that the baby would be brought up without his/her gender being known (Daily Mail, 2011). The presumption of a human being male or female, is commonplace, and to subvert gender or transcend it, is revolutionary.


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