My Name is LaToya, and I’m a Bad Feminist
The following post has a musical video. It is not included solely for economic gain, but included as a demonstration of what a terrible, TERRIBLE feminist I am. Does seeing something else deeper in Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” make me a bad feminist? Honestly, I don’t care if it does.
I remember when Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” dropped. I was an elementary school student at Wilkinson County Elementary School located in Woodville, Mississippi, the county seat and the neighboring town. Back then, I weighed 75 pounds, but only if my clothes were soaking wet and I was holding two bricks in my pants. But, and this is a surprising but to many of my friends, I LOVED TO DANCE. When that introduction came on, “Oh, my God, Becky. Look at her butt.” I was ready. I was shaking my nickel worth of behind and even hurt my side trying to do the side kick from that video.
As I grew in the academy, I learned that this song was a whole lot more than one of my favorite dance tracks. I’ve read feminists rage against this song, comparing Mix-A-Lot’s ode to booties with the savage way that Sarah Baartman was displayed and dismissed. I’ve even read feminists tracts about Mix-A-Lot’s perpetuation of “hot pussy” stereotypes. Now, that caused me to just roll my eyes. In fact, ALL of it made me roll my eyes after a while. In a cynical rush to question and destroy just about everything that can be questioned, I feel that feminists have missed several issues brought forth by the song.
It’s true, that as a woman, I do not want to be reduced to any of my body parts, front or back. It’s true, that as a woman, I have a brain that works, and I DEMAND that my colleagues respect my mind. It’s true, that as a woman, I am a woman who basks in her womanity, complete with hoop earrings and lipstick where ever I go. I am womanish and enjoy being so. I don’t feel superior to men. I don’t feel inferior to men. In fact, I don’t even fight against men. While this society is certainly patriarchal and sexist, men are not an impenetrable wall of correctness that I feel I have to scale. In fact, without thinking about it, we do not even realize that masculinity is a gender. It is subject to change and scrutiny the same way femininity is. As a woman, I am not a man. I am different. And I’m adult enough to understand that difference is not a < or > sign: differences in humanity just are. Our cultures and times impose inferiority and superiority while claiming to strive toward equality.
But off my soapbox and back to “Baby Got Back.” When I listened to “Baby Got Back” as a high schooler with a modest amount of adolescent“back,” I heard other issues within a RAP song that have yet to be explored: a man who was actually “dissing” other brothers for domestic violence, white standards of beauty, and a rejection of white standards of beauty. Mix-A-Lot makes it clear in several stanzas that he prefers Black bodies.
All of us of a certain age know this video. It came on a show called Video Soul, which aired on BET when it was still Black-owned. You remember? Donny Simpson and Sherry Carter’s show?
While this video was certainly entertaining, even spoofed by Jamie Foxx on an episode of In Living Color, I think it best to post a version with the lyrics, so that I can show you why I refuse to “diss” this song as an academic some twenty years after its debut.
Upon Mix-A-Lot’s entrance, he declares that “I like big butts and I cannot lie!” It is a declaration of his personal physical preferences. He likes butts rather than boobs. But in that first stanza, he rejects the white beauty standards that are encountered in the average grocery store magazine rack: “I’m tired of magazines/Saying flat butts are the thing” (Lines 21–22). According to Mix-A-Lot, these types of hegemonic publications do not ask Black men what they find attractive. He speaks for them all: “Take the average black man and ask him that/She gotta pack much back” (Lines 23–24). In order to “prove” his theory, Mix-A-Lot conducts and informal survey within the song using the African American church tradition of call and response. He says, “fellas,” and the fellas respond. He asks if their girlfriends have a large butt, and the guys respond in the affirmative.
Traditionally, men of African descent have preferred women who were larger than the what was presented to them by the dominant culture. At the time of this song’s publication, the dominant culture declared that Twiggy-like bodies with large breasts were the standard for beauty. It also treasured straighter hair and pale skin. In my opinion, Mix-A-Lot does something bold: he tells the dominant culture that its opinion of what was considered feminine beauty does not matter and never has to “the average Black man.” In fact, he declares, “Gimme a sister I can’t resist her. Red-beans-and-rice didn’t miss her” in the song’s last stanza. In no way, according to Mix-A-Lot, are Black women’s larger bodies somehow strange, disgusting, or even asexual mammies. Black women are attractive and beautiful with their larger bodies, as Mix-A-Lot tells it, regardless of what the dominant culture thinks. I feel that that’s a cause for celebration — not anger.
While Mix-a-Lot mentions the print media several times, he also attacks the standards presented by dominant pornographic culture and rock music by the second stanza. Mix-A-Lot declares, “I ain’t talkin bout Playboy/Cause silicone parts are made for toys” (Lines 7–8). Here, Mix-A-Lot manifests that though he rejects the dominant culture’s ideas of beauty, he is not blind to the ravages that it has on women in that culture, too. At the time, many women were seeking plastic surgery for breast enhancement. Sadly, this was a new technology and the safety of the implants was neither tested nor guaranteed once inserted in a human body. Many Euro-American women died as a result of leaking implants that wreaked havoc on their bodies. Women sought breast implants in order to become more appealing to Euro-American men. Well, Mix-A-Lot rebuffs that: he compares the women who would seek implants to toys and the men who only treasure a woman’s body parts to boys. This is quite a strong reprimand that has been overlooked for the past 25 years by traditional and Hip Hop feminists.
In addition to speaking to the breast implant craze and danger of the late 80s and early 1990s, Mix-A-Lot then attacks Rock-and-Roll for its outrageous perpetuation of these stereotypical Euro-American women. “So I’m looking at rock videos/Knock-kneed bimbos walking like hoes/You can keep them bimbos/I’ll keep my women like Flo’ Jo” (Lines 13–16). Again, as in Stanza 1, this is a very strong rebuke of white standards of beauty in preference to Black women’s bodies. Mix-A-Lot rebukes the heavy-breasted, softness of white femininity presented on Rock videos in favor of the physical feminine strength of Olympic sprinter, Florence Griffith Joyner, affectionately known throughout the collective Black community as, “Flo Jo.” With her muscular body, record-breaking speed, and long finger nails, she became the epitome of physical strength, beauty, and grace in the Black community. She influenced nail fashion and even the suits of marching band majorettes at public HBCUs!
Men of African descent have traditionally accepted Black women like Flo Jo while their European counterparts have rejected and demonized Black women who display any type of physical fitness or have muscle definition. In fact, one of the very gendered justifications of the slave trade was that African women, who often worked outside the home and developed muscles in their arms and legs, were simply more “manly” than European women. This stereotype, a carry-over from Scientific Racism, still continues to influence our society and the way that Black women’s bodies are treated. One of the most prevalent statements made by racists pertaining to Michelle Obama was that she was “manly.” Her muscular arms showed her commitment to healthy and physical fitness, and according to racists, these things do not “match” Black femininity. Unfortunately, this type of racial stereotyping of Black has very real consequences. Black women are often ignored by their doctors when they complain of pain, receive less pain medications and treatments than their white counterparts, receive less prenatal/maternal care and concern during their pregnancies, and die in childbirth at higher rates than their white counterparts. Black women in the public eye are scrutinized harshly for wearing the same clothes as their white counterparts, simply because they are curvier. Serena Williams, world class tennis champion, almost died during pregnancy due to a blood clot that she was experiencing. When she told the doctor, she was ignored and had to become quite aggressive to receive the same kind of treatment that the average white woman would have gotten without question. She is criticized and sometimes penalized for her choice of tennis wear while her Euro-American opponents wear the same little outfits and nothing is said of them.
In the above picture, Serena Williams caused a controversy. This cat suit was banned from the sport by some jackass. It was revealed later by Williams that she needed this suit in order to help blood flow for the blood clot that she developed while pregnant. Again: a blood clot that she alerted the doctors about and was promptly ignored.
Within this one song, Mix-A-Lot has message for Black men as well. While he mentions domestic abuse in Stanza Two, he speaks directly to the elements of toxic masculinity in the African American community at large. Masculinity is a performance and Mix-A-Lot recognizes that: “Some brothers wanna play that “hard” role/And tell you that the butt ain’t gold/So they toss it and leave it/And I pull up quick to retrieve it” (Lines 7–10). This game of “cool pose” that young men often play is often detrimental in interpersonal relationships. When Black men “play the ‘hard’ role,” they feel that showing affection to a woman, even with compliments, is a sign of weakness. Younger men, who have been misguided into thinking that “Cool pose,” or the “hard role” also applies in relationships often create (or recreate) a disastrous environment within the home. Men who know better, men who are slightly older, like Mix-A-Lot at the song’s release, benefit from their ignorance by gaining another love partner. Ultimately, Black men choose a toxic brand of masculinity that leads to domestic abuse as they try to subordinate the working Black women who love them. Mix-A-Lot, by the time “Baby Got Back” was released, had a history of speaking against domestic abuse of women. In his song, “My Posse’s on Broadway,” he speaks against it and chastises men who perpetrate it. In “Baby Got Back,” he is a bit more explicit in his detestation of it by relating an incident for the listener: “Some knucklehead tried to diss/Cause his girls are on my list/He had game but chose to hit ‘em/And I pull up quick to git wit ‘em” (Lines 19–22). One man’s punching bag is another man’s treasure.
Okay, I know feminists will hate this post in the same way they hated the way Django “rescued” his wife. But I have always wanted to ask traditional Black feminists and Hip Hop feminists this question: what is so wrong with a Black man displaying that he loves his wife and would walk through Hell with two sticks of dynamite under his arm for her or even a Black man rejecting white beauty standards of slim hips and boobs and celebrating Black women’s pear shapes? Quite frankly, I don’t care any more. I am a woman. I am different from a man. If a man wants to declare that he’d risk his life for me, I’m all for it. If a man declares that Euro-American, Hollywood standards are not for him, but a woman who looks like his mother/aunt/sister is, I’m all for it. If that makes me a bad feminist, so be it. I’m tired of the cynicism encoded in deconstructivist thought.
As for me, I’m going to blast the Sir Mix-A-Lot and be glad that a Black man spoke out against white beauty standards, domestic violence, and scientific racism.
This comes directly from my research/professor’s diary and was not discussed in class. But, should the opportunity arise, I am not afraid to defend my position with my colleagues or in front of students.