by Sara Sarasohn
On this special edition of our Culturetopia podcast, we're going to talk about women in the cultural marketplace -- or, rather, one specific woman in one specific cultural marketplace: Nicki Minaj in hip-hop.
In the past year, I have seen writing about the lack of powerful women in so many important places: in the tech industry, on the shingle in law firms, in the director's chair on a movie set, in the science lab, at the top of corporate boards. Back in December there was a stir because a woman had been hired to be on the writing staff of David Letterman's show. This was a big deal because she was going to be the only woman in the writers' room of any of the three big network late-night talk shows at the time -- Letterman's, Jay Leno's, and Conan O'Brien's. All those talk shows, and Jill Goodwin was the only one.
Nicki Minaj is the only female MC on the charts right now. Pop rap on the radio is real estate totally dominated by men: guys like Ludacris, Drake, and Nicki's patron, Lil Wayne. The way Nicki handles being the only woman in a boys' club, she reminds me of another woman working in late night: Chelsea Handler. She's on E! four nights a week with her talk show, Chelsea Lately, and she has found her cable television niche and a place for herself on the bestseller lists by approaching just about every subject -- from TV shows to Texas vacations - with raunchy humor.
Chelsea Handler's sexual triple entendres are a lot like the stick-shift innuendo Nicki Minaj throws around when she raps. As a matter of fact, when Zoe Chace and I were working on the radio story about Nicki Minaj, her raps were so overloaded with licentiousness we struggled to find parts of her songs we felt comfortable playing on the air. We're less restrained with the music in this podcast, so please be forewarned. However, I am not going to embed Chelsea Handler's lewd stand-up routines in this post. She has her own YouTube channel that's easy enough to find if you're curious.
The raunch is part of a bigger point, though, both for Nicki and for Chelsea. As music writer Maura Johnston explains in the podcast, she's been in a lot of professional situations where she is the only woman, and the ability to participate in sexual banter gives a woman a currency she might not otherwise have in a male-dominated space. It's not hard to see the parallels for female computer programmers and movie directors. It might be less likely for the banter to be sexual in the science lab or corporate boardroom, but women in all kinds of male-dominated professions need to be able to talk (or "spit," as the kids say) like the guys.