I’ve been thinking
more than I should a lot about Nas dubbing feminism “The Woman’s Mafia.” Predictably, there was a bit of a backlash after he posted this contextless comment on Twitter, in part because the meaning was so unclear. The barbs that followed took shoots at Nas’ perceived lack of intelligence, as well as jokes about bell hooks going to the studio to record a diss track. His tweet left me, like many others, confused. For one, he had just spent more than an hour in conversation with Angela Davis, feminist legend, and she discussed adopting a feminist lens as a way of looking at the prison industrial complex and the issue of mass incarceration. Maybe he just wasn’t looking to disrespect his elder, or perhaps he had no idea what she meant, but Nas nodded as if the idea sounded right to him.
There’s also the fact that I have no idea what he means he says “Woman’s Mafia.” Does he believe women, in the name of feminism, or an organized syndicate that will steal, murder, and bribe in order to gain power? Is that the mission statement for NOW? It could have been a compliment. Given Nas’ part-time obsession with mafia tropes and iconography in his music, maybe he was saying he thinks feminism is cool, like all those mafia dons he admires. I’d like to think that’s case, but Nas has never been progressive on issues of gender. Maybe he’s grown as a person and I’m not giving him enough credit, but I can’t imagine the guy who made a song about women owing him sex because he let them hold his jewelry suddenly fashions himself a supporter of feminism. He should maybe explain himself at some point.
I don’t want to pick on Nas too much. It’s easy to do. Great rapper, don’t get me wrong, one of the best to ever do it. Thug poet, for sure, but not always engaged in critical thinking the way one would hope. And this isn’t about him. It’s rarely ever about the individual.
What his comment made me think about is men’s relationship to feminism. Let’s say what Nas meant by “Women’s Mafia” was the first thing I posited — an organized syndicate that will steal, murder, and bribe in order to gain power. That’s really what anti-feminists have been saying about feminism since the word/movement came into existence. It’s an attitude that belies a fear of feminism uprooting society as we know it. Well, yeah! That’s the whole point. The way our society is structured now privileges (cis) men and creates great inequality among genders. Feminism says that’s fucked up and should be different. It’s instructional that people, mostly men, can think that the only means by which that can be changed is through tactics associated with the mafia.
More interesting to me is that someone like Nas, someone who prides themselves on radical thinking/politics — someone who wants to be connected to a tradition of resistance, someone who would refer to Angela Davis as his hero and friend– would hold such animosity toward feminism. It’s not that I don’t understand where it comes from. Patriarchy is a hell of a drug. I’m still fascinated how one could overlook a huge piece of that history because it’s attached to “The Women’s Mafia.”
It’s as if, for some men, to embrace feminism (or the goals of feminism) is to reject yourself. And in some ways, it is. It is a rejection of the self formed through oppressing others. That should be the goal. We should want to be different than the ways in which patriarchy has shaped us. We should want to ensure that we aren’t contributing to the oppression of others, especially if we’re going to call ourselves radical or revolutionary. Feminism is an integral part of that revolution.
Understandably, that can be scary. If you’ve spent a lifetime creating yourself, finding comfort in your own skin, only to be told that there are parts of that identity and the structure that helped you create that need to change because they hurt other people, you’re going to… well, resist. I’m sympathetic (to a degree) because I believe we all go through this, in one way or another. But the unwillingness to be open to new ideas, to accept that you may be wrong, to invest in building a world that looks different, means you’re not radical. You’re not revolutionary. You’re selfish.
Again, perhaps I’ve got Nas all wrong. It’s a possibility that he was giving feminism props. Perhaps he just thinks feminism is a force to be reckoned with, on par with the Corleone family, and this is his way of saluting the work that feminists, including his hero Angela Davis, have done over the years.
I honestly don’t know. But he got me thinking.
Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute.