By Hettie V. Williams
Cardi B is a Flapper. A twenty-first century Flapper. She’s among many young women entertainers — women such as Beyonce′, Lady Gaga, and now Cardi, who have challenged traditional gender norms in their art as a bid for self-affirmation and human freedom. In her music, Cardi, a social media star and rapper, has made women’s economic and sexual autonomy noticeable themes. She is poignantly outspoken and her personal biography is etched into the lyrics of her songs such as the case with “Bodak Yellow”:
I don’t dance now
I don’t gotta dance
I make money moves
Cardi makes her own money. She “don’t gotta dance no more” for men in strip clubs. She now has a measure of control over her own narrative. As a self-supporting, unbought, and unbossed woman, Cardi is a sexual agent and not a mere object of male desire. She has feminized words coining phrases such as “shmoves” and “shmoney” to tell her story to the world. Cardi is a woman seeking to direct her destiny on her own terms.
Flapper’s have long had their significance eclipsed by the suffragist as a representative example of the new (modern) woman. But, their bid for autonomy in the early twentieth century was as important as the demand for women’s voting rights and employment equity. Though the suffragists may have been more conscientiously feminist in word and deed, Flappers such as Clara Bow helped to define the new woman through their style,
comportment, dress, and behavior as trendsetters who challenged social conventions about femininity and womanhood more generally. Their bid for personal freedom, as they bobbed their hair, smoked in public, and wore dresses with a raised hemline, was juxtaposed with the movement for women’s voting rights. These women, such as Bow, were self-supporting and some like Josephine Baker danced scantily clad on stage. But, Cardi “don’t gotta dance” no more.
Cardi B was born Belcalis Almanzar, to a Dominican Father and Trinidadian mother, in the Bronx section of New York on October 11, 1992. She was raised primarily in the South Bronx by her Latina grandmother. According to her biography, about which she has been very vocal, she found work as a stripper at age 19. She turned to stripping to escape an abusive relationship and avoid poverty according to her retelling of this personal journey. Cardi initially found fame through Instagram in 2013 after videos of her real-life experiences, including a discussion of her life as a stripper, began to go viral.
She eventually starred in the television show Love and Hip Hop from 2015 to 2017 and released her first single “Bodak Yellow” in 2017. Her first studio album is entitled Invasion of Privacy and it premiered on the Billboard charts at number one in 2018. Currently, she is the first person ever to have 13 songs on the Billboard 100 at the same time. There is an unfiltered feminist consciousness evident in Cardi B’s work, though her presence in popular culture is complex, and not without controversy.
Lady MCs who came before Cardi such as Queen Latifah, Monie Love, and MC Lyte projected a message of women’s empowerment with little or no profanity; and, they were fully clothed in music videos. These MCs relied primarily on their lyrical skills to advance their feminist messages. There are no scantily clad women in the music video “Ladies First” performed by Latifah and Love. No naked, or nearly-naked, women no profanity, or abject objectification of women is apparent in this music video from the Golden Age of lady MCs. Cardi B’s approach is different.
Cardi projects a self-styled realism that is unfiltered in that she typically uses profanity while re-making words and sounds from the context of her lived experience. She has branded herself in a way that has gained her countless fans on social media and beyond. This approach resonates with her audience of mostly young women. She has of course garnered criticism. So much so, that she briefly disabled her Instagram account. Cardi’s feminist consciousness is complicated.
Cardi’s critics have focused on her race and gender. Some have stated that Cardi is an embarrassment to women of color, and black women in particular, going as far as to say that she is “illiterate” and uses bad diction. Cardi B is a woman of color but her identity is complex. She is biracial and she was raised in a Spanish speaking home — that of her Latina grandmother. And, she never proclaimed herself to be the spokesperson for Black women. It is counterfactual to impose upon her a monoracial identity that would force her to deny the ancestry of either of her biological parents. When she announced her pregnancy to a man who allegedly cheated on her, she decided to “stand by her man.” This is her prerogative. Mind your business. Feminism is about women making choices. Cardi don’t gotta dance no more for anyone including her critics.