The XX Factor

This Week in Butts


Despite a few road bumps, the human rear end, especially of the female variety, is well on its way to pop culture world domination. I, personally, am struggling with deeply mixed feelings about this. On one hand, butts are awesome, and shaking them is a good time for the shakers and any consenting shakees in the mix, unless they are Robin Thicke. On the other hand, all this staring at hineys raises some age-old questions about the sexual objectification of women. When is it kosher for ladies to shake that healthy butt? Perhaps two new tush-centric pop culture moments from this week can help guide us toward a better understanding:

Bad Butt

Marvel Comics stepped in it big time with a cover for Spider-Woman No. 1, released this week and drawn by Milo Manara, who is known in the comics world for his erotic drawing styleAs Rob Bricken at io9 writes, “First of all, even the dumbest, horniest teenage boy on the planet knows there’s no fabric on this earth that could possibly cling to Jessica Drew’s individual buttocks like that.” It looks more like a colonoscopy than a costume. Plus, even if you have superpowers, it’s impossible to crawl along the roof while keeping your back arched and your rear high. Too many covers like that, and Spider-Woman is going to need physical therapy. 

Good Butt

After a controversy over the cover art for Nicki Minaj’s single “Anaconda,” which Minaj used to tease the rear-centric nature of her song, the full video is out. And it’s a lot of fun.

Built over samples from the 1992 Sir-Mix-A-Lot hit “Baby Got Back,” the song celebrates the same general love of derriere as its predecessor, but from a female perspective. Minaj and her female dancers twerk in a jungle setting and indulge in some ‘90s nostalgia involving hot pink shirts over stonewashed denim. Drake is there. 

So how is it that Spider-Woman’s backside reads as icky while Nicki Minaj’s is just plain fun? Part of it, I think, is that the Minaj video is playful, so much less creepy than the icky super-seriousness of that Spider-Woman cover. Part of it is context. Shaking your thing makes more sense on the dance floor in the jungle than when you’re fighting evil.

But really what it comes down to is who is in control of the butts in question. With Spider-Woman, we’re looking at yet another example of a man imposing his ideas about the female body and female sexuality onto a character, creating an image that feels like she’s reduced to the ass in question. But “Anaconda” is a video with a woman in charge of her own image. She’s shaking her thing because she wants to and she’s looking directly into the camera and rapping, too, making it impossible to reduce her to a single body part.