Here’s an old phrase that is both sexist and anti-sexist: “Behind every great man is a great woman.” In a kind of fusty, first-wave feminist way, it calls into question mainstream historical accounts of male achievement by highlighting the wives who advised their powerful husbands and relieved their artist mates of all their responsibilities at home. Women play important roles in greatness; they just aren’t always recognized for their work.
But that phrase also relegates women’s work to backstage areas. It implies that a great woman makes her man’s meals, cares for his heirs, keeps up his Rolodex, enforces loyalty among his staffers—anything that makes his life easier. She’s a kind of perfect hybrid between Carol Brady, Carmela Soprano, and Claire Underwood: a respectable partner who keeps house, overlooks most transgressions, and will commit the occasional felony to safeguard her husband’s standing before asking for any credit.
According to Nicki Minaj, the greatest women behind great men are “bad motherfucking queens.” At the Tidal X: 1015 concert in Brooklyn on Saturday, Minaj posited that “fucking weak” men who get scared and insecure around strong women are going nowhere fast. “Barack needed a Michelle, bitch, and Bill needed a motherfucking Hillary, bitch,” Minaj said. “You better pray to God you don’t get stuck with a motherfucking Melania.”
Poor Melania! What did she do to deserve the scorching disdain of Nicki Minaj? Sure, she plagiarized her convention speech, but English is her second language, and that’s her speechwriters’ fault. She famously posed for dozens of sexy and nude photos in the early aughts; using one’s sex appeal to make bank and feel hot is something empowerment icon Minaj has vocally endorsed. (Melania used hers to nab a sick U.S. work visa, too.) With a husband like hers, any behavior short of a murderous rampage would seem to suggest inhuman self-control, if not the temperament of a bad motherfucking queen.
Perhaps in fear of earning a spot in a Trump administration gulag, Minaj protested the semantics of how her remarks were portrayed. She “wasn’t ‘dragging’” Melania, who “seems nice,” Minaj insisted. Mrs. Trump just isn’t the “kind” of woman a wannabe president needs:
Coming from Nicki Minaj, “nice” casts a shadow so shady, Melania might need to double up on her pashminas. Her compliment to Michelle and Hillary is a different kind of shade—a woeful underestimation of their powers. Yes, they helped their husbands achieve political greatness: Michelle, both good-humored and no-nonsense, made Barack seem less self-aggrandizing; Hillary’s strength and intellect made Bill, a legendary creep and alleged sexual abuser, seem less like an anti-feminist. But framing their skills and bona fides as services to their husbands is an insult. They weren’t plucked out of a crowd to help men become presidents, and they’re not just “great women” behind “great men.”
In this case, the saddest part of the “great men” narrative is the fact that one of Minaj’s “great women” is poised to become president, and she hasn’t been able to rely on a great man to help her get there. Bill Clinton has been an unreliable surrogate for his wife, and he’s already sniffed at the degrading first-spouse responsibilities that women have endured for generations. He didn’t even take credit for his submission to the traditional (and completely bogus) first-spouse cookie recipe contest: He went with the same exact recipe Hillary used during Bill’s campaigns, but called it the “Clinton family’s” recipe instead! Great women deserve great, recipe-owning men to help their rise to power, even if they don’t need them.