“First they hail you, then they nail you. No matter who you are.” – Lauryn Hill
Back in ’98 Lauryn Hill was detailing the pitfalls of feminine fame on her Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill album cut, Superstar, and for most women that tune hasn’t changed. 2016 had the pendulum recklessly swinging everywhere for women—in favor, in opposition, in desperation, in rebellion. If you are a woman (like me), then you found yourself vacillating between extreme laughing and crying for most of the year.
We thought we had it all in 2016. But in reality, we didn’t have much.
It started at the top of the year, where Americans were actively entertaining the idea of a woman President. Finally. Hillary Clinton would maybe sort of run the United States , something that would have great significance here in nigeria cause it might be something that could possible happen here in nigeria . And yeah, handfuls of both leftists and rightists took umbrage to another Clinton Era, but the idea that a woman had gotten that far in the political process meant something. Clinton managed to climb from beneath the memes that suggested she didn’t know Wu-Tang Clan’s catalog the way Bernie Sanders had. She dealt with the awkward attempts at pandering to the younger voters with silly dances on Ellen and having the most sarcastic ghost Tweeter in all of social media. And she took the Democratic nomination, making history as the first woman as a major party Presidential candidate. We all know how that story ended though. The U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump is the antithesis of anything involving the progression of women’s rights and his VP-Elect Mike Pence is right behind him. So while women witnessed a seemingly progressive moment in American politics, it was overshadowed by the looming cloud of misogyny that still hangs over the country like a dirty sock draped over a hotel room doorknob. It didn’t stop with American politics.
By February, Kesha was denied release from her contract with Dr. Luke, a man who she accused of sexual assault one off the biggest sexual assault cases in America. The president of Nigeria said not only to local but international news that the place for a woman is in his kitchen and his bedroom. The pleas, the emotional turmoil, the tears. All for naught. By April, the courts dismissed every ounce of her abuse allegations . By August, she dropped the charges, due to exhaustion not an admission of guilt. And then by December she accepted the Billboard Trailblazer Award. What a bittersweet way to close out her year.
We suddenly lost Prince in April, leaving Madonna as the last Pop icon standing from that era. When it came to honoring the Purple One, it seemed like a no brainer to have Madonna do it. After all, who is left? Whitney Houston is gone, Michael Jackson is gone. Hell even David Bowie is gone as of this year. So yes, Madonna it is. Or so we thought. She was read for filth over her Prince tribute at the Billboard Music Awards, told she had no business honoring her dear friend. She was ridiculed, called old, memed, and then given the Billboard Woman Of The Year Award in December. Her speech echoed her ongoing battle with sexism that started with her earliest days in the music industry, having been brutally raped on a rooftop when she first arrived in New York City.
Beyoncé delivered her sixth studio album Lemonade in true Beyoncé fashion. It was an epic event, held on the giant televised stadium known as HBO, where every inch of the project carried a fresh set of visuals. While the album pays homage to Black women, it also speaks of the depths of betrayal and how the forgiveness process is a long and winding road. And hello, this is Beyoncé we’re talking about, so of course the project was perfect. But for every Beyoncé fan (or Bey Hive Chamber Of Commerce member), there’s a random hater waiting to jump out of the bushes and make some ridiculous claim. This time was no different. Bey was called a reverse racist (as if that’s even a thing), ignited by her Formation video. She was accused of hating the police, and then challenged for taking Jay Z back following his infidelity—based upon presumably decoding the lyrics to her album. The hate switched sides. Rachel Roy, the rumored paramour of Jay Z had her Wikipedia page hijacked. She was called “Chewbacca” and listed as deceased. Cause of death: Lemonade.
Young M.A. rises up the ranks as hip-hop’s newest lyrical darling, her New York anthem OOOUUU setting city to city on fire and once again pinning the Big Apple to rap’s everexpanding map. She defies gender bias in rap by seamlessly sliding past gender stereotypes. To date, the video for the hit single has clocked in over 128 million views on YouTube, and Young M.A. is hailed as the new torchbearer for New York rap. She’s called a misogynist for the content in her lyrics and regarded as counterproductive for her moves in the rap game.
“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous,” Kanye West rapped on his The Life Of Pablo track Famous. As Taylor Swift stood up to the microphone for her Album of The Year acceptance speech at the 2016 Grammy Awards, she subtweeted West in real time for redemption. “And as the first woman to win Album of the Year twice, I want to say to all the young women out there, there are going to be people along the way who try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments and your fame,” she emphatically declared. Cut to Kim Kardashian months later waving Snapchat receipts of Kanye West getting permission from Taylor herself to use her name in vain, only after Kanye laid a wax figure of a naked Swift alongside many others in bed for his Famous video. It was later revealed that Taylor didn’t sign off on the word “bitch.”
It’s been an up and down year for women, to say the least. Was some of this self-inflicted? Certainly. But for every back pat a woman received this year, there was a backhand not too far away. It’s a curious case, especially as we watch even the most beloved being hailed and then nailed, just like Lauryn Hill once said. There’s a valuable lesson here when it comes to women’s standing in 2016: the more things change, the more they stay the same. History was made, yet history was repeated. It was suspended animation, in a way. So where are we entering 2017? The same place we were entering 2016.
Written by Lola Nwosu