I feel like I need to start by acknowledging that I know Wendy Williams is… not great. This year alone, she’s made anti-gay comments, mocked Joaquin Phoenix’s lip and made a tasteless joke about the murder of Amie Hardwick, a Hollywood sex therapist who died after her ex-boyfriend allegedly pushed her from a third-floor balcony. So that explains why I usually ignore her completely.
But this week, she made a point that I found myself kind of… agreeing with? On Tuesday, she called out Nicki Minaj for marrying her high-school boyfriend, Kenneth Petty, saying, “Let me tell you something, Nicki… You should’ve never married him. Because now, you’ve ruined everything about what your brand could be, again. You’re never going to stand a chance when you’re with a man who pulls a knife at rape-point [sic], a molester, a registered sex offender, who wasn’t even registered. You’re never going to stand a chance with John Q. Public. Because there’s only one thing worse than touching children and pulling knives, and that’s murder.”
Williams seems to have confused Minaj’s husband, Kenneth Petty, with her brother, Jelani Maraj. (Maraj was sentenced to 25 years to life earlier this year for raping his 11-year-old stepdaughter.) But I see where she’s coming from, because Petty also has a dark past: He was arrested last week for failing to register as a sex offender in the state of California, something he is obligated to do because of his 1995 conviction for attempted rape in the first degree. (He was also sentenced to 18 to 54 months in prison, though it’s not clear how much time he actually served.) According to People, “Petty is a level two registered sex offender in New York, which means he’s considered a ‘moderate risk of repeat offense’ and will be required to register as a sex offender for life.” He also served seven years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter in 2002 after shooting a man.
Listen. It’s not that I think Petty forfeited the chance to have love when he committed those crimes. His crimes shouldn’t define him, and of course people can change. As Minaj herself said the first time Williams criticized Petty back in October, “I didn’t know that in our society, you have to be plagued by your past. I didn’t know that people can’t turn over a new leaf.” But rape and murder are not little mistakes, you know? Nicki Minaj is not my friend, but if she were, I’d definitely have something to say about her choice to marry this guy. “Turning over a new leaf” requires a bit more than just saying you’ve done so, right? It’s not unreasonable to wonder just how Petty has changed.
Besides, he seems like a strange choice for someone who, while she never publicly claimed the feminist label, often behaved in pretty feminist ways.
Minaj literally changed the rap game, creating new spaces for women in the genre and paving the way for the Megan Thee Stallion, Saweetie and Cardi B, among others. And she became a feminist hero (or at least my feminist hero) for a clip from her MTV documentary, My Time Now, where she famously used pickle juice to illustrate why she shouldn’t be called a bitch for being assertive. “I put quality in what I do. I spend time and I spend energy and I spend effort and I spend everything I have, every fiber of my being, to give people quality,” she said. “So, if I turn up to a photo shoot and you got a $50 clothes budget and some sliced pickles on a motherfuckin’ board, you know what? No. I am gonna leave. Is that wrong? Wanting more for myself? Wanting people to treat me with respect? You know what? Next time, they know better. But had I accepted the pickle juice, I would be drinking pickle juice right now.”
I do think it’s kind of weird of Williams to imply that Minaj is somehow now tainted by her association with Petty, though. First of all, I’m not sure she actually is, or that her brand has actually suffered. (Though of course, she announced her retirement late last year, and without an album or new project to use as a metric, it’s hard to judge one way or the other.) But I’m also firm in my belief that you cannot hold women responsible for men’s actions. Minaj didn’t have anything to do with Petty’s crimes, and her marrying him now doesn’t magically transfer blame to her. (She made this point brilliantly in a 2015 interview with the New York Times, when she called out writer Vanessa Grigoriadis for asking whether a part of her “thrived” on the drama between Drake and Meek Mill.)
That said, I can hold her responsible for her own actions, and make no mistake, marrying Petty was a decision. This is not quite the same as supporting her brother when news broke that he was being tried on charges of sexual misconduct and predatory sexual assault—you can’t choose your family, after all. (Though, it must be said: you can definitely opt not to post his bail or post fawning Instagram tributes right after the news breaks.) In this case, though, Minaj consciously decided that her future with Petty was more important than his past actions, and worse, she then decided to minimize his crimes. Not long after her marriage, she responded to critical Instagram comments about Petty’s past, saying, “He was 15, she was 16 … in a relationship. But go awf, internet, y’all can’t run my life. y’all can’t even run y’all own life.” But according to court documents, that… is not at all happened.
I get that she’s in love, and that she feels supported and seen in a way that she had clearly been craving. Our goal as feminists should be to encourage rehabilitation and redemption. And it’s not my place to forgive Petty for his crimes. (Though, I’d argue it’s not Minaj’s place either.) But it seems like she wants everyone to just forget about her husband’s past, and that is just ridiculous. She’s a global superstar who married a convicted killer and sex offender—it’s just not realistic to believe you can make this type of decision and not get questioned about it.
And in case it wasn’t clear, I definitely still have questions here. Or at least one question: Seriously? This guy?!
And Did You Hear About…
Disney making the right casting decisions for the live-action Mulan but hiring zero Chinese people for key behind-the-scenes roles.
The NYT exposé on luxury brands’ exploitative labour practices. It’s not just fast fashion, friends.
Oprah still not quite getting the problem with American Dirt.
The Arctic Ocean having chlamydia. (No, actually. 2020! Is! Horrifying!)
Lieutenant Dan, the two-legged pup who’s trying to be the next Cadbury bunny.
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