Monique and I crossed paths a few years ago, and she immediately stood out to me. She was a woman who spoke her mind, was not afraid to comment on posts and was clearly in the midst of a powerful creative journey. It has been exciting and incredible to watch Monique change, evolve and stand firm in her work over the past few years. Her blog Twerked explores sexual politics for the millennial hip hop generation. Here she discusses how what started as her senior thesis morphed (and is still morphing) into so much more. Meet Monique.
Tell us more about your creative journey. How did you get started and where are you now in the journey?
For one, I didn’t always consider myself a creative. My entry in to writing, branding and working on passion projects was rooted in my past as a ballet student and as a journalism student at Fordham. I became passionate about learning about black literary works, black art and analyzing the experiences of black people in general when I spent my adolescence studying ballet and other dance techniques at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. I was a mediocre dancer and I was horrible at following direction. I didn’t stand a chance at becoming a professional dancer as I had originally dreamed. Still, being involved with a company that had made history through giving black ballet dancers such a major platform made a tremendous impact on my understanding of what it means to leave a legacy, to be disciplined and to find different ways to express yourself—despite the ways in which the world can try to limit your mobility and visibility.
By the time I got to Fordham, it was all about fine-tuning my understanding of black history and being exposed to the academic jargon that articulated the things I’d always thought about or knew to be true. But I also think that my college years were a major period of sexual awakening. (The writer inside me is cringing at that last line but I’ll go with it, anyway.) It was the first time I was studying alongside young men that openly expressed their desire for me, instead of ignoring me or casting me aside as the goody-two shoes Caribbean chick. It took a lot of time and reflection to adjust to that, hence why I think I started flirting with a sex-positive feminist identity in my junior and senior years. It was that flirtation that set the groundwork for the writing that I do today.
Right now, I’m trying to capitalize on my creativity as best as I can to support myself. We all know that writers (especially those that couple their work with activism) tend to live relatively modest lifestyles. I say fuck that. I don’t want to live this binary of having a day job and a writing identity for the rest of my life. I’m shooting for a life where I can live off of my ideas—and the execution of those ideas—alone. If Zuckerberg and Jobs could do it, why can’t I?
You’ve reinvented yourself and your work a few times. What has that been like for you, both on and offline?
That has been a result of me growing up, navigating the real world, and having a more sophisticated understanding of branding and marketing after observing the heavyweights like Feminista Jones, Jamilah Lemieux, Demetria Lucas, Danielle Belton, Helena Andrews…Now I’ve come to a place where I’m really happy with how I present myself online and I don’t think I’ll be doing any more rebranding for a while. But that’s all up to where the world and where my writing takes me.
Offline, reinventing myself has meant creating the life I’ve wanted to live for so long. I knew I couldn’t build this fabulous identity as a sexuality blogger and still be living at my momma’s house. So a month after I redesigned my personal website, I spontaneously moved out of the burbs and into my first apartment—a beautiful, spacious home in Brooklyn on a lot just two blocks away from the gentrification line. I found myself thinking more critically about the quality of people I had surrounded myself with. I also found myself opening up to men for the relationship I knew I wanted and had waited for, but was too weak and hurt to fight for in the past. Many times I’ve seen how reinvention online has forced me to push through my comfort zones in the real world.
How did you conceive the idea for Twerked?
Twerked started out as my senior thesis in undergrad, a paper called “Poles, Power and the Everyday Woman.” Songs like “Pour it Up” and “I Luv Dem Strippers” were wildly popular at the time, and I was highly curious about women going to the strip club to socialize and compete with performers for men’s attention. There was something about the transactional construct of the strip club that I felt made for a great (or perhaps unfortunate) analogy for the often detached, transactional interactions we have with one another as millennials when pursuing sexual encounters. I also felt that women going to the strip club brought up an important and complex conversation. Why is it that we can express our disdain for patriarchy in certain contexts yet still engage in it and enjoy it in others?
Writing the paper and interviewing people for the project was a lot of fun, so I decided to build a blog for it where people could easily find and respond to the concept online. But ultimately, I needed a space to keep workshopping my ideas; blogging was the easiest way for me to keep going.
Twerked explores sexual politics for the millennial hip-hop generation. What do you see as the significance of our generation better understanding and absorbing sexual politics?
I think engaging in this work is important because it expands our understandings of ourselves and it helps us make more informed and satisfying decisions as sexual beings.
Our music industry annoys me sometimes because sexual references have become such a default topic in contemporary, mainstream hip hop. I enjoy music that talks about sex as much as the next chick. But I have a problem with it when it becomes so saturated that it comes off as tone deaf in relation to the vastness of the human experience. We as young people have a lot of music that projects us through pornographic images. I feel like (at least in mainstream hip hop) that sound tends to drown out the music talking about our erotic selves—who we are when we’re having genuine, meaningful and intimate connections with other people. I’ve found that immersing myself into feminist theories on sex helped me contextualize the ratchet music I’ve come to love while still tuning out the white noise and my finding my true erotic self.
I’d also say that understanding these politics, being articulate in the topic and respecting the complexities of it is important because it combats the way people are pathologized for expressing themselves and their needs as sexual beings. It is beyond me that a woman lobbying for access to birth control was called a “slut” and a “prostitute” by a powerful political commentator on a major media platform. It infuriates me that innocent people are being arrested for “manifesting prostitution” because of the way they dress, their gender expression, their sexual orientation and in some cases their affiliation with the sex-positive movement. We have to understand these things because pleasure—the way we perform it, the way we read it, the way we demonize it—is coded into our understandings of race, gender, class, orientation, motives and decision-making, relationship and friendship building, etc.
What 3-5 posts most represent the identity of Twerked?
This is like asking me to pick my favorite child. Imma say:
What are some common misconceptions about your work and your blog?
I think it’s easy to assume that as a hip hop feminist blog, Twerked is a place to bash black men in particular for their mistreatment of women. But that’s not what it’s about at all. Sure, I’ve called men out for the misogynistic behaviors on the blog before. But Twerked is more about how we read and respond to sexual representation in the media and less to do with vilifying people for their engagement in patriarchal and hypersexual constructs.
How did you come up with the pseudonym Areola Bandz? How do you distinguish that identity from Monique John?
The name “Areola Bandz” was conceived in a Fordham cafeteria while I was cracking jokes with my girlfriends as an itty bitty sophomore back in 2010—long before Twerked ever came about. Someone had asked me: “If you had a stripper name, what would it be?”
Areola is my muse. She pushes me to do things and to say things that I don’t always want to but that I know are good for me. She’s also much more beautiful, seductive, active and adventurous in how she wears her hair. She’s had a huge impact on me as I’ve grown into a woman and a writer, but I only consult with her when I’m writing for Twerked because that’s her soapbox. Arise TV and HelloBeautiful, not so much. Sexuality blogging is just one part of my life as a writer and intellectual, not the totality of it.
Mad libs round:
Women are…more capable than they give themselves credit for.
If women would more easily embrace intuition, their lives could be so much better.
Blogging is…how I stay sane.
3 things you can’t live without…my laptop (duh), my queen-size bed and my favorite family photo album.
What are you currently reading? Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.
Where do you see Twerked in the next five years? I don’t wanna say (mischievous grin).
Monique John is a writer specializing in feminism, racial politics, media representation and hip hop culture. Monique runs a blog entitled, Twerked, a blog on sex, hip hop and the strip club chic. She is now a contributing writer for HelloBeatuiful.com and has frequently appeared as a pundit for Arise TV, a 24-hour international news and entertainment channel. Monique’s writing has also appeared in The Root, For Harriet, Corset Magazine and The Feminist Wire.
Learn more about Mo at moniquejohn.com and follow her on Twitter at @MoniqueEJohn.
For Twerked, go to: twerkedblog.com
Twerked’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/twerked?ref=hl
Areola’s Twitter profile: https://twitter.com/AreolaBandzPhD
Twerked’s Tumblr: http://twerkedblog.tumblr.com/
Twerked’s Instagram: https://instagram.com/twerkedblog/