When I first heard Usher’s “I Don’t Mind,” I was slightly appalled by the lyrical content: “Shawty, I don’t mind if you dance on a pole. That don’t make you a hoe.” Yet, the radio kept playing it (albeit without the word “hoe”), and I kept listening to it because it’s so damn catchy. After hearing it about a gazillion times, I quickly realized that my original misgivings came about because apparently my brain is still living in 1998.

I don’t think anyone would deny that rap and hip-hop culture has long revolved around the demeaning of women — of “bitches,” “hoes” and “sluts” — and that was what originally upset me about this song. In Juicy J’s portion of the song, he says to the stripper, “If you fuck me like you love me, shawty, you might get rich.”

Juicy, strippers and prostitutes are not the same thing.

It was the understanding that any stripper could be convinced at a high enough price to go from a completely legal professional to a completely illegal one. It was the idea presented to us by the media that strippers have no self-confidence and are just objects, so Juicy J can “take somebody’s bitch, turn her to a slut.”

But, upon listening to the song several more times, I started to see this song as a feminist anthem. While Juicy J’s part of “I Don’t Mind” is belittling, the rest of the song, which Usher sings, is actually quite empowering.

In the first verse, Usher intones, “I make enough for the both of us, but you dance anyway,” and “you want your own and need your own (money), baby. Who am I to judge?” While I doubt any little girl grows up wishing to be an exotic dancer, this is where the woman in the song has ended up, and Usher is OK with that. She is a woman who has made her own choices, and even though she now has a man to take care of her, she continues to work in her chosen profession.

This actually seems to be the epitome of a healthy relationship: Usher trusts his partner to go to the strip club to “work until three” as long as she goes back home to him. It’s just her job to take off her clothes, and he respects that. It “doesn’t make (her) a hoe.”

Usher also seems to know the difference between a stripper and a prostitute, singing, “They be looking but they can’t touch you, shawty. I’m the only one to get it, so just go ahead and keep doing what you do” in the second verse. In fact, these lines serve as the counter to Juicy J’s verse; Juicy is the guy trying to touch Usher’s girl, but that’s not her job, and Usher is the one saying so. She has the right to choose, and she chooses to go home to Usher. She says no to Juicy making her rich, because she already has her own money.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying being a stripper is a great thing to aspire to be, that it isn’t also submitting yourself to be objectified by whoever may be watching, be they men or women, or that the hip-hop industry doesn’t still have a ways to go in regard to its treatment of women. What I am saying is that the woman in this song is independent, makes choices for herself and is in a healthy relationship with a man who respects her right to have both independence and agency for herself.

More and more women are choosing to pole dance for fitness, and while it’s very different to “dance on a pole” in an exercise classroom, fully clothed, and to do the same in front of an audience while taking your clothes off, the fact remains that the choice is empowering. The choice of whether to pole dance or not; the choice of whether to pole dance naked or clothed; the choice to pole dance alone or for your partner or for an audience for money.

And although we don’t need a man to tell us that that’s OK, it’s kind of nice that Usher is on our side.

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