There are memes that inspire a couple of chuckles, and then there are memes that manage to capture a cultural zeitgeist and alter the course of your life. That’s the case for Maluma Feminista, a meme page started by 22-year-old Elena from Veracruz, Mexico, who chose to only be identified by her first name.
Maluma Feminista reimagines the Colombian reggaeton star’s lyrics with cutting feminist wit. Ranging from brilliant commentary on consent to the destruction of the heteropatriarchy, Elena draws on a growing community of meme makers who center feminism in their work, often with intellectual and wonderfully weird humor. “It’s subversive because we consider machismo to be ‘normal.’ Not only in music, but in every cultural sphere. I’m taking an image that represents this normalized machista world, and I’m giving it a contradictory new meaning, so that my friends and I can enjoy it more,” Elena tells Remezcla over email.
In an interview with Verne, Elena explains that she was inspired by now-famous pages like Feminist Ryan Gosling, which imposed scholarly quotes from academics like Judith Butler onto images of the actor. Like so many of us who come from Latino households, Elena says she learned about feminism from her mother, and pop culture staples like Rookie Magazine and Ru Paul’s Drag Race. “My mom raised me in a feminist way, even though she’d never use that term…I started calling myself a feminist about three years ago, when I learned more about what it really was, and I accepted I was queer about a year ago. I really appreciate feminism that takes new forms to reach new people without losing its essence; that’s why I’m a Ru Paul’s Drag Race fan. I think the fact that it’s pop doesn’t mean it’s not revolutionary.”
Maluma has been the center of controversy for misogynistic lyrics in the past; last December, a fan from Spain started a Change.org petition to demand the song “Cuatro Babys” be removed from digital platforms, claiming it incites “direct violence towards women.” Maluma has typically been grouped into the radio-friendly category of pop-reggaeton, given his more romantic lyrics. Hits like “Felices Los 4” hint at a more progressive turn for the singer, with themes that center consent and non-monogamy (to quote my mami’s thoughts on the song, “que filosofía tan liberada.”).
Elena’s page has grown exponentially this week, shooting from 6,000 Facebook followers on Monday, September 11 to just over 26,000 at the time of publication. She has plans to expand the project, with an upcoming Big Cartel store launch. “I’d love to compile the memes into a book or zine. I’m making T-shirts and looking for a place in Mexico City to throw a feminist perreo party, an inclusive, queer-friendly, harassment-free space where you can dress however you want and dance to reggaeton,” she adds.
On the tangled politics of reggaeton history, which often erase women’s agency, Elena says, “In reggaeton, we’re usually sex objects. But we can change that and recognize ourselves as sexual subjects. When I dance, I do that. I’m taking up space to express my sexuality in a way that satisfies me, in a world that teaches us to take up the least amount of space possible and please others…I believe in feminism that empowers women, men, and everyone in the middle to make their own decisions and enjoy their bodies without abusing anyone,” she says. Preach.
Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to include quotes from Elena, the founder of Maluma Feminista.