Kelly Rowland talks Serena Williams, Cardi vs. Nicki, and why independent women need to 'have each other's backs'

R&B superstar Kelly Rowland is sitting with Yahoo Entertainment at a Boys & Girls Club in Long Beach, Calif., where she is partnering with the organization and Lowe’s for “Renovation Across the Nation,” an initiative that awards grants to renovate a club in each of the 50 states. But only a few days earlier, she witnessed firsthand a physical altercation between rappers Cardi B and Nicki Minaj at Harper’s Bazaar’s “ICONS by Carine Roitfeld” party, and that same weekend, Serena Williams was also in the news, due to a U.S. Open final argument with chair umpire Carlos Ramos (who many thought had treated Williams unfairly).

Since her Destiny’s Child days, Rowland has been a role model for young people, particularly young girls. So, in light of both these events, she is in an especially thoughtful mood this afternoon.

“I love both these ladies [Cardi and Nicki], and I admire and respect what they’ve done in music thus far. And as women we’ve come such a long way, and you have to really ask, ‘What are we fighting for?’ That was just really my take on it,” Rowland, who attended the Harper’s Bazaar NYFW soiree and was actually separately photographed with both Nicki and Cardi that night, says of the rappers’ infamous skirmish.

Cardi B, Kelly Rowland, and La La Anthony at Harper’s Bazaar’s “ICONS By Carine Roitfeld” party on Sept. 7. (Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Harper’s Bazaar)
Cardi B, Kelly Rowland, and La La Anthony at Harper’s Bazaar’s “ICONS By Carine Roitfeld” party on Sept. 7. (Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Harper’s Bazaar)

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Rowland seems much more supportive the fight that her friend Williams is now leading, in light of the tennis star’s allegedly sexist treatment by Ramos — since she feels that instead of women battling each other, they should join forces to fight for more important causes.

“I’ve just finished hearing Serena talk about women’s equality, how things are just so different in sports, and how, when you show passion, for a woman, it’s turned into something else. I even heard [famously cantankerous male tennis player John] McEnroe speak on it — he said, ‘I’ve said way worse things.’ And I’m just like, ‘OK, there can’t be a double standard,’” says Rowland. And it continues to be, and I was so proud of Serena that she spoke out about it, that she said that she’s going to be a part of changing that. I pray that other women will get on board and be a part of that with her. I know I am.”

Rowland doesn’t get into specifics, but she confesses that as a strong woman, she has experienced that double standard in her own career. “I think that if you stick up for yourself, you’re either called names, or you should stay in a ‘woman’s place,’” she muses, once again drumming home the message of female solidarity. “What does that mean? There’s several hats that women wear, and we wear them oh so well. Because in years, we’ve seen women go from being CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurs. We’re running this. We’re shaping the world, and we have to sow into each other. And if we have a disagreement about anything, I know that it’s space for us to talk about it.

“So I think that we’re in a different time right now, but we have to have each other’s backs, and be secure with what we bring to the table. And I think that when we do that, and we’re able to acknowledge others, it’s a more peaceful place.”

On that note, Rowland is proud that Destiny’s Child songs like “Independent Women, Pt. 1” and “Survivor” have become worldwide feminist anthems. “When you think about what we were saying at that time, we were so young,” marvels Rowland, who started performing with the group when she was in her tweens. “But I’m so happy that we took a stance with records like that. Because even when you travel the world, and you saw how different parts of the world were, and you saw women singing that song with a different type of conviction, and you wonder what everyone’s story behind it is. So it’s just a huge amount of respect that I have for independent women and survivors. I’m so happy that we stood for something: lyrics quoted on different signs, being held at marches, women’s marches. …[I’m] really, really proud, and grateful to be part of a historical record.”

Rowland is a longtime Boys & Girls Club supporter and an honorary alum. Of her time spent working and speaking with children at Boys & Girls Clubs throughout America, she says she often experiences “a moment of seeing myself in one of the young ladies,” and she always tries to get her message across.

“I remember we did an event in Vegas, and there was a young lady who just kept her head down. And I couldn’t figure out why, and she lifted her head up, and she was just going through growing up as a young lady, and she had a little breakout,” Rowland recalls. “She was like, ‘They keep picking on me.’ I said, ‘Look, people will call you what you answer to. You always remember who you are as a young woman. And don’t let name-calling get to you, because you eventually learn to have people respect you. And they’ll put some respect on your name. And just, you don’t have to answer to that. That’s ridiculous, you don’t ever have to answer to that.”

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