So, over the years, Beyoncé has gone from Destiny's Child ingénue to a behemoth of a diva in her own right. It's an ascent many of us are familiar with, given that her life span has run concurrently with many of ours. Nothing she has done in her career, however, has resulted in the kind of buzz that her most recent album created. On top of her being able to keep the recording of 17 songs and full length highly sophisticated videos a secret, they came with a distinct message - a message that not only says I'm a grown woman, and I can do whatever I want, it went ahead to detail exactly what she wants to do:
Celebrate her accomplishments
Thumb her nose at those who doubted her
Declare herself happy and proud to be a woman
Acknowledge complications in her marriage and the jealousy and insecurities she sometimes feels, despite her success
Be the best at what she does (and crush her competition in the process)
Love her husband and keep their marriage alive
Have all kinds of creative and shocking sex with her husband
Acknowledge her errors and imperfections as a human being, which include being mean and bitchy
Love her child
Love those who are dear to her and remember those who have passed on
Confess how hard it is to maintain the veneer of perfection she seems to have
Have more wild sex with her husband
Celebrate her womanhood in all it's glorious complications
Above all, she came right out and declared herself a feminist, a supporter of equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women. I wasn't a huge Beyoncé fan before this album but I developed some respect for her after I listened to all of it.
So why the backlash?
Well, so far the biggest criticisms I have seen of Beyoncé’s feminism, especially among Black women is centered on two things: Sex and Money. Apparently, those two things will strip you off your feminist badge faster than the average guy will agree to a blowjob.
The first thing that confuses me about this whole mess, is why some people feel feminism and sexual liberation are supposed to be mutually exclusive, to the extent that a woman who displays an overt interest in things sexual cannot be feminist... I mean, what part of social and cultural rights do these people not get? Women's liberation means a woman is liberated from whatever restrictions any society may put on her and empowered to act as her own agent in her own interest. That means her whole being is free from any one's dictation. Her whole being including her sexuality and how she chooses to express it. If you question that, then your feminism is in question as well.
People worry that she is contributing to the hyper sexualized image of black women. Here's the thing though: black women have always been hyper sexualized in the media, from the days of Sara Baartman until today. We did not do anything to be perceived this way (other than not be white and covered up from neck to toe). Unless we're planning to become completely asexual, there is not much we can do to change that misconception without entrapping ourselves in another cycle of trying to live up to unrealistic expectations. We have enough of that already. I've said before that as far as I am concerned, a tenet of feminism is the woman's right to do what she wants with her life and her body. If she wants to sexually objectify herself, I'd rather it came from her choice to do so, rather than from someone else using her as an object on which they project their fantasies. There is a world of difference between what Beyoncé did on her album and what pimps do to girls they entrap into prostitution. Beyoncé is no gullible innocent being controlled by people in her life. Sure she has a marketing team and financial advisers and PR, but I doubt they lead her around meek and subservient.
She's light skinned and wears weaves, and her beauty is celebrated because it is more Eurocentric, so she is propagating white supremacy? That's rich coming from a community of women who have some of the highest rates of skin bleaching in the world. Anyone who knows me knows I am NOT team weaves or bleached skin (although I remember Beyoncé always being light skinned); no matter how good they look. I wish Beyoncé kept natural hair but I will not question her desire to see girls kick ass and become accomplished women over that. Many black feminists do have weaves and straightened hair, doesn't make their message less potent. If the white mainstream celebrates her, it is because they like what they see. Instead of attacking her, how about us black women celebrate all the spectrum of beauty we have?
These are the same people who ask: What about the children? As someone told me on Twitter, because of Beyoncé, young girls are learning about and starting to engage in "deviant" sex. Well OK. If you say so. I sure as hell know Beyoncé did not create the curiosity about sex that all adolescents experience, a curiosity that many parents fail to address, leaving the children with no recourse but to turn to pop music and whatever fallacies about sex that hearsay and gossip carry. Shouldn't these young girls have had age appropriate discussions about sex with their mothers/female guardians already? Shouldn't these adults be the ones ensuring that young impressionable girls not get exposed to her music and if they do (media is after all everywhere), whatever evil message they receive be met by a mind already conditioned by the beliefs and values that the adults espouse? Shouldn't these children be getting the best possible supervision and protection? I remember a Cameroonian singer called Rantanplan. She did Bikutsi music which as any good Cameroonian knows tends to involve bawdy lyrics and some hard core waist-winding and booty shaking. Check her out.
My memories from childhood include getting warned by my mother and the other older girls, not to dance like Rantanplan and singing her lyrics was prohibited (of course I was the kid who wanted to...lol). We could dance all we want, but certain movements would earn you a zinging swat to the bottom or "konk" (knuckled knock on the head). These outlawed movements were usually hip gyrations which mimic sex. The rules relaxed the older I got and right now, I can twerk and sing about my ami’s (My friends. You know... my friends...) if I want. No one tells me what to do, because I am an adult who is expected to know better than be an idiot, and who will be expected to deal with the consequences of her actions. Am I saying my childhood was perfect? No. Not at all. But when it came to sexual matters, my mother and the female adults in my family tried to give me the best instruction and supervision possible. I already discussed how this approach saved my butt here. If your female child is looking to Beyoncé for cues on how to deal with sex or engaging in sex before she is ready, check your parenting communication style, check your supervision mechanism, check the environment (it usually takes at least two to have non masturbatory sex), and for goodness sake, talk to your child.
Also, who exactly are the people engaging these young girls in "deviant" sex?!!!!!!!!! Surely they are not all going lesbian on each other.... Where are the efforts to protect young girls from the lecherous advances of careless boys and "uncles" who tend to be allowed to enjoy the full measure of their sexual capacity with nothing but slaps on the wrist?
She can't be a feminist if she is making money and taking advantage of the capitalist society she lives in? Say the people who come to America chasing the American dream. Didn't many of us leave our countries to languish in poverty and corruption and travel abroad seeking better lives? Don't we all go to school and acquire skills in order to get jobs? Many of us Cameroonian women become nurses just because we want to get the most lucrative job possible in the least amount of time and not because we have some desire for holistic medicine. Money is the motivator. Would that make any of us any less feminist? Can a woman not profit off the fruits of her talent and labor? Does anyone really think that Beyoncé doesn't work hard at her craft? For her body and athleticism and showmanship? What has it got to do with anything that Beyoncé makes crap tons of money from her records? It's not like she forces people to buy them. People buy because they enjoy her music. Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie sells her books (books in which she talks openly about sex, by the way). Feminist leaders get paid to speak at events and many of them make crap tons of money off their books. Madonna is celebrated, Melissa Etheridge, Fiona Apple, they all make money off their albums Why is Beyoncé’s money such a problem? I mean, can a girl faroter up in here?
There certainly are bit and pieces of lyrics in some songs which I found questionable (Eat the cake, AnnaMae) and her Monica Lewinsky bit was unfair to Monica Lewinsky but then Monica herself is not above profiting of the scandal is she?
The point is, but a for a few hiccups, Beyoncé produced an album which loudly and boldly celebrates womanhood in one of the many ways in which womanhood and the human condition in general can be celebrated - music. To question the sincerity of her desire to see women advance as a whole because she does so showing skin and talking openly about sex, is short sighted, petty and quite honestly hypocritical. I love to read and my education is such that I can enjoy a wide variety of feminist writing and engage in intellectual discussions. Many women do not have the education that I have been lucky to have or the capacity to engage in deep conceptual thought. For many of the them, the only voice they'll ever hear that broaches feminist message is that of artists like Beyoncé’s (just as for many black men voices like Tupac and other socially conscious rappers are the only ones which speak the message of black empowerment). In the same way, for many Cameroonian women, singers like Annie Anzouer, Ruth Nkoto, Bebe Manga, Chantal Ayisi, Nguea La Route or Rantanplan and the other female singers, were the ones who talked about issues that women faced, like sex, spousal abuse, infidelity, childlessness and being disempowered. A highly intellectual discussion of Sita Bella's importance to the Cameroonian feminist movement is likely not going to resonate as deeply with them as a simple lyric.
I'm not a member of the Beygency, a drone in the Bee-hive and I'm not a Bey-stan. I haven't really paid her career more than the token attention. I just really liked that she put out an album which actually had quite a bit to say. She seems to be following it up with sincere efforts to spread the women empowerment message. She wrote a piece about pay equality (Or attached her name to it, which cares? It's short enough she conceivably could have thought out loud and had an assistant transcribe) and threw her weight behind the Ban Bossy campaign, which tries to encourage leadership in young girls. She seems to be trying to be more than a pretty face and a hot body, to want to do something positive. Who are the people telling her to shut up because she is just a pretty face and a hot body who apparently doesn't fit the mould of what a feminist looks like?
I mean seriously.
I'd pull a Chris Brown and talk about women and loyalty, but that might get my feminism questioned.