Beyoncé - good for feminism?
Already the undisputed Queen Bey of pop, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter has recently been making a foray into feminism.
Her new album unashamedly celebrates female sexuality, and her essay for the Shriver Report calls on women to "stop buying into the myth about gender equality". On the other hand, it's hard to argue that she's pushing back against R&B's casual objectification of the female body.
In this guest post, MN blogger Ruby Lott-Lavigna explores what Beyoncé means for feminism. Do read the post and let us know your thoughts - is she a useful role model for young women?
You Speak Because You Can
Posted on: Tue 04-Feb-14 16:32:49
(34 comments )
There comes a time in every young feminist's life when one must ask that difficult and complicated question: am I allowed to love Beyoncé?
Her sex-positive lyrics and videos cause problems for some, and blunders like letting her husband, Jay Z, casually rap about domestic abuse in her song 'Drunk in Love' forces us to question Beyoncé's sincerity in matters feminist.
Her most recent tour was titled 'The Mrs Carter Tour' – a total statement of 'I don't need my name no more yo, I'll just take Jay's' – but the subsequent album was called, simply and emphatically, Beyoncé.
Music and lady enthusiasts are, consequently, torn. We love her for her celebration of women's sexuality; we love her for her independence and refusal to take a back-seat in her career. But, it's hard to ignore Beyoncé's choice – if choice it is - to be a sexual object in her videos and performances. It's a feminist minefield. So, in order to solve this complicated mess of breasts, waterfalls and objectification, we need to break it down.
It's perfectly fine for Beyoncé to sing about her love of the sex and whatnot, because reclaiming female pleasure and sexuality is a powerful step towards equality: female sexuality has historically been dismissed, co-opted or demonised. The problem arises when Beyoncé appears to objectify herself, apparently relinquishing her sexual autonomy for the pleasure of her partner.
Let's take the track Rocket. It all starts so well:
Let me sit this ass on you/ Show you how I feel/...Don't take your eyes, don't take your eyes off it/Watch it, babe
Yes, there are contradictions within her message; but their importance is massively outweighed by the numbers of young people who might, through this album, hear the core messages of feminism for the first time, and start to think.
Beyoncé has the power. She dictates the actions of the voyeur. She wants to tell him/her how she feels. Later on, she references the female orgasm, showing her to be a figure striving for personal sexual enjoyment rather than an object for male gratification. It's a slow jam of vocal virtuosity and musical experimentation, and a powerful bid for ownership of female pleasure. So far, so good. But then the power balance changes.
Daddy, daddy…I've been a bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad girl. Tell me what you're gonna do about that? Punish me please
Woah - what's this weird daddy stuff, Beyoncé? What happened to you owning this sexual experience? Where did this submissive woman come from? By this point in the song, she evokes the awful, archaic image of the woman begging to be punished and abused, welcoming male domination.
The track exemplifies the contradictions in both the album and Beyoncé's career as a whole: at times actively empowered, consciously aware of - and explicit about - female sexuality. Other times, submissive and self-objectifying:
Goddammit I'm comfortable in my skin [good; empowered]/ and you're comfortable in my skin [bad; objectifying]
But then we must ask ourselves, fellow feminists, so what?
Beyoncé doesn't have to solve feminism. Yes, some of us get our kicks analysing a 40-second section of one song and how it contributes to the feminist dialectic - but a distinction has to be made between academic feminism and real-life feminism. And let's get one thing straight - whatever the haters say, Beyoncé's most recent album is feminist.
She doesn't shy away from the term - she commits. She samples a TED talk on why we should all be feminists. She has a whole song about cunnilingus. She has a whole song on society's bullshit beauty standards. She published an essay challenging the idea of gender equality. She is a non-white voice contributing to the feminist discourse. She has spoken frequently about her ambitions to reconcile her sexuality and motherhood, and how the fact that she was breastfeeding didn't stop her taking an active creative role in the album. She transcended societal constraints of womanhood – she's a writer, a musician, a singer, a mother, and a sexual being all at once.
The 14-year-old girls who make up Beyoncé's core audience are unlikely, let's face it, to have read a lot of feminist criticism - yet for them, the implications of the album are monumental. For an insecure teen to hear a sample from that Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche TED talk - or to be told how Beyoncé can be a mother and an incredibly successful artist - is empowering and inspiring; and a message that should be celebrated.
Yes, there are contradictions within the message; but their importance is massively outweighed by the numbers of young people who might, through this album, hear the core messages of feminism for the first time, and start to think.
Feminism seeks to give women freedom and choice, and help them stop hating themselves. Beyoncé's album offers a vision of female identity that implies freedom – of choice, of sexuality – and liberates the listener. It may not be 'Flawless***' but boy, it does a mighty fine job.
By Ruby Lott-Lavigna
Almost unbearable to read because on the app every speech and quote mark or accent shows up as é? or &Isoquo; mashed in amongst the other words.
I read a great quote from someone recently that said something along the lines of 'Why would you bother trying to do anything feminist when all you get for it is shit?' I think it was in reference to Lily Allen's recent song but applies to Beyonce.
You talk about how Beyonce and her album are conflicted - Crikey, aren't we all?! Nothing wrong with that and the constant criticism from women that artists such as Lily and Beyonce aren't 'really' feminists does nothing for feminism except put people off it.
Frankly, any feminist message or endeavour is better than none, although I'm sure someone will come and tell me that I'm wrong to say that.
As a side note, Jay Z took Beyonce's name, too.
The 'is beyonce a feminist' thing has been done to death though.
Also, who wrote this?
The woman who bought her daughter a diamond-encrusted Barbie doll for her first birthday?
Unfortunately there's an issue with how punctuation in the guest posts displays on the App at the moment. Tech are beavering away trying to fix it, but it may be awhile so apologies in the meantime!
IMO, you can't be a feminist and allow a rap referencing (and not criticising) domestic abuse on one of your songs.
Encouraging discourse and awareness of gender inequality among an audience who may not be giving it much thought = good, very good. But practice what you preach!
You believe everything you read in the tabloids, kate?
. . . don't have time to read the tabloids (I read it on Huff Post), but when a photo of Beyonce pops up on my screen with the word 'feminism' next to it, I feel like screaming. Really?? Well, "Put a ring on it" if you like, but she's about as savvy a feminist role model as I am a Barbie doll.
Pardon my pop-culture / hearsay / anecdotal response up there. But this is not about any assumption of the quality of my reading material but about the contribution of Beyonce's work to feminism. She (and her husband) are Capitalists. And are very good at it. That's all.
I miss Madonna.
Beyonce is not a feminist she's a puppet.
Black feminist musicians along the lines of Jill Scott, mary J and lauryn hill have a strong sense of self and sexuality without makin themselves a sex object.
You can be sexy without being an object, beyonce has made herself an object.
I cannot stand her and her over bearing dh waaay too much power. She is everything that men promote as feminist in teh hope it will become accepted.
'Drunk In Love' references Tina Turner's beating by her then husband Ike.
This is just another incarnation by a woman who is marketing herself as product. Nothing wrong with that but she is no stick of rock with 'Feminist' stamped through it.
god... if Beyonce is a feminist then I have totally not got the concept of feminism.
Beyonce is 'making a foray into feminism' right now because it's on trend and popular with the papers and blogs. It's a savvy move by her PR team and little more.
She absoulutely isn't a feminist. The rap about Tina Turners abuse being included in a song proves this. What was she thinking?
I agree with all of noddys post.
Going to completely miss her creating her own company so she can hire teams entirely of women to help her create her music and videos in the latest visual album in an industry where teams including 16% women on one project is considered an achievement? In an industry where most upcoming "empowering feminist" use Black bodies as props and lessons on what not to be when included at all alongside cultural appropriation and talking over groups that gets regularly applauded and rewarded on? The extreme challenge of being a Black woman and owning your sexuality positively and express her own sexual needs and desires in Hollywood today where the most common portrayal is hypersexualization and being solely for the service/pleasure of others? It's actually quite a big deal for many groups of women to be portrayed as vulnerable and exressing their needs. This article seems to not recognise that different groups of women experience being a woman alongside many other things that changes how they and their womanness is treated.
I find Beyonce's work calls more towards Womanism than Western mainstream feminism. For a woman navigating Hollywood and the music industry, she's done really well both for herself and her own goals and an example for those who are or wanting to be in the industry and represents the industry and herself quite well most of the time given the current systems. Her interview on working hard and the difficulties on combining her dreams would likely give plenty food for thought. Her inclusion of Frank Ocean has also been great in raising the issue that there are actual LGBT hip hop artists that have been greatly overlooked as potential representation and role models.
She's problematic in some ways, as is pretty much everyone, I wouldn't use her or pretty much anyone else similar as a role model or as representation without discussing these things as well as I would anyone else, but I find the both the push that all these people must be a role model for all young people and trying to demand they be a role model for Western feminism when it has a lot to answer for and to deal with itself a bit strange, particularly in who gets to be "empowering" and who doesn't, particularly sexually.
She isn't a feminist unless I totally misunderstand her, and feminism. Is she even trying to be a feminist?!
She's a capitalist, as is said above. She uses what she can to get where she wants to be-I don't have a particularly strong opinion on anybody doing that, but feminist she is not.
I may be biased, I cannot stand her for many reasons, I think her talent is very over-rated and I don't like her music. I haven't heard the song about oral or the song referencing Tina Turner, though.
agree with profondorosso.... Beyonce is a complete minefield of contradictions. She is a powerful woman, no doubt about that, but that doesn't make you a feminist. A real feminist would have sung about why women shouldn't put up with DV, rather than taking lines from a film that can be misconstrued.
If she wants to be a feminist, then she has a lot of work to do. her intentions may be genuine, but I fear, a lack of education and guidance from politicised women (and indeed men) has enabled her to 'dabble' rather than convince me of her feminist agenda.
Beyonce is not a feminist, whether it is "the personal" or 'the political" kind. Beyonce is just part of the "new wave" of successful black people who are "accepted" readily into the 'mainstream' because of their lack of "politics". She has in no interview said anything edifying about...anything. She plagiarises , she doesn't talk about her inspirations, she doesn't talk her inner life.....she's quite 'controlled". Both her and her husband are quite sinister. Singing anti men/male lyrics does not make one a feminist. Beyonce is just the queen of frightening journalists into not asking her anything that requires more than cookie cutter answers. She isn't a contradiction, either. Did sane females really fall for the " popping my pussy makes me a role model" malarkey?
Madonna never floated my boat as a kid or adult. At least she wasn't afraid of CHALLENGING males through her sexuality. It's the faux assertion/just plain submissive sexuality as performance that passes for "feminism" nowadays that pisses me off. Beyonce is the woman that ushered that phenomena in.
Give me Rihanna any day. Complex (as we all should be), makes "mistakes" and doesn't try her hardest to control the fallout narrative, she doesn't push forward a "traditional" made of male to female companionship, yet hides all manner of slackness behind the facade.
As you can tell, I can't stand Beyonce. And I'm not gonna hide behind "she's black like me" argument (even though she claimed "creole" as an ethnicity when she wanted to "cross over" - bitch).
She is as much a feminist as the Spice Girls claimed to be.
I don't think she's a feminist. I find her and her her husband's empire and the way they have been accepted as some sort of royalty really disturbing. And didn't she once perform for Gaddafi's son?
Feminist Don't make me laugh. She's just another pop star who likes making lots and lots of money.
No, she's really not feminist and if she is trying to be one, she is failing embarrassingly. Her lyrics are full of contradictions and her videos are full of her being sexually objectified.
Agree with tintin. Not feminist.
She is not a feminist. She is a feminist when it suits.
Just like she was Creole when it suited.
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