Is Beyonce a feminist icon?

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Welcome

It has been a while seen I last posted anything. I was beginning to have writing paralysis, over thinking what topic my next post should cover. In that respect, I should thank Ms Knowles-Carter for giving me the impetus to blog again. I’ll be the first to admit that releasing an album complete with videos without any press was a power move,that left her fellow pop princesses in her wake. However, I have been disappointed with certain black feminists declaring that Queen/King Bey is a feminist icon whom we should all ‘bow down’ before and download her cd. Worse still, they have gone on to insult anyone who questions this or critiques Mrs Carter’s feminist credentials.

Do I believe that Beyonce is a feminist icon? The short answer is no. Do I doubt that she is a feminist? For me, that is a moot point. Beyonce is free to self define herself as a feminist, that is entirely her business. Contrary to what many people believe, there isn’t a feminist code. We all have to forge our own path to make the world in which we live fairer to all of its inhabitants. The issue is whether she is a Black feminist icon. I fail to see how her singing songs about ‘getting it on’ with her husband is improving the lives of Black women worldwide. Her personal success does not empower me in any way. I am more inspired by the women in my family, my friends and by those who have made a difference to peoples’ lives not just their record collection. I honestly don’t understand why anyone would fixate on a celebrity’s life instead of their own.

Her fans also repeatedly go on about how she sings songs of female empowerment. This is not a new trend within popular rnb – see Aretha Franklin, Gloria Gaynor and countless others. Many female artists before her have been singing songs about getting rid of a no good man and standing on your own feet. Of her contemporaries, Janelle Monae is the real feminist deal. She has not compromised her art or herself just to get a record deal. Her robotic revolution is a perfect allegory for marginalised peoples including women, people of colour, gays and Black women in particular. I don’t understand why Ms Monae is not being championed in the same way by the fervent Beyonce fans.

Beyonce is a beautiful, talented and hard working entertainer. Her success is also due to the fact that she is probably the least threatening black female performer of all time. Her physical aesthetic is that of white woman with a tan and long blonde hair. She has a look which grants her mass appeal. For her album to be number 1 in US a lot of people of different races had to purchase it. That is just simple mathematics. She does not have to assert her beauty or sense of worth in the same way that Nina Simone had to. Nina’s dignity, views and poise were an act of defiance in a time where Black women were considered non entities. Beyonce does not critique the power structures; instead her music solely concentrates on safe topics such as love and now in her latest album sex, these are inclusive subject matters. Most people can relate to falling in love and sexual desire. Her latest album may not be child friendly but she is not calling for a revolution any time soon.

Jumping on the feminism bandwagon has been a master stroke for Beyonce. It provides her with a new narrative which gives her music and the artist a depth that I honestly doubt she possesses. This has nothing to do with ‘intelligence’ it has everything to do with a willingness to question what occurs in the world and what can we do to change it. Beyonce and her team are more concerned with making money as opposed to changing the world for the better. For example she uses, Terry Richardson who directed Miley Cyrus’ ‘Wrecking Ball’ video. Now this man has had many complaints of alleged sexual harassment made against him. Where is the sisterly solidarity in employing a man with a reputation for allegedly molesting women?

Then we have the problematic lyrics to ‘Bow Down Bitches’ here she tells other women who are envious of her to bow down before her. This song has been remixed on her album and is titled ‘Flawless’ featuring novelist and feminist, Chimammanda Ngozi Adichie. Beyonce uses a snippet from a Ted talk Adichie gave called ‘We should all be feminists’. Beyonce uses a portion where Adichie explains how girls are encouraged to focus on marriage but boys are not. However, in Chimammanda’s original speech she goes on to talk about the competition among women especially in getting attention from men. Again if you are asking women to ‘Bow Down’ before you where is the sisterly solidarity? Where is the encouragement to the move away from competition among women? I have heard a lot of apologist hogwash in trying to explain this behaviour. One excuse I read was that she was mimicking the grandstanding behaviour of rappers and thus ‘de-constructing’ it. I am of the belief that the truth has an undeniable simplicity whereas hogwash tends to be very complex as its aim is to confuse. The truth is that Beyonce is only concerned with her fame and record sales and not the everyday lives of women. The reason why everyone should be feminists is to make the world a fairer place, where everyone is raised up. We can only do this by creating new ways to interact with each other. It is not possible to use ways of old to create new outcomes.

(If you haven’t already seen it please have a look)

Over the last couple of days/weeks, I have seen the recurring theme of certain Black Beyonce supporters stating that White feminists were somehow upset over the success of her album. On reading the fantastic blog by ‘Blogmother’ on http://www.whataboutourdaughters.com I too googled to see if these articles existed and lo and behold they do not!!! There are certain quarters within the White feminist movement who refuse to acknowledge their own privilege and complicity in the misogyny and racism that Black women face in society. That is a sad fact. However, I refuse to defend a multi millionaire in a made up fight with an imaginary foe. I want to focus on dealing with the issues that affect Black women and girls. Let’s put our energies into bringing the likes of R. Kelly to justice, let’s encourage our young women to be productive and happy members of society. Now that’s a fight I am interested in joining.

The main reason why I felt compelled to write this piece is not to insult Beyonce. I like some of her stuff. I just feel that there is a very dangerous trend of giving celebrities a gravitas that they have not earned or deserved. Being a Black feminist is not an easy path, you are often fighting people who share your gender and in many instances, your race. It is a marginalised position, fighting structures that have placed you at the bottom rung of society. Beyonce provides a very attractive potential poster girl for ‘the cause’ showing that Black women can be successful, beautiful, loved and happy. However, Ms Knowles Carter has done absolutely nothing to blaze a trail for others to follow or to challenge the power structures which binds us. In order to be a leader or an icon you have to create change. Therefore to label her an icon or to state that her album is a feminist manifesto is premature at best and foolish at worst. Beyonce is not going to change the status quo anytime soon, those looking for her to do so will be very disappointed.

I am also very disturbed by the politics of the exception. What I mean by that is that since the Civil Rights, Black people have always been sold on the idea of living vicariously through individuals. Martin Luther King winning the Nobel Peace Prize did not eradicate poverty for the Black poor. Now over 50 years later the gap in opportunity and income between the Black poor and everyone else has increased so much so that it seems that inter generational poverty is an inescapable destination for scores of the Black poor. The Oprahs, Baracks and Jay Zs do not change this fact and the odd Black millionaire should not make us feel that we have all reached the ‘promised land’. A similar PR job is being carried out in South Africa, where the focus on Nelson Mandela’s life and achievements is a desperate attempt by Black and White elites to distract the average South African from the sad fact that their lot has not improved post apartheid.

How does this relate to Beyonce? Mrs Carter’s individual success does not improve my quality of life. I am not prepared to live vicariously through one person. Creating sacred cows out of celebrities only distracts people from dealing with reality. There is a lot of work to be done and concerning ourselves with a rich entertainer to this extent is a waste of time. Irrespective of what you or I think of this album, it will not cross Beyonce’s mind for a second. Instead I will focus on improving my life and most importantly the lives of others. That is what real feminism looks like, its action not posturing or empty rhetoric.

Please let me know your thoughts

Sudelicious

It’s only hair people!

Welcome

I don’t understand why what Black women choose to do with their hair is such a major topic of conversation. I obviously did not receive the memo informing that me that a simple hair do would reveal so much about my pride in my race or femininity.

The hypocrisy of Black men regarding this topic is just breathtaking. I have read so many online conversations where Black men have stated that they hate weaves/relaxed hair and they wish that women would keep their hair natural. In cyber space these men are only too happy to flex their afro centric credentials. However, in reality these same men are only too happy to fall at the feet of the Beyonce and Rhianna’s of this world. Although equally wonderful, the likes of Erykah Badu, India Arie and Lauryn Hill do not adorn the same amount of men’s bedroom walls.

Not to be outdone, academics are also jumping on the hair bandwagon. Earlier this year a study came out linking agents in relaxers to causing uterine fibroids in Black women. Apparently, Black women are more likely to have fibroids and the majority of these women happened to have relaxed hair, it seemed logical to the researchers at Boston University to connect the two. This thinking is so flawed that I don’t understand how these academics were not embarrassed to utter such nonsense. Black women are probably also more likely to use cocoa butter on their skin. According to this faux science should we also point the guilty finger at the humble cocoa bean as the sole cause behind uterine fibroids? This research was extremely irresponsible, trying to incite panic using the flimsiest correlations as a base for its findings.

The Boston University research had such a condescending tone to it, implying that Black women are so vain and foolish that they are prepared to endanger their health just to change the natural state of their hair. It would be disingenuous not to admit that the relaxer kit was created to remove the natural kink in afro hair and assume a more European appearance. In 2012, the motivations behind Black women self expressions are extremely varied and diverse. I refute any attempt to lump us all together. For the last ten years I have relaxed my hair and currently sport a weave. Convenience and speed are the driving forces behind my choices. Just because I am not sporting an Afro it doesn’t mean that I am renouncing my natural Black beauty. With or without a weave, I doubt that I would ever have to clarify that I am a Black woman.

That said it does sadden me that in some quarters there is a rejection of natural hair. Some Black women claim that they believe that they cannot wear their hair naturally in the corporate environment. My sister and many of my friends happily wear their hair naturally in the workplace. Sadly we still hear phrases such as ‘nappy hair’ to describe natural hair, particularly by other Black people. Only those lacking in self worth would see their skin or their hair as being inferior. This toxic way of thinking needs to be curtailed. Every human being should be proud of who they are. Black women should have the confidence to express themselves without seeking permission. It is also important that we put our choices in context. Relaxing my hair is not the same as putting mercury on my skin in order to lighten it. All women use various methods to change their appearance from dying their hair, using weaves (White women use them too) to having radical haircuts. The line is crossed when you are prepared to damage your body in order to change your appearance permanently. For anyone who is affronted by my weave unless they are prepared to come to my house and braid my hair on a regular basis, I respectfully ask you to keep your disdain to yourself.

All women should embrace self expression. I resent any man trying to get involved in this discussion as it implies that they get a say on how we look and that somehow we should seek their approval. I like to look nice but I get to decide what I wear and how I wear my hair. Getting Black women and women in general to focus on their looks is the original smokescreen. It’s a feeble attempt to distract women from focusing on their empowerment. The modern woman has bigger fish to fry and at the end of the day, it’s only hair.

Please let me know your thoughts

Sudelicious

Black is beautiful dammit!

Welcome

I believe that self esteem is the foundation for happiness. Self esteem provides us with the knowledge that we have worth, the confidence to take risks, the strength to fight our corner and the wisdom to walk away from bad situations and people. Without this self esteem, we leave ourselves defenceless against the whims of others and lack the conviction to lead the lives we deserve.

I often marvel at the innate confidence that a lot (and sadly not all) of black women possess. I say this because it is a miracle that it exists at all. Black women are under a constant barrage of negative imagery almost at every turn.

I am truly sick and tired of the European version of black beauty which the mainstream media champions. I do not need to have fair skin, slight features and long hair to be considered beautiful. The likes of Rihanna, Beyonce, Vanessa Williams and Halle Berry have become the acceptable face of black. It is undeniable that these women are all beautiful but these women are all of mixed parentage/heritage. Why should black beauty have to have a European makeover in order to be recognised as beautiful? At the end of the day this nonsense still peddles the rubbish that only white beauty is true beauty and the further you are from that ideal the further from beautiful you become. It also perpetuates that women are still just commodities and our value still lies in our bodies and faces.

Over the summer a Japanese psychologist, Satoshi Kanazawa came up with a report stating the black women were the most unattractive group of women on the earth. What I found very interesting is that this crackpot’s views were published in the major newspapers even though it had been rubbished by the psychology community. Perhaps the article was published because it actually promoted a widely held belief? To be honest I thought it was garbage to begin with and advised anyone with sense to completely ignore it. What really saddened me is how many Black women actually take this foolishness on board. I had a debate with a Black woman about this report and she agreed with its findings saying that she does find lighter skinned women more attractive than her. This was an intelligent and articulate woman and she was taken in by this. I base attractiveness on the arrangement and symmetry of facial features – skin tone has nothing to do with it.

Black women are known for our fuller lips, small waist to hip ratio (hourglass figure), big thighs and large bottoms. Unfortunately I am lacking in the ‘junk in my trunk’ department but I think that three out of four aint bad. If these features are so awful why are so many women of other races ruining their faces with lip filler, frequenting tanning beds, stocking up on fake tan and marvelling at JLO’s butt?

What is it about Black women that seem to terrify the mainstream media? I remember watching a piece on TV about ‘Hitch’ (rom-com featuring Will Smith). The movie executives ruled out a Black female lead for Will Smith as they feared it would alienate White audiences. Eva Mendes as a Latin American actress was considered a safer, more inclusive choice. What I want to know is it what is so ‘alienating’ about Black women? I suppose I should also put that question to almost every male hip hop artist, rnb singer and black sportsman. I just don’t understand why you almost never see a dark skinned Black woman in a music video (as the love interest) or on the arm of rich Black sportsman? I remember having to do a double take when I first saw Michelle Obama. I couldn’t believe that she was a Black woman! Something is very wrong when you are surprised that a man of colour is married to a Black woman. It is frustrating to think that Black men also believe the hype that somehow Black women have less appeal, status than other women. In the UK Black men are eight times more likely than any other race to date and marry interracially. In a study led by Tamas Bereczkei at University of Pecs (Hungary), his findings suggested that men are typically attracted to women who resemble their mothers. Why are Black men the exception to this rule in such huge numbers?

I am not against inter-racial relationships. That is not what this article is about. It is none of my business who people choose to love. I have a problem with the world seeing Black women as less than other women. Women are still seen as commodities where a beautiful White woman is considered the epitome of beauty and with dark skinned Black women at the very bottom. We live in a world where many Black men believe this hype and choose women who they believe will reflect or enhance their status. I have many friends of mixed parentage who felt that Black men were only interested in them because of their light skin tone. Conversely, I have friends who find themselves constantly snubbed by Black men because they are considered too dark. This breeds insecurity in Black women of every hue. It saddens me that this ‘self hate’ has created a booming trade in skin lightening creams. We still have a long way to go if some Black people think it is a good idea to put mercury on their skin in order to conform to a false and stupid notion of beauty.

‘So what does this have to with marriage?’ I hear you ask, everything is the answer. It is virtually impossible to find lasting love if you lack self esteem. Confidence has little to do with being a mouthy alpha male/female. However, it does give you a sense a self worth, an ability to believe you are deserving of love and gives you an idea of what real love looks like. I’m lucky, I come from a loving family, my dad believes that I am the best thing since sliced bread and my mother taught me to take crap from no one. What about other Black women who do not have that base? They are constantly undermined or ignored by society at large. In western society perhaps there is a pressure for Black men to prove their self worth via external means such as a fancy car, a high paying job and the right looking woman. Perhaps this pressure drives peoples’ choices. How can we hope as a community to be making the right romantic decisions if they are coming from a place of self doubt instead of self worth?

Please let me know your thoughts

Sudelicious

The curse of the strong black woman

Welcome

I have always wondered where the phrase ‘a strong black woman’ has come from. Women of all races have had to assert themselves in a male dominated world. Do black women have more to contend with than women of other races? That is debatable but there seems to be a lot expected of women of colour. In mainstream media black women are the nannies, the sassy friend, the confident man eater, the mouthy neighbour and my personal favourite the wise old sage who sole purpose in life is to take care of everyone. All of these characters are variations of the same theme; black women are tough as old boots and can take anything that life throws at them in their stride.

Frustratingly, the notion that black women are a bunch of she-warriors comes from the black community itself. I remember receiving a pep talk from my parents just before I started secondary school. I was reminded that I had to ensure that I studied hard as I could not expect or rely on anyone else to take care of me but ME! I know that my parent’s concerns came from a place of love and I thank them for instilling in me a sense of self reliance. For many black young women, the message is clear: If you want something out of life the expectation is that you go and get it.

I suppose this tough love approach is paying dividends with black female graduates on the increase but it does come at a cost. Black women are encouraged to be self reliant because they cannot rely on black men to support them. Single parent families are reaching 70% in the US and over 50% in the UK. If black women are strong it is usually because they are the ones left holding the baby. The strong black woman myth allows absent fathers off the hook as they can leave these able women to do a job which is meant for two people.

The perceived strength of black women also comes at a cost. Levels of depression are 50% higher in black women than white women. Women from other races typically have to put on a ‘hard’ persona in their working life only. Black women have to carry this persona into all areas of their lives as they are held responsible for everything and everyone. We are expected to be the glue that holds households together yet who is there to be the glue that holds us together?

The over reliance of the black community on its women also diminishes the role of the black man. Families need strong male members. Women need loving husbands and children need loving fathers. It is the lack of them which has caused the current malaise in our communities.
Young black men find themselves without a father figure. Some will grow to do the same as their fathers; others will struggle to orientate themselves in life, as they lacked a male figure to model themselves upon. In turn, women will grow up learning not to need or trust men. Those who raise families on their own have the burden for two placed on their shoulders. We have created an atmosphere where we tell women they can do everything on their own, setting them up to endure stress related diseases on a scale that no other woman of any other race has to face. Black women are in need of love and support just like any other. This notion of the strong independent woman allows many black women to give up on the very idea of finding love and expecting to be cared for. The truth is that men and women need each other. It is time that black women drop the ‘strong’ tag and take a well earned rest.

Please let me know your thoughts

Sudelicious