Is Beyonce a feminist icon?

queen-bee-jpg

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

The cost of Black patriarchy

Welcome

The Creflo Dollar story was a major talking point recently. Does a 50 year old man really have the right to choke his 15 year old daughter and then deny any wrongdoing in the pulpit? It brought several issues to the fore; the role of new Christian churches in the Black community; are charismatic preachers truly men of God or opportunistic snake oil salesmen and most importantly, why are the rights of Black men constantly pitted against the rights of Black women?

I have always believed that Black women need a different type of feminism to counterbalance the challenges they face. Unlike White women, Black women have both White and Black patriarchy to contend with. I find the level of vitriol levied at 15 year old Ms Dollar very distasteful. She was demonised as a liar, unruly and deserving of the physical abuse she suffered. My father raised two daughters without raising a fist or a shoe.

The most dangerous aspect of Black patriarchy is that it supports the lie that only Black men suffer from the negative effects of racism. Somehow, Black women are exempt and their main role is to prop up Black men and the rest of the Black community. Admittedly, young Black men do run a greater risk of racist violence/death – the Trayvon Martin and Stephen Lawrence murders being clear examples on both sides of the Atlantic. However, the Black community continuously underplays the exposure to racial violence that Black women have faced. There are between 154 to 159 reported cases of Black female lynching in the U.S. The vast majority of these women were also raped. (Source: henriettavintondavis.wordpress.com) Scores of young female students were also killed in the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa. Black women were also hosed and mauled by dogs during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Black women and men share the same history, the painful legacy of slavery, colonialism and racism.

Modern day institutionalised racism continues to affect both genders. In the UK, Black men are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police (Source: The Guardian). According to Law Professor Michelle Alexander:
‘More African American men are in prison, jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began.’
(Source: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness)
Yet this is not a gender specific problem. The levels of Black female imprisonment are also at endemic proportions. In the US, 93 out of every 100,000 White women were incarcerated by mid 2008. During the same period, 349 out of every 100,000 Black women were incarcerated. (Source: http://www.wpaonline.org). There is a definite inference within the Black community that Black women are somehow immune from the affects of racism. Anecdotally, I have met several Black men who believe that they are owed patience from Black women because their lives are infinitely harder. That is obviously untrue but it does beg the question, why is there such a lack of support for Black women within the Black community?

The answer is Black patriarchy. It is a system which places the needs of Black women below the needs of Black men. A clear example is the Creflo Dollar case, where the liberty of a violent father is considered to be more important than the emotional and physical well being of a 15 year old girl. In the R.Kelly case, the only important factor should have been whether he ‘allegedly’ had sex with an underage girl not the young lady’s sexual history. I also never understood the overwhelming support that OJ Simpson received from the Black community when he had sought to distance himself from them as he became famous. This was a Black man who would have never married a Black woman yet, the moment he found himself on the wrong side of the law he expected support from the Black community.

In researching for my film I met and read the thoughts of Black women online that refuse to date Black men. The main reasons cited for their decisions were lack of trust. They believe that Black men only want to use them are unable to remain faithful and have little desire to become loving husbands and fathers. It is none of my business who people choose to love and I wish the very best for anyone lucky enough to love and be loved in equal measure. That said I find it desperately sad that there is a growing number of Black women who feel this way. I know that I am lucky; I have been surrounded by loving Black men my whole life – my father, my partner, uncles, cousins and nephews. However, the Black community champions people such as Steve Harvey who promotes the idea that all men are players and that Black women just need to get used to it. Dark skinned Black women are invisible in music videos and in general. Hip hop artists refer to women who most resemble themselves as bitches and hoes. Various Black churches advise Black women to pray, wait and put the needs of everyone else ahead of theirs. Black patriarchy offers no protection, care, and respect for Black women.

I want to be very clear; this is not an anti male piece. There are many Black women who collude with Black patriarchy. These women encourage other women to become pregnant for a man who offers little, to justify their own life choices. With limited emotional and financial support, these women are promoting a life of hardship. Why not encourage young women to pursue enterprise or education, to become financially independent and make life decisions from a position of strength? These are the same type of women who wrote horrible comments about Rhianna after Chris Brown assaulted her. Their support condones domestic abuse. We have lonely women who blindly follow charismatic preachers. The New Testament states that we all have the same spiritual power; a preacher/pastor/priest’s role is to teach the word not to tell people what to do with their lives. I am not a subordinate; I am equal partner in a mutual beneficial relationship. There are also women, who put their boyfriends/romantic interests ahead of their children’s safety. They expose their children to men of questionable integrity all because they want a man to validate them. There are women who will take on board the opinions of men such as Steve Harvey, when it is clear that being thrice divorced proves that he knows little about marriage or how to make a woman happy. There are women who put down other Black women for being too dark, too Afrocentric, too demanding, not being submissive enough, too ambitious, too fat, too skinny, too stuck up or for not having a big enough butt.

Black patriarchy brings division within the Black community. Without harmony between the sexes, there is no platform to deal with the negative effects of institutional racism. We need a new brand of feminism to counteract this. There is no need to burn bras as Black women are already progressing educationally and financially. The lack is an emotional one. What we need is a greater expression of love. A daughter should expect her father to protect her from harm, a girlfriend to be cherished by her lover, for young black girls to be protected from sexual predators and for the Black community to call for justice when a Black woman is attacked even if the aggressor is a Black man. That love needs to spread throughout the community. We have had Black power, the time has come for Black love. Black men should become feminists too. We need to develop an appreciation of ourselves. Too often our sense of worth is dependent on external factors: wealth, status, the validation of others. This puts us in such a precarious position, ripe to be exploited by smooth talking charlatans, or by hip hop artists who spew the self hate that too many believe to be true. Love is powerful; it gives the recipient hope, purpose, faith, inspiration and courage. These are all of the ingredients needed to live a life worth living. Black patriarchy promotes dominion instead of co-operation. It benefits the few at the expense of us all.

Please let me know your thoughts

Sudelicious