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