Beyonce, Beyonce, Beyonce. We can’t keep her name out of our mouths. I have a very contradictory outlook on the corset-clad, pelvic bone-popping pop culture phenom. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Beyonce’s undeniable talent. It’s not even that I am sick of seeing this blonde-haired beauty over saturate my screen. It’s more because I don’t understand her image–what she shows us and what we think we know about her.
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I don’t regard her as a role model by any means. She’s here for our entertainment. But, that’s not all she’s here for. At the end of the day, when the makeup washes off and the heels are kicked across her well-decorated bedroom, Beyonce is a woman, wife, sister, and mother among other titles. Despite the critics, she’s also a feminist. Feminism challenges inequalities in society. And don’t you think our beloved Bey does this very thing?
I came across this article about Beyonce’s brand of feminism, which includes, but is not limited to booty shaking half naked. This often-used exploration of voyeuristic female sexuality isn’t brand new. Beyonce gathers inspiration from those who came before her like Josephine Baker and even those around her, like Madonna. But it’s the Black woman’s dips, hips and curves that exposes many critics’ discomfort of the Black woman’s physique.
In “Toward a Genealogy of Black Female Sexuality: The Problematic of Silence” Evelynn M. Hammonds states:
“Black women’s sexuality is one of the ‘unspeakable things unspoken’ of the African American experience. Black women’s sexuality is often described in metaphors of speechlessness, space, or vision; as a ‘void’ or empty space that is simultaneously ever-visible (exposed) and invisible, where black women’s bodies are always already colonized.”
Black and female. Despite Beyonce’s exponential fame and fortune, as a Black woman, she’s right beside me, representing seven percent of our marginalized population. Black women are often seen as whores who will take your man, often borrowed from the historical ideology of the caramel-skinned house slave who master always watched a little too closely. Pre-Civil War Black women were seen as sexual deviants, therefore our lynchings, rapes,and segregation were justified. We were made separate from other races. Judged on a different scale from other women. Beyonce’s familiar with this weighted judgment.
She stands on an international pedestal, so she’s met with a microscopic criticism. From her looks to her talent to her womb and her marriage, Beyonce’s representation of feminism is like most Black women, multidimensional. But it seems society can’t let go of the old ideals of a Black woman’s sexuality.
I am an admitted critic of Beyonce as a role model. I don’t challenge her feminism at all. I am not a feminist. I love being a woman and I fight for my place in this world, but I don’t think a label like “feminist” or “womanist” needs to be used for me to feel powerful. I realize there’s an imbalance in the world between men and women, but me being a card-carrying member of this feminist movement will not change it.
Tamara Winfrey Harris praised Beyonce’s mounting success, but pondered her many, many critics’ choices to crucify her as the worst version of a feminist…ever. In fact, according to Harris, some criticisms expose society’s discomfort with the Black female form and all it’s glory and power. History is repeating itself. The only difference is that now we’re free and we have our voices and our bodies back in our own possession. So we get to do with it as we please. We’ve been trained for centuries to be ashamed of our bountiful bodies. Not anymore. Thanks to pop songs from Beyonce like, “Bootylicious,” despite however silly the lyrics, her feminist stance is clear–she loves and appreciates her curves and wants her fans to do the same. What’s funny is, I really don’t think they’re ready for Beyonce’s jelly.
She’s not the first, not the last, but it’s her body gyrating on stage in faux nipple exposing glory that challenges our ideals of feminism. Tamara writes:
“Through a career that has included crotch-grabbing, nudity, BDSM, Marilyn Monroe fetishizing, and a 1992 book devoted to sex, Madonna has been viewed as a feminist provocateur, pushing the boundaries of acceptable femininity. But Beyoncé’s use of her body is criticized as thoughtless and without value beyond male titillation, providing a modern example of the age-old racist juxtaposition of animalistic black sexuality vs. controlled, intentional, and civilized white sexuality.”
Feminism doesn’t look just one way. It’s not just a woman in a power suit, sensible shoes and a briefcase, who worked her way beyond the boy’s club to reach that corner office with the view. Feminism can be sexy too. Obviously Madonna has been regarded as a strong image of femininity and has often stretched the limits of sexuality in the media. Even though many mothers clutched their pearls, Madonna was extremely celebrated for her approach to feminism.
Beyonce’s brand of feminism mirror Madonna’s but isn’t always accepted. As a woman who believes in her own woman power, I will admit that I believe in Beyonce’s too. She’s no doubt one of the most powerful women of our time. Her accolades span her entire decade plus career and she runs the world. Countless endorsements with brands like Pepsi, H&M, L’Oreal, American Express and more prove Beyonce’s international power is limitless. There she goes again, challenging everything we know about the role of a woman. She’s said it herself, she’s “strong enough to bare the children and get back to business.”
It seems impossible to look at Beyonce at face value. Her public image begs to be under a microscope. I play right into just the way you all do. She can’t post a photo, leak a track or have a baby without us demanding she do more for women as a woman. Historically, Black women have been demanded of, often seen as giving without needing anything in return.
I love what feminist media activist Jamia Wilson said about Queen Bey:
“I think that it’s just hard for people to really grasp what it’s like to be extremely powerful but also vulnerable. Black women, in particular, are characterized as singularly strong figures. How can you be the mule of the world for everybody, but also have somebody carry you when you need them to?”
Despite color, all women should be able to be dynamic representations of feminist power. You’ll never hear me say this again, but more power to Beyonce for embracing her sexuality and redefining what is to be a feminist. This is truly something to crown Beyonce a Queen for.
What will it take for society to truly accept a Black woman’s sexuality without challenging her as a woman?
For more on the topic, including arguments over Beyonce’s claim of her hubby’s last name and how it regards to her as a feminist, check out this article on Salon.
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