Beyoncé is frequently touted for her championing of women’s causes. She flaunts her curves, speaks her mind, and fosters an attitude of empowerment and strength.
Am I the only one, though, to whom it seems that her message is mostly about sex?
A blogger on BlogHer wrote recently, vehemently praising Beyonce’s “Divine Feminism*,” vaunted on MVA’s award show, and posted a clip of the medley she performed as evidence.
I watched it, and I just don’t see it.
I want to like her (Beyoncé), and I do admire her strength and physicality combined with a definitively female form, but I don’t particularly care for her singing, and her videos/dance routines sidle and strut right up to the borderline of pornography (right around minute 7 of the video).
The banner “Feminist” at the end, with her standing triumphantly in front of it bothers me in particular. Are you truly a feminist if the primary methods you use to proclaim your message is your beauty and your body? Are you a feminist just because you say you are? Is it just me?
I’ve actually struggled with this dichotomy a little bit before, for two different reasons.
First, and most obviously, is the desire for women to have the right to appreciate/value their own bodies, to embrace their curves, to take agency for their own lives and choices, to own and be proud of their sexuality, etc. etc. BUT it seems that we should be able to do that without being expected to wear clothes that are skin-tight, expose our midriff, slit up to here or down to there, with shoes that are bad for our backs at best and possibly outright harmful to our feet, ankles, or knees. At the same time, it seems that we should be able to wear whatever we want without necessarily broadcasting ourselves as “available,” which might be construed as “asking for it,” and for which women are then blamed.
I have to teach my daughter how to dress not because there is anything inherently wrong with what she wants to wear, but because of the possible perceived message that might be received by an unknown and unidentified Other Person (male) and the risk that he then might act on his misperceived message without taking steps to appropriately verify it with the supposed sender. This doesn’t really seem fair to me. It also seems that men should know that a women wearing high heels and a short skirt aren’t “asking for it,” unless they actually, well, ask for it. Wow. The dichotomy just got even more complicated, and now seems to be a trichotomy. Or worse.
Maybe I’m over-thinking it.
Secondly (?), and probably more importantly: isn’t feminism (supposed to be) about more than sex? Equal pay for equal work, equal opportunities, family dynamics that don’t expect women to be primary maid/chef/dishwasher/child rearer while also employed outside the home? How about battling for the possibility that what might be construed as a “feminine” approach to leadership (cooperation, team-building), combined with acceptance of women who display “masculine” traits (assertiveness, confidence), might actually be just the thing that many businesses/academic departments/governments need?
At one point in the BlogHer post, the author writes: “Beyoncé consistently puts forward a message of female empowerment that is firmly centered on the feminine divine*, holding up women as powerful sexual agents of their own (forgive me) destinies, talents and desires. . .What’s more, she positioned her sexual empowerment as ‘feminist’ with the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoken word interlude and text background affirming the feminist message that girls be allowed to own and control their sexuality, just as boys are, without worrying that they are threatening men.”
Fine, yes, fantastic, I totally agree. But is that really the first and most important thing that most of us are talking about when we say we’re feminists?
Maybe at one point in the medley Beyoncé actually did get into the topics of “. . .all roles of the divine feminine*, from seductress to lover to mother to teacher, presented it as Capital F feminist. . .” but I just couldn’t get that far.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a prude. I’m proud of my cleavage, I’m proud of my curves, I love sex, and can curse like a sailor when the situation warrants it (dropped plates, knitting problems, bad drivers). I just think there are more layers to feminism than sexual empowerment. Besides wishing more of our discourse could revolve around these layers, I actually think it’s harmful that so many of the discussions seem to need to start with sexual empowerment issues and hardly, if at all, go beyond.
As women we need to learn to stand up for ourselves, to be proud of the qualities that make us who we are, no matter whether those qualities are “masculine” or “feminine.” Everyone needs to learn acceptance of those qualities in everyone else — nurturing, assertiveness, thoughtfulness, ambition. Everyone needs to stop labeling things by gender — no such thing as “toys for girls” vs. “toys for boys” or “jobs for girls” vs. “jobs for boys.” Jobs need to be awarded according to someone’s ability to fulfill them; household tasks need to be divided fairly; boys need to be taught it’s okay to express their feelings or to cry and that they need to cook and do dishes and clean the bathroom just as much as the girls do; girls that it’s okay to be proud of their accomplishments, to assert their opinions or ask questions without apologizing, not necessarily to have children.
Then everyone can call themselves a “feminist,” except we won’t need that word anymore.
(*gag; I feel the same way about this expression as I do about “Bucket List” and “panties.”)