A blog of endless curiosity
I just accidentally watched some of Beyonce’s new music video Drunk in Love and got kind of freaked out. I am not really a popular music listener and so not well versed in Beyonce’s lyrics or music. I do however know that she has recently, prior to the surprise release of her surprise album, recognised herself as a feminist (albeit in a fairly conversational kind of way which has been shouted out all over the media with perhaps more emphasis than was contextual). So watching this video I was A) kind of bored by the close ups of soft skin, bedroom eyes and beachside dancing which seemed as generic as the lead in music and B) wondering if I’d missed something important. Surely we’ve moved beyond the fact that women have a sexual drive? Beyonce portrays a range of different styles of sexy in her album but surely feminism is about more than displaying that a mum can be transgressively sexy? (See Haunted).
So I started googling search terms such as ‘feminism’ and ‘Beyonce’ and read a bunch of articles which lauded her new performance as the most feminist album released in the last whatever amount of years. And other articles suggesting that white feminists don’t get black feminist’s take on Beyonce because of different cultural representations and readings into sexiness. And also other articles about the other songs on the album representing Beyonce’s great wealth, including some where she treats servants as…well…servants.
Madamenoire says that “In the video for “Partition” she, just for fun, drops a napkin for the attention of her preoccupied husband. However, when either fails to fetch it, a silent maid dutifully dashes from across the room and retrieves it for her mistress, who doesn’t even bother to make eye contact. She repeats the same playful, yet carefree debasing imagery again in the video for “Haunted,” where an indifferent Beyoncé takes a single drag off of a cigarette and then tosses it at the feet of the same upscale hotel employee, who had dutifully lit the cigarette and once she is gone, will likely have to clean up her ashes.”
Which made me wonder about something I’d read recently, and I apologise that I can’t remember the author or correct phrasing but it was something to the effect of ‘How can we say we are moving forward as feminists when there are so many left behind?’ The themes of luxury and wealth in songs which have been hyped as feminist are concerning to me because of the growing influence of neo-liberalism in feminism. Sheryl Sandberg’s neo-liberal feminist hit ‘Lean-In’ is one example of this sort of hollow feminism which does not challenge the structures of society such as capitalism, or do much for that concept introduced by black feminists which is really fucking important: intersectionality.
The feministwire writes:
“bell hooks reminds readers why we should be skeptical of … faux feminism— one that does little to re-imagine the world or to build collective movements, but instead works to recreate the same old white heteropatriarchy that defines American Empire.”
According to an article in Madamenoire, “Both through song and visuals, we see Beyonce toasting up all sorts of caviar dreams and champagne wishes, including the following: being surrounded by butlers and maids; unapologetically riding private jets and being draped in diamonds, furs and exclusive and hard-to-pronounce labels.” I have no problem with Beyonce being successful, but I do struggle with the fact that success is defined in such a limited way, ie. the capitalist consumer way. And I find it even more ethically challenging when I consider it in the light of the unbridled chaos that this way of living is unleashing on the environment and on social progress, and the very real impacts it has on the nations and their people which produce consumer goods. Such portrayals of wealth seem particularly obnoxious when so much poverty is sweeping America at present too, disproportionately affecting women.
To me, feminism means equality, respect and critical thinking about power relations and structures. To me this means feminism requires us to think about the way our current economic and social systems are built on exploitation, and to search for alternatives, rather than to recreate the hegemonic discourses of consumerism, sexuality, success and individuality inherent in neo-liberalism.
An article in Varsity says that “…For a woman to commodify herself is to make a statement about the commodification of women, and sadly we can’t escape the fact that the valuing of the female body in that way rapidly leads to objectification. But really when people complain about what Beyoncé is doing, they are actually lamenting the fact that we can’t all express our sexuality without slipping into objectification and exploitation. It isn’t her, it’s what she is implicitly accepting by carrying on being hot as hell under the gaze of a patriarchal public.”
The implicit acceptance coupled with the identification as feminist is what I have trouble with. Of course, there are many feminisms, just as there are many feminists, and maybe I am still missing something about Beyonce’s latest album. Seems I’m not the only one though… This is from the blog Real Coloured Girls.
“[Those with] patriarchal capitalist agendas…having us believe that somehow Bey’s success is a step toward some dystopic vision of progress for Black women. There may be empowerment for some folks but by and large it is a false hope steeped in capitalism and individualism, supporting the escapist desires of rampant pornographic consumerism.” Definitely worth a read here.
I guess for me, actions speak louder than lyrics, and including a feminist speech by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on one track is a fantastic way to get a massive amount of airtime for an important message, but there are other issues to be addressed and understood in these songs and their filmclips, which to me undermine the feminist message.
as always, leave your thoughts!