Consanguineous Minds

A blog of endless curiosity

Another internet opinion on Beyonce and feminism and consumerism

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.

-DS

as always, leave your thoughts!

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3 comments on “Another internet opinion on Beyonce and feminism and consumerism

  1. Nellie
    January 15, 2014

    I like this. I have similar feelings about the problem in the message of promoting consumerism and capitalism.

  2. fxwrk
    January 18, 2014

    LORD JESUS I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR A VOICE OF REASON. THANK YOU SO MUCH

  3. fxwrk
    January 18, 2014

    Woah, sorry. That raw, uninhibited response was simply a reflection of the extent to which I agree with you. I have been rummaging through the muck of articles on line about this, searching endlessly for someone to talk some sense into black feminists who are up in arms about critique of her very, very much ‘faux’ feminism. I could have shed a single tear when I found this, as that article on Real Colored Girls. Sexuality shaming aside, (and it’s not like Bey’s sexuality is NOT a contrived product that appeases the white male gaze), white feminists critique, in this case, makes a lot of sense, yet it seems black feminists who believe ‘Queen Bey’ can do noooo wrong, who believe she is some kind of idol or representation of black female ’empowerment’, automatically see the critique as an attack on her and a negation of their particular ‘correct’ interpretation of her politics. I was amazed to see so many educated, intelligent, thoughtful black women so outraged by criticism, even from other black women, calling them ‘haters’ and ‘jealous’…when to me, anyone with a brain and even the slightest ability to 1) engage in basic critical theory 2)emotionally distance oneself from attachment to the mass media images we were drowned in since childhood can at least admit that Beyonce, being sexy (sex is power! yeah!), yet again, on beaches and thrones and in furs, dressing up in the image of european monarchy, treating lower class women like slaves in Bow Down and that other video…(ugh I cannot)…is not above critique. What in the fuck? I literally could not believe my eyes seeing the comments about those of us who think outside the box being ‘jealous bitches’ who are ‘envious’ of her as if she is God Almighty in the flesh, as if the things she stands for, things you mentioned like the centralized, white male owned pop music infrastructure, huge unsustainable wealth, conspicuous consumption, elitist class arrogance and performative, Barbie box, blonde haired, unthreatening black ‘feminine’ sexuality are things ‘feminism’ (which from their argument is sooo relative it can mean ANYTHING at all) should support. Do these women not realize what they are saying they value when they call dissenters ‘haters’? What are we jealous of? Her 50,000 dollar lace front that could bring water to a village for a month? Her mega capitalist husband who sold out where he came from and now makes music about a lifestyle that is unimaginable for the vast majority of people? Her tumblr full of ‘private’ photos that only ever show her at her best and are clearly taken by professional photographers and the gross message that it sends out to women to be ‘flawless? The well known lightening of her skin in photos? Her GQ spread? I’m only twenty one but I absolutely despise the neo-liberal/consumerism tainted choice ‘feminism’ that Beyonce is selling to girls in my generation…no we do NOT fucking ‘run the world’ and do not have the material wealth to live above the consequences of being black and female bodied everyday like she does. I guess not everyone can see the bigger picture and see the implications of supporting the things she stands for in her music, I loved your point about how vapid, massive consumerism is kill. ing. our environment. I also detest the idea that because I am a black feminist, I ‘must’ be on her side and must ‘hush up’ in my ‘hating’ critique, less we give the white feminists more ammo and demonstrate differences among our ranks, as if me dissenting fucks up our case in the eyes of white women. That is the SAME shit that black men did to black women, and I am having none of it. This has already gotten me a lot of shit among my black women peers, but I am willing to stand alone in my unpopular opinion. Thank you so much for writing this, forreal…I was starting to think I was going crazy or am an unduly critical crabs in a bucket bitch or something, lol. I’m not….I just call it like I see it. She’s going to have to do more than sell faux feminism that it took her many extremely hesistant years to embrace to continue being marketable to convince me to get on the Bevy Train, lol.

    -c
    Damn…I should just make this a post on my own blog, lol.

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This entry was posted on December 22, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , .
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