By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty.
Beyoncé is a feminist. No matter what you think. No matter what I think.
Beyoncé is a feminist. Because she decides.
She creates this crazy-dope album that is, in effect, a whole new pop sub-genre that not only demands the “album” experience (we’ve seen the rebirth of the “album” over singles with artists like Nas and Kendrick), it forges a new inextricability between song, album, AND video. No singles, please. You gotta experience the whole damn thing. You listen according to Bey’s direction. And, you watch. And, by the way, you’re happy about that (trust me). She then forgoes the beaten path toward sales (much time, energy, money on hype, little time, energy, money on art) to drop “Beyoncé” as a straight-up surprise. No matter what you cynics say about marketing ploys, “Surprise! Here’s my amazing new album! Enjoy it!” is way better than the uber-strategic beat-us-over-the-head-with-hype-on-your-upcoming-album-so-much-that-we’re-kinda-over-it-before-it-even-drops thing (think: Eminem and Lady Gaga).
Beyoncé is a feminist. Because she controls “the gaze”.
So much is said in feminist theory and cultural criticism about the male gaze, which objectifies and sexualizes women according to masculine desires. The camera, and his eye, is on her. He watches, she moves, for him. Beyoncé shifted the power of the gaze way back with “Video Phone,” when she took control and directed HIM on how to watch her. She does this often on her new album, repeatedly directing his gaze (“Don’t take your eyes off it/Watch it babe”) and in thoughtful and sometimes ironic ruminations on beauty and social distortion (“Pretty hurts/We shine the light on whatever’s worse”) as well as, yes, feminism (by taking the male gaze straight on with the self-celebratory: “I look so good tonight/God damn!/I woke up like this/Flawless”).
Beyonce is a feminist. Because she brags about her sexual prowess.
SO damn hip-hop. She appropriates the common trope of sexual ability from the fellas. Sure, other female artists have done this before (Eve, MC Lyte), but Bey does it bigger. First, she owns what he’s gazing at (like a stone-cold fox): “my fatty, daddy, “, then she makes her demands (like a man): “You rock hard/I rock steady,” and then she declares him worthy of her (like a BOSS!): “Ooh, my sh*t’s so good that it ain’t even right…/…you’re my equivalent/So sexy”.
(Run, don’t walk, now, and listen to “Rocket”. Seriously. Stop reading this, download this album, and listen to that song RIGHT NOW. Uh, huh. You’re welcome.)
Beyonce is a feminist. Because she’s powerful enough to break the rules and to have fun doing it.
Much ado has already been made about the questionable rhymes her husband, Jay Z, lays on “Drunk in Love,” which reference Ike and Tina Turner’s forcible-cake-eating moment in their abusive marriage. Rightfully so, black feminist bloggers like Black Girl Dangerous’s Mia McKenzie and Crunk Feminist Collective (“5 Reason’s I’m Here for Beyonce the feminist“) take on the lyrics, Jay Z, and Bey, for this. Sure, in the pre-”Beyoncé” pop culture space (read: male-dominated), the fact that Jay raps almost jovially about spousal abuse in his wife’s song seems an affront to her, to marriage and to women. However, this is Bey’s world now, y’all; Jay’s just rapping in it. First of all, as McKenzie repeatedly notes, Beyoncé “allows” Jay to spit these lyrics on her album. Secondly, as far as we (the public, audience, fans, even haters) can possibly know, Bey’s and Jay’s is a mutually respectful relationship between equals. They allow us glimpses into their intimacy (Lucky us!), so we must approach their relationship on their terms, and take at face value the fact that this is the (pretended or genuine – no matter) sex life of two equally powerful adults. By the look on her face (in the oh-my-god-I-might-just-die-its-so-sexy video for “Drunk in Love”), and the fact that she mouths the words along with him (while turning her own gaze on him AND on the camera itself, I might add), suggest that this just might be sexual play that SHE demands; he’s just living up to her expectations. Lucky him. Plus, just watch her dance. The woman is running sh*t and she’s having so much fun doing it.
(By the way, no fair judging fantasies. People be kinky, and you know it. Enjoy the show. Whether it’s right or wrong AIN’T your business.)
Beyoncé is a feminist. Because she says so, b*tches.
No matter how earnest, self-righteous, educated, or angry we are, we don’t get to define Beyoncé’s feminism. SHE DOES. This weak-ass defense I offer is no different than some rant about her sexiness or her very public relationship. This gets to the (really important) discussion of the problem with white feminists. We want to decide, to explain, to define, and we have a hard time just listening. Because white women have always been in a (slightly, to be sure) higher position of power than black women, we’ve been able to voice what does or does not constitute feminism, and this definition has often neglected, even degraded the black female experience and the black feminist perspective. Beyoncé’s declaration of feminism is, on the one hand, none of our damn business, and, on the other hand, an opportunity to take a closer look at our own deeply held convictions about beauty, marriage, feminism, sex, and fun.
Nonetheless, this is Bey’s feminism, not yours, so shut up and listen.