Posts Tagged ‘Feminism’

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, beyonce-visual-albumalbum, 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 Girl1369078467_beyonce-jay-z-lg 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.

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty. 

“You’re a feminist; how could you be into Shakespeare, what with all of the ‘witches’ and the ‘shrews?’”

Um, I’m pretty sure I never heard that question in grad school or at any point in my academic experience. It’s pretty much understood that, despite the disinheritance of a less-Imagethan-compliant daughter, the taming of an obstinate wife, and the inevitable insanity of the power-hungry femme fatale, it’s cool for a feminist to be into Shakespeare, because he’s good. He’s THAT good.

However, I am continually posed with that question in my current intellectual pursuit:

“You’re a feminist; how could you be into rap, what with all of the ‘bitches’ and the ‘hos?’”

Because, I say, like any art, when rap is good, it’s THAT good.

Why is it totally acceptable to give Shakespeare props for his skills, despite his apparent misogyny, but not, say, Ice Cube? I think it has something to do with who gets to define art. While our cultural reverence for Shakespeare stems from the way that he kicks ass with English (Sound and fury? Damn right.), it is made unquestionable by our acceptance of his stories as universal and his skill as peerless. His cultural position is dominant, white, male. However, we, even feminists, let him speak for us, because he does it so good.

So, Ice Cube brings a perspective that is not just different from that of theImage accepted universal, it is downright unsettling, to understate the matter. It is unsettling in that it doesn’t fit nicely into the cultural definition of art. It can’t. It comes from an angry, black dude, and that angry, black dude could not possibly represent the universal, according to the dominant (white, male) definition.

So, we dis it. It is violent. It is misogynistic. It disturbs the shit that makes us comfortable.

Guess what? That’s art. And, guess what else? When it’s done by the likes of Cube, it’s peerless: the man can rap. Yes, he is THAT good.

Let’s take a look at some examples:

When Hamlet accosts his mother and mind-trips his girlfriend, it’s totally cool because Gertrude’s tumble into “incestuous sheets,” means that Ophelia is sure to be Hamlet’s 100th problem. Yeah, go ahead and mess with your girlfriend’s head to fulfill your revenge fantasy against your mother: “Frailty, thy name is woman.”

ImageWhen Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy blast through America and the “awfully dumb…sweet little girl[s],” we are quick to forgive their youthful indiscretions because they are rebelling against the stifling square-ness of the 1950′s, and because Kerouac does it with such frantic, insanely sexy lyricism: “…I knew there’d be girls, visions, everything…”

When Anna Karenina finally offs herself, the only thing she CAN do in Tolstoy’s Russia (she did cheat on her husband, after all, and he’s got a rep and a fortune to defend, yo), we praise the beauty of the tragic love story: “Sensual desire indulged for its own sake is the misuse of something sacred.” That is, if it’s a woman’s indulgence.

Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t go mad for these writers. They are amazing, and they tell stories of the human condition in ways that challenge and move us. My point is, though, that this power of (seemingly universal, but, almost always white and male) art is not found only within literature; it is found in a good rapper’s flow.

When Ice Cube claims that “Life ain’t nothin’ but bitches and money,” he is, as a matter of fact, speaking from the same misogynist universal as all the rest of these dudes, it just happens to arise from the culturally oppressed, rather than the culturally dominant. More importantly, his flow is so urgent, so angry, and so damn smooth against Dre’s hard-driving, irresistible beat, that his mastery is undeniable. So, I give him much respect: “Even saw the lights of the Goodyear blimp, and it read ‘Ice Cube’s a pimp.’”

As for my take on Norman Mailer and Eminem, I’d really like to claim that I represent as a feminist, but, like Jay-Z says, “Ladies is pimps, too.”