*This post of mine was also published on Forbes.*
Last month when Beyonce’s massively successful secret album launched, I had it on repeat for weeks, and danced all over my house with my baby girl to the addictive beats of “Flawless,” “XO,” “Grown Woman,” and “Pretty Hurts” just to name a few. With her latest self-titled album, Beyonce placed herself at the front of the feminist fast-lane. Young women embraced the former Destiny Child member’s brand of empowerment, academics accepted the iconic singer as an “imperfect feminist,” but feminist nonetheless, and most commentators on women’s rights were just happy that someone was doing so much to get people talking about what feminism means. Ms. Knowles even went as far to pen an impressive essay on The Shriver Report on gender inequality which emphasizes the importance of teaching men & boys the rules of respecting women:
Humanity requires both men and women, and we are equally important and need one another. So why are we viewed as less than equal? These old attitudes are drilled into us from the very beginning. We have to teach our boys the rules of equality and respect, so that as they grow up, gender equality becomes a natural way of life. And we have to teach our girls that they can reach as high as humanly possible…Women are more than 50 percent of the population and more than 50 percent of voters. We must demand that we all receive 100 percent of the opportunities.
All in all, you could say 2013 was ending on a fabulously feminist note, but our feminist wet dream may already be over. Although we went into Beyonce Feminism 101 analysis-overdrive last month, this month a line in the singer’s latest single, “Drunk in Love” may have shot Beyonce in her feminist foot. How can anybody, fan or not, forget a soaking wet Beyonce in a barely there black La Perla lingerie outfit, grinding on her man while shaking her “fatty” in her audience’s face? In case we got too distracted by Beyonce’s performance, on Monday ColorLines reminded us all that it’s easy to see what feminism is not:
…Jay Z, jokingly makes a reference to a horrific moment in the 1993 Tina Turner biopic, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” during his “Drunk in Love” cameo…If you’re not familiar with the film, it’s the part when Ike Turner, angry about the adoration Tina’s getting, smashes cake into her face and slaps a backup singer who tries to defend her. After the violence a roadie wearily says, “Eat the cake, Anna-Mae…So last night when Jay got to the “Eat the cake” line, I thought maybe Queen Bey would stay silent on it. Instead she puts bass in her voice and chants along with her husband…
Feminists are as diverse as the issues they fight against, but one thing anyone who believes in women’s rights knows is that violence against women is not entertainment. Domestic violence is both a national and a worldwide crisis, and the UN points out that almost half of the world’s female population will become victims of domestic violence.
Why would Beyonce, on the heels of being crowned the most contemporary and cool feminist, not only approve that line in her song, but sing it with Jay Z on stage at the recent Grammy’s? As ColorLines points out, instead of staying silent or blurring the line, at the very least, Beyonce chose to shout out the lyrics at the top of her lungs.
You can be pro-choice or anti-choice, for veiling or not, for equal pay or against it. But what woman, especially one of Beyonce’s level of global influence, would try to dismiss a major human rights issue such as battering women? With her fast-growing and emboldened young feminist base, why would Beyonce not send another message about women’s power, or even none at all, instead of celebrating brutality against women? Not to mention the whole line is a reference to Tina Turner’s real life experience.
As a life-long feminist, I have to say for me there is no longer a debate about the kind of feminist Beyonce brings to the table if condones this kind of language in her music. This performance makes me question how ‘real’ Beyonce’s whole feminist act was in the first place. Was the singer just taking advantage of a platform her fans gave her? Is Beyonce only a feminist when it comes to selling her image, and the records they accompany? Is Beyonce a fake feminist?
Most people were left with their jaws on the floor after Mr. & Mrs. Carter opened the Grammy’s last weekend, and as a newly converted major Beyonce loving woman, I did not think there was anything Ms.Knowles could do to shatter my feminist fantasy starring Beyonce. But making such a reference to Tina Turner’s battered past is not okay. It is never okay. I think you can show all the skin you want, and still be a feminist. I believe you should celebrate your relationship and marriage, of course, you are still a feminist. But trying to play-off lyrics that might even have the slightest chance of be mistaken as disregarding violence against women, should never be acceptable in any self- respecting feminist’s book.
*This post of mine was also published on Forbes.
I haven’t heard the performance you refer to and I’m only just learning about Beyonce’s feminism but it seems to me that if you are a feminist you must be pretty dumb to say something so overtly pro-violence and not see it clashing against your values. I don’t know much about the artist but she doesn’t strike me as being that dumb.
So that makes me wonder just what her defence is. What does she say about why she condoned these words? I think this is essential to know for your piece to be well-rounded and objective – excellent though it is in all other respects. My feeling is that I should give the lady the benefit of the doubt until I hear what she has to say on the matter. Either she’ll apologize for a mis-judgement (as you say, she may be an imperfect feminist and aren’t we all?) or she’ll give good reason for what she was trying to say despite what came across and we’ll be able to respect that. Or…she won’t, and as you point out, we’ll then have to reconsider her position as a feminist.
This was a wonderfully engaging piece which has provoked many thoughts for me. Thank you for writing it!