Feminism has always been a very loaded word. It has been discussed and debated over and over again. It is a term that comes with a lot of baggage. Many people do not want to be connected with this word because of what’s associated with it. The word feminism seems to say to some people that you do not like men and that you cannot have feminine qualities. I identify myself as a feminist and I most certainly do not hate men. I also as it happens really like make up and fashion. These stereotypes similarly to gender stereotypes, are just constructs of society that we need to break down in order to live in a more equal society.
Feminism is also a word that makes some people role their eyes when they hear it. They say that we don’t need it anymore because everything is fine now. This attitude really infuriates me because yes it is true we have come a long way and we should be grateful for that. However we have a long way to go before we live in an equal world. I think that another reason the term feminism is feared is because it is often part of an academic discussion and perhaps others are afraid to join in this conversation. People are intimidated and afraid to have an opinion but the truth is gender is every bodies, it belongs to everyone. The term is automatically associated with very impressive figures such as Gloria Steinem and Simone De Beauvoir etc, etc but anyone and everyone is affected by gender so everyone deserves an opinion. I think that feminism is for everyone no matter what your gender, race, sexuality, social class etc.
Recently I saw something that peaked my interest in relation to feminism. It was Beyonce Knowles new self titled album because it has a number of feminist messages in it. Of course she is no stranger to the girl power messages and many of her hits speak directly to girls about being independent and self sufficient. This album however seems to have a more serious tone when it comes to feminism. It also deals with sexuality and women being in control of their sexuality. One of the songs entitled “Flawless” even features a writer I admire greatly named Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The song takes lines from a Tedx talk that Adichie did entitled ‘We should all be feminists” This is an amazing speech that I saw a couple of years ago and I was blown away by. It explores the idea of gender and how it is constructed in society. She looks at the unfair and unattainable standards that we set both for women and for men.
This blog however was not intended to talk about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and how much I admire her or about what she says about feminism. On that subject I could go on forever. This time I am interested in looking at Beyonce as a feminist icon. I do believe that it is very important that feminism and a real discussion about the topic of feminism be a feature of popular culture. Beyonce has been asked about feminism in many interviews over the years but she never wanted to adopt the term in relation to herself. Now she has embraced it and I was very excited by this. The reason for my excitment is because she is such an icon in society. I think this is a very positive step in changing the associations many people have with the word feminism. Perhaps younger generations will learn to associate it with empowerment and sisterhood rather than something negative. I was also excited by the idea of many different groups of people being exposed to Adichie and what she has to say about feminism and the importance of gender in society. I would be lying if I said I was sure if Beyonce measured up to my high standards of a true feminist. I would also be lying if I did not admit to having very high standards when it comes to feminism. The reason for my scepticism is due to the fact that I have always had some concerns about how sexualised female pop stars are these days. It seems that every Superbowl or Grammy performance has to push the boundaries of sexuality further and further. I know I might be seen as something as a prude but I have younger children in my life and these young women gyrating next to men on stage or young women doing the same in male pop stars music videos is something that I do not think is appropriate for young people to be exposed too. I also worry about young girls being made to believe that their body is something to be objectified. Believing that they are only pretty objects to be looked at and that their sexuality is the only commodity. When the attention is focused so much on this one aspect women forget to value other things such as their intelligence, humour, kindness and creativity.
R&B music also concerns me because a lot of the lyrics tend to be very mysoginistic and demeaning towards women. It also sends the wrong message to boys about how they should treat women. This is as unfair to young boys as it is to young girls. There is often a lot of criticism about pop stars performances being too overtly sexual and as I have said earlier in this blog I have to admit that I sometimes agree. Just recently Miley Cyrus performed the song “Blurred Lines” with Robin Thicke and it got a lot of media attention. Beyonce also received criticism for her performance at the Super Bowl with her husband Jay Z. In my opinion these two performances cannot be compared. Beyonce was performing her own song with her husband who she calibrates with. Miley Cyrus was performing someone else’s song that is considered very offensive to women because it deals with the issue of sexual consent. She was also performing with a much older man who’s role was to be dismissive of her on stage while she was behaving very sexual towards him. I think that the two give out very different messages to young girls. Despite my concern’s and high standards about what a feminist should be Beyonce is someone to be admired. She owns and runs her own company. Her name is most certainly a brand now but it is a brand that she controls. She has also challenged issues of race and body type for women. She has also recently become a mother and has spoken about the pressures put on women to get back to the perfect body after giving birth. It’s true that sexuality is a huge part of Beyonce’s appeal but perhaps if she controls what she puts out into the public then why shouldn’t her sexuality be part of that? The music industry is after all a business and sex sells whether we agree with it or not.
I do not expect Beyonce to change the face of the music industry for women with one album of course. I realise that part of the problem with the term feminism is that we all have different idea about what it means. I can, and I suppose have picked apart many of the things I object to about Beyonce being considered not just an icon but a feminist icon. That however might be part of the problem. Like I said at the start of this blog millions of people have been debating feminism for years and years but the topic is after all still in its youth. It has quite a journey to go on before the issue is resolved. I too have a long way to go in my understanding of these issues. I do believe however that it starts with supporting other women and not tearing them down. I am delighted that Beyonce like myself, wears the title of feminist like a badge of honour. I hope that others, men and women, will be inspired to do the same. We need to get on the same page in order to fight inequality of any kind. If we are to deal with economic or social problems for women we have to first look at the truth about women’s role in society even if the topic is uncomfortable to talk about. As the great feminist icon Gloria Steinem say’s “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off!” I think this is very accurate.
Beyonce Knowles. Flawless. Beyonce. Columbia Records, 2013. CD.
Robin Thicke. Blurred Lines. Blurred Lines. Interscope Records, 2013. CD.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi, “We Should All Be Feminists” Online video Clip, YouTube. TedX Talks, 12 April. 2013. Web. 19 February. 2014.