Feminism Through a Coloured Lens

Beyonce’s new self titled album, “Beyonce”, had unprecedented success hitting record sales within a few days, while also giving rise to an uproar of debate and controversy, praise and criticism. In this album, much like in her other albums, she focuses greatly on men, sexuality and love. However what sets this apart from her other albums is the fact that her music videos and lyrics deal significantly with the empowerment of women. An excellent example of this can be found in her song ‘Flawless’, where she includes an excerpt from Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk on feminism. “But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?”

Through her art, Beyonce, one of the biggest female pop icons on today’s world stage, seems to be ushering in a new wave of feminism. Using her image of a woman, mother and wife, she is portraying womanhood through a colored lens while catering to girls of the younger generation. She wields a lot of power and influence in this light, but it comes with a huge danger factor, because her sexual images and their implications do not capture womanhood holistically. There is much controversy as a result and it has sparked off debates on whether or not she can actually call herself a ‘feminist’ in several contexts; political, capitalist, racial and even pop culture.

It is the people who call themselves feminists, both liberal and black, who seem to have instigated this debate. Perhaps, they feel threatened by her fame, and the power she wields to grab the attention of the crowds, shadowing the painstaking efforts they have made over the years. The fact that she is a ‘black’ woman, openly expressing her views and desires so shamelessly, and straying away from the confines of mainstream feminism enhances this, making it not only a debate about gender but one about race as well; twofold.

A feminist to put it very simply is a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. However, being a feminist in the real world is not so simple. It’s not just plain black and white. There is a lot of grey area because the definition of feminism has branched out so much it is now hazy. As with Beyonce, segments of the feminist community seem to be policing her methods of supporting the movement. Instead of fighting for equality together the women themselves are pointing fingers at her. And this can be singled out to the fact that she is a beautiful, successful ‘black’ woman who seems to have it all. The chief reason however being the colour of her skin. Because she is such a success story she is even being labeled an ‘upperclass white feminist’ and talk of her lightening skin colour is being spread.

Black feminism is a discussion of both gender and race. The white liberal feminist’s ideals clash with that of the black feminists, whose boundaries are not so confined. Black feminism embraces the idea of advocating feminism through creative mediums such as hip hop, thus giving rise to conflict because yet again this questions the exact definition of feminism. Being a feminist and fighting in a world that is still predominantly run by men is no easy task. Being a black feminist then is infinitely harder, because feminists like Beyonce, are denied the right to even call themselves feminist. The power is beyond them.

In her song “Pretty Hurts” Beyonce gives out the message that if you obsess over your external appearance it could destroy you. “Perfection is the disease of a nation” she says. Here the controversy lies in the fact that Beyonce is already a beautiful woman, and the right to make declarations such as this are beyond her. But the direction of her message is very clear. She is addressing an issue that many women face, be it an identity crisis or having to maintain an image and live up to the pressure of unfair expectations. So in a sense through her art she is opening up the door for many women to come to terms with and acknowledge issues that they would otherwise suppress. She subtly directs these sensitive issues especially toward women of colour. Dark skinned black women who have had a tainted history with light-skinned black women will easily relate to the situation in ‘pretty hurts’. Similarly, all the songs in her new album carry profound messages such as this and they expose at least one of her many feminist views. In this context the claim that Bey’s album is a ‘feminist manifesto’ seems appropriate because it does capture her perceptions and motives of black feminism.

Unsurprisingly, Beyonce’s take on sexuality in feminism is different from mainstream views. Most of her feminist lyrics are sung to videos portraying her as a sex object as she openly displays her sexuality explicitly. There is much ambiguity in this regard and the question of whether women should submit to men and objectify themselves like this comes up.

However, Beyonce has her own views to share. In her song “Blow” she implies that sexual pleasures should be enjoyed by both men and women alike. It should be mutual and reciprocated, unlike most rap songs that cater only to the pleasure of the men. In contrast, in the song ‘Partition’ she sings “I just wanna be the girl you like, girl you like.” This comes across as a woman submitting to a man, and consequently going against the misinterpreted notion that feminists hate sex. But what Beyonce is acknowledging is that women too are interested in and enjoy sex. She portrays it as a beautiful, natural activity.

Beyonce’s latest album, while being controversial has largely embodied her feminist views. The debate about whether or not she should be called a feminist does not reflect on her album alone, it has also mirrored the conflict and dichotomy that lies in the arena of feminism at large. The views of the liberal white feminists pitched against that of the unorthodox black feminists. And this controversy has not only propelled Beyonce to more fame, it has also helped propagate her ideals of feminism.

The huffpost debate on Black Feminism can be followed here.


Read 15322 times Last modified on Thursday, 06 February 2014 07:59



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