Throwback post! As you could probably tell, serious discussion on L & B have shifted focus a bit. We talk more about social issues surrounding motherhood, mental health and women’s employment. But sometimes we like to revisit the early days. What do you think about the article and the discussion that followed in the comments? Comment here or on social media!
A lot of young women today identify with an equality-focused, more relatable kind of feminist political vision that isn’t interested in completely reshaping society in a fundamentally radical way. Think Sheryl Sandberg, Emma Watson and… Beyoncé Knowles. Beyoncé has become famous for her relationship with feminism; starting out hesitant, with an ultimate reconciliation at her 2014 Video Music Awards performance when the word “FEMINIST” lit up on the big screen behind her.
There are many feminist theorists and activists who see these kinds of reincarnations of feminism as “faux” feminism or “feminist lite”. Not only are these softer women deemed not feminist, they are seen as antithetical to the vision of true feminism. This tension became especially palpable after the debut of Beyoncé’s controversial visual album, Lemonade*, when bell hooks (the renowned radical feminist who always writes her name in lowercase) wrote a harsh criticism of Beyoncé’s work. Other feminists took shots at Beyoncé as well, but hooks stood out to me because she is so iconic. Hooks famously wrote, “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” She doesn’t buy that Beyonce’s attempt to showcase black women’s suffering throughout history, and through her own personal experiences, should be seen as a legitimate part of women’s progress nor is she convinced that it’s genuine.
In the essay “Moving Beyond Pain”, hooks centers her criticisms of Beyoncé around her pop-culture empire as the epitome of capitalist wealth, which uses black women’s bodies as commodities (which she points out is not a new phenomenon). In other words, she goes to the heart of Beyoncé’s intentions and work and interprets it as the embodiment of oppression itself. "Her construction of feminism cannot be trusted", she writes. Hooks also attacks Beyoncé’s use of “pure fantasy” violence, luxury fashion, beautiful women, and her failure to advocate for any sort of real healing for women. Many of Beyoncé’s feminist fans were devastated. How could hooks publicly call out Beyoncé’s raw, vulnerable work of art as a total fraud? What does that mean for women of color who identify with Beyoncé and her fight for liberation?
There’s something cringe-worthy about publicly excluding a woman’s work from your definition of strength and liberation when you stand for a movement that's founded on supporting women in the way they wish to be empowered. Despite these founding principles, it’s not uncommon for women to face public vituperation for their failure to truly understand authentic empowerment. There’s something disconcerting about taking apart and distrusting a woman’s every move, motive, and body part, when one ostensibly believes in the concepts of autonomy and self-expression.
Feminist politics is tricky in that it desires both a completely inclusive polity as well as a passionate fight to end oppression. Despite the desire for inclusion, there will always be women excluded for the proliferation of ideas felt as oppressive. But where do they belong?
Who should run things in the world of feminism?