Category Archives: feminism

Quoted: On Beyonce and Feminism

beyonce1

I can’t believe that, as someone who a year ago could scarcely quote a Beyonce song, save “Bootylicious,” I am spending so much time defending the artist these days. But the surprise release of her “visual album,” Beyonce, has sparked a fresh round of broken criticism of the star, freighted with gender and race bias.  Understand, it is not that Beyonce, for all her power-belting, catchy hook-writing and effortless dancing, is above reproach. Once we finish getting down to “Drunk in Love,” we need to analyze the hell out of Mr. Knowles-Carter’s wack ass, Ike Turner-worshipping, violence-fetishizing contribution to the “love” track:

 

Catch a charge, I might, beat the box up like Mike…

I’m like Ike Turner

Baby know I don’t play, now eat the cake Annie Mae

Said, eat the cake, Annie Mae

 

This, right here, is all kinds of problematic and the sort of contradiction a public feminist needs to be called to task for. But, as yet, I haven’t seen many people questioning why Bey let Jay spit some nasty, misogynist shit on an album that includes the feminist brilliance of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Instead, folks are still carping about whether one can flaunt dat ass, be conventionally attractive, launch a world tour using a married moniker or be rich and successful and still be feminist.

Just so we can move the analysis along: The answer to that question is “Yes,” as I outlined in an article in Bitch magazine earlier this year:

A popular star willing to talk about gender inequity, as Beyoncé has, is depressingly rare. But Freeman insists flashes of underboob and feminist critique don’t mix. Petersen concurs, calling the thigh-baring, lace-meets-leather outfit Beyoncé wore during her Super Bowl XLVII halftime show an “outfit that basically taught my lesson on the way that the male gaze objectifies and fetishizes the otherwise powerful female body.” A commenter on Jezebel summed up the charge: “That’s pretty much the Beyoncé contradiction right there. Lip service for female fans, fan service for the guys.”

These appraisals are perplexing amid a wave of feminist ideology rooted in the idea that women own their bodies. It is the feminism of SlutWalk, the anti-rape movement that proclaims a skimpy skirt does not equal a desire for male attention or sexual availability. Why, then, are cultural critics like Freeman and Petersen convinced that when Beyoncé pops a leather-clad pelvis on stage, it is solely for the benefit of men? Why do others think her acknowledgment of how patriarchy influences our understanding of what’s sexy is mere “lip service”?

Dr. Sarah Jackson, a race and media scholar at Boston’s Northeastern University, says, “The idea that Beyoncé being sexy is only her performing for male viewers assumes that embracing sexuality isn’t also for women.” Jackson adds that the criticism also ignores “the limited choices available to women in the entertainment industry and the limited ways Beyoncé is allowed to express her sexuality, because of her gender and her race.”

Her confounding mainstream persona, Jackson points out, is one key to the entertainer’s success as a black artist. “You don’t see black versions of Lady Gaga crossing over to the extent that Beyoncé has or reaching her levels of success. Black artists rarely have the same privilege of not conforming to dominant image expectations.”

Solange, Beyoncé’s sister, who has gone for a natural-haired, boho, less sexified approach to her music, remains a niche artist, as do Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe, and Shingai Shoniwa of the Noisettes, like so many black female artists before them. Grace Jones, Joan Armatrading, Tracy Chapman, Meshell Ndegeocello—talented all, but quirky black girls, especially androgynous ones, don’t sell pop music, perform at the Super Bowl, or get starring roles in Hollywood films.

Black women (and girls) have also historically battled the stereotype of innate and uncontrolled lasciviousness, which may explain why Beyoncé’s sexuality is viewed differently from that of white artists like Madonna, who is lauded for performing in very similar ways.  Read more…

A Muslimah’s Guide to Rocking the World

By Guest Contributor Amina Jabbar, cross-posted from Muslimah Media Watch

Growing up as a queer-identified South Asian Muslimah and a survivor of domestic violence, I’ve occasionally felt that merely existing was, in and of itself, an act of rebellion. But I’ve been fortunate. I’ve not only survived, but thrived, now living the life of a resident physician.

I can’t take all the credit for where I am because, simply put, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. Through my life, I’ve consistently found media depictions of Muslim women and others engaging in daily acts of resistance to subvert and redefine the predominant discourses about Muslim women. These people and stories form a series of lessons to which I give credit for the awesome trajectory of my life. Here, then, are my seven lessons for a Muslimah’s guide to rocking the world.

Lesson #1: Our commitment to social justice reflects our commitment to faith.

It’s easy, I think, to get lost in the textual analyses of faith alone. The Qu’ran and hadiths are, after all, rich, deep, and complicated. But in an incredible interview on Vimeo, Amina Wadud makes a distinction between being a servant of God and an agent of God.  She talks about how her focus on the Qu’ranic meanings alone wasn’t enough; that being an agent implies an obligation to actively live in ways that are consistent with principles of social justice. Wherever and whenever there is injustice, we’re obligated to challenge the status quo.

Activist Fanta Ongoiba. Image via The Star.

Lesson #2: Some principles are worth being unwaveringly unapologetic about.

Our social and political positions may not always be popular. In general, I’m all for compromise but, occasionally, there are principles that are and should be “non-negotiable.” With the non-negotiables of life, even when the going gets tough, there should be no sidelining, shifting, or redrafting of the message. Easy to say, difficult to do. But Fanta Ongoiba, executive director of Africans in Partnership Against AIDS in Toronto, makes it look slick. Sexual health and HIV remain hushed, tabooed  topics within many Muslim communities. Ongoiba’s work , recently honored by the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, provides real space and fills a real need, no matter the response from religious leaders. As a Toronto Star article put it, “at an international conference, one sheik called her a ‘troublemaker,’ a label she embraced” and to which she also responded “ I’d prefer to be a troublemaker to wake you up.”

Continue reading

“Leaning Out” Proves Feminism is in the Eye of the Beholder

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 8.35.59 AM

Politico’s magazine has a cover piece on Michelle Obama called “>”Leaning Out: How Michelle Obama Became a Feminist Nightmare.” Or, it could have been titled “random feminists are disappointed.” As per usual, the piece is long on other people’s opinions about how Michelle Obama is single handedly failing the cause and short on actual analysis and historical context.

The piece opens by sharing a story about a new political initiative that Michelle Obama is involved with, with writer Michelle Cottle implying that Obama’s focus on people and not policy is not enough:

Speaking last week at Bell Multicultural High School, a couple of miles north of the White House, the first lady touted the importance of a college degree, citing her own journey from a one-bedroom apartment on Chicago’s South Side to Princeton as evidence of how far hard work and good schooling can take you. “I’m here today because I want you to know that my story can be your story,” she told the predominantly low-income, heavily minority student body.

Cottle goes on to explain that Obama’s visit to Bell Multicultural is part of a push for a campaign to encourage college completion. Cottle then complains that Obamas efforts with youth outreach are distressingly focused on actually talking to the youth, instead of digging deep and hitting hard at policy from the White House Garden.

This example is an interesting one to criticize, to say the least. Nothing is mentioned about DC’s unique space in public education debates, now forgotten after the heyday of high profile reformers. Not much is said about why there may be a focus on minority graduation rates from college, or why Bell Multicultural might be the perfect kind of place to launch an initiative focusing on low income students and college enrollment. No, no, Cottle would like us to understand that Michelle Obama is failing feminism because she insists on being motherly.

In Cottle’s own words:

Turns out, she was serious about that whole “mom-in-chief” business—it wasn’t merely a political strategy but also a personal choice.

Oh, the horror. Continue reading

Young Lakota Premieres Nov. 25 on Independent Lens

“Young Lakota” Official Trailer from marionlipschutz/roserosenblatt on Vimeo.

Young Lakota will air at 10 .m. EST, Monday, Nov. 25, on PBS’s Independent Lens. The film chronicles Tribal President Cecelia Fire Thunder’s challenge to a proposed abortion ban in South Dakota, and the political awakening she inspires in Sunny Clifford, a young Lakota woman living on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Young Lakota was an Official Selection at the Big Sky Film Festival, the New Orleans Film Festival, the American Indian Film Festival, and won Best Documentary at Cine Las Americas and the Smithsonian Showcase.

For Indian Girls, Radical Black Feminism or the American Dream?

By Guest Contributor Chaya Babu

When two famous black feminists take the stage to discuss social justice and feminism, or more specifically, how race and class impact African American women’s experiences in the US, why is it that I–an Indian American woman from pretty, affluent Briarcliff Manor, New York–feel at home? How is that this where I feel whole, recognized, and validated?

I don’t actually need the answers to these questions as some sort of navel-gazing exercise. But others seem to. When it comes to our position in social movements, identity is a big deal; it behooves us to acknowledge and take accountability for our inherent role, by default of who we are, in intersectional systems of oppression. So perhaps confusion is founded. As an upper-middle-class, straight, cissexual, conventionally feminine woman, whose ethnic minority status in America is mitigated by being part of the ‘model minority,’ it’s true that I have much going for me. I could ride the tide of my privilege. Easy.

But I started thinking about race at an early age. When we watched a video about MLK and the civil rights movement in second grade, I saw a binary and placed myself on the pigmented side of it. At 11-years-old, I adopted hip and hop and its surrounding culture as my self-expression in a white world. Would things have been different if my parents played Bollywood films in the house? I can’t be sure. Whatever it was, I identified clearly with non-whiteness. This made me an outcast in a way. I grew up around mostly white people, and the other Indians I knew seemed to see themselves on that side of the color line, or at the very least, they were more seduced by the power that came with our proximity to whiteness, as Melissa Harris-Perry put it. I am guilty of this too, but I still felt acutely that my brown skin was creating a vast gulf between my reality and that of my white  friends. If I had to guess, this is where I got my sense of injustice in the world, despite my understanding that I was exceedingly blessed and shrouded in comfort, wealth, and opportunity.

I was more aware of my status as a person of color than as a woman.  (It took me much longer to become aware of the endless benefits of my class position, because, well, that’s how it works). I became interested in anti-racism far before I felt drawn to anti-sexist, anti-patriarchal movements or cared about class dynamics. (Of course, I now get that it’s all connected.) But I think my internalization of my color is very telling for where I stand now when it comes to my personal feminist politics. Regardless of the particulars of the layering, all of this means I stand outside of my own ethnic community in the US–a community that, in my experience, often seems largely (not universally) brainwashed by the promise of ascending in a racist system.

Based on this, who could I have looked to as speaking to me–a little brown girl whose large suburban home had a Ganesha in a kitchen cupboard–about dissent and disruption of the status quo? What, you don’t believe in a white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist patriarchy, you say? Who put these thoughts in your head?

There was no place for me there. My place was to be a good Indian girl.

A large part of last week’s talk between Melissa Harris-Perry and bell hooks at The New School (see above) was about black women’s voices: the avenues though which they convey their messages, the shift in how they are represented, why some mainstream spaces may be more open to promoting them, even if minimally (Harris-Perry on MSNBC). I had no access to these voices when I was younger. I had some Alice Walker and Toni Morrison in high school, and then college and beyond gave me the nonfiction radical texts of bell hooks and Harris-Perry, Audre Lorde, Dorothy Roberts, and more. However, I couldn’t see that I was allowed to turn their thoughts into action in my own life, no matter how deeply they touched my heart.

Continue reading

An Open Letter to Mike Babchik: I Am Not For Sale

By Guest Contributor Diana Pho, cross-posted from Hyphen Magazine

TRIGGER WARNING FOR THIS POST

Photo of Mike Babchik and ‘Man Banter’ crew at NY Comic Con. Credit: Bethany Maddock

Dear Mr. Mike Babchik of Man Banter,

You thought you were having fun last month at New York Comic Con when you and your film crew gained access to the convention using your job credentials at SiriusXM Radio. You thought this would be a great opportunity to provide footage for your YouTube show (now defunct, thankfully). You thought it would make great television to pull me aside, to put your mic in my face, to drive your camera’s light in my eyes and to ask if you could buy me.

You thought it was just a joke when you said you wanted to buy an umbrella with an Asian girl — because I was holding a parasol.

You thought you were being clever by mistaking me for a geisha girl, like the many submissive, diminutive women you’ve seen on TV or on the Internet or in movies.

You thought that because I was small and female and Asian, it gave you the right to ridicule my existence.

Continue reading

My Dad, the Feminist

My Dad, The Feminist

By Guest Contributor Sydney Magruder; originally published at Elixher

I am 10 years old, sitting in a booth at Applebee’s, and my Dad is grilling me.

“Okay, last one. Who was the first Black woman ever to enter space?”

I am stumped.

“C’mon, Syd. I know you know it,” prods Daddy.

I turn the question over and over in my head like a smooth stone unearthed from a riverbed. Who was the first Black woman ever to enter space? I bite down harder on my lower lip, considering all of the trivia questions Daddy has ever asked me, and trying to remember if he’d asked this one before. He had not.

Mae_Jemison_1_FF665B08B837F

I remember learning about her in school, and I could see her smiling face on a picture from my 6th grade classroom. Suddenly, a moment of clarity. A flash of brown skin, a cumbersome-looking orange suit, and the NASA insignia above a gleaming white name tag: Jemison.

“Mae Jemison! The first Black woman ever to enter space was Mae Jemison!” I offer confidently.

“Atta girl, Syd!” Daddy offers me a single french fry as reward for my effort.

As was customary, we played Black history trivia every time we went out to eat together. For each right answer, I was given that crunchy, salty, coveted reward. I munch contentedly as I watched the gears turn in his head, forming another question.

“Now…who was the first Black woman ever to be President of the United States?” he raises his eyebrow mischievously.

“Daddy, that’s a trick question. No Black woman has ever been President of the United States. It’s a fact.”

(I was a serious child—a very bossy, know-it-all, matter-of-fact little girl. Imagine Angelica, of Rugrats fame, with afro puffs.)

“Ah, not yet!” he shakes his finger at me. “It could very well be you, Sydney Magruder!” he bellows in his full, rich baritone. I laugh at him, and reach for another french fry. He reaches for one too, pretending to fence with his. I best him, splitting his fry pitifully in half with my own. I chew triumphantly.

“Ready to go?” he indicates the door with his eyes.

“Mom’s gonna make me go straight to bed when we get home,” I gripe.  “I’m not sleepy yet!”

I always begged to stay longer whenever we went out. Bedtime was the ultimate hindrance to our intellectual adventures.

Sydney and her dad

Sydney and her dad (right)

“Even geniuses have to sleep, baby” he retorts rationally.

In the car, the raindrops race each other across the window. I follow them with my index finger as the Washington, D.C. skyline hung in the distance. Daddy sings along to Crosby, Stills & Nash. Out of nowhere, he turns down his favorite track. As “Southern Cross” plays faintly in the background, he turns to me.

“Y’know, I think you’d make a great president one day,” he beams. I smile at him, believing his every word.

And just like that, Daddy put roots in my heart. Roots that would one day grow into feminism.

As a child, Dad constantly reminded me that I was not limited by my gender, or by my Blackness. He celebrated them to no end, constantly praising my intellect, my wit, and my good judgment. He made perfectly clear to me the plight of women and of people of color in this country, and stressed the importance of knowing our history — my history.

The trivia games we played at restaurants when I was a child have reinvented themselves into an expected text message from him to me every April 4th and November 22nd, asking me which two famous men died that day. (Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy, respectively. Nailed it.) He still promises me french fries for correct answers. While my mom demonstrated the strength, poise, grace and tenacity of women of color in her everyday actions, Daddy proclaimed them in his words.

Continue reading

Miley Cyrus, Feminism and The Struggle for Black Recognition

by Guest Contributor Jacqui Germain

[Video NSFW]

On Sunday night, four of my friends and I—all people of color—watched a YouTube clip of Miley Cyrus’ performance completely prepared to laugh and joke about it by its conclusion. We were expecting something that would fit neatly in the long line of ridiculous and yet mostly entertaining awards show performances. Instead, as the YouTube clip reached its end, the room fell completely silent. Even as a writer, I don’t quite have words to describe what that moment felt like. Using academic lingo to explain why cultural appropriation is problematic is one thing; the feeling in your gut when you actually watch parts of your identity being used as props is another. As is true with so many shockingly specific traumatic black experiences, this is a feeling we all recognize immediately, and a feeling we all have no words to describe. In the hours and days following, the critical feminist response was, yet again, a reminder of the ways in which my blackness—even as it exists in concurrence with my femininity—is still actively being othered.

A few weeks have passed since the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen hashtag first surfaced on Twitter. The subsequent conversation about the lack of representation and further marginalization of women of color by white women in the feminist movement (not at all a new conversation) seemed suddenly reenergized. Women of color have always talked about the subtle racism that happens within the feminist movement; just because you haven’t heard it, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been said—especially considering which narratives are allowed space and which ones aren’t. But with this hashtag, their voices suddenly had a stage. And some white women listened. Some critiqued their own privilege and pointed out the ways the feminist movement has historically dismissed women of color and their experiences. But now, it seems that even those well-meaning white feminists have yet to turn their articles into actual actions.

Most of the responses following Cyrus’ performance have been a conversation of the unconventional way in which she expressed her sexuality on the VMAs stage and the slut-shaming that ensued. Many feminists have since rushed to her defense and appropriately prompted us all to question our immediate negative response to Cyrus’ choice sexual presentation. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a valid stance—in the sense that slut-shaming is certainly a habit that supports rape culture and demanding that society recognizes a woman’s sexual autonomy is hard and necessary work. Back when Cyrus was being sexual without involving the appropriation of my blackness, I was totally on board. Now? Not so much.

Here’s where the racial fissures in feminism come out: by all means, defend a woman’s right to govern her own body; it’s great that white feminists have that goal at the top of their lists. But meanwhile, as a woman of color, I’m still defending my right to actually be considered a body at all and not decoration. Expressing your sexuality at my expense isn’t okay. You don’t get to claim sexual freedom while simultaneously perpetuating the oppression of another body. When you feel the need to express your sexuality by turning my body into an accessory, the black feminist in me—two identities which I refuse to separate—can’t have your back anymore. The feminist struggle is a struggle for autonomy. It’s a fight for recognition and full-body respect. But in Cyrus’ search for and exploration of her sexual identity, she limits my autonomy as a woman of color. She appropriates it. She cheapens it. She effectively uses the identity and lived experiences of so many women of color as a crutch for her career. Continue reading