Thursday, February 7, 2013

"Is Beyonce a feminist?"

That's the question they are troubling themselves with over at The Atlantic.

Not actually answering you understand. Think of the ways you might answer such a question
  1. Yes she is.
  2. No she isn't.
  3. Not enough evidence to say.
What is The Atlantic's actual answer:

Eight moments that seem to suggest she is

Oooh. Not eight moments that prove she is, not eight moments that suggest she is but eight moments that seem to suggest that she is. That doesn't exactly exude confidence does it?

And then the first "moment" is the Superbowl halftime show.
The foregrounding of female musicians was incredible as a symbol of resistance against an industry where male musicians are still the norm. At the paean to male achievement that is the Super Bowl, it was impossible to see the performance and not feel Beyoncé had somehow won the whole thing.
It's just a bizarre coincidence that the "foregrounded" female musicians were all really hot and skimpily dressed? that what they did was scripted down to the last second and based more on spectacle than actual skill? that Beyoncé's actually delivery wasn't very good?

(Added: Here is a rude question for you. How is the "foregrounding of female musicians"  different from the way a restaurant foregrounds hot waitresses while hiring people who can actually cook to work in the kitchen?)

Here is another argument from the piece:
In a matter-of-fact manner, the song [Independent Women Pt1] states the benefits of being a woman who isn’t beholden to a male breadwinner—a theme that repeats itself throughout Beyoncé’s work.
A couple things to note here:
  1. It's one thing for a huge star with massive revenue-generating capabilities to insist on financial independence "from her man"  but for most women and men being part of a couple who support one another in various ways is actually the ticket to a level of financial security they could never achieve on their own. For most women, and most men, Beyoncé is an incredibly bad role model here. (BTW: Note the odd liberal notion that it's wonderful to have as many people as possible dependent on the state but awful that anyone might be dependent on someone whom they actually know and love.)
  2. Beyoncé earns her money as a sex symbol who performs in scanty costumes. She isn't a good enough singer or dancer to have made it any other way.
Here is a rather bizarre claim:
Another on the list of feminist-Beyoncé controversies is her song that proclaims that girls run the world. Though she herself acknowledges in her GQ article and other places that this isn’t our reality, art has its own impact, and releasing a song that carries this message, with the intention of having it played on every dance floor around the world, is a ballsy political step.
Because dancers pay close attention to the words? Notice again Beyoncé's careful selection of venue's where no one is going to be paying attention to express her views. That is the exact opposite of "ballsy". It's either on the dance floor or in a GQ article where the text is there just to fill in the space around the revealing photographs of her. Beyoncé isn't stupid. She knows full well that no one would pay any attention to a single word that comes out of her mouth if she didn't look the way she does.

Finally, there is the claim that Beyoncé accepts the feminist label. Well, sorta, kinda maybe. Her exact words were the following: “I think I am a feminist, in a way.”

Actually, I think she gets this part right. Beyoncé grasps the essential thing about feminism and that is that the only feminist worth being is an individualist feminist. Hard-core individualist that she is (and it's a lot easier to find moments that suggest that than that suggest feminism), she embraces "equality" not on behalf of the sisterhood but for herself and the women she knows personally:
“It’s not something I consciously decided I was going to be; perhaps it’s because I grew up in a singing group with other women, and that was so helpful to me,” she told the magazine. “It kept me out of so much trouble and out of bad relationships. My friendships with my girls are just so much a part of me that there are things I am never going to do that would upset that bond. I never want to betray that friendship, because I love being a woman and I love being a friend to other women.”
 That said, I wouldn't count the "out of trouble" and "out of bad relationships" as solid just yet. When Whitney Houston (who was much more talented than Beyoncé) was the same age as Beyoncé is now, she was at the height of her career and was touted as a great role model for women, especially black women, just Beyoncé is now. The sad truth is that celebrities, feminist or not, are rarely good role models for anyone. No prudent person, and prudence is essential if you want to live the good life, would want to be a celebrity.

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