March 18, 2013
Okay, here I go, here I go again. Girls, what’s my weakness? Beyoncé, okay then. Beyoncé’s new track “Bow Down \ I Been On” is awesome. For several reasons. It’s just the kind of rap that we might expect from Her Highness: simple and melodic with a message of female financial independence and empowerment.
Sure the lyrics aren’t that clever; she’s always rhyming girls with world: “I know when you were little girls\ you dreamt of being in my world \ Don’t forget, don’t forget it \ Respect that \ Bow down, bitches.” But, that’s not the point with Beyoncé. Her message is that little girls shouldn’t give up on their dreams. Ever. Every young person has Queen-of-the-Mountain material inside. Her message is a product of a particularly American class-mobile ideal of independence and the free market narrative of merit-based value. Deal with it. She not only deals with it, never misrepresenting her comfortable, middle-class upbringing and loving and doting parents (see the picture of a young Beyoncé in pageant attire surrounded by trophies and awards on a suburban fireplace mantle that she included as the cover image for this track on her website), but she embraces her success within the capitalist music system.
In the “I Been On” section of the track, her revelling in financial success (and her Southern drawl) is loud and clear: “Gold every-thang\ Gold-ass chains \ Gold-ass rangs.” At least she is spending and recirculating her money, not psychopathically hoarding it. In the footsteps of many before her, she identifies as a Southern, Black, female, “self-made” millionaire, and she’s enjoying her lifestyle and using her fame to try to inspire others. She’s a straight-forward, non-subtle, mainstream, pop star. And mostly, we are missing out if we expect anything else from her. But, she delivers something more – her own brand of womanist feminism – anyway.
The opening rap subverts the stereotypical representation of women in relationship to other humans, most commonly as wives or mothers: “I took some time to live my life \ But don’t think I’m just his little wife \ Don’t get it twisted \ This my shit \ Bow down, bitches.” Her recent status as mother and the naming of her “Mrs. Carter” tour has been read by many as a loss of her independence. Motherhood has even made her a target of strange moralistic criticism. Considering B’s recent family-centered life choices, one womanist blogger was compelled to critique “Bow Down” for its lack of “age appropriateness.” What is this, Sunday School? Let’s also remember that marriage for Black Americans has a history parallel to the story of slavery and emancipation, so the fact of her naming her most recent tour after her legal, married name is a celebration of equality for Blacks. And, considering that she – Beyoncé – will keep every single penny of her earnings no matter what name she goes by or performs under is a marker of a significant historical feminist victory. Furthermore, the prenup signed by both her and Jay Z includes a clause that he is to pay her for every child she bears with his paternity compensating her for any lost income due to pregnancy, birth, or child-rearing. Um, paid maternity leave? Can you say feminist economic utopia?
Other bloggers, including Sarah Dean from the Huffington Post, read the repetition of the word “bitches” as a put-down directed at other women. Dean even claims that B is taking a cue from Jay Z and the like, using the word “bitches” to dismiss and degrade women. But I don’t hear the rap like that at all. I hear it as reclamation of the term that has been incredibly popular in the rap genre. I read Beyonce’s use of the term “bitches” as a direct shake-off of criticism, regardless of the gender of the person constructing the criticism, aimed at diminishing Beyonce’s woman-made, confident achievements. It is hip-hop hipster irony. Ironic because she, yes SHE, is posturing and swaggering in a traditionally male industry, in a traditionally white and male mega-wealthy club. She is taking the term from the men and re-associating it, not with women, but with critics. And, come on. She’s right: that’s what critics do. We bitch – about pop culture, about music, about film. Call it analysis and evaluation if you prefer, but it’s still bitchin’.
Especially considering in the second portion of the track “I Been On” when she raps in an electronically male voice, this track is all about her having fun in a character and poking at the boys club that her husband inhabits. She has an all-female band and dance crew, she rose to stardom from an all-female group, and she attributes part of her success publicly and repeatedly to her mother: “Kiss my Mama \ Show that love.” She celebrates traditional, hetero femininity but while respecting women’s work and cooperation as non-traditional sources of power. Ultimately, the artificial deep voice that is really her own reveals gender as a mere performance just as much as rap is a performance. Her critique is of mainstream, over-masculinized, rap culture as a product of patriarchy, not at all of other women.
I’ve said it once, and I will say it again. Expecting Beyoncé to live up to a Yankee-made, college-educated standard of feminism is futile. Expecting Beyoncé to rap intellectual like Mos Def – hottie that he is – is just as futile. Nevertheless, she is a more influential feminist, and rapper, than most of us will ever be. So…
October 17, 2012
Watching the 2nd Presidential debate last night while simultaneously social networking, I was dismayed at how many people want the president to “put more money” in their pockets. People believe so hard that a president can control an individual’s finances, that the majority of 2 presidential debates was spent on back-n-forth over how one fella can guarantee that a college grad has his\her dream job upon graduation. Or how one of them could “create” more jobs than the other, a pretty lame creation if you ask me. Watching the debate last night, it became more and more evident to me that the person who occupies the office of POTUS has little to no influence over my financial life. I don’t believe that Obama or Romney can or will directly effect my personal economy. I am in the same situation I have always been in, more or less. I will probably always be in the same tax bracket. And I’m really not being cynical. It’s how social mobility doesn’t work for women and workers in a free market.
In my neck of the woods, my feminine woods, our work is still seen as supplementary or token by the ruling class. Apparently the “jobs” worth mentioning in presidential debates are jobs in male dominated fields. To those of us who are not in the business of business, not happy working in a corporate atmosphere, not mathematicians or scientists, not looking for a long-lost manufacturing position, not working in the oil\ coal\ natural gas industry, the political script is not written with us in mind. The unemployed get more mention than us.
Granted, a couple of points go to Obama for mentioning nursing briefly and some points go to the producers of the show for including a question from a mom in the audience with 2 kids in college. Still, NO mention of the secretary, the average worker in our exploding service industry, the child care worker, the waitress\ barista, the artist, the clerk, the freelance writer, the musician, the social worker or the teacher only serves to reinforce the myth of the male breadwinner. But for many of us women breadwinners, single and married alike, nothing. I guess we’re just supposed to rest on the hope that we could be one of Romney’s binder women. Daddy Romney will take care of us eventually. But we shouldn’t think we deserve access to basic health services like birth control or cancer screenings.
The thing is that many of us will never be one of those people that politicians seem to think symbolize the middle class: he who makes 50K a year. We will probably never top 40K. Cuss, at the rate I and many of my friends are going, and with the dearth of good-paying jobs in female-dominated fields in my area of Oklahoma, most of us probably won’t top 30K for a while.
The over-valuing of the traditional, hetero lifestyle choice was disgusting. Marry, then have children like us presidential candidates did. And to those of us who can’t get married because we’re gay? Or who happen to think marriage is a disgusting invasion of the state into personal matters? Or who have tried marriage but it didn’t work out? Or who just don’t want to because this is America and we should be free to make that decision for ourself and not penalized? Psh. Step aside. Your kids will be out in the streets selling AK47s to drug lords in no time. The story these guys told America last night was this: ladies, deal with your small loaf, change your profession and your passions, or marry up.
Whatever theater was played out on that stage last night was a fiction and a myth as crude as male superiority. The swordfight that happened last night is a shining reminder that we need women to fight for women and for the future of our daughters. ‘Cause those chodes running for president are more worried about calling China cheaters than creating a free market that works for me and you and everyone else we know.
But I’ll choose to deal with my small loaf. And I’ll tell ya something else. I’m actually quite okay with it. My income is supplemented by friends and family, my garden, my creativity, love, curiosity, and fun. They bring me butter and okra and fun and cupcakes and coffee and wine and love. We have potlucks instead of fundraising dinners. Srsly. This is my reality; it includes women at every second, not just for a few seconds during an hour and a half debate.
October 14, 2012
This week, the story of Malala Yousafzai reminded me how important education and feminism are. She was shot because she worked to open up education to girls in her community. As Nicholas Kristof writes, this tragic part of her life’s story reminds us that “the global struggle for gender equality is the paramount moral struggle of this century.” I agree.
Education isn’t just a noble pursuit, it is a contemporary basic human right. The more access all people have to education, the closer to a just society we get. Eliminating barriers to education – and sexism is one of those barriers, as violently illustrated by the adult man who shot Malala – is a noble pursuit.
Malala wasn’t simply, quietly pursuing her own eduction. Sexists can generally tolerate quiet women. She was writing, talking, and actively committed to achieving her goals. And THIS was what her would-be assassin wanted to stop. He wanted to shut her up. He wanted to silence her ideas, and so he shot her in the head. Her voice shook him to his core.
The intelligence and outspokenness of women often bothers people and not just people who are pawns of extremist organizations. Just this morning, I read an essay about how the American book industry – with its publishers and presses and authors of note including many temperate, peace-committed minds – slights women’s authorship. I’m not saying that the problems Malala faces and the problems an American female book writer faces are at all the same. I’m just saying let’s not forget that working to promote women’s voices is good work.
In this spirit, please share any good reading\ viewing\ or listening recommendations featuring women’s voices in the comments. I’ll start. You might be interested in listening to this stand-up comedy performance by Tig Notaro. You can buy and download it from Louis CK’s website. This came to me via a recommendation from my friend Maurice, who knows all the cool stuff. Then you could listen to an interview with Notaro and NPR’s Terri Gross. 2 female voices in 1.
Also you could watch a documentary called Class Dismissed featuring Ms. Yousafzai, if you want to learn more about the social climate in Pakistan surrounding her work. (Warning: This video contains very bloody, graphic images.)
March 23, 2012
We supporters of women’s health and freedom have a very important date coming up here in Oklahoma.
On this upcoming Tuesday, MARCH 27, the House Public Health Committee will be hearing a couple of nasty bills aimed at limiting the freedom of adult women:
1. SB1433 – Creating the Personhood Act, which gives all rights of citizenship to a blastocyst.
2. SB1274 – Heartbeat Informed Consent Act, which makes it mandatory for a doctor to ask a woman seeking an abortion if she would like to hear a “heartbeat” before proceeding with the procedure.
This may be the last chance for the public (that’s us!) to defeat this bill. Just as a reminder, SB 1433 declares a fertilized egg (a microscopic blastocyst) a person, AND SO threatens legal access to and use of contraceptives, IVF treatment, and on and on. We can stop this in committee! If you make only one call and write only one email, please let it be to the chair asking that these bills simply not be considered. They aren’t worth the time. The chair’s info:
Representative John Enns (R)
Here’s the email addresses of all the committee members. It would be awesome if we could all email them all. Just create one email, copy and paste. NBD (that’s hip, young, cool lingo for No Big Deal).
A body has only one owner.
February 28, 2012
Today was a good day to protest the “Personhood Amendment.” I went to the Capitol building in OKC with my daughter and friends Daniel, Amanda, Sara, and Amelia. Here’s Daniel and his super sweet sign:
I was also happy to see people of various religious affiliations – and none – all on the same page.
And I want to be her when I grow up:
Proud to be an Okie,
February 16, 2012
All right, people of Oklahoma. We have got to do something to stop Senate Bill 1433 – AKA “The Personhood Bill” – from passing through our great state’s House of Representatives. Here’s what we need to do. We need to write AND call our Representatives. BOTH write AND call.
The bill passed the state Senate yesterday in a 43 – 8 vote. Next, it will go to a House committee, after March 1st. We can stop this bill in the House committe. But you have to tell your Representative that you don’t like it, and you want her or him to vote against it. If you know why this bill is no good for us, you can stop reading now and call the capitol: 1.800.522.8502.
In case you want to read this poorly written, vague piece of poop (it’s VERY brief): SB 1433.
If you don’t know how you feel about this bill and you feel like reading more, here is a quick list of reasons why this bill is a bad thing (in my humble, completely objective opinion).
1. HEALTH. The good ladies of Oklahoma need to keep our right to basic, safe, preventative birth control completely legal. Even if a couple uses a condom EVERY SINGLE TIME they have vaginal hetero intercourse, sometimes the condom breaks. Then she or he has to go get a back-up method of birth control. Usually it’s PLAN B, or some other form of emergency contraceptive. THIS IS NOT AN ABORTION PILL. This is basically a high dose of oral contraception. But if this bill passes, this form of birth control could become illegal. Not OK. Very scary. We are trying to avoid becoming pregnant in the first place, and we don’t need to make it more difficult.
2. STATE IMAGE. Seriously, if you want to attract young, smart, professional women and men to Oklahoma, don’t go inserting laws into the bedroom and make having sex here so risky.
3. SANITY. Thinking that a zygote needs rights and protections like a tax-paying citizen is insane. It’s nothing more than professing morality loudly, not out of concern for another’s life and health and happiness, but for personal gain. People actin’ all holier-than-thou.
A special note to men: we really need your help on this one. We need you to talk about it at work. We need you to call and write letters. We need to show the author of this bill, who happens to be a man, that Oklahoma men are taking responsibility and owning the fact that they play a part in reproduction. Husbands, brothers, boyfriends, baby daddies, co-workers, fathers… please?
A special note to Republicans and social conservatives: I come from a politically split family, and I’m registered as an Independent. I really don’t think this is a partisan issue, but the fact is that Oklahoma’s Republican majority is championing this bill. To me, and my Libertarian tendencies, this is about government intrusion. I know you were all pissed when Wikipedia went down and the government was trying to censor the internet. I know you get mad about TSA pat-downs. Now apply the same back-off logic to your/ our internal organs. It is nothing less than hypocritical to decry big government and at the same time try to restrict reproductive freedom. Trying to control citizens’ bodies is paternalism at its worst.
If you want to go the extra mile, you can call the author of this bill, Senator Brian Crain and express yourself to him or his secretary: 405.521.5620.
We have until the beginning of March to do this, folks!
September 22, 2011
“Change starts with self, and relationships that we have with those around us must always be the primary site for social change.”
The above is some beauty from Patricia Hill Collins’ essay “Toward a New Vision: Race, Class, and Gender as Categories of Analysis and Connection.”