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…
April 7, 2012
I am writing an essay loosely about the history of women in Oklahoma and how Oklahoma became the “2nd Worst Place for Women” in the country. And I’ve noticed something curious. I am consciously avoiding the word “feminist” (and “feminism” and “anti-feminist” and all other forms). As a feminist, this worries me. How does a feminist write about feminism without using the words that are most efficient in describing her history and environment? And, more importantly, WHY am I doing this? Here are some of the reasons. #1: I worry that the average reader will be immediately turned off by the term. That’s the only reason, actually. I mean, I write freely for readers who identify as feminist but for those who don’t, I worry that all they’ve ever heard about feminists is negative so I censor myself. I don’t assume the average reader is entirely uninformed, just that they’ll be slightly turned-off. And I want to reach them with my writing, not turn them away. It’s about considering my audience, and I’m actually generally okay with manipulating my writerly voice in this way.
So my original quick question: “Am I selling out?” I know is just a personal thing that only I can work through, but how about this: What are a feminist’s responsibilities to the average non-feminist? More broadly: What are a social justice advocate’s responsibilities to the average non- social justice advocate? Even more broadly: What are a writer’s responsibilities to her or his readers?
Curious what all you smart folks have to say,
I’m in lust with this song and video for many reasons. First of all, those costumes? The headpiece with the gold dangles crowning her forehead at the beginning of the video almost made me pee my pants! And the yellow, flowy dress with the complete leg slits made me feel like stomping around naked in my office. Really though, if the wardrobe and choreography don’t excite you at least a little bit, I would check to make sure you still have a pulse.
Besides the impressive aesthetics in the video, the militant repitition of “girls” in the context of “smart enough to make the millions, strong enough to bear the children, then get back to business” is an example of feminist language reclamation at its pop culture finest. Beyonce takes the ordinary usage of the term ‘girls’ used to disempower and infantilize women, and she redefines the term as a concept having nothing to do with age or pubescent status and everything to do with inner power and resources.
What do you think, Eden, it’s YOUR birthday after all?
Also, the Lady Gaga and MIA influence? Respect!
January 21, 2011
Maybe you saw Wanda Jackon perform with Jack White on The Late Show with David Letterman last night. If not, take a look-see HERE. It was AMAZIIIING! Wanda Jackson is a lady that doesn’t get near enough credit for her contributions to rock ‘n roll and music in general, so it’s great to see her getting a new wave of attention. The performance on Letterman made me wonder about Jack White’s role in her new album, The Party Ain’t Over, due out this month, but more than that, I though about his role in Loretta Lynn’s 2004 album Van Lear Rose. They won a Grammy for that one, remember? I started thinking about how he worked to bring these two legendary American ladies back to the forefront of our collective American musical mind. And his efforts reminded me of the feminist recovery work done by scholars in the 1970s and 1980s, unearthing under-appreciated treasures.
And I think he’s pretty cool, and I admire his work. As a music lover and as a woman lover and as a feminist. That’s all I have to say about that. Oh, and wouldn’t it be awesome if Jack White made a record with Dolly Parton next to complete the trifecta of amazing music vaginas (the rumor mill says it’s a possibility!!!)?
A girl can dream,
August 8, 2010
A week ago I went to a wedding. It was the wedding of my college roommate, the girl with whom I discovered girls. She married her longtime girlfriend, the girl with whom she has bought a house and a car, built a garden and a career and a life, all over the past 10 years or so they’ve been together. They are each 30. They are endlessly in love.
The wedding was lovely. I know that’s what everybody says about everybody’s wedding…”it was lovely”… but I don’t. In fact, I have never said such a thing about anybody’s wedding. I hate weddings, actually. I think they are uncomfortable and spooky examples of how people just do what they think they’re supposed to do and not what their intelligence would have them do. I don’t cry at weddings. Weddings are robotic and soul-less, as a general law.
But when the general law is skirted, it is amazing how much soul and humanity can be shared at a wedding. The two brides wanted all of their very closest friends and family to come to the wedding. They sent out invitations. Some people told them they were sorry but they had to decline because of personal religious beliefs. But the people who did what their intelligence would have them do, we came and supported the young couple with all our soul and humanity and with respect for the couple’s bravery and for their right to kiss in private.
I didn’t tell them this at the time, but if I could have spoken through those obnoxious tears I would have:
Unfortunately, we have lawmakers who are not representative of good people like us. But good people in love and determined to be happy do exactly what they want. Especially when we all know that love came far before politics anyhow.
July 24, 2010
As a human who has a firm stance on the abortion issue after years and years of reading everything from propaganda to science to statistics to personal narratives to visiting out-of-the-way abortion clinics myself, I sometimes grow weary of keeping up-to-date on the great abortion debate. But lately I have read a few pieces that discuss abortion in what seem to me to be new ways.
As a college freshman writing teacher, I often mediated debates about abortion in an attempt to get 18 & 19-year-old Okies to think critically and objectively and open-mindedly about salient issues. Over the years, I watched the debate between my pro-choice and pro-life students devolve into something completely political without much awareness at all of the procedure as a medical one. They were thoroughly polarized. It was FREEDOM! Or it was MURDER! One or the other, great or horrible, black or white.
This politicization of abortion was not just happening in my classroom, it was happening all over America. A recent (excellent and thorough!) article in the NYT discusses the changes that the American abortion provider has undergone, from a doctor in a hospital under standardized American Medical Association guidelines to the ostracized and often persecuted provider at a stand-alone clinic:
In 1973, hospitals made up 80 percent of the country’s abortion facilities. By 1981, however, clinics outnumbered hospitals, and 15 years later, 90 percent of the abortions in the U.S. were performed at clinics.
Then there was this article on Feministing.com which discussed a recent TV episode of Friday Night Lights about abortion, and I just loved how the author described the plot: “The plot turns to an examination of what happens when we let a personal medical decision become an impersonal debate of moral absolutes.” Interesting… I need to see this show!
The last article that got me thinking about this issue is about how the Fox network refused to air an episode of The Family Guy because it discusses abortion. The show’s creator, Seth Macfarlane says something really insightful, I think (maybe because I agree with him):
[T]here are certain words, and abortion is one of those words, that once you say them, people start getting nervous.
It’s as if the very utterance of the sound uh-bawr-shuhn causes an emotional and physical reaction in people, like they have been trained to react instead of to think. He goes on to say this:
People in America, they’re getting dumber. They’re getting less and less able to analyze something and think critically, and pick apart the underlying elements. And more and more ready to make a snap judgment regarding something at face value, which is too bad.
And I’m uncomfortable about my inclination to agree with him on that one, too. I think in many ways we as Americans are encouraged to not think and to simply act whether that act is to buy, work, do, vote, drive, eat, speak, argue, etc. But I don’t know if that means we are dummer, necessarily. Maybe less patient? Maybe less willing to listen? (But I’m the same way…I have a very hard time listening to some self-righteous, preachy “pro-lifer.” Ewww, I feel like a horrible, judgmental hypocrite right now.) What do you think, can we as Americans be getting dummer? Are we just overly-sensitive to certain words like abortion? Is sensitivity or black-or-white thinking synonymous with dumbness?
Food for thought,
February 24, 2010
Bad news for supporters of choice, free will, sanity, health, happiness, and intelligence (from the Tulsa World).
Oklahoma’s House passed four separate abortion measures that previously had been declared unconstitutional because they had been combined in one bill.
• The panel passed HB 3290 by Rep. Skye McNiel, R-Bristow. It would require a doctor to be in the room when the abortion pill RU486 is administered.
• The panel also passed HB 2780 by Rep. Lisa Billy, R-Lindsay, which would require women who seek an abortion to have an ultrasound and have its contents explained to them.
• The panel passed HB 3110 by Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, which would allow health-care providers who object to abortion not to participate in the procedure.
• Peterson’s other abortion bill, HB 3284, also passed. It would require women who seek abortions to provide a host of information about themselves to be posted on a public website.
The first one’s stupid enough- a paternalistic infringement upon privacy, to say the least. What if I decide I don’t want to take the pill just now? What if I decide I want to go home to be sad and pissed (instead of sitting in a Dr.’s office feeling like a child taking cough syrup)? What if I wanna go have a beer with my RU486? I’m a grown-ass adult woman; I can swallow a pill that does not affect my ability to operate heavy machinery whenever and wherever and however I want! Doctors hand out pain pills and muscle relaxers like candy without a care to when or where or how or if the patient ever takes it. But this? A pill that only a female with a womb will take? That needs supervision? Skye McNeil, you just wrote a piece of crazy, stupid, sexist legislation, and I will be calling you.
The second piece of (professional?) legislation is so full of sleezy Hallmark-card sentimentality that I just vomited all over my computer keyboard. Besides being pathetic tripe, it also reeks of control-freakiness! Where the fuck are the Republicans that are opposed to big government intrusions into our personal lives?!?!?! If my womb and what I do or don’t let grow in it is not personal, WTF is anymore?!?!?!
The third one REALLY drives me nuts. A doctor would be able to tell me they don’t want to perform a MEDICAL procedure on me because they MORALLY object. What if a man wanted a vasectomy and the doctor morally objected? It wouldn’t happen! 1.) Because most religious zealots let go of their campaign against birth control decades ago. 2.) A male-specific procedure is his business! Notice the blaring double standard yet? I have been noticing lately that the definition of abortion provided by religious zealots has now almost completely replaced the actual, medical definition of abortion in American discussion of the topic. Am I stuck in a scary movie? Are my vagina, my womb, my mind, my behavior, or my religious views on trial? How exactly does a medical professional “object” to an abortion? Is this the Dr.’s office or a courtroom?
The fourth one: ridiculous, costly, unnecessary. And just why do we need a mandatory registry for people who get abortions? So that sexist zealots can use the information to send missionaries to places where clusters of free-willing women live and have sex? Then those happy, humanly imperfect and beautiful women can hear the shaming, damning, narrow-minded anti-abortion propaganda? Are we cattle that need to be tracked or pigeons that need to be electronically tagged? What else this bill is: Nazi-ish. SS Pam Peterson, you suck (kick her out, South Tulsa!).
Furthermore, every one of these bills were written by a woman? Seriously, ladies? Why are you soooooooooo concerned with this one topic? Are you trying to make yourselves look like good girls? Or mean girls by picking on other women? Are you trying to waste our money? As if it’s not already hard enough to get an abortion in Oklahoma? You want to keep spending time, money, and energy on this until abortion is completely illegal? Is that your main priority as a Representative? Is that what you promised your constituents that you’d do? Is that what is best for our state (a state with soaring teen-pregnancy rates, a state where women are under-represented in the House and Senate, a state where women have even lower incomes than our low-income men)?
Gagging and dry-heaving (I hope I’m pregnant so I can go sit through an ultrasound and an explanation of how I’ll be killing a future Tim Tebow, and then a Dr. can feed me my meds like I’m a lunatic stuck in Yellow Wallpaper, only after I’ve taken a few days off of work to find a Dr. willing to perform a MEDICAL PROCEDURE for which I am PAYING OUT OF POCKET because s/he didn’t get fear-mongered into forsaking the Hippocratic Oath like so many of her/his peers, and then I can go register on-line like a sex-offender since I offended so many people by having great, consensual, adult sex).