Celebrities Won't Save Feminism So Leave Beyoncé Alone2/07/2013
Lovers of a quality pop music spectacle can breathe a sigh of relief because the preeminent enterta...
Lovers of a quality pop music spectacle can breathe a sigh of relief because the preeminent entertainer of her generation has reemerged on the world’s stage. What I have pre-emptively termed The Year of Beyoncé began with the singer in her underwear on the February cover of GQ Magazine. It continued with an almost perfectly executed Super Bowl halftime show, and in just a few days, she’ll give us a cinematic glimpse into her private life on HBO.
With every move, Mrs. Carter provides onlookers with more than enough fodder for endless scrutiny and debate. Beyoncé is a particularly compelling figure for those tasked with analyzing pop culture online chiefly because she’s so darn good at her job. She keeps us talking, but why do conversations that surround the singer feel so stale?
For the past few weeks, pop culture and feminist writers have published article after article questioning Beyoncé’s pro-woman positions. Bloggers attack her because she seems to have no desire to be a perfect feminist. (Although she hasn’t completely eschewed the label.)
The onslaught is unfathomable. Beyoncé clearly loves women; she tributes and celebrates them in her work often. But Beyonce also loves her sexually provocative wardrobe and her enormously successful husband. That makes many feminists uncomfortable. The writers that pick her apart do so in bad faith. The time they dedicate to accusing Bey would be better spent fully examining the context or consequences of her choices. At this point, each blog post feels more like an opportunistic pile-on than a thoughtful critique.
I am a feminist, but the entitlement with which these feminist criticisms are broached concerns me. Beyoncé is an entertainer not an activist. She owes us nothing. Of course we want her on our team, but the self-righteous neighing must stop.
With all this handwringing and finger-wagging, you’d think the fate of the movement lies solely in her hands. Thankfully, that’s never how feminism, or any movement for social good, works. Women on the ground carry the torch. Not the women on top. Countless foot soldiers, whose names you may never know, move the cause forward.
I understand the impulse to project feminism on to celebrities. Visibility matters. Women who espouse feminist beliefs often evade the moniker, but trying to force entertainers into the role of spokesperson neglects the fact that we, the women who claim it proudly, are the face of feminism. Bashing women who mean well produces no converts. It only alienates would-be feminists.
Her recent interview with GQ cemented in my mind that even if she doesn’t claim us, Beyoncé often thinks like a feminist. Bey could, at this point, do whatever she wants, but she’s stuck to her pro-woman guns. That’s a good sign, and a clear refutation of the cynics who claimed she exploited women’s empowerment for personal gain.
To tear her down for failing to live up to an impossible standard is to ignore the fact that embracing women, particularly, black women in the way Beyoncé has done for years makes her a target. Even mainstream, marketable girl-power anthems are unpalatable to many. Yet, those who toe a hardline refuse to give her credit even for that.
Nothing would make me happier than seeing Beyoncé come out as a feminist. And, yes, The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour gave me feelings. But as a woman who loves women, I can’t be so quick to dismiss choices I may not agree with.
Those who are truly concerned about the advancement of women must learn how to deconstruct patriarchal culture in a way that doesn’t tear women down. So leave Beyoncé alone.
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Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or Tweet her.