I said I wouldnâ€™t write about this because I knew I wouldnâ€™t download the album until after Christmas and my commentary would be late and go largely unnoticed, and what more could I add to all thatâ€™s already been said anyway? But I downloaded BeyoncÃ© on Christmas Eve, and after listening to every song, watching every video, looking up some lyrics and recalling the commentary I read earlier this month, I decided to blog my thoughts because Iâ€™m a little befuddled.
The Twitter conversations went on for days. The talk of this new, raunchy Bey who unabashedly accepts and expresses her sexuality had black women all the way turnt up. The underlay of Chimamanda Adichieâ€™s TEDx Talk, â€œWe Should All Be Feminists,â€ beneath â€œFlawlessâ€ had black women taking selfies first thing in the morning. Sure there were a few black women who were brave enough to critique BeyoncÃ©â€™s feminism for its lack of intersectionality, but the backlash was immediate and hostile. The defense of BeyoncÃ©â€”the woman, the entertainer and the album of the same nameâ€”as feminist was so fervent, you would have thought black women were defending their own mamas in a game of The Dozens that got out of hand.
All of which is why I expected to hear BeyoncÃ© for the first time and thenâ€”I donâ€™t knowâ€”run outside topless while shouting, â€œI am woman!â€ or have my back completely and miraculously healed so I can twerk and hang upside down off of poles and learn to rollerskate; or feel empowered to just free myself sexually with a one-night stand (as significant other is nonexistent over here); or take an Erotic Black Woman Power selfie: one fist raised in Black Power, the other hand busy masturbatingâ€”donâ€™t know how Iâ€™d take the pictureâ€”as my face immitating Yonceâ€™s in â€œBlowâ€ or â€œRocket.â€ (Just to be clear, Iâ€™m kidding.)
I expected to feel flawless and to feel like Bey is my sister in the struggle. But BeyoncÃ© hasnâ€™t had that effect on me. Maybe itâ€™s because BeyoncÃ©â€™s assâ€”a body part she seems to be quite proud ofâ€”is too perfectly round and black womanish for me to feel confident about mine. Maybe itâ€™s because a gorgeous woman and mother with defined ab muscles and with thighs that donâ€™t rub together comes off a little disigenuous when singing about all the damage done to women by unrealistic standards of beauty. Maybe itâ€™s Jay Zâ€™s reference to Ike Turner and the fact that of all the songs that could have been chosen, that one with that homage to domestic violence, is the one being played on popular radio now. It might be because I, like Real Colored Girls, want a feminism that goes against capitalism, and I saw where BeyoncÃ© had a promo event at Wal-Mart and bought her own CD and $37,000 in Wal-Mart gift cards for joyous customers.
Actually, none of that is the thing that makes me reject BeyoncÃ© as Feminist Album of the Year. Itâ€™s something I havenâ€™t seen or heard any blogger talk about yet: her status as a married woman. I remember seeing a tweet about someone at Slate being mad that Beyonce is heterosexual and doesnâ€™t acknowledge the LGBTQIA (aside: I think seven letters to an acronym that doesnâ€™t spell anything is outrageous) community in her body of work, but this isnâ€™t the same argument. While I agree with defenders of justice who say BeyoncÃ© is a feminist (more on that later), Iâ€™m having trouble understanding how BeyoncÃ© produced such staunch defenders of her feminism because all this sexual freedom motivating her defenders takes place within the confines of marriage.
I know: hating men and/or marriage is not a requirement of feminism, and you are not required to view marriage as a patriarchal institution in order to be a feminist. True. But if youâ€™re a feminist whoâ€™s also churched you are required to view marriage as the only valid, God-approved place for sexual freedom. Beyonce is married. While it somehow got into popular, sexist thinking that women arenâ€™t supposed to like sex even in marriage, the church teaches something quite different. Church teaching says â€œSong of Solomonâ€ is a celebration of the erotic between man and wife. (Except when you donâ€™t want people to belive that, in which case Song of Solomon is about Jesus and his bride, the church, and all that talk about oral sex in the garden and no reference at all to procreation is just symbolic.) Evangelical purity culture promises mind-blowing sexâ€”if only you wait. Iâ€™ve heard preachersâ€”in the pulpitâ€”remind congregants that Adam and Eve â€œknocked bootsâ€ and give the go-ahead to married couples to â€œswing from the chandeliers.â€ (Just to be clear: those are direct quotes. Iâ€™m not kidding.) You could say that the preachers were only talking to the men, but when you consider that most people attending church are women, that doesnâ€™t make sense. And if swinging from the chandeliers is church-approved, it must be okay for married folks to have sex in the limo on the way to the club, too.
(And itâ€™s also cool with God to record songs about sexual pleasure that sound a lot like gospel songs. A lot.)
In other words, as a Christian whoâ€™s also a feminist, I canâ€™t say BeyoncÃ© is doing anything revolutionary by getting hers when sheâ€™s with her husband. As a black woman and stickler for intersectionality, Iâ€™m supposed to see a married black woman enjoying her body, her sexuality, and all kinds of sex with the partner of her choice as the biggest step toward black womenâ€™s liberation since Shirley Chisolmâ€™s presidential run. While I want to acknowledge and honor those observations, I borrow from Barbara Smith and Sonia Sanchez to ask, â€œHow do it free us?â€ How do it free us single, sexual black ladies who get hammered from the pulpit? Who have promising relationships end because of sexual inhibitions? Who feel like they have to choose between sexuality and spirituality? Who are Jezebels to the secular and religious communities?
Not that any of that should be BeyoncÃ©â€™s concern. I think sheâ€™s a feminist because sheâ€™s all but said so in several interviews and songs. Sheâ€™s a capitalist feminist, but so is Sheryl Sandberg. I see BeyoncÃ©â€™s feminism as very much steeped in Western fights for women to have autonomy over their money and their bodies. That might be a very basic way to think about feminism, but BeyoncÃ© is still a feminst. As I said in a Facebook comment when someone posted the lovingly honest piece, â€œThe Problem with Beyhive Bottom Bitch Feminism,â€ I donâ€™t think anyone who has critiqued Bey is holding her to a high standard of intersectional feminism as much as they are holding USâ€”black feminists and black intellectuals, especially those who use social media as their platformâ€”accountable for looking at feminism in a way that’s too simplistic. When you want to be supportive of black women and the free expression of their sexuality (Bey) and their right to be moms (Michelle Obama), it becomes easy to give them a pass on everything else (and to ignore decades of feminist and black feminist scholarship in the process) in favor of however we can support black women at the moment.
I donâ€™t think itâ€™s okay to do this, so I havenâ€™t. (Also not okay for a feminist from Texas to say nothing on her â€œfeministâ€ album about how Texas treats women.) Iâ€™ll ask black feminists, womanists, intellectuals, and those whose actions demonstrate who they are without labels to look out for one another without over-simplifying the issues. And Iâ€™ll look for Mrs. Carter to entertain me, not free me.
P.S. â€“ I love the album.