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May 2013

What’s Really Going On With White Feminists’ Critiques of Beyoncé?

Yesterday I posted a photograph of Beyoncé on Ms. Magazine with some probing questions that I have for the article, which included this text:

I will be interested in seeing if the article reveals the nuances of her perspectives (such as ones revealed in her documentary), whether they challenge or affirm patriarchy at times (as she, like many women do both) or will the article solely hold her to an unreachable standard where she has to be bell hooks to be feminist while Lena Dunham, not Gloria Steinem appears to be the bar of White feminism. Again, nonfamous womanists and feminists should not be overly THIRSTY for celebrities to validate feminism. At the same time, I am interested in reading more of Bey’s perspectives on self-esteem, empowerment, confidence, inclusion, sexuality, LGBTQ, friendships and romance/marriage, for example. (I am DEFINITELY not interested her (or anyone) being labeled “unfeminist,” as I wrote about before. That word, specifically, is problematic.)

Silly me; I originally thought the article was an interview. Apparently, it is not. Since yesterday, I learned that: 1) The article is behind a paywall and not accessible to poor women or anyone without a subscription. 2) The Facebook thread for the article is disgusting, as expected. Many of the comments have the typical misogynoir and respectability politics that people seem to have confused for feminism. 3) The thread itself ends with a question, which part of it reads Has Beyoncé ‘earned’ her feminist credentials?” Credentials and feminism should NEVER be used in the same sentence. This reeks of the merge of White supremacy, “legitimacy” and education.

In my post on Storify today, Is Beyoncé Going To Be Critiqued By White Feminists Ad Perpetuum?, I shared some Twitter conversation on the topic and raised six points as to why this critique, in general, seems never-ending and is non-productive, three of which include:

1) White women want to control and police feminism, which is actually quite White supremacist and patriarchal. It seems that theist, cisgender, heterosexual, thin, middle class, White women in the West think that feminism is their plaything and country club. It isn’t. Even White women without some of these privileges still stand firm against Beyoncé in a way that they would not do to any White woman, feminist or not, celebrity or not. They still view Black women as "allies" to their feminism, not actual women or feminists.

2) Feminism tends to have an element of inaccessibility by class and education, which definitely connects to race. By class, of course, Beyoncé doesn’t have this issue. She can access whatever she wants in any space. She has a platform. However, many of those with literacy/formal education privilege do not want Beyoncé to be considered feminist because she is not an academic. Black women have to be bell hooks to be considered feminist, but the bar (which should not even exist for any women) for White feminists is Lena Dunham? Beyoncé has no college education and she was home-schooled for a lot of her education as well. She is not the picture of a “scholar.” But neither was Sojourner Truth. Neither were Black blues singers or Black women who worked as domestics. Many still were the faces of resistance for Black women.

3) Some women, both White and Black, view Black women’s sexuality as automatically deviant, even if that woman is heterosexual, with heterosexual privilege. White heterosexuality is deemed the “norm” of heterosexuality. Heterosexual Black women are still deemed sexually deviant, even if they have the privilege that lesbian, bisexual, queer and trans* Black women do not. Thus, Beyoncé being sexual with her art, despite being in a highly heteronormative, presumably monogamous, heterosexual marriage and being a mother is not “enough” to deem her “respectable.” The problem is respectability politics are constructs of patriarchy, NOT feminism. Then there is the concept of sexuality within art itself. When is it “too sexual?” The fact that Miley Cyrus in a White body is not deemed “dirty” for twerking, yet Black women and our bodies automatically make the dance “dirty” reveals this race-specific misogyny, or misogynoir.

The fact that Jenna Jameson (a White woman deemed “mainstream” now) is a porn star in a patriarchal society and receives less criticism for her sexuality than Beyoncé speaks to the racism involved in the perception of sexuality. Beyoncé has been blamed for everything from teen sexuality and poor health to sex trafficking, and people think this criticism is normal and logical. This reveals how deep racism and sexism runs in our society, as it pertains to Black women, specifically.

A Black woman does not have to pass a certain “bar” of entry that White women hold before she is "acceptable" to feminism and this suggestion is most certainly racist, especially since White women are automatically assumed to be feminist. Even White women who openly hated feminism, such as Margaret Thatcher, has had the label “feminist” placed upon her post-mortem. White women can be considered feminist even when clearly operating in ways that reinforce imperialist White supremacist capitalist hetero-patriarchy, like Thatcher did (examine her damn record, one that is as patriarchal and imperialist as any White male leader), yet Beyoncé is consistently attacked for not meeting some arbitrary standard as White women stand GUARD over feminism?

I’ve also noticed that some Black women and other women of colour do not want Beyoncé associated with feminism in any way, and unfortunately, their reasoning seems to be tied into respectability politics. They think choosing the “positive” side of patriarchal binaries is what feminism is about, such as being a “good” role model and exemplifying “perfect” womanhood, as dictated by theism and patriarchy. This is also a mistake. Even so, it seems that the largest voices against Beyoncé amidst feminist spaces are White women’s voices—probably because there are so many of them and because their voices are amplified due to White privilege. When most of them dissent, it hits a major blog or newspaper. When most Black women dissent it’s via tweets or personal blogs. The access points differ in scope. Even when a Black woman or another woman of colour writes about Beyoncé for a major publication, ironically (or not so) her views seem to match White feminists’ views against Beyoncé. Perhaps this is what it takes to be published.

Critique is important. No one is above it. But this perpetual critique of Beyoncé is no longer productive critique. (I am not sure that it ever was.) This critique is creating arbitrary standards that Black feminists have to meet that White feminists do not. This is racist antagonism towards Black women if they are loved, are considered beautiful and are successful. This is respectability politics and misogynoir masquerading as feminism. This is intellectual elitism. This is double standards—ones where Beyoncé’s experience with capitalism is evil but Sheryl Sandberg’s is good, where Beyoncé’s sexuality is deviant and Lena Dunham’s is empowering, where Beyoncé being married and a mother is just her succumbing to patriarchy but for White women, it’s deemed a powerful choice, especially if coupled with a career.

If White women view Black women as inferior and White feminists view Black feminists as inferior at worst or as “allies,” “sidekicks” or just Black women to “save” not actual feminists, at best, the problem is theirs, not Beyoncé’s or Black women’s at all.

White women need to stop guarding the invisible gate to feminism. It’s not a country club. That was never the point. Leave the gates and hierarchies for patriarchy.

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