"Beyonce is a Feminist": My Confusion/Questions Concerning the New Wave of Black Feminism/Feminism

IMPORTANT: The specific questions I ask will be bolded.


My Introduction to Black Feminism/Feminism



I took 2 classes in my junior year where I learned about Feminism and Black Feminism, one a Gender Studies Class, another a Black Feminism Class. In the Black Feminism Class, I learned more in depth about about Black Feminism and Feminism. I liked a lot of what I learned concerning African American history, hip-hop, and Black culture reading bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, etc. and even apply some of the concepts in my own work ("You Can't Rap With Us!" Sexism In Hip-Hop

I even learned how the Black Feminist Movement of the 1960's/1970's seems to be the scapegoat for the ending of the Black Power Movement in the 1970's. From my research, the reason B.F. branched off from the B.P.M. is because Black women were not given leadership roles and men were basically being sexist. There are still other theories on this such as how Black women were being protected instead of not being given leadership roles and how the B.F.M. was apart of the destruction of the Black American family unit. 

A lot of the basics of B.F. (in the works of bell hooks for example) seem to make connections to American chattel slavery which can be compared to the music industry and images of Black females today. Within this newer age of B.F., there seems to be some contradictions (as there is in many movements/with people because we're human, but still...) which confuse me and I would love some clarity. Two main examples I want to address are the Miley Cyrus cultural appropriation issue and Beyonce being a "feminist" owning her sexuality. The are two popular topics that have been discussed within the Black Feminist community in 2013, and as I observed the rhetoric, I also became confused about some things being said. Feel free to educate me as I explain my confusion/opinions.

"Twerk Sumn"

So with the Miley controversy, people were upset she was appropriating Black culture and using Black females as accessories, which I totally agree on and understand especially with her urban sound/image. The part I don't get is that it is contradictory is the fact one minute, seemingly prior to the Miley situation, many Black women and Black Feminists claimed to not want to be sexually exploited through the lens of American media, but got upset when Miley was twerking like a "Black girl". Prior to this specific controversy, people have widely discussed how Black females were/are oversexualized in hip-hop/pop culture as a whole performing dances like twerking in music videos. This is not to say if you do the "twerking" dance you are oversexualized. Let's admit it, it's a fun, dope dance, but it has gotten a negative stigma throughout the past few decades. And I'll keep it real, I do it to those degrading ass songs (which makes me a hypocrite and I'll own that).

Not to excuse her foolishness, but the same way Miley used Black females as accessories twerking in her music video/VMA performance is honestly the same thing Black many male hip-hop/rap artists have been doing. Is it acceptable to make music that degrades women and twerk to it because the hip-hop artists are Black but get mad at Miley because she's White? I understand Miley was the culprit in the situation, but the fact that many Black females and feminists were not addressing the degrading lyrics/exploitation of Black females in the videos of Black male artists, within the twerking craze tells a lot in my opinion.




To touch on this subject even more, I understand "twerking" descends from Africa. I understand the postulation of cultural appropriation, but my thing is people probably weren't in Africa "twerking" to the "disrespectful" and "degrading" lyrics in "twerk music" we dance to today. "Bitch shake that ass and pop that pussy, hoe" They probably weren't twerking alongside men who made it rain with cash on women's behinds, objectifying them. In laments terms, it may have not started off as a sexualized dance, but it has turned into one. I may be reaching, but can we really compare the cultural "twerking" of today to cultural, original African, dances done hundreds and even thousands of years ago in terms of technique and significance? 

Is the twerking of today culturally significant, or is it a way to grab male attention for many? (You can't deny that many women are doing it for that reason). 

What were even some of the names of the cultural dances involved with "twerking" and what tribes did the descend from? (Which I think this is also a big problem many of us, including myself, can't even answer when we say "Twerking came from Africa") With that being said, is the music/oversexualized images of Black females the problem, the twerking, or both? Please, educate me.


Sex Sells

For the record, women of all races have been sexualized in American pop culture. "Sexy", "hypersexualization" and "sexual exploitation" is in the eye of the beholder. This isn't to suggest we should walk around like prudes and wear Puritan dresses or that there is a status quo Black females and female artists are required to follow. There are already a lot of labels ("conscious", "ratchet", etc) in the community people live up to whether realizing it or not. Realistically typing, everyone has their own opinion. People will do what they want at the end of the day, even if it is "damaging" in someone else's opinion. There is already a lot of "group think" in the Black community where people feel we all must agree about the same thing. There's nothing wrong with showing some skin from time to time, and being "sexy" when you're an adult. I just want to discuss where those lines seem to be crossed in terms of stereotypes Black females discussed in Black Feminism/Feminism, and how that reflects the image and treatment of the Black woman in American media. 

On Beyonce's latest album, she has a song called "Flawless" where there is a Nigerian feminist
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichiespeaking about feminism. I noticed that specific song and album as a whole had a lot of people talking about how Knowles-Carter is a feminist and is "owning her sexuality" into her 30's being a working wife and a mother. I can understand that dynamic of wanting to break that mold and showing the world she's multi-dimensional. Some of my favorite Black female artists have done the same as Beyonce in terms of owning their sexuality. Many mainstream female artists own their sexuality the same way many male artists in the music industry and throughout history have done. I totally understand the implications of double standards in Western society, but is the way some Black female artists are "owning their sexuality" doing more harm than good? (As a whole, is the sexualization of the music industry doing more harm than good? But I want to focus on the Black female portion of it in this post.) 

The reason I ask this is because it is a known fact that "sex sells" in the music biz and that the industry purposefully oversexualizes/objectifies females for the male gaze. A lot of these mainstream artists are given their identities by record executives, the people behind the scenes that we never see. It's known that the music industry is a business and about selling records/in many cases brainwashing the masses and that it is a capitalist industry that has the financial backing of corporations (You can see that within hip-hop). So my question is, is it really "owning sexuality" or playing into the corporate music business' image? 

I notice how people label Black female artists who own their sexuality in their music/image like Beyonce, Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, etc as "feminists". Do you think that these artists are contributing in the continuation of the hypersexualized Black female stereotype? Even with the images of these artists (and even with fashion we wear today) how there is a fetishized exoticism that relates to the Jezebel and hypersexualized stereotype. Historical allusions/comparisons can also be made going back to the Jezebel caricature for example and Sarah Baartman. Link: Jezebel Stereotype You even see these sexualized images in Black art where the natural hair and body of the Black woman is praised and even fetishized to an extent.




Keep in mind that one of the motives/goals that the music industry/pop culture pushes is to "sell sex", especially when it comes to many females, and to have sexy female artists be apart of the "male gaze" phenomenon. For example, Lil' Kim was encouraged by Biggie to "sell sex" going into her "Hardcore" debut album era. Nicki Minaj had her last stage name changed to "Minaj" (being symbolic to "menage a trois") and was supposedly "bisexual" when she first teamed up with Lil' Wayne. The rapper says that she is not bisexual although her earlier lyrics state other wise. This is symbolic to how some males in American society in particular, are fans of girl on girl action and once again how sex/sexuality sells. It even seems as if there is a trend for females to pretend to be bisexual or fake lesbians to turn males on ("male gaze"). Is posing in men's magazines half naked for the male gaze or for "owning sexuality"?


It appears that in many cases, "feminist" female artists are encouraged by males to be sexual, so is that really "owning sexuality" and "empowerment" or is it accepting patriarchy as Feminism seems to be against?  Can a woman own her sexuality in a patriarchal industry that purposefully sells sex without being a sex object for male gaze? 

Do you think if these artists listed were not "owning sexuality" they would have the same success as they do now? 

Is it the idea of owning sexuality in the music business simply an ambition for females to have power over males and simply a self-esteem/ego boost and way to sell records? Does it have to do with owning femininity (which seems to have been confused with and intertwined with being sexual in today's culture)? 


Conclusion


Is Black female artists owning their sexuality a mirror of sexual stereotypes or am I reading too much into it? 

Does "restricting" Black female artists and females in general limit the creative aspects that are being brought to the table along with the overall freedom to be human? (Recall the control the industry has on artists as well) 


One can't deny what's going on in the music industry or that there are still unfortunate echoes of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome enclosed in the Black community. I feel that I apply the idea of history into today's culture/society because of the strong connections that are visible, the same way that it is done in Black Feminism. It seems that one minute many of us want to complain about how Black females are sexually exploited and hypersexualized, but we support and we mimic the artists that are sexualized and call it "owning sexuality". 




I'd much appreciate it if someone could clear these questions and concerns up for me. I'm sure there are probably contradictions in my own post, but I hope you caught my drift and I hope it was easy to comprehend. It seems like one of the main goals of the new era of Feminism is about "owning sexuality" (amongst other things of course) while the old school era seemed to be about deconstruction the sexually exploitive images/stereotypes. Is the "owning sexuality" idea a way to deconstruct the images/negative stereotypes as well? Is it working? Perhaps I'm just ignorant of in depth teachings of B.F./Feminism. I know all feminists are different/have different views and there are probably different sub-genres within Black Feminism/Feminism as a whole. What are some of the goals of this newer wave of B.F. and Feminism? 

Thank you for reading and answering the questions.

CONVERSATION

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