When I was in high school, Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women” came out, and it became something of my feminist anthem. If a friend needed a little feminist boost, it was easy enough to say, “Come on, don’t stand for that! You’re an independent woman!” to get a smile out of her (and help her dump the asshole). It’s easy to say that music doesn’t matter, but music can teach important lessons, especially to young people who may not have the language or the education to talk about social justice issues yet.
Years later, working at ELLE, I got to go to the photo shoot when we shot the Independent Woman herself for the magazine’s cover. Assistants didn’t go on many photo shoots, so that I got to be on set the day we shot Beyoncé’s cover (which also happened to be the first issue wherein I had a byline in the magazine) was really exciting. I didn’t get to interact with her; I was just a silent observer that day, taking her in and trying to figure out how, exactly, to be that fabulous.
Figuring out Beyoncé (the woman, the megastar) has become a popular past time in the past few years, and now figuring out Beyoncé (the album) is the discussion du jour. When the album came out unexpectedly in December, the Internet went bananas, and feminism was at the center of a lot of the conversation. Beyoncé calls herself a feminist and included audio of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech on feminism on “Flawless,” but people immediately counter anyone calling her a feminist with some variation of, “But she’s always shaking her ass half-naked!” or with an example of something about her or her music that’s “problematic.” And that reaction? Is exactly why I think Beyoncé is (as she put it once) “a modern-day feminist.” Believing in feminism while picking your battles based on what you need to do to survive and thrive, is a paradox that characterizes modern feminism to me in so many ways.
Despite the debate, I can’t help but be happy to see so many #BeyoncéThinkPieces, because most of them make important points about black female sexuality and black feminism, and they are bringing that perspective to a wide (read: white) audience. That’s a big deal.
But you don’t have to take my word for it! These authors write about Beyoncé’s album far better than I could, and their pieces are worth reading and mulling over.
Beyoncé drops her ‘feminist manifesto’ on ‘Melissa Harris-Perry’
From Janet to Beyoncé: Why it Matters When Black Women Sing About Sexuality by Maya K. Francis
5 Reasons I’m Here for Beyoncé, the Feminist on Crunk Feminist Collective
That Time Beyoncé’s Album Invalidated Every Criticism of Feminism EVER by Christina Coleman
‘Beyoncé’ Serenades Teenage Boys & Black Feminists by Tanya Steele
Eat the cake, Anime: On White Cluelessness (and Beyoncé) by Alexander Hardy
Gender Equality is a Myth by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter
And just for fun:
Like other APW Brunches, this is an open thread, so feel free to start conversations on any topics you like in the comments! But if you want to talk Beyoncé, we can do that too. (We’d really like to do that too.) See ya in the comments!
Photo from one of my favorite moments on Beyoncé.