The Beyoncé Brunch Party

Making MLK proud

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.

Why Beyoncé’s Feminism Is the Same As Yours: Unconventional and Flawed by Mikki Kendall

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

I Repeatedly Fought Back Tears While Jamming to Beyoncé’s New Album Because Free Black Girls Are Not as Much of a Thing as We Should Be by Whitney Teal

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:

This Vine Of Beyoncé Throwing Side-Eye Is Amazing

This Beyoncé Fan Is Very Unhappy About Having to Buy Her New Album

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

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  • artfulword

    Love this! I also have to share my favourite Beyonce think piece (it came out before her latest album) in Bitch Magazine called “All Hail the Queen?”

    Now I’m going to put on her newest album and rock out, thanks for the inspiration!

    • I really loved that piece as well! Glad you linked to it here!!

    • dbthompson

      I hadn’t read this and this is incredibly good.

      “If a woman loses feminist bona fides by becoming Mrs. So-and-So, someone best tell the 86 percent of American women who take their husbands’ names at marriage. If there is any woman not in danger of being subsumed by a man’s identity—no matter her last name—it is Beyoncé. In fact, the singer’s married name is not “Mrs. Carter.” She and her husband combined their names to create the hyphenate “Knowles-Carter.”

      “This man, who has made a living—an extremely good one—perpetuating hyper-masculinity, patriarchal masculinity, took the last name of the woman he married,” Jackson says. “That in itself, to me, says something about gender in their relationship and the respect that exists there.””

      JAY TOOK HER LAST NAME? Please excuse me while I die of the wonder and joy.

      • BreckW

        Also dying of wonder and joy over here. LOVE.

      • Jenny

        This is great! I’m going to tell K, that next time someone at work tells him he bitched out by taking my last name, that they should take it up with Jay Z!!!!!!

    • dbthompson

      If a woman loses feminist bona fides by becoming Mrs. So-and-So, someone best tell the 86 percent of American women who take their husbands’ names at marriage. If there is any woman not in danger of being subsumed by a man’s identity—no matter her last name—it is Beyoncé. In fact, the singer’s married name is not “Mrs. Carter.” She and her husband combined their names to create the hyphenate “Knowles-Carter.”

      “This man, who has made a living—an extremely good one—perpetuating hyper-masculinity, patriarchal masculinity, took the last name of the woman he married,” Jackson says. “That in itself, to me, says something about gender in their relationship and the respect that exists there.”

      PLEASE excuse me while I die of all the joy and feels that JayZ took her name too.

    • feelingfickle

      JUST switched over to Bitch from Jezebel because of all the unretouched photos bullshit and how done I was with them.

      Loooove it.

      • artfulword

        I LOVE Bitch. I highly recommend a subscription – I gave subscriptions as my christmas present in my feminist book club!

  • No insights on Beyonce, but I will check out those links. However, in the spirit of feminism I wanted to share that there are a bunch of new Olympic sports debuting in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, including new mixed (men’s and women’s) biathlon and luge team relay. Men and women competing for the first time together on the same team? Yes please.

    • EF

      This is so cool. I really hope that it’s a small step to breaking down gender barriers in sports. Much like anything else, it shouldn’t matter what gender you’re classified as (and the IOC can make this complicated), it should just matter how good you are at it. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Anne Schwartz

    Seriously Love Eat the Cake, Anime. Also, I say this for real, thank you for explaining that. I was feeling real dumb.

    • Anne Schwartz

      Also, I did not know he was Shawn Knowles-Carter and I loves it.

  • Poeticplatypus

    Finally! I am glad that APW has a piece on this because to be honest as a WOC I feel that there isn’t a lot of representation. I know that in the past it is said that there are not enough post from WOC, but I wish there was more of a push. I love that Beyoncé’s music gives a space for Black wwomen to be in power of our sexuality.For the women that claim this is a negative use of sexuality then my question is when do we own our sensuality? Is it during only during sex, or when we have learn to embrace and celebrate our body? I

    • Yes, I felt like the overwhelming message from the new album was that this was a woman who was in control of her sexuality. (Seriously, Eric and I finished watching and all I could say was, “That’s a grown-ass woman.”) I felt like it was such a clear distinction from a lot of the female sexuality we’re used to in pop music, and it’s so hard to explain exactly why. But seeing her as an adult owning her sexuality was SO powerful and I loved it.

      • Fiona

        I JUST had a discussion with a dear friend in the car last night about Beyonce. My friend is black and I am white, for context. My friend’s argument is that Beyonce is a bad role model for young black girls because she has dyed blonde hair and wears Eurocentric clothing.

        My response is that Beyonce should be able to be her authentic self, and if that means that she presents herself in a Eurocentric and/or hypersexualized way, she should be allowed to do that.

        My friend countered that Beyonce PRESENTS herself as a role model for young black girls in a culture that already white-ifies them–expecting them to talk, dress, act, and wear their hair a certain way. If Bey just did her own thing and didn’t pose as a role model, this wouldn’t be an issue. Thoughts on our discussion?

        • One More Sara

          I understand taking issue with Bey’s hair bc she is obviously styling her hair in a not-natural/”white-ified” way, but Euro-centric clothing? really? What is she supposed to wear? (Seriously. I haven’t noticed WOC following fashion trends any differently than white women, but do they?)

          • Fiona

            I suppose that is in reference to her recent styles…the picture above is evidence for this. she looks like a white suburban housewife.

          • Fiona

            I think that my friend’s point about Bey’s eurocentric clothing comes from some of the styles she has worn recently or the image she has created recently. The photo above is evident of that—she looks like a white suburban housewife.

          • belleamie209

            the photo above (and the scene that occurs) to me is a sign of her wealth/status, and she plays with racial roles– she purposefully drops a napkin so her white maid has to pick it up. there are definite connections between wealthy signifiers and whiteness, so i think that is unavoidable because she is definitely performing her economic status, but she also performs her blackness throughout her videos.

          • Nicole Cherae

            I can understand your friend’s point of view, but we must also be reflective of how our own experiences and place in the sociocultural sphere effects our interpretations. We’re viewing B’s perspectives through our own which is of course leaves room for disagreement. What is a role model anyway? Can her drive and ability to run her brand/business not be something worth young women (heck all women) admiring regardless of her hair color?

            I feel like it puts us into the debate of what whether someone is black enough for someone else. As a black woman I love natural hair, but I don’t particularly like how it looks on me so I straighten it. I think we also need to remember at the end of the day B is just a person who likes to wear what she likes to wear.

          • Class of 1980

            Yeah, I think we need to be really careful about telling people how to wear their hair. It’s such a personal decision. Maybe Beyonce just tried the blonde one day and thought it looked good. Seems like she has worn it both blonde and darker and looked great either way.

            How do we even know what her natural hair is anyway? Sometimes she wears her long hair more wild and curly, expecially on vacation. Have also seen her in braids.

            The only thing I’ve ever thought about her hair is that she seems to like to change it up a lot.

          • Alaina Bos

            “I think we also need to remember at the end of the day B is just a person who likes to wear what she likes to wear.”

            YES YES YES!!! I totally agree that Bey’s ability to curate her brand and run her business (EMPIRE) is AWE inspiring!!! Any and every person (guy or girl) should be inspired by her talent and tenacity!

          • Colleen

            White suburban housewife checking in: I do not look like that.

          • Laura

            could be wrong but i think that’s the point?

          • feelingfickle

            Yeah, I got that being the point from the video. I mean she drops a handkerchief and has a white maid pick it up for her. That’s pretty golden. /golf claps for queen bey

            I do get the hair argument (why are advert companies STILL trying to make WOC more “white” [privilege, that’s why]) AND the other side (why tear strong women down for doing what they want?), but as a white woman, I’m used to seeing more hair like my own and…well, I’d rather hear more opinions from black women on the issue since it’s one that actually affects them.

          • morphingball

            Sometimes, yes. I can’t speak for all women of color, but within the group I grew up with, there was definitely as sense of what was fashion overseas (in our ‘home’ countries) and what was fashionable over here. Plus, of course, whatever was ethnically traditional. Being outside American culture, in some ways, means you have a weird awareness of what’s supposed to fit into what contexts. There’s a sense that you just don’t have the same freedom to freely wear what you want regardless of context if you want to be seen/accepted as part of the majority group.

            And that’s not even broaching the problem of the “in” color for a season or other beauty advice. I tend to flip through fashion magazines with an overly healthy dose of skepticism that any of its tips/musings will be useful to me.

        • Class of 1980

          Eurocentric clothing? It just looks like clothing to me. What is she supposed to wear?

        • Aine

          I can see where your friend is coming from, but I think for a lot of her career Beyoncé didn’t necessarily have the power to demand her own style (IF she wanted to present a different way than she does). And the media white-ifies her as much as it can get away with- wasn’t it L’Oreal that did those terrible photos where they made her like four shades paler than herself?

          We do still live in a world where black women get called beautiful by describing them as “a white woman, dipped in chocolate.” That fills me with a kind of existential horror, and I’m white. Not of this attacks me, or tells me how I need to look to count as pretty. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a WOC and be assailed by all these messages. I agree that there should be more natural hair, etc on famous women, but I think the fact that Beyoncé is an amazing star, and a powerful woman with (what certainly looks like) a happy home life makes her a great role model.

        • Super interesting! I guess I feel that 1. she is absolutely allowed to be her authentic self, so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and say the blonde is what she likes (esp because she plays with so many other looks in her new album) and 2. this is sort of what I mean about picking your battles to survive and thrive. Do we honestly think Beyonce would have gotten to a point where she can put a feminist speech into a song that’s going to be heard by millions of girls if she didn’t look the way she did? I don’t.

          I also have a lot of thoughts on the whole “role model” thing, complicated by the fact that this latest album doesn’t feel like it’s for young girls in the least. So, I don’t know. I guess I think you can still be a role model even if you have a weave. And my initial thought is that the solution is to elevate more non-conforming (for lack of a better term) female artists so there’s a more diverse representation, rather than tearing Beyonce down? But I need to continue to think on this one.

          • Fiona

            I definitely haven’t made up my mind yet. I know that Bey has gotten some criticism over the state of Blue’s hair (WTF…let the baby be a baby!) and I think that is completely unjustified. However, I feel that if Bey is going to style herself as a role model, she has a responsibility to the public to do it in a certain way.

            I’m all for women being able to display their sexuality if they want to, especially given that she is in a stable family environment with a beautiful child and a man who is absolutely devoted to her.

            BUT I feel like given her position as a mega-pop star with both white and girls of color looking up to her, she has a responsibility to USE her fame to create an image of a strong WOC who also embraces her natural hair. It seems to me that there are not enough women doing so. Joan Baez has written excellently on the subject of the responsibility of celebrities to use their fame for positive social change…

            I suppose the moral of all of this is that you’re right, modern feminism is very complex. Thoughts?

        • Related: I just came across this video of a 12-year-old girl with natural hair dancing to “Yonce”! SO GOOD.

          • Fiona

            HA! This is the best. Seriously, how is that even possible?

      • I was just watching the videos for the album, “Partition” in particular. Grown-ass woman indeed.

    • Fiona

      One more link, not about Beyonce, but it fits in with the MLK day theme! Provocative and interesting. This is a must-read!

      • Jess

        Damn. Thanks for that.

    • feelingfickle

      Okay. I am so glad to see this post because after making a (unintentionally sassy) comment on the “Girls” post about lack of POC representation on the show I started trying to remember if I had even seen ANY WOC here. And I couldn’t think of one. And it worried me. I just joined recently but are there/have there been any WOC contributors?

      And on the subject of WOC and sexuality (PLEASE tell me to shut up if Im wrong/offering a poor opinion) it feels like (to me) white women are more like to “call out” black women’s sexuality…which to me seems to harken back to some dangerous history and stereotypes? Similar to Lily Allen’s crap “parody” (scare quotes) vid that pretty much claims shaking your ass means you’re not intelligent and then has a league of black dancers behind her?

  • dbthompson

    Speaking of representation of lots of different kinds of people, I just got sucked into the blog of APW sponsor Kelly Prizel… I love seeing black brides marrying white brides, and fat brides, and grooms marrying grooms. It does a heart good.

    And the photos are so gorgeous!

  • Class of 1980

    I’m not sure why Beyonce has to bear being the litmus test for everything under the sun. Is it just because of her amazing commercial success?

    BTW, her expression of sexuality might be ass-shaking, but it’s never ever vulgar. I have no problem or judgement about it. She’s fun to watch even for women, and isn’t sex supposed to be about joy?

    Beyond Beyonce, what about other black female singers? I’ve always wanted to know why Tracy Chapman flies so far under the radar. She’s a musical GENIUS and should be far far more famous than she is.

    • EF

      How about Janelle Monae and her awesome tuxes/complete disregard for the sexualised black woman singer? She’s absolutely wonderful too.

      • belleamie209

        i LOVE Janelle Monáe! what’s interesting is that while she does not show off cleavage, there is an interesting twist on sexuality with her: in her videos, she always has female (sometimes a few male) fans screaming and clawing at her, much like the Beatles, Elvis, Buddy Holly, and other male performers did. For me, it foregrounds the fact that those male performers were “sexual” in a way that is not often talked about

        • BreckW

          “For me, it foregrounds the fact that those male performers were “sexual” in a way that is not often talked about.”

          I have never thought about it this way, but that is an excellent point. Thank you!

        • Class of 1980

          Well, Elvis was talked about because of the suggestive nature of his moves. Many 1950s television shows would only film him from the waist up. ;)

      • Yes! Janelle Monae is just GREAT. I really, really love her music, her look and style, and some of the amazing things she’s said in interviews.

        • EF

          when she said she only wears black and white to perform, as her ‘uniform’ because that’s what her parents always wore when working in hotels and things, it just about killed me. she’s absolutely amazing.

  • Nicole Cherae

    Love Beyoncé, love the new album, and love this:” 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.”

    I think one of the great things about her new album is all the conversation it started. Like all matters of life, feminism is messy and complicated. “Drunk in Love” is on repeat though I hate that Anna Mae line.

  • Kayjayoh

    I am so glad the Mikki Kendall piece is the first link. She’s amazing.

    • Kayjayoh

      Also, if any of you aren’t, you may want to follow her on Twitter: @karnythia

      She has good thing to say, and watching her take down trolls is a thing of beauty.

    • feelingfickle

      Yesyesyesyesyesyes. I had been a little perturbed about some of the “Girls” post comments and the Mikki Kendall link made me clap and feel hopeful.

      • Kayjayoh

        I will admit, I’ve never watched Girls (no TV at home, definitely no HBO) so most of my knowledge of it comes from other people on the internet, and the commentary surrounding it on Twitter has left me unsure if I want to watch it.

        • feelingfickle

          I watched half an episode and gave up, so I might not be the fairest judge… But I read enough from my feminist friends who do watch to know, while it might make a few small steps against fat shaming and for feminism, it’s increeeeedibly white-washed. And reading Dunham’s excuses for that makes me MAJOR eye roll.

  • BreckW

    “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.”

    Thisthisthis. Sometimes I back myself into a corner where I feel like I’ve got every woman and all of feminism on my back, so I absolutely MUST pick the most feminist choice available, whether or not it’s a true representation of what I really want, and I’m just a nobody! I have no idea how women like Beyonce or Mindy Kaling (with the recent controversy over her Elle cover) handle it. They are most definitely some grown-ass women I aspire to be more like.

  • Jess

    So, this Brunch Party has pretty much subverted my entire workday. I’ve been reading all the posted essays (articles? diaries? think-pieces?).

    Side note: what does Think-Piece even mean? I’m just assuming it’s writer-person code for half finished thought or something being put out there for discussion or further contemplation that doesn’t have a resolution yet. (Maybe I shouldn’t have tested out of all my non-technical writing courses)

    I’ve read. Then thought. Then re-read. Then thought more. Then read something else. It’s been an enlightening day, and I have no idea how I feel about anymore. So that’s pretty awesome.

    • A think piece is basically like…current event + background material or research + personal analysis. Like a hybrid op-ed + reported piece. Hope that helps!

      Also, I’m glad you enjoyed and got a lot out of all the posts! I’m actually smiling at my computer right now. :)

  • Alyssa M

    I hate the in-fighting feminists that have made all of this an issue, but I actually wonder if it’s doing some good. I really feel like the controversy is shining a light on the way race effects feminism for a lot of white feminists. In the few weeks since the album came out black feminist issues have been being discussed all across the internet and I’ve seen A LOT(obviously not all) of white feminists stepping back, checking their privilege, and listening. Regardless of the crud that caused it, that’s a positive.

    • feelingfickle

      I wish more prominent white women feminists were stepping back and checking privilege (Cyrus, Moran, Lily Allen, etc) but I do believe on the whole and with the everyman (everywhitewoman?) there are some intersectional barriers slowly being worked through because of this album and other prominent PoC issues. I love that you said listening. I think that’s the most important thing: deciding to quiet down and listen when marginalized people are speaking.

  • ItsyBit

    So I realize that I’m way (way, way) late to this party and I don’t know if anyone is still reading BUT. I just listened to/watched the whole album and DAMN. I have so much to say. But there’s one teeny tiny detail that I’m just itching to shout from the mountain tops:

    She quoted The Big Lebowski.

    Yep. In Partition, a song all about sex, the French bit at the end is Maude Lebowski’s line about it being a myth that feminists don’t like sex. That adds something like 5 million respect points in my book.