The most tired discussion in 2013: Is Beyonce feminist?

by Vivian Obarski

Beyonce - Flawless

Looking back at 2013, it was the Year of The Beyonce. She sung (or lip-synced) the national anthem at the Inauguration, performed at the Superbowl (with a 30 second reunion of Destiny’s Child), toured, released a documentary of her life and then, to mess with everyone’s end-of-the-year record reviews, stealth dropped an album in December.

It was also the year of perhaps one of the most tired arguments to plague online — Is Beyonce feminist? Her clothing for the Superbowl Halftime show (and a GQ shoot) was too skimpy for some, calling her tour the Mrs. Carter Show made people question her stance on feminism and even praising her husband for being a partner was open to criticism. And that’s before her album even dropped, which resulted in every-damn-body posting think pieces about it (Twitter’s #beyoncethinkpieces was a hilarious example of the ouroboros ofonline cultural criticism).

My only thought as of late has been that this entire discussion reminds me of the whole “Are women funny?” question that pops up every few years when women and comedy is discussed. And like Amy Poehler’s response to that question, my response to this whole debate is that the question is so boring, I’m irritated that we’re still asking it.

By now, the whole question as to whether or not Beyonce is feminist should be obvious, given that she samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Flawless, and has stated in the GQ interview several statements regarding gender equality (“Let’s face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what’s sexy. And men define what’s feminine. It’s ridiculous.“). In a world where Taylor Swift and Katy Perry dance around the question, Beyonce’s not only answered it, she put it on one of her singles from her new album.

To be fair, while I love her new album, I wouldn’t say the entire thing is a feminist statement in the mainstream sense of the word. What I get from her album is that it’s a woman, talking about the different facets of her life (or someone else’s life) and who apparently has a smoking hot love life with her husband. Not everything has to be an overt political statement — sometimes you just want to talk about Skittles.

What’s curious to me is the vehemence and passion for this argument. Is it because Beyonce is taking feminism and creating her own definition that doesn’t mirror what mainstream feminism believes it should be? Is it a realization that the mainstream feminism movement doesn’t address intersectionality well? (See the recent #solidarityisforwhitewomen and #notyourasiansidekick discussions on Twitter as well as discussions from transgender feminists and others) I suspect the answer is yes.

Is there a grand council that gets to name who is a feminist and who isn’t? Is this just click-bait for the Internet to comment and troll each other over? Why do some think it’s acceptable to remark and make judgments on another woman’s life, as if her life isn’t her own to live? Isn’t that one of the things feminism is fighting against?

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