Thursday 19 December 2013


First lady Michelle Obama has described Beyoncé as a “role model who kids everywhere can look up to.” Oprah Winfrey called her the “pre-eminent mistress of the universe.” Despite counting two of the most influential women in the world as fans, Beyoncé still has her detractors – particularly within the feminist community. And it seems, when it comes to the question of whether or not Beyoncé is a feminist role model, the dividing line is often one of race between her detractors and supporters.

Almost immediately after the debut of her fifth studio album, the debate over Beyoncé as a feminist figure was reignited. As much as fans loved it, reviews also rolled in blasting Beyoncé for its overly sexual lyrics and images. Simultaneously, others — including MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry — heralded it as a “feminist manifesto.”

Does Harris-Perry see the singer differently because she is also a black woman?

“Beyoncé has been making feminist moves without having to call herself a feminist. I think black women in particular have always recognized that,” image activist Michaela angela Davis told theGrio. “It seems like she’s on her own terms. You don’t get the feeling that she’s being manipulated by someone else’s fantasy of her and that’s an important part of her appeal to many women.”

Analyses such as those of Davis and Harris Perry compete with heavy criticisms of Beyoncé in mainstream feminist circles. In fact, when the singer appeared on the cover of Ms. magazine — a feminist mainstay — in 2012 under the headline Beyoncé’s Fierce Feminism, the publication received so much backlash, it inspired an article on their site about the ways white feminists lack solidarity with black women.

At the root of the debate over whether Beyoncé is a feminist is a much deeper question of how to define feminism.

“What does it mean to be a feminist? Who gets to be one? And what does it take to be one? Who gets to decide who is a feminist and who isn’t?” asked writer Lauren Rankin in response to the Ms. backlash. “These questions, while perhaps important in theory, are almost always a means of excluding and demonizing those who don’t fit the white, liberal feminist narrative of what makes a woman a feminist.”

How white, mainstream feminists see Beyoncé

In a piece titled Why White Feminists Are Mad At Beyoncé, Julia Sonenshein, contributing editor at, explored the many critiques leveled at the singer in reviews shortly after the debut of her album. She shared her take on why so many white women have difficultly stomaching Beyoncé’s version of empowerment.

“White feminists tend to critique Beyoncé first and foremost for the way she uses her sexuality as a tool. White feminists also tend to criticize her attitude towards wealth and materialism, along with her bravado and confidence,” Sonenshein told theGrio. “While there is certainly room for criticism, and major figures like Beyoncé should be criticized, these particular conversations tend to approach any analysis from a very white point of view, and don’t consider how the themes of sexuality, wealth, and confidence differ across communities.”

Beyoncé’s supporters seem to be in agreement that there is a need for change in the feminist movement. In fact, women of color are coming to the forefront, demanding to have their issues and interests represented.

No comments:

Post a Comment