Policing Feminism: Regulating the Bodies of Women of Color

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The decision to feature Beyoncé Knowles-Carter on the cover of the latest issue of Ms. magazine ignited controversy among its feminist readership, and as the author of that cover story I’m not all that surprised. Indeed, my article is precisely about the “debates” over such a high-profile celebrity and sex symbol identifying as a feminist.

Still, what is surprising to me is the level of vitriol and mean-girl over-the-top outrage that accompanied the news of Beyoncé’s cover on the Ms. Facebook page. Whatever one may feel about Beyoncé as a feminist icon, when did it become acceptable to call this married mother of a toddler daughter a “stripper” and a “whore”?

LawI’m the first to admit that Beyoncé’s “fierce feminism” often seems contradictory in its public delivery. But after the heated response to her Ms. cover, I wish I had delved further into our queasiness over her “sexiness.” This isn’t simply a rejection of a sexy-image-as-defined-by-patriarchy: This is in the vein of pearl-clutching, although the opposite of sexiness—modesty—is hardly viewed as women’s salvation since it represents a different policing of women’s bodies.

Indeed, just back in April, when the mostly white Ukraine-based group Femen staged a “Topless Jihad Day” across Europe in solidarity with Tunisian Femen member Amina Tyler (who was penalized for posting topless photos of herself on Facebook), some took that opportunity of “solidarity” to exhibit their Islamophobia by marching topless in immigrant Muslim neighborhoods and demanding their Muslim sisters to “get naked.” Of course this did not sit well with some Muslim women in the West, who responded in kind with their own “Muslimah Pride Day,” reminding non-Muslim women that they don’t need saving nor do they want to discard their hijabs.

So, what’s going on in the sphere of Western feminism? In one area of the world they’re condemning women of color such as Beyoncé for “not covering up,” while in another part of the world they want Muslim women to “get naked.”

There is an uncanny pattern here between the condemnation of Beyoncé’s booty (how she displays it and how she shakes it) and Muslim women’s hijabs (how, when and where they wear it). What certain feminists clearly want is to regulate the bodies of women of color in order to eradicate difference. Since when did feminism reinforce dress codes instead of women’s autonomy and solidarity with other women, in which we support all of our choices while also recognizing how those choices are sometimes limited by intersectional oppressions (and no one is immune from this)?

And let’s not forget context. An Amina Tyler mounting a naked protest is about her autonomous right to her own body in a conservative society that would sooner punish her for “not covering,” while getting naked in Western culture could lead to slut-shaming and pornographic ogling. On the flip side, “covering up” in the West, especially in a hijab, could lead to hate-crime targeting, as had occurred with some Muslim women in the wake of the Boston bombings.

As Jada Pinkett-Smith aptly questioned on Facebook, in defense of Beyoncé’s choices: “Whose body is this anyway?” It seems some of us in feminist movements need a not-so-subtle reminder: Our bodies are our own! If feminism becomes yet another space for the regulation of our differences, rather than an embrace of our differences, then we have impeded our progressive move forward in our collective political consciousness.

Sure, we may ask, in the vein of Barbara Smith: “How does this free us?” (This in reference to Beyonce’s sexiness or Muslim women’s hijabs). But, if feminism looks like Beyoncé and a Muslim woman who covers and a Middle Eastern woman who engages in naked protest and a white woman who questions her power and privilege in relation to her sisters of color, then the message becomes loud and clear: Feminism is about politics, not a one-size-fits-all uniform.

And the story doesn’t end there. This is just the beginning. What more could be accomplished when we build on our differences, complicate our perspectives, and come together in solidarity? All I know is this: When my students try to creatively engage feminist consciousness and use symbols from pop culture, Beyoncé is their go-to-person. When one of my graduate students worked with middle-schoolers on a dance performance raising awareness about sexual violence, whose music did these girls choose? Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child.

I’ve learned a long time ago that our pop icons have been a gateway for young women and girls in the articulation of their feminist consciousness. Music is so ubiquitous, and exists in the most intimate spaces of their everyday lives, that it’s counter-productive to call a woman they admire a “stripper” and a “whore.” Beyoncé might very well lead them to other feminists existing beyond commercial boundaries. The widespread condemnation of her (interpreted as “feminist critique”) could stop them in their search.

Let’s stop fearing our differences. In the words of bell hooks, Feminism is for everybody!

The latest issue of Ms. magazine, featuring Janell Hobson’s cover story on Beyoncé, is available for your mobile devices or in the traditional print version. Find out how to download the Ms. app and get a year’s worth of Ms.!

Photo of Beyoncé performing in Central Park in 2011 by Flickr user asterix611 under license from Creative Commons 2.0

Comments

  1. Eve Block says:

    Very good food for thought! Thank you!

  2. Maureen Kentoff says:

    This article is spot on. But my one concern is related to the statement: “Whatever one may feel about Beyoncé as a feminist icon, when did it become acceptable to call this married mother of a toddler daughter a ‘stripper’ and a ‘whore’?” What on earth does Beyonce’s status as a”married mother” have to do with her not deserving such slander? Wouldn’t this ideally apply to any woman, regardless of her marital or parental status? I expect the editors at Ms. to recognize and counter this privileging of normative standards of feminine “wholesomeness” and “respectability” and to strive for a more inclusive argument against all forms of sexism, which is clearly the objective of Janell Hobson’s essay.

    • donnadara says:

      Generally married women are not called whores, because they are considered respectable. As a woman of color, Beyonce was not afforded that respect. One wonders if white feminists feel the need to call Madonna a whore or a stripper? Double standards.

      • i hear you, but one of the subtexts of jane austen, for example, is that marriage is an economic institution, the only one to which women can be admitted, and therefore, married women are whores.

        the racial problem is (perhaps) separate.

      • brandys78 says:

        I agreed with this woman and wanted to add that women of color has nothing to do with it, that would be completely racist and ignorant. Some feminist believe cashing in on your sexuality is not empowering nor something to reward or envy by our young girls.”I disagree with sex positive feminists strongly. It has nothing to do with race, which annoys me further when racism is presumed to avoid legitimate criticism. It has to do with standards of professionalism and transcending superficial criteria we are forever held hostage by. She’s a beautiful woman with talent, and the talent needs to count for more. She is more than her sexuality.” Kelley Dane

        • Beyonce cashes in on the music she sells . To only mention she cashes in on her body is ignorant and says a lot about how u think . Beyonce is a beautiful woman who is talented and faces many of the same battles as other women . —women who say stuff like this about beyonce and other women are the worst enemy’s to women period
          – and they call themselves feminist !!!!
          Really?

      • Many women called Madonna a whore and a stripper when she first started in the 80s. I think she did nothing to improve women lifes.

    • As someone who knows several mothers who are strippers and sex workers, I found that sentence to stick out and affect the rest of my reading of the piece. As if motherhood and a married status make one “clean.” Ergh.

    • Jessica Pearl says:

      I appreciate this perspective and attention to vocabulary as I think your critique also addresses the commonplace of heteronormativity (since many same sex people are still fighting for access to the legal recognition of marriage).

    • Andrea Marcotte says:

      AGREED.

    • Confused says:

      I can’t understand why Beyonce would be labeled a “whore” in the first place. She has a stage persona, and that’s what people don’t understand. When she is walking the streets, she looks like any other woman. What she does is entertainment. Just because she is a voluptuous woman wears a leotard ( which is something many professional dancers wear) and heels on stage does not make her a whore.

  3. Michelle says:

    As a transgender woman, I also face a controversy as to how effeminate I present myself and how much I hide every masculine feature. Being 66 years old and having male size thirteen feet it is impossible for me to hide every masculine feature. There is also pressure for me to present as a Marlyn Monroe style appearance. Being a country girl born in Calamity Jane country, I prefer to be more of a plain Jane who likes colorful colors because I find dark colors depressing. All I would like is to be accepted as a woman and have my rights to present myself the way I like, like any other woman.

    • You have valid points and I agree, but one point of personal contention the last word should be “Human”… “like any other human”. if a straight, cis man wants to dress up and look like what we think a woman should look like, that’s his choice too.

      I’m a cis, straight woman, and I find that I like looking like a lesbian (well, ellen and rachel maddow), which at my height (5’10) can sometimes make me look slightly mannish. People try to convince me to look more like a girl, but I don’t. So, yeah. I think I know how you feel.

  4. “What certain feminists clearly want is to regulate the bodies of women of color in order to eradicate difference.” How did you come to this sweeping conclusion? I am interested in how you define feminism. If you are going to ask your students and readers to be responsible and inclusive, which is a fine request, you have to define what it is.

    • Janell Hobson says:

      Did you NOT read my essay, in which I specifically address how these bodies – Beyonce and Muslim women in particular – are already RACIALIZED so we cannot ignore how this then contributes to these debates over feminism? Intersectionality requires that we not divorce these gender issues from the race of the bodies we’re discussing. As for how I define feminism, I tend to go with the definitions provided by:

      1. bell hooks: “Feminism is the political movement to end sexist oppression.”
      2. Barbara Smith: “Feminism is the political commitment to the liberation of all women.”

      Defining feminism and calling oneself a feminist (as an individual like Beyonce has done) doesn’t always add up, but who am I to regulate the word and say individuals who identify as such SHOULDN’T? What gives me or you the right to police who and who is NOT a feminist if someone says they are? What POWER and PRIVILEGE are you then operating from if you do?

      • Alexandra MacArthur says:

        “What certain feminists clearly want is to regulate the bodies of women of color in order to eradicate difference.”

        I honestly thought this sentence was genius and your build up to it was very clear. I learned a lot from reading this article and realized that I have done exactly what you stated above. In the last year I have been really thinking about this and my attitudes towards women who are different from me. I know there is something detrimental in these attitudes, that doesn’t fit with what I say I stand for. This article really spelled that out for me. And a changed woman I will be.

    • donnadara says:

      Feminism is the belief that women and men are equal. That is all. If you go over to Jezebel, you will see a lot of race based hatred, hidden behind feminism. I remember the hateful twitter remarks about Amandla Stenberg because she was a black girl in the Hunger Games and the excuses that were made for these comments on Jezebel. The same can be said for Quvenzhané Wallis for the silence and/or free speech excuses when this little girl was called a cunt. Do a little research, you will see the difference. White feminists are willing to allow black women to be their allies when it suits them, but when we need something, we are met with silence and excuses. Remember the “Women are the n***s of the World” signs at slutwalks? I remember.

      • What an awesome post! I usually don’t see things in terms of ethnicity but you make a very good case of some white feminists policing women of color to stay covered up… Is our “nakedness” truly the final frontier in equality? When we free ourselves to wear (or not wear) what we choose will we have thrown off the final shackles of patriarchy and (African slavery here in America)? Wow this is going to be tough and long fight – Who would have though Beyonce would be our own Lady Godiva too …

      • auntienay says:

        So true. Black women in America were told that we weren’t beautiful, weren’t sexy, so our emancipation from these sterotypes includes the celebration of our bodies. Our bodacious booties, our thick thighs….these are the things that make us special and being able to say that in a public arena is perhaps a freedom that our white sisters can’t understand. So, my white sisters pay attention…Beyonce is no whore, stripper or loose woman. She celebrates what makes her feel beautiful and sexy. She points her ass to the camera and asks is this too much for you because it’s what God gave her and she’s proud of it. That kind of in-your-face-take-me-for what-I-am self confidence is exactly what I see as feminism. Give her time to mature and develop and I guarantee you the other parts of who she is will shine through. If you know anything about her mother then you understand that when this woman is 50 she is going to be something else.

      • Tanedra says:

        I was unaware that this racism within feminism occurred (noting my privilege here), and I feel I can understand the article in more context now.

        Thanks for pointing that out.

  5. While I think you have made some valid points, you have also ignored some of the other objections to Beyonce as a feminist symbol, namely that the amount of money that she makes is almost certainly tied to her display of overt sexuality and that young women/girls are exposed to this type of display thousands of times a day. What about concerns regarding the earlier and earlier sexualization of children?

    I don’t know that we will ever be able to reach a comfort zone on the difference between women owning and celebrating their sexuality and women fitting themselves into the cliches of sexy as defined by our present culture in order to garner attention and power. I don’t like the way that Beyonce dresses or dances in performance (‘course I should note that I don’t like her music either). I think it perpetuates the same old, same old message. I do see the other side of the argument though; I don’t think my viewpoint is any more valid than anyone else’s.

    • Janell Hobson says:

      In mentioning that Beyonce is a “married mother of a toddler daughter” in no way should be taken that this should somehow prevent her from slut-shaming, but it was a subtle reminder that she does take on other roles besides the “stripper” and “whore” some took her to be. Roles that people often don’t recognize because of our dichotomous constructions in which being a “wife and mother” looks a certain way, but somehow “sexiness” shouldn’t apply.

      Quite frankly, as a black woman who is sensitive to how our bodies are often read through these lenses of being “ho’s,” I was offended and felt the need to defend Beyonce more than I actually would had the slut-shaming NOT taken place.

    • donnadara says:

      What does Beyonce have to do with the earlier and earlier sexualization of children? She is not a children’s performer and it is a parent’s job to control the images that their children are exposed to. Why is there no condemnation of Katy Perry who won’t even deign to call herself a feminist?

      • i’ve been inspired to subscribe to ms. by this piece, so i don’t yet know what hobson’s take on that would be. i look forward to reading her piece.

        i think where i might look for the answer to your question is beyonce’s co-optation of girl power anthems. these are thought to be, and marketed, arguably, for and to little girls. the idea that girl power is skimpy performance wear is an easy lesson to pick up.

        who has the energy to critique katy perry?

    • Yes, Susan…in agreement. I hardly see her as the bastion of feminism. The thread on FB read, “Remember when we had to worry about Madonna?” and I hardly see the comparison. I think we can tell when a woman owns her sexuality versus exploits it for the male gaze. It simply feels different.

      • So you don’t think that Madonna has exploited her sexuality for the male gaze? And you somehow know that Beyonce doesn’t own her own sexuality? How do you know? How does it “feel different” to you? You are completely unable to know what is in another woman’s heart.

        Back in the 80s Madonna was strongly criticized for exploiting her sexuality.

        Also, someone doesn’t have to be a bastion of feminism, to be a feminist.

    • Rhetoricqueline says:

      In respond to: “you have also ignored some of the other objections to Beyonce as a feminist symbol, namely that the amount of money that she makes is almost certainly tied to her display of overt sexuality and that young women/girls are exposed to this type of display thousands of times a day. What about concerns regarding the earlier and earlier sexualization of children?”

      To which I respond/inquire:
      1. Is it not Beyonce’s right to make money off of her performativity? Isn’t that HER choice to make?
      2. The early sexualization of children is a problem but I, in earnest, do not follow your logic there in blaming a woman of color who, if anything, demonstrates a wonderfully complex feminist identity. She wears sexy clothing and dances provocatively, while ALSO engaging important feminist issues, probably eating lunch once and a while, you know… being a whole person. It isn’t fair to reduce her identity to that which we observe on-stage.

      • certainly it is her right. i am thinking about cicely tyson’s beautiful long-sleeved high couture purple dress at the tony awards and her lovely gracious speech. she does not shake her booty. she finally got this gig at the age of 78. she is not one of the richest black people in the history of the planet. any thoughts?

    • auntienay says:

      The fact that we are, as woman, confused about how to deal with our sexuality is understandable. The freedom we all fought for was the right to make our own choices. You don’t have to agree with it or understand it. You see provacative dancing….I see dancing reminiscent of the dances of Africa and that makes me proud.

      I don’t understand beautiful women who are embarassed about their bodies and hide themselves. Or women who don’t see and celebrate their own inner or outter beauty. But I don’t feel the need for them to adopt my point of view.

      Quite frankly, I’m not a big fan of B. Her voice isn’t my cup of tea, but my daughter adores her. My daughter is beautiful, smart and in her third year of law school, so clearly I’m not worried about the “influence” B had on her…you see what you were taught to see. I see a strong, black woman.

    • kristnva says:

      Well said Susan.

      Just because someone is “of colour” and a woman and purports to be a feminist does not mean they are any better or stronger than anyone else or can be excused from any responsibility yada yada. why is this getting thrown in the mix? Why is race becoming a dividing line? Class? Wealth? It all factors in, I have been on the “wrong” side of all of those for most of my life. But still I am adverse to attacking other women based on their ethnicity, income, class, education…More feminists fighting each other? let;s get together! We may not agree on everything. But I think part of our strength is being able to hear our differences too.

      I certainly don’t see any political intent in Beyonce’s work, to subvert the male gaze. In fact, I see the opposite. There are lots of women out there who embrace their sexuality and manage to do it in a way that isn’t designed to attract the male power over demographic.

  6. Lafemmeartiste says:

    It is absolute chaos to define physically being female in a profanely centered world. One’s fundamental sense of mental, emotional AND physical safety are at-risk out in the world_ so amping up the visual expression of our bodies through displays that face it, are male-attraction-driven, has contributed NOTHING to the progress of being seen and valued as HUMAN first.
    I am still looking for cultural signals that as a human being my own, individual notions and definition of identity are respected in a consciously thoughtful and inquiry-based cultural climate. But these individually natural frames of reference seem tricky at the very, very least to navigate. Like the reach of success is still too sophisticated to openly assume.
    I don’t respond flippantly, as this yearn has been with me always and still is.
    Feminism has provided ways to self-reference with value in thought, and word.
    In dress, in inter-personal assumptions of interaction? Social/cultural evolution is slow, resistant, and often intolerant within the very group one ought be able to find healthy forms of acceptance and support…
    As long as the violence of competition rules, so will the odds of chaos be stacked against successfully healthy forms of productive, inter-individual navigation in the world.

  7. Louise Chanarý says:

    There is something deeply problematic with being stuck in thinking along the lines of a sexiness-modesty dichotomy. Sexiness and modesty have this in common that they are both related to how others view someone: being sexy means looking attractive to someone else and being modest means covering up so as to not show too much to someone else (fuckable or non-fuckable). Both are anti-feminist in my view. What IS feminist in my view is walking around with few clothes on, because it is hot outside or because you may feel more free without clothes, in a way that is not necessarily also sexy (it can be, but the point is that that is not what in that case determines the choice of clothing). What is also feminist in my view is having many clothes on because it is cold outside independent of whether these clothes are sexy (perhaps very tight?) or modest. The point is to not dress for the gaze of others.
    (And this is exactly what is wrong with Femen: their nakedness has only one purpose, to attract viewers in the hope that they may also see what they protest against (something I am sure most immediately forget).)
    Disliking women who go out of their way to look sexy and feminists who defend that, also does not automatically mean that someone is religious or conservative. I usually get pushed into the latter category by feminists defending sexy clothes or ‘sluttiness’ as it being an ‘expression of sexuality’ (whatever that is…) but I am an atheist who likes sex just as much as any other. I say: dress yourself in a way that feels comfortable and in things you like, like nice colors and nice fabrics with a great cut etc….there is so much more to clothing than just a level of sexiness/modesty and it is most of all functional. Same goes for shaking asses and tits. As long as it gives you a feeling of freedom, well, go for it, but if it is done because of looking sexy and fuckable, then please no.

    • Rhetoricqueline says:

      You write that “the point is not to dress for the gaze of others,” but I suggest that the point is that how a person dresses is their autonomous bodily right, whether or not it’s for others. It is not your place, nor mine, or anyone’s, to regulate another person’s dress.

  8. Annette says:

    Can’t one draw a corollary between the verbal abuse given to Beyoncé because of what she wears and a woman who is raped because of what she wears? And, what does that say?

    • Janell Hobson says:

      Thank you for saying this! It’s amazing how so many don’t see this connection between slut-shaming and victim-blaming!

    • Louise Chanarý says:

      No, I think rape and sexiness have no connection. Thinking someone is hot is very different from having sex with that person (and forcing yourself on her). And asking for attention from men is not at all the same as asking for sex.
      (That there is no connection is also very clear when you see that all kinds of women are raped, not only ‘hot babes’ or something.)
      And it is perfectly fine in my opinion to say that you don’t like it that a woman dresses/ behaves a certain way in order to get attention from men. That does not mean that then you think that men have the right to rape her because she is asking for sex. Giving attention is not the same as raping and asking for attention is very different from asking to get raped (which is impossible by definition).

  9. Ama Draco says:

    You realize the “whore” and “stripper” comments would have been there if it were Brittany Spears in the outfits SHE used to wear too, right? THAT wasn’t about her being black, it was about her tendency to be half naked and shaking her butt. (Mind you, I LIKE that about her. SO not insulting her here.)

    But I agree, a woman’s body is hers to do with as she pleases. If she WANTS to show it off and shake it to get money and attract men, who the hell are we to tell her no? It’s HER body! And the way many people talk about ACTUAL strippers? As if they are automaticalyl some kind of victim just because that’s there profession, what the hell? If I had the body? I might think of doing it!

  10. I’m more concerned over the fact that she got lighter(intentionally!).

  11. Your main point is a good one – feminism is not about women policing other women’s bodies … BUT in order to say that this is a matter of feminists (white ones?) regulating women of color, you write as if the women who are upset with Beyoncé are all white and the very same women who are protesting topless against the hijab … It’s really unlikely that FEMEN women read Ms. or protest against Beyoncé for how she displays her body and performs. There are many feminisms and different feminists often disagree fiercely with each other about what the best approach to women’s freedom and equality should be. To just say these are all white feminists is way too simple – and erases those Black feminists who disagree with Beyoncé … (How race works here is complicated anyway – especially because lots of FEMEN women are poor East European women – not women of privilege, even if they are blond and skinny, who are being punished hard for desecrating their own country’s churches and for protesting their prostitution by rich men from Western Europe.) The key issue, as someone here commented, is the fact that Beyoncé’s sexiness is a part of her selling herself as a singer & a product. Is this what we want as feminists – that the careful shaping and display of their bodies, for visual consumption by others, is how women make money? Sex(iness) sells. But is that what we want – a sexiness market that links profit and success to fitting into a very limited idea of what is sexy? There are lots of answers – but that’s the question.

  12. This article is insanely one sided and it is apparent from beginning to end that the writer’s position is “beyonce’s my girl stop hating on her”. When it comes to sexuality and feminism, it is not black and white. Countless women in the media, like Beyonce, use their sexuality not to empower but to sell out shows; this does not make me feel empowered as a woman, it makes me feel sad to be quite honest. I dont mind beyonce at all, but let’s not pretend she looks anything like that angelic cover when she’s on stage; she’s like a demented sex machine. Beyonce is an insanely successful woman but that is not enough to make her the poster child of modern day feminism; there is a huge difference. “When my students try to creatively engage feminist consciousness and use symbols from pop culture, Beyoncé is their go-to-person. When one of my graduate students worked with middle-schoolers on a dance performance raising awareness about sexual violence, whose music did these girls choose? Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child” THAT MEANS NOTHING! All that says is they watch too much television, it does not prove that Beyonce is a feminist. Rewind back 10 years, if the same question was asked they would have probably said Britney Spears. Rewind back another 10, they would have probably said Madonna. Does that mean Britney and Madonna, deserve the title of feminists? They are just popular at the time.

    In regards to the Muslim issue, all the feminists try to say is don’t feel confined to how society expects you to dress and act; that applies to women worldwide. At the end of the day, no one is saying Beyonce is anti-feminism but she certainly does not deserve to be on a cover as the face of it.

    • nanarchist says:

      I wouldn’t say she’s being presented as THE face of feminism; rather, as A face of feminism. So if you don’t feel she’s anti-feminist, then I guess she’s earned her spot.

    • i’m 4 years younger than beyonce. watching her as a teenager, listening to her girl power lyrics, seeing her career blossom and her popularity explode has been incredibly inspirational to me. is that okay with everyone here? i mean, madonna and britney speares don’t even compare, even though i’m curious as to why we’re allowed to decide whether or not they’re feminist too. i’ve loved beyonce since i was a kid, and i will love her until the day i die. she only gets better as the years go on. and i’m not even the kind of person who runs out to immediately buy up her singles and get tickets to her shows. i just find her extremely impressive and i respect her a great deal.

      the only thing that is decidedly unfeminist to me is policing women and trying to interrupt their autonomy, and, frankly, there is a whooooole lot of that going on here. i mean, is feminism some kind of club now? is there something wrong with a woman being a sex machine? can a prostitute be a feminist? can a dominatrix? can a porn star? what the hell is feminism for anyway if not to give women the right to be whatever they want to be, do whatever they want to do, whether it’s to make money or teach kids how to make paper cranes? i mean, this is getting really stupid.

  13. Jane Storms says:

    Really, people? Calling her horrible names because of what she wears or shakes booty? How adolescent is that? What does that have to do with feminism? Why are we tearing one another down when we should be supporting one another? Beyonce is a beautiful, talented woman and probably a wonderful wife and mother. Get a life people.

    • Because that’s all feminists can do these days,
      I don’t even like her music, but this feminist hating and judging of Beyonce is so ridiculous.
      I’m in my 20s—-I have respect for early suffragettes, as well as early feminists who campaigned for women’s education, but I have no respect for most of today’s feminists.

  14. The obsession with how the body alone defines a female continues.

  15. Melissa Boyack says:

    Thank you immensely for this post. You are right on. Self-declared feminists who criticize other women for these reasons (or any number of other reasons) abruptly turn me and a lot of others off. They are so missing the point. If feminism is not pro-choice in *every* sense and is not pro-sexuality in whatever form each individual woman chooses to explore/express it, I will have to find another word to indicate my beliefs. Judgement of other women is never feminist. Never.

  16. I totally agree. Feminism bashes modesty as oppressive, but then bashes a woman’s freedom to express her sexuality. The politics of the black female body are very complicated. And black female sexuality is still a taboo subject in the Western World. Very well written article. Thank you for discussing this controversial issue.

  17. halimaperu says:

    I have officially give up on Ms. Magazine. This is the weakest argument I’ve ever read. Okay, maybe not the weakest but pretty damn close. Out of all the ‘fierce feminists’ in the world, why are Black women and girls stuck with Beyonce? That’s all we get is Beyonce? Is she worth the cover of a non-entertainment focused magazine? Is she more important than fracking? Is this journalism? Seriously? If you’re listening Mrs. Knowles-Carter, which I know you’re not, this isn’t personal. Do your thang gurl. Just don’t call it feminism. Sometimes I paint my nails, put on make-up and wear a tight skirt, but I’m not calling that feminism and neither should Ms. Magazine.

    • Janell Hobson says:

      I have officially give up on Ms. Magazine. Haha!

      Because I’m sure Ms. Magazine is going to lose sooooo many subscribers over one little ol’ issue with a popular black woman who calls herself a “feminist” on the cover. Girl, please! It’s not THAT serious!

    • Beyonce isn’t all we get. There are plenty of powerful black women we have to look up to, and Beyonce is only one of them. I don’t understand all these arguments about why she doesn’t deserve to be on the cover, she’s not a “leader,” she’s not the “face” of feminism. Please tell me what or who is. Last I checked, feminism is anti-hierarchical. Feminism means that we’re all equal, even if we come in different colors and sizes, even if we choose to be sex workers or college professors. One is not better than the other. No one is trying to tell you that Beyonce is your queen, that you have to like her. But you can respect her. Fifty years ago black women were struggling just to have even a small voice in the media, even though popular music was ripping off of our passion and our creativity. Today, Beyonce is the most popular and powerful entertainer in the world. That’s not something to find inspiration in?

  18. I’m on board for what you’re saying about controlling our bodies, but the criticism for Beyonce hardly seems to be racially driven. I’m about to draw a lot of fire for this, but I have heard the same things from people of all backgrounds about Britney, Lady G, Kesha, or ANYONE ELSE in Beyonce’s business. Beyonce is just an example of someone who does something a LOT of people consider illegitimate. She is particularly good at shaking it, and she looks amazing doing it. Maybe that’s why she is more criticized. Buuuuut I highly doubt it’s a “woman of color” thing. Slaaaaaaash, you’re totally right about the hijab thing–it’s pretty insulting that the rest of the world feels that they can police a woman’s security or what she wears, or what she thinks is okay with her god. But that’s another thing which I definitely is not color-related. Is it coincidence? Not exactly. But I don’t think we’re going after these women’s cultural habits as a racism thing, but rather cultural misunderstanding. There are also, after all, some non-brown women out there who are forced to wear similar (or the same) clothing.

    • You can not critique black women and black feminism the same way you do white women/feminism. The fact that you think you can shows your ignorance, and I don’t mean that as an empty insult. The parameters are completely different for us. The history is different, the circumstances are different. What you call a “cultural misunderstanding” can be a huge affront to us. It can insult us deeply and have repercussions in our very way of life. You think it’s harmless, and it’s not. FEMEN’s contribution to worldwide Islamaphobia is not harmless. Don’t ever try to tell us our race and our culture don’t matter, that they aren’t or shouldn’t be a part of the discussion. If we say they are, then they are. We’re the ones who decide that, and you can acknowledge or ignore, but in the end, you don’t speak for us.

      • do you think the analogy between policing black women’s bodies and islamic women’s hijab’s is a false one? i ask respectfully as one who agrees with you.

        • no, i don’t. i agree with it. as someone else said, different sides of the same coin. my point is that no woman should be told what to wear by anyone in society, whether the people doing the telling are men or other feminists. some feminists view both beyonce’s tiny outfits and muslim women’s hijabs as symbols of male oppression, and while to a certain extent they are, that doesn’t preclude the possibility that women do choose to wear these things for their own reasons (which are none of our business), regardless of the social consequences. are they irresponsible feminists for doing so? i don’t think so. i don’t think they owe the world anything. the idea that they owe either men or other women something is just a way of controlling their lives and bodies. i feel like we fall into the “meet the new master, same as the older master” trap when we begin putting expectations and limitations on each other like that.

          i also think mainstream western feminism has the tendency to view all women’s problems as similar and to promote the belief that feminism has the same values and takes the same form everywhere. mainstream feminism thinks that it can paint the whole world with its one brush, that it can represent women everywhere while treating specific racial and social problems that fall outside of the scope of its designated priorities as if they are special interests. all feminists need to realize that racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, religious intolerance, and other -isms, phobias, etc. are inextricably connected to the struggle of women who aren’t middle class and white, and these problems can’t be separated.

          anyway, sorry for the novel.

          • i totally agree with you. i also think femme performance wear — be it beyonce’s booty shorts or hijabs — is seriously problematical. i am my sister’s keeper, and what i represent has an effect on her ability to get an education without having acid thrown into her face, or showing up in law school as a woman of color with, say, natural hair instead of a blonde weave. i don’t know how i can have it both ways but i am concerned — much more for jay-z’s protege rihanna than for beyonce. have you seen rihanna’s under-18 videos?

  19. GenXMama says:

    I want to start off saying that calling Beyonce a “whore” and a “stripper” is just totally uncalled for. Talk about some women-on-woman hate and oppression. Ladies, at this point in time, we have to stand together. That being said, I can understand how some feminists can be upset that Beyonce is being held up as a feminist icon. Part of her package is her sexuality, but it isn’t a sexuality created by women, it’s a sexuality created by men. I’ll while she owns her own body, she doesn’t own the industry of the objectification of women. So while she may make a lot of money off self-objectification, for the rest of us normal women, we take the blunt end of female objectification on a daily basis without profiting off of it, economically or socially.

    Regarding FEMEN, we’re talking about the same thing here. Amina was protesting the objectification of her body through forced hijab/covering. Because remember why women have to wear hijab in the first place: because our hair (and sometimes faces) is the cause of all havoc among mankind. Same coin, different side. And btw, you notice the biggest protestors against FEMEN were Muslim women in WESTERN countries, who live under Western privilege and have a right to wear whatever they want? Also, their voices are heard because they have a right to speak in the West. And they’re using their Western privilege to muffle Amina’s voice. Their actions are literally justifying Amina’s continued abuse in Tunisia now. Again, another example of women-on-woman hate and oppression.

    The uncovering of Beyonce, even when it seems it’s with her own agency, and the forced covering of Amina (and all women in the MENA) are the same thing. It is a male dominated/patriarchal society’s continued ownership and regulation of and the ability to define our sexuality. So this isn’t about white women and brown women (speaking as a brown woman myself), this is about how all women live and maneuver in the context of how patriarchy is played out geographically.

    • Janell Hobson says:

      This issue IS about racial difference and the myriad ways certain women have always tried to regulate and control other women’s bodies in a bid to claim who’s the more “evolved” feminist and who should be taking the lead in speaking for and “saving” women from themselves.

      As for your arguments about Beyonce being “created by men,” and arguing that Muslim women – and NOT Femen, with their obvious Islamophobia on display – are “muffling” Amina’s voice, talk about disavowing and discrediting the ability of women of color to have their own voices and to act from a position of agency!

      You may not find women like Beyonce empowering, but actually quite a few women and gay men and a host of other marginalized folks do.

      Or, are we going to now insist on who’s the bigger, badder, better, more evolved “feminist” in the realm of representation? Which, quite frankly, I’m done playing that game.

      You want to debate feminist consciousness, feel free. But let’s not pretend that this discussion (and the so-called controversy that greeted Ms.’s cover) wasn’t already racialized from jump.

      • GenXMama says:

        Obviously you haven’t read about Amina’s case. After her pictures became international news, she was kidnapped by her own family and taken to a “doctor,” where she was tortured. Men AND women in her family tortured her and now she’s on trial. Is that agency?

        Muslim women who live in Western privilege uphold the patriarchy that is shutting Amina down. They are using the freedom of speech that Amina DOES NOT HAVE to trump hers. Sorry Amina doesn’t meet your Orientalist standards of what it means to be an Arab woman.

        • i think you have put your finger on the problem with the amina analogy, without acknowledging how difficult it is for women of color to think white women are calling beyonce a ho.

        • i think you’re making a lot of assumptions about what life is like for muslim women in non-western countries, and you’re making some false comparisons between the east and the west. there are only two countries in the world that officially require women to wear head coverings–there are more countries that have BANNED wearing head coverings in public or in certain places than require them. true, there are a lot of other countries and communities that informally enforce wearing head coverings, but a lot of “privileged” western muslim feminists are actually refugees and exiles from these places, and i think they’re probably more qualified to address misogyny in islam than most of us non-muslim women are.

          a lot of muslim western women don’t disagree with amina in the first place. they disagree with FEMEN. don’t confuse yourself. they want to be allowed the opportunity as muslim feminists to have an uninterrupted discourse on what battles they will fight and will not fight without interference from people who don’t know their culture or their struggles. as i’ve mentioned, in a lot of countries, including some muslim countries and countries with large muslim populations, women are fighting for the right to wear their hijabs in the face of de jure and de facto discrimination.

          while i’m at it, i want you to know that one of the 20 women who sits on afghanistan’s parliament is running for president in 2014. in fact, kosovo, liberia, bangladesh, and malawi all currently have female leaders, while indonesia, sri lanka, bosnia, india, kyrgyzstan, pakistan, senegal, mozambique, and the phillippines have had female leaders in the past. these are all countries with substantial (some of them majority) muslim populations. the u.s. has never even had one female leader.

          • p.s. a lot of western muslim feminists are also immigrants with no political reasons for leaving their countries… i can’t go back and edit my comment.

          • GenXMama says:

            Actually I work with women’s groups in Afghanistan, and I’m working on a project regarding gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia with Saudi women. So I think I have a pretty good grasp on the status of women in the region.

            What kind of makes me laugh is how white privileged “feminists” in the West will damn the patriarchy in the West, but uphold it everywhere else, just because people are brown. My friends and I talk about this phenomenon quite frequently. And we’ve come to the conclulsion it’s a form of racism that hides under the guise of multi-culturalism.

        • Farheen says:

          Re: this comment and your comment below:

          What region? Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia are not even part of the same region. Those are three very separate and different countries and cultures, in two separate continents! That’s like saying you’ve worked with Brazilian women and Canadian women so you understand the status of women in the region very well. How does that even make sense? What region?

          And this ignorance demonstrates the problem people of your thinking have. How can you understand Muslim women when you generalize and dehumanize us like this?

          If you’re not Muslim, then you DO NOT speak for us. You can listen and be an ally, but you do not have the right to speak for us. If you are Muslim then you may need to connect with some Muslim feminists because your assumptions about us seem way off.

    • STOP BLAMING WOMEN FOR WHAT MEN DO AND HOW MEN THINK.

      what you are saying is we should change ourselves to fit men’s behavior. that we should be reactionary instead of proactive. that we should constantly be scrambling to address the male gaze like sailors who don’t have their sea legs yet, pitching back and forth as we try to figure out how men see us and then subvert it. excuse me, but no thank you. it’s men who need to change, men who need to correct their attitude to fit us. they’re the ones who need to learn to see our humanity, whether we’re in bikinis or burkas. i don’t see how desexualizing ourselves is claiming our own autonomy–we’re still just reacting to men.

      do you not remember when conservative pundits threw a hissy fit because michelle obama was showing too much arm? have you never seen the criticism of venus and serena williams’ “outrageous” outfits? the black feminine body has been the constant site of attack, from its hypersexualization to claims that we’re too masculine. is it okay with you if a black woman does what she wants with her body and doesn’t give a crap what you think? i mean, is that okay for once? can we have this please? can you back off please?

      and who CARES if the women protesting FEMEN were western muslim women. do you think you know more about their sisters in muslim countries than they do? do you think that deligitimizes their voices as muslim women? that FEMEN has more of a right to speak for muslimahs than they do?! are you serious right now??? are you seriously saying you and FEMEN know what’s inside the minds of women in muslim countries and they are begging for you to save them??? because you do know there are feminists in muslim countries handling their business and that their feminism may not look like your feminism? you do know that right?

    • Amina Tyler spoke out AGAINST FEMEN. So the “Western Muslims” that were “muffling her voice” were actually ECHOING IT. We call for bodily autonomy too. Many of the “Proud Muslimahs” and “Muslim Women against Femen” page members are NOT hijabis and a majority of them were from African and Asian cultures/countries.
      “I am against [it]. Every[one] will think that I encouraged their actions. They have insulted all Muslims everywhere and it’s not acceptable.” -Amina Tyler regarding the actions of FEMEN.

      Race has nothing to do with it. When FEMEN insulted Islam and said they were standng up for Amina, they were actually violating a big part of who she is. Her photo WAS NOT ABOUT ISLAM. It was about the CULTURE of “family honour” in Tunisia. She was speaking about individuality. In Islam, a person is judged for what they alone do. But in Tunisian culture, a person can be judged because their sister/mother/father/brother/cousin/etc did something 20 years ago that society didn’t agree with. Amina is STILL a practising Muslim and even though our ethnicities don’t “match”, she is still my SISTER. I love her as my SISTER. Western Muslims were also speaking up about honour killings and how they’re Islamically unacceptable. Amina’s voice wasn’t lost on Western Muslims. We heard it, and we amplified it. Too many others just wanted to make it about our clothes. We are a religious collective of souls, NOT A FASHION GROUP.

  20. Gloria Cowan says:

    Did you read her lyrics to “bow down” where she elevates herself over other women?
    Chorus: “Bow down bitches, bow bow down bitches…I’m so crown, bow bow bitches”
    @

    • Rhetoricqueline says:

      I am curious about your thoughts on ‘Bitch’ magazine’s title?

    • Janell Hobson says:

      You really ought to read my cover story, which actually covers so many of the contradictions of Beyonce’s rhetoric and performances. This blog post here is really about so-called feminists calling other women “whores” because they don’t approve of how certain women dress (and shake their booties) in public!

      Or do you give a pass to feminists calling other women “whores” because they don’t approve of them?

  21. Rhetoricqueline says:

    I am fascinated by how readers respond to this with even more ideas about how women’s bodies should or should not function in feminism. At this point, I hope we can value difference, including different feminist perspectives. I believe that the dress of another person is in no way my moral or political territory; one’s body is ONE’s body, not mine, or ours, or the state’s, and so on. So while we might find productive dialogue in considering the implications of power in relation to popular culture, it does not seem productive to decidedly reject one woman’s (Beyonce, in this instance) feminist identity based on how she dresses.

  22. Eloise CHENEY says:

    I can’t understand how any of you can say you are a ‘feminist’ and then be commenting on how another woman dances, and saying she shouldn’t be. She’s a free person. If she wants to walk down the street naked, she cannot be condemned, if she wants to shake her booty for the EXPRESS purpose of making men look at her, she can. If she wants to paint herself purple she can. If she wants to be literally a prostitute or a stripper, she CAN. It peeves me off that you are saying in some way she’s not a feminist, because she works in a way that is pleasing to men – there are a great many prostitutes and strippers out there who you CANNOT say are not feminists, because it is THEIR body, and they can do what they like with that body. Saying real feminists only include women who don’t exploit themselves for men is a complete contradiction – she can exploit herself for men if she wants to. She can have babies if she wants to. She can go to university if she wants to. She can be a whore, if she wants to. Because she is a free individual, with agency. Isn’t that the point of being a feminist – saying ‘noone owns me, I have the right to determine my own fate.’ So she chose a path you don’t agree with. She’s not a feminist now? The whole point of her ass-shaking and singing and performing and us saying “Beyonce is an example of a feminist” is the same as saying any woman doing any random arbitrary thing, and being empowered about and by that, CAN identify as being a feminist, and BE identified as a feminist, because she is who and what she wants to be or needs to be in a situation, and you don’t have the right to police that. Again – soldier in a warzone, mother, stripper, space-alien, the next Doctor Who – she wants it, she can do it. I just read a very long page of women identifying as ‘feminists’ ranting and raving about how another human being identifies themself and how they manipulate their body. IT’S HER BODY. She can tattoo it, shake it, get it pregnant, NOT get it pregnant, have bits chopped off it, dye it any colour she wants. IT IS HERS. You say you’re feminists, then you get on this body policing bandwagon, all of it assuming that ACTUAL whores aren’t feminists. Having sex with men for money, or dancing for men for money, is not in some way limiting the way ANOTHER feminist sees herself or gets her freedom. If YOU don’t want to be ‘objectified’ by the male gaze, by all means, DON’T be a stripper. DON’T be a prostitute. But don’t go around policing women that do and saying that they are less than feminist or bringing your chances at ‘freedom’ down. I’m not responsible for YOU. I’m responsible for me. That’s the point.

  23. The fact that feminists complain about both Beyonce and women wearing a hijab does not mean that there is an attempt to regulate the bodies of non-white women. Here’s why: Beyonce is using her sexuality for whatever her purposes are. Her male partner is allowed to do the same. Women who wear the hijab will NEVER get the same equality from their male partners. Until I see a man wearing a hijab, women who wear it are being submissive.

  24. Alexandra MacArthur says:

    Here’s what I like about Beyonce:

    No matter how much clothes she wears she is always the one in charge. Whether intentionally or not, she embodies the idea that women, no matter how feminine or unclothed they are, are strong and powerful. Madonna kinda does that, but many of the other ladies had that passive girly thing going on (Madonna had it without a doubt in the “Like a virgin” video.) If we’re going to talk about girls dressing sexier and sexier at younger ages, Beyonce is the last person I’d blame for this.

  25. thank you for this thoughtful discussion. something i have been thinking about for a while, as a devoted fan of fashion and femme performance, is how clothes make the woman. the witty writers and founders of the website Go Fug Yourself, a fashion police blog, have defined and discussed at very interesting length, with their witty commentariat, the difference between performance wear such as beyonce’s stage clothing, and real woman wear. one is basically trolling to get your picture taken, even if it only appears on Go Fug Yourself, and real woman wear is more self-actualizing. do check out their march madness contests; the discourse is cutting edge.

    http://gofugyourself.com/

    not coincidentally, a few brave fashion models are taking on the modelling industry which is the nexus of this body dysmorphia and objectification. coco rocha speaks for all underage models when she recalls being coerced by photogs to do semi-nude shots aged 15. call it the roman polanski pedo syndrome of fashion, which is aped in hollywood.

    the fair question is, to whom is beyonce speaking?
    http://modelalliance.org/2013/special-announcement-on-proposed-legislation/special-announcement-on-proposed-legislation

  26. I believe the problem for most people is that the promotion of the female body for male entertainment is something they can never reconcile as being an ideal of feminism. If you don’t think Beyoncé plays into this for her own personal gain you’re being intellectual dishonest, and if you’re okay with it in terms of your own brand of feminism than so be it. For many women, however, they’re not.

    I totally disagree with the name calling, yet I hardly agree with these reactions being characterized as a rejection of Beyoncé and her clothing choices. Many women are just genuinely uncomfortable calling a women who uses her body for male entertainment a leader of feminism. Sure, Beyoncé owns her sexiness, I think we can all agree to that, but often her level of sexiness goes beyond a level that women appreciate. When her sexiness is used for the purpose of entertainment or promotion, it’s blatantly for the lust and appreciation of men. I mean have you seen her spread for GQ magazine and other mediums were the male viewership is high?

    This article took the wrong approach. The tone was very off-putting and at times had the same reproachful language that I thought we were trying to get away from as all women for the same cause. Perhaps, the article could have better discussed why many women reject Beyoncé as a feminists leader and why the continuous objectification of women’s bodies for male entertainment is hurtful when it comes from a prominent figure in the black and entertainment community. This would have been a much more productive than who’s-right-who’s-wrong discourse.

  27. I am a multiracial woman of color.

    I have so many mixed reactions to this article, and the continued comments. My ultimate conclusion, though, is that just by the discussion it has generated, it is a good article.

    I really don’t like to think of Beyoncé as a feminist by my personal standards, and I do not feel empowered by her as an artist, nor would I have when younger. But, someone pointed out that who are we to regulate if someone is a feminist, when she says she is? So I have to agree with that too, and I take from that that there are degrees and branches for many women in terms of what is radical to *them.* Maybe for Beyoncé, or for those who draw strength from seeing her, that is fairly radical. I don’t know because that’s not where I live.

    I’m also torn because I see Beyoncé as in some ways very contradictory to feminism. There was an article from this very magazine (unless I’m confusing it with Jezebel) about how the lyrics in Beyoncé’s seemingly female-empowerment-themed lyrics are really about dissing other women. I have always been troubled by her, and when I look at her, I don’t see someone who really speaks an original thought or creates original art. I’m sorry, because I know some of you will hate me, but I’m a vocalist…and in my opinion, she’s not that great a singer OR a musician. She’s loud. Whoopdeedoo. She is athletic, but not a particularly artistic dancer. But this is all my personal preference.

    All that being said, and you can hate me if you like, because I really don’t care…I still do think it’s wrong to call a woman a stripper and a whore in the spirit of such hatred. I may not like Beyoncé that much, but I think I would feel that I was violating my own feminist values if I were to attack her in this way. Someone mentioned victim-blaming; well, if Beyoncé is in any way a victim of our misogynistic pop culture just like the rest of us, then in a way I sympathize with her. Being sexy and celebrating your sense of sexiness in a culture that is used to seeing feminism as non-sexual has got to be hard. So…kudos to her in that respect.

    I have trouble with the author’s claim that this criticism of Beyoncé is about white women wanting to regulate the bodies of women of color. I’m a woman of color. Am I part of a homogenous block of faceless masses that supposedly all draw inspiration from Beyoncé? Is it assumed that Beyoncé speaks for me? Personally, I have a lot more interest in Adele, and she’s not what we’d call a woman of color…or even in Otep, who hardly gets any attention in the mainstream. So that’s one of my gripes.

    Another is that as a woman of color, I am familiar with the color complex that privileges lighter skin. In fact, I have somewhat light skin, and I have been aware ever since puberty of the attention that seems unfairly and uncritically given to me when I am called attractive. It makes me uncomfortable and I personally do not hold that standard of beauty. Beyoncé seems to have similarly benefited drastically from her fittingness to Euro-American standards of beauty. From skin color to facial features, she reinforces those ideals…while her counterparts in Destiny’s Child have mysteriously been ignored. It’s not just because of talent. If that is true, however, which it is, does that mean she herself is not aware of it? She can’t be held responsible for what she looks like any more than I can.

    So as a woman of color, I felt like this article was written from the point of view of white women who are asked to look critically at their own assumptions and privilege. I appreciate that…I really do, but I also would like to be included. Does feminism belong to white women? Having not been particularly well versed in feminism all my life, perhaps it has had that heritage and I just haven’t been aware of it. I participate in white culture, quite frankly, without even knowing it, because of my own privileges in areas of education and as a speaker of English, and who knows? Perhaps even because of my skin. All the same, I felt that the claim was a little out there. It was made but not, at least from my point of view, very well defended, as if it should just be assumed. I don’t mean to criticize the author or seem hostile. The article made me think, and I think that’s worth its weight in gold. I may have to read it several times to really understand what she was trying to say, and why that conclusion seemed so logical to her.

    I would not have chosen Beyoncé to be a cover for Ms. Magazine, and I would not necessarily have the same problem with Madonna, bias though that may be (as someone who understands music, I think only some of my bias may be cultural) but now that it’s done and generated all this debate, I think it was an excellent idea. Even if I don’t like it.

  28. FrancineMame says:

    Fascinating discussion. Certainly a sex worker can be a feminist. Not only our bodies, but our sexuality should be ours to control. Because another is moved by us does not define us as feminist or not feminist. A free person can be powerfully attractive, powerfully sexual and sexy to others of the opposite gender (or the same) on purpose. This is a choice. I believe that the label of whore is one of the longest methods of oppressing the female. The scarlet letter that defines “good” as drawing within the lines with our bodies is the double standard where women must be “pure” and “chaste” for whom? Who is the beneficiary of forced modesty? Modesty is a valid INDIVIDUAL choice. But is only one choice among many. Whether we dress or shake or undress or cover … how we dress .. our gender identity and display… our expression of fashion … who we sleep with or if we choose to sleep with anyone … how we are intimate and in what combinations … all should be in our individual control, so long as we are not victimizing others. A hard task for each of us is to be free enough not to need to categorize, demonize, degrade another human because her choices are radically different from our own. My freedom to exercise choice is based on my working to ensure the freedom of another, not because she is like me, but because she is.

  29. When it comes to making choices about what to wear– How is real choice possible when the patriarchy has historically defined our available choices? Whether it’s the hijab, American Orthodox Jewish wig wearers or the PlayBoy Bunnification of American female sexual liberation for that matter -
    Multiculturalism is often used as shield to convince us that certain women wearing provocative or modest clothing is acceptable without question because their expressions of fashion belie an ethnic, religious , or cultural phenomenon that trumps sexism. I call BS!

  30. Jennifer Jewell says:

    I applaud the article, although I want to voice my opinion that while the name-callers may have meant offense – and Beyonce may have taken it – being a stripper or sex-worker isn’t anything shameful and I think that as women we REALLY need to get that – we are only becoming an active part of the patriarchy when we shame our sisters or brothers for their sexuality. Why is there such a problem if a woman decides to wear the hi-jab? How are you any different then men if you feel you have the right to dictate what Muslim women wear? I do have problems with the patriarchy dictating any our choices and I think we need to continue to get out from under that, bring more light to it. The language for many aspects of our collective oppressions has been taken back by different communities. This is a powerful thing! If YOU get to decide for them, then the redneck down the street gets to decide for YOU. Bottom line, we should all get to decide how we present and dress ourselves. The entire point of Feminism is EQUAL choices for everybody. I see no difference from a woman telling me I can’t wear my awesome, sexy dress or a man doing it. Spending so much energy and time on the subject of clothes when there is still so much to be done around the world-wide subjugation of girls and women seems pointless. Peace.

  31. BINGO!

    For so long I have been keeping track of what people expect of us. My grand revelation? They don’t know what they want from us. I think as humans, we are not very good at functioning without defined parameters. I believe this about most things, not just feminism.

    That being said, I wholly admit to having issues with how Beyonce chooses to present herself for many reasons. But I don’t look at this as an absolute. There are definitely many factors to consider.

  32. Clare freeman says:

    I can’t believe in 2012, that feminist would even debate this. She gets to define her feminism, not any of us. We are all influenced and oppressed by the patriarchy that surrounds us, stop judging women. Start judging the patriarchy and the institutions and limited roles afforded to women and the choices women need to make to reject it , fight it or use their power to make inroads to change it.

    All the comments made were still in judgement of women. Where was the conversation about the role patriarchy plays in us separating out women, as good, bad, more or less oppresses , speaking for other women. Patriarchy will continue ue to do I ate if this is the conversation that we spend our energy

  33. Christopher William Clark says:

    In my view, the problem here is not whether Beyonce is a feminist, or how she chooses to perform/dress/act, but how other people look up to her as a feminist icon. The trouble with the ‘Beyonce Effect’ is conforming to the sexualised type of women that is propagated by a patriarchal agenda. It is not empowering for Beyonce to do this in order to make money. It further perpetuates the idea it is OK to dress/act ‘sexy’ in order to please others. I’m sure conversely, one would say Beyonce dresses/acts for herself, but I honestly think there needs to be an awareness of this kind of performative behaviour when suggesting Beyonce as the go-to girl of feminism. Also, Madonna is just as bad. This isn’t about race (for me) but about relying on these types of behaviour over talent, which seems to not be iconic behaviour for feminism. If Beyonce and Madonna wish to term themselves as feminist, that’s fine. But I don’t think it’s OK to start labelling themselves (or us label them) as iconic.

  34. RadSally says:

    A true feminists does not bow down to the Patriarchal pressure to display our bodies for male gratification and objectification. Dressing conservatively stymies the Patriarchy and the male gaze. The cover is anti-feminist imo.

  35. This feminist hatred and judging of Beyonce (and other women for that matter) is so ridiculous, why I’m in my early 20s, yet I don’t consider myself a feminist.
    I’m finding that the most judgemental statements about women these days tend to come from feminist women, rather than a man.

    Judging other women, based on clothing, or their music….hating on women who choose to wear flashy outfits on stage, when it’s their job to be a performer, deriding those who have a problem with the label ‘feminist’…. I have respect for early suffragettes, but not today’s feminists.
    (And I’m not even a fan of Beyonce’s music!)

    • How Beyoncé dresses is no one’s business. As women we need to respect ALL women. That being said, I was a bit surprised that she titled her tour the Mrs. Carter Tour…I don’t think Jay Z would ever call his tour the Mr. Knowles tour..this is the real issue…strong women giving their power (by giving up their name) to a man. Love is wonderful however it is no excuse to forfeit your identity. The tradition of a woman taking a man’s last name stems from the days when women were property. We are no longer property, we are individuals. We have risen above this much of patriarchal rule..we make our own money, have education, property, etc yet many woman still choose to give up their names because many women parallel romance and these slavery traditions.. its sad..you would never see a man do such a stupid thing.

  36. What Beyoncé chooses to wear and do with her body is HER business. If you are a TRUE Feminist then you would never judge another sister for what she wears. Any “woman” who judges another woman for her choice in dress is no better than the white conservative pigs that use rape as an excuse based on how scantily clad a woman is ..its ridiculous!! Shame on you pseudo-Feminists. My sisters and I walked in the Slut Walk in Toronto to rebel against these very notions..and some wonder why we are still second class citizens? Because you waste your time greying over what a strong woman chooses to wear while men are using time to get rich and run the world..grow up and stop being so judgemental.

  37. judgeyface says:

    I agree that feminism isn’t “one size fits all.” But I don’t understand how that means we cannot critique feminisms [civilly, of course. name calling isn’t civil) within their contexts.

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