SAAD: Adichie says Beyoncé’s feminism is not so flawless
Opinions Column: My V is for Victory
I am a diehard Bey fan. Her music never fails, her confidence is unwavering and her position as the black, female forefront of the feminist movement is nearly orgasmic in thought. So when Nigerian feminist novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose celebrated TED Talk became a powerful interpretation of the definition of feminism, voiced her reluctance to champion Beyoncé’s representation of feminism, I was shell-shocked. My rose-colored glasses shattered and the Beyoncé fog began to lift. Was I really so naïve as to accept her version of feminism simply because of her status? Was this wrong? The answer is both "yes" and "no."
Adichie’s assertion that Beyoncé’s feminism is counteractive in some senses is not the first time that someone has challenged Beyoncé’s ideals. Critics, including feminist scholars, have raised their concerns that the portrayal of feminism that Beyoncé promotes is actually dangerous to the audience she reaches. Their biggest concern? Her reliance on men and failure to challenge the patriarchy. Adichie herself states that it is difficult for her to fully embrace Beyoncé’s message when it relies too heavily upon the “necessity of men.”
Although people are quick to deem songs such as “Run the World (Girls),” “Single Ladies” and “Flawless” as tracks with strong feminist messages, scholars such as Adichie urge listeners to really consider what they are being presented. A brief scan of Beyoncé’s extensive track list reveals that Adichie is correct. Almost every song by the singer is in relation to or deals with men to some extent. In Adichie’s words, all of Beyoncé’s songs asked, “’Did he hurt me, do I forgive him’” and as I realized, “What can I do to please you?” Her songs have been available for years and the fact that this was the first time I had noticed this trend was both shocking and discomforting, but my fault entirely.
Beyoncé never claimed that her ideals were all-encompassing or that she was the heart of the feminist movement. In fact, Beyoncé’s feminism is just that — her feminism. In an interview with ELLE Magazine, Beyoncé discussed that her avowal to feminism had to do with its basic principle of equality for both of the sexes, and moreover with the fact that she is “just exhausted by labels and tired of being boxed in.” Her feminism involved her life experiences and that happened to do a lot with her relationship with her husband. So how did this translate to everyone taking Beyoncé’s views of feminism and transcribing them as their own? Feminist scholar Donna Y. Ford explains that “too many find their ‘self’ in others rather than in themselves.” This is what the youth of this generation has done with Beyoncé. We were so intrigued by her unapologetically being herself that we accepted her mere praise of feminism as the textbook definition of what our feminism should be, when in fact, there are so many ways to be a feminist.
For years, feminists and champions for women’s rights fought hard against the media, especially the music industry, for objectifying women’s bodies. They wanted women to be recognized for their personalities, their voices, their intelligence and their messages. So when artists such as Beyoncé came forward and reverted back to scantily-clad clothing in their music videos and live performances, scholarly feminists became frustrated and felt as if we were moving backwards. Others, such as Beyoncé herself, saw this as her merely taking control of the situation. Rather than having others dress her a certain way as to objectify her, she dressed however she wanted to in order to say that the sexualization of her body would only be when she wanted it to. It was in instances like this that the divide between traditional feminists and third-wave feminists became visible. It should have been up to young girls to decide which version of feminism was their own, rather than only being presented one or the other.
If Beyoncé has done anything for the feminist movement, it is that she has brought the conversation to a bigger platform than any of its champions could have ever hoped to have achieved. Adichie herself said, “Beyoncé is a celebrity of the first order and with ("Flawless") she has reached many people who would otherwise probably never have heard the word feminism, let alone gone out and buy my essay.” But, the mistake that her fans (just as I myself) are quick to make is in thinking that Beyoncé’s feminism comprehends and embraces every aspect of feminist thinking and womanhood that every woman should have. As much as it pains me to admit, neither Beyoncé nor her feminism is perfect. The best thing we can do is consider what she presents and remember that we are our own people, and she is Beyoncé.
Syeda Khaula Saad is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in English and journalism and media studies with a minor in French. Her column, “My V is for Victory” runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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