Look, it’s wonderful that we talk so openly about feminism these days. And it’s great that we don’t feel afraid to speak up anymore. Moving society forward is all about starting the conversation, so I love it whenever I see women doing just that.
But (of course there’s a but), we seem to be using an awful lot of our energy telling each other how not to express our feminism. Case in point: Beyoncé, who identifies proudly and publicly as a feminist, and yet is constantly being criticized for not doing it quite right. As if anyone knows how to do feminism just right.
The Huffington Post recently published an article on Beyoncé’s “problematic” feminism, calling her out for broadcasting Ronda Rousey’s “Do-nothing bitch” speech at the Made in America festival. And yes, the writer raised some valid points about the speech; namely, that it shames other women. But there’s a whole wider context we have to look at before passing any judgment on Queen B, a woman who opened up feminism to a massive new audience who might not have otherwise acknowledged it.
In case you missed it, Ronda Rousey’s speech goes a little something like this:
I have this one term for the kind of woman that my mother raised me to not be and I call it a ‘do-nothing bitch.’ The kind of chick that just, like, tries to be pretty and be taken care of by somebody else. That’s why I think it’s hilarious, like, that people like say that my body looks masculine or something like that. I’m just like, listen, just because my body was developed for a purpose other than f**king millionaires doesn’t mean it’s masculine. I think it’s femininely badass as f**k. Because there’s not a single muscle on my body that isn’t for a purpose. Because I’m not a do-nothing bitch.
Rousey’s words, whether or not you feel they shame certain women, resonated with Beyoncé. Beyoncé is a woman, meaning her body has always been considered up for discussion in a manner far beyond her control. She is a curvy and muscular woman, meaning her body has been highlighted as not fitting into conventionally attractive body types (yes, I know she’s slim, tiny, and gorgeous, but society is cruel).
She is also a black woman, meaning her body is treated with even less respect than those of white women; her body is synonymous with danger, with “otherness,” and with crude hypersexuality, no matter how she actually uses it. In amongst that barrage of expectations and negativity, Beyoncé found some words that empowered her, and that helped her strike back against a world that has always, always claimed her body as its property. And, fearlessly, she broadcast them — because nobody puts Beyoncé in a corner.
The Huffington Post article was actually pretty respectfully written as a whole, and the writer seems to have a perspective on feminism that I can totally relate to (I wasn’t crazy about the “Do-nothing bitch” speech either). So I have no intention of calling this writer’s feminism “problematic”; when you see misogyny, speak out. But it was a few small details — putting Beyoncé’s feminism in inverted commas, for example — that stuck out at me, and turned it into just another part of an ongoing attack: accusing Beyoncé of being a “fake feminist.”
Wealthy white feminists have a bad habit of considering ourselves pioneers of the movement. With Taylor Swift at our helm, we surge proudly forwards, steamrolling anything that doesn’t fit into our shiny, privileged, ‘Girl Squad’ feminism. And Beyoncé, who is not here for solidarity with white women because she’s too busy battling racist misogyny, teaching girls how to take ownership of their bodies and their sexuality, and being fierce as hell while she does it — yeah, she sticks out like a sore thumb.
So how about we step back a minute and let Beyoncé have her voice? How about we really try to appreciate how someone who doesn’t have a ready-made girl gang behind them might express their feminism? It doesn’t mean you can’t speak out when you don’t agree with what she’s said — even if she said it in the name of feminism. That’s the only way conversations ever move forward, so discuss away.
But before you speak out, ask yourself if you’re raising a constructive point or just trying to silence her experience. Before you speak out, ask yourself if you’re just raising another “us” vs “them” barrier for her to struggle against. Ask yourself if you’re making feminism something only you know how to feel. And before you speak out, ask yourself if you truly understand the world she’s been living in. It might not be quite the same as yours.