Beyoncé, Feminism, Ambivalence

First things first: I like Beyoncé.  I like her songs.  I think she’s a great dancer and a phenomenal singer.  She and Jay-Z are incredibly skilled at controlling their own images, and if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know how I love an exquisite case of star production.

What bothers me, then — what causes such profound ambivalence — is the way in which she’s been held up as an exemplar of female power and, by extension, become a de facto feminist icon….effectively the patron saint of every feminist blog, including the non-explicitly feminist blog to which I regularly contribute.  And let’s be clear: Beyoncé is powerful.  F*cking powerful.  And that, in truth, is what concerns me.

But let’s explore the feminist/empowered woman case:

*Over the last decade, Beyoncé has repeatedly broadcast her independence, fiscally and physically.  She refuses to hew to (white) body ideals, because her body is “too bootylicious.”

*She (and Destiny’s Child) believe women should be “independent” and self-reliant.  To wit:

The shoe on my feet, I’ve bought it
The clothes I’m wearing, I’ve bought it
The rock I’m rockin’, I’ve bought it
‘Cause I depend on me

*Aforementioned song was the theme for Charlie’s Angels, a film (ostensibly) about female empowerment, vis-a-vis fighting.

*The song “Survivor” is about women perserving through break-ups and thriving in the aftermath.

*She released a song called “Girls Run the World.”

*Three years ago, she owned the feminist label, but “in a way.”  Her explanation: “My friendships with my girls are just so much a part of me that there are things I am never going to do that would upset that bond. I never want to betray that friendship, because I love being a woman and I love being a friend to other women.”

*She told GQ: “You know, equality is a myth, and for some reason, everyone accepts the fact that women don’t make as much money as men do. I don’t understand that. Why do we have to take a backseat?” she says in her film, which begins with her 2011 decision to sever her business relationship with her father. “I truly believe that women should be financially independent from their men. And 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.”

*Jay-Z is taking her hyphenated name (they’re both Carter-Knowles).

*She was awesome at the Super Bowl and broke the electricity.

Other misc. arguments: she is powerful, she is strong, her thighs are strong, she has a Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she has shown the music business what’s up while not being Taylor Swift.

 

The unsettling thing, then, are the contours of Beyoncé’s feminism — which is only coincidental, not owned, feminism.  In the Destiny’s Child’s era, it is commodity feminism — which is to say, postfeminism.  As many, many scholars have persuasively argued, the ability to buy commodities — the vast majority of which only serve to further subjugate women to men — is feminist, then feminism is a word without meaning.  In the Beyoncé qua Beyoncé phase, it oscillates between fantasy (“Girls Run the World”) and striving-towards-monogamous-coupling  (“Single Ladies”).  To refresh: “Single Ladies” is not about how being apart from a man is awesome; rather, it is about how men fail to secure what they want.  Bemoaning and satirizing men’s inability to commit to monogamous relationships is not feminist; it is, in many ways, regressive — the inability to “put a ring on it” is denigrated; by default the ability to “put a ring on it” is celebrated.  I’m not saying that feminist can’t be married.  But placing “putting a ring on it” as the ultimate — I don’t need you to to tell me that that’s problematic.

Beyoncé says, in the pages of GQ, that she wants women to be financially independent, claiming that financial independence will help women change what’s declared sexy, and then she poses on the cover like this:

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…I can’t help but feel ambivalent.

 

As she puts on a superb Super Bowl show, but does it in outfit that basically taught my lesson on the way that the male gaze objectifies and fetishes the otherwise powerful female body….

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…I can’t help but feel ambivalent.


Because Beyoncé does, indeed, hold a tremendous amount of power.  She is revered by men and women alike.  She is not “too much” in the way that other female artists are — she’s not too weird like Gaga, or too abrasive like Nicki Minaj.  She’s struck just the right tone between empowered and, let’s be clear, objectified.

Her status as object was driven home during her performance at the Super Bowl, which just happened to coincide with my re-reading of feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema.”  If you’ve taken a film class, you know that Mulvey, and this essay in particular, is the most influential essay in all of film history.  It effectively built film studies as a discipline, inspiring enough response to differentiate film scholarship from what had, to that point, been predominantly rooted in either communication or English.  Today, people chide at the mention of this essay, in part because it’s so polemic — as Mulvey herself admits — and inspired so many effective, persuasive critiques.  But the fact, or rather, the guiding principle, remains: The Male Gaze is the structuring element of all cinema.  And not just cinema, but television and filmed performance, broadly speaking.

To summarize a complex and nuanced argument, Mulvey argues that women become powerful — in part through their lack of a phallus, and the threat that represents — and the way to neutralize that threat is actually quite simple: either punish them within the context of the narrative (think film noir or horror films and how sexualized, powerful women get the ax) AND/OR turn them into sex objects, primarily by fetishizing (read: doing close-ups on) various sexualized parts of their bodies.  They become less powerful; less-anxiety inducing — a sum of beautiful parts, rather than a ball-busting whole.

Beyoncé submits herself to this gaze, over and over again.  I feel like this is a painfully obvious argument.

 

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And before you say that men make her do this, remind yourself that she controls her own image.  These decisions are HERS.  No matter how many times she throws you the Sasha Fierce look, no matter how much leather she’s wearing, the fact remains that she’s dressing herself, preparing herself, willfully submitting herself, to her own sexual objectification.  We fancy her a self-realized subject, but before the gaze of camera, she becomes an object, defined, no matter how much her look and her power seems to argue against it, by her to-be-looked-at-ness.

To some extent, I can’t blame her: her power stems from her ability to temper her power with her own objectification.  She can say “Girls Run the World,” but so long as she wears that outfit at the Superbowl, it’s not threatening, because girls will never actually run the world.  She can say that women should become financially independent so that they can determine what’s sexy, but so long as she appears on the cover of GQ adhering to the dominant ideals of what is sexy, she’s a non-threat.  She can pose for pictures looking strong and returning the gaze, so long as she also poses for pictures like the ones above.  Her power is evident but highly negotiated, effectively innocuous, even toothless: am I actually just describing mainstream contemporary feminism manifest?

During this past week’s Super Bowl discussions in class, my ambivalence to Beyoncé’s image was met with resistance.  The resistance was, at least on the surface, one of defensiveness: Beyoncé is awesome.  No doubt, students.  She is, as I say at the beginning, a tremendously skilled singer, performer, star.  But there was a secondary reaction and defense that soon emerged.

To summarize: Yes, Beyoncé is objectified.  Yes, she caters to the male gaze.  But that’s the reality of the current moment.  That’s the game.  So she acknowledges it for what it is, and she runs it.

These students are not wrong.  In fact, they are very, very right.  Beyonce is so successful — and so tremendously, universally likable — precisely because she reconciles the ostensibly powerful with the objectified.  Because these days, it’s not cool to be a non-feminist.  You can’t disavow it strongly, publicly.  Awesome women — POPULAR women — are strong women.  And I want to be very, very clear that I see the ways in which Beyoncé is strong.  And celebrating that strength is part of our current cultural moment.  But we still live within a patriarchal culture; one within which norms of female behavior and appearance are very clearly circumscribed, even if only implicitly.

And that implicitness is what makes it all the more insidious, all the more dangerous: Beyonce appears feminist.  She appears to be a role model.  But in reality, she’s playing within the boundaries.

Now, some may argue that that’s the way to make progress: do what you can. Manipulate. Understand what society demands of you, then exploit it.  Exploit men, exploit what they think they want.  And I agree: that was a viable way of affecting progress…..in the 1880s.  In the 1920s.  Even in the 1960s.

But we are, to be blunt, fucking past that point.  To play within the boundaries, however effectively, is to reinscribe the legitimacy of those boundaries.  Either you believe those boundaries are legitimate and will be with us for the foreseeable future — and, as a result, it’s silly to challenge them — or you believe that they’re constructs and thus deconstructable.  Either you think that a negotiated feminism is good enough, or you’re brave enough to ask for more — of yourself, of Beyoncé, of others who you idolize.

As I told my class today, this isn’t simply a question of representation.  The way we think and revere women on the page and on the screen has very real, lived ramifications.  If women are rendered implicitly passive, to-be-looked-at, inherently and necessarily sexualized — and if we agree to that, explicitly or implicty — that agreement has all matter of manifestations.  Manifestations for which we must be held responsible.

When we look at the material realities of patriarchal culture — the persistent wage divide, endemic spousal abuse, the very public fight on the part of Conservatives against women’s rights — it’s easy to say that we disagree with all of those things.  Obviously I’m in favor of women’s rights.  It’s much harder to see how our own equivocation about what it means to be a “powerful” woman has led to the persistence of those issues.

Beyoncé will still sing songs that we like.  But that doesn’t mean that we have to like the negotiated comprise — between feminism and objectification, between subjectivity and objectivity — her career so clearly represents.

43 Responses to “Beyoncé, Feminism, Ambivalence”

  1. Tasha says:

    Thanks for this post on Beyonce. I have felt ambivalent about her for some time…actually, that’s not true, I found her insufferable after the birth of her kid. She totally embraced that bullshit celebrity motherhood discourse which reinforces the notion that motherhood is THE defining marker of adult womanhood. Puke. I think this just shows the limits of celebrity as any kind of political or social force…and why perhaps we/women need to seek out ‘powerful’ role-models elsewhere. But of course, so much of what we know now relies on visibility so the women who are out there transgressing the boundaries are pushed to the margins of popular culture. This is the problem with ‘postfeminism’ – it places such limited boundaries on what is ‘acceptable’ and ‘nonthreatening’ femininity. Reading your post, makes me think young women have totally internalized this ‘popular’ understanding of feminism, to the extent that they see the career trajectory of women like Beyonce as one to emulate. Also, I wonder how is this different than the conversations and debates that took place about Madonna in the 80s/90s? She was certainly a role model of sorts for women of my generation but I think there was a sense that she was less willing to play by the rules of patriarchal-capitalist society, and she was more vocal about political and social causes of the time. However, as her star power has decreased, we see the consequences or effects on her music career (which is just kind of sad now). Coming back to Beyonce then, this is almost angering or insulting to her fans because, as you say, she DOES have power (cultural and economic), then why does she continue to choose to kowtow to the male gaze, for instance? Where is the responsibility?
    There’s a lot here, and I hope you continue this dialogue…

  2. brigidb says:

    Hi Ms Petersen. Here are the remaining typos. Thanks for writing this essay and for being so gracious upon my pointing out these little blemishes. I’ve put the typo-d words in all caps.

    “Beyoncé says, in the pages of GQ, that she wants women to be financially independent, claiming that financial DEPENDENCE will help women change what’s declared sexy, and then she poses on the cover like this:”

    “The way we think and revere women on the page and on the screen AS very real, lived ramifications.”

  3. Annie says:

    Thanks for your close reading — I need all the copy-editing help I can get!

  4. Kerry says:

    Hmm. The fine point seems to be the difference between being sexualized and being *necessarily* sexualized.

  5. Lenore says:

    Ah, AHP! Every time I read your posts I am reminded that I would kill to take one of your classes – and this is no exception!

  6. colby says:

    So then what should she have been wearing? Is anyone allowed to dictate this? How do we really know how she chooses to define sexy for herself? I think I might be struggling to understand this article.

    • CNM says:

      I don’t think it’s really fair for anyone to force Beyonce to wear a certain thing or not. The point, I believe, is that Beyonce’s decision to sexify herself is a calculated maneuver to soften her feminism. She’s both feminist (independent woman) but also conforming to the patriarchy to make her harmless (check out my boobs).

  7. Very insightful article.

    But how can we tell women like Beyonce to NOT use their bodies to their benefit? If I had a body like hers Id sure as hell be showing it off. But there is definitely a disconnect between her message and her actions.

    Where do we draw the line between empowerment and objectification?
    Unfortunately women cannot be sexual/express their sexuality without being objectified one way or another, or punished (via slut shaming) for said expression.

    Which begs the question as to why women in powerful positions who express their sexuality are not always labeled as “sluts” (as oppose to non-celebrity women).
    Is it because we are in awe of her sexuality? Do we respect it?
    Why cant we respect the sexuality of say..a prostitute (who chooses prostitution) like we do Beyonce? They are both women in control of their situations and independent arent they?

    So much wrong, I get overwhelmed sometimes. Which definitely leads to ambivalence.

  8. Kristin Leigh says:

    Well said – though I’m surprised you didn’t note that her just-announced tour is named “The Mrs. Carter Show,” which feels to me almost like apologizing/”making up for” the fact that she and her husband hyphenated their surnames.

    • Annie says:

      TREMENDOUS POINT, Kristin. I heard this other day, felt grossed out, but forgot it when I was writing the post — thanks for bringing it up.

      • Melissa says:

        I don’t see it that way. I think she’s proud to be a wife and mother and is trying to prove that there isn’t one way to be a feminist. Also, she knew it would be controversial. She’s very calculated.

      • Alina says:

        I’m very uncomfortable with the amount of criticism the “Mrs. Carter” tour title is receiving, the way it’s automatically seen as pandering to traditionalism (subservient gender roles). I mean, it could be, I don’t know what’s in Beyoncé’s head. But couldn’t it also be viewed differently? If the tour is just as high-quality/kick-ass/awesome/whatever positive label applies to music tours (I have no idea) as her earlier ones, couldn’t it be just a way of saying: “Mrs. Carter is as much an abstract label as Sasha Fierce. The substance is always the same: me. If you expected me to be different after getting marriage, I’m actually not, you came to see ‘Mrs. Carter,’ but got what you always get – Beyoncé”?

        I realize there are lots of ways to read into “Mrs. Carter.” Maybe she’s just so happy in her marriage, that the sound of it give her pleasure. (I don’t have a problem with that either.) Then again, maybe everyone’s fears are true and it’s a calculate step to pander to anti-feminism and say, “Hey, I’m just a woman, and now I’m a man’s woman.” Am I naive not to immediately view it as such?

        Ok, all that aside, I really enjoyed your article and I think I managed to distill it into a thesis for myself: “Dominating by the rules of a game that dictate you, by virtue of who you are, will never finish higher than second is not power.”

  9. Liz says:

    At the beginning of the show, someone I was watching the Superbowl with wondered aloud if Beyonce would do a nip slip like Janet Jackson. I tried to explain it was out of the question because of how carefully she controls her image — can you imagine Bey doing that? — but I wasn’t able to articulate my thoughts clearly and I don’t think he got it.

    One thing that I appreciate about Beyonce is that she isn’t necessarily the most naturally gifted dancer, but she so clearly works her ass off to perform and accepts nothing less than perfection. I like her work ethic. I guess I just … wish she’d work as hard on stepping outside those boundaries you describe. However, despite that I want more from her, I do like that she is a powerful role model for young women. I’d love for more young women to look up to non-entertainers or people who really do work outside the box, but I’m glad Beyonce is around instead of just the Kardashians, etc.

  10. 'stina says:

    If you ever put one of your courses online, I’d totally take it.

  11. Melissa says:

    I just wanted to point out that Survivor isn’t about surviving a breakup. It’s a diss track to her ex-bandmates.

  12. Natalie says:

    Is a more powerful version of Beyonce, then, an a-sexual one? An androgynous one? How can women own their sexuality if every time they move, dance, or strut it is viewed as participating in the cultural patriarchy? Couldn’t you say, then, that continuing to associate female sexuality with a phallic order is a line of thought stemming from an outdated mindset of hetero-normativity? How is moving or posing in a way that highlights, celebrates and owns one’s curves automatically associated with male dominance? Celebrating that you have a sex organ, and moving in a way that hints at that, does not always mean put a penis in it. Thinking that way may very well reinforce the very patriarchy that your article aims to subvert.

    • Janelle says:

      I love this response.

    • Jade B-W says:

      I totally agree with this. I think her “highly sexualized” photo poses are actually manifestations of her confidence. Instead of seeing them as reinforcing expected female sexualization, I would encourage a different mindset; her poses are strong, confident and proud–characteristics all women should be constantly encouraged to emulate.

  13. Stella says:

    I personally feel there is far too fine a line between objectifying ourselves and expressing our sexuality for feminists to be criticizing other women about what they wear or how they present themselves. It’s a delicate balance that any woman who has wanted to own her sexuality has struggled to deal with.
    I think it’s this kind of reaction (which seems to be targeted at the expression of female sexuality especially) that is weakening feminism more so than Beyonce wearing sexy outfits -feminists picking apart other feminists to criticize their points which are not feminist enough? …really?
    Saying “she shouldn’t be wearing that,” or “she shouldn’t be posing like that,” just makes it more ok for men to disrespect her and it makes the feminist movement look confused and uncoordinated. If she wants to wear that, and she wants to pose like that, then yes, she should. And she should be respected for it.
    Women shouldn’t have to hide their sexuality to attain empowerment.

    • Wilma says:

      ^ This!!!

      I was hoping this article would criticize Beyoncé for working with Terry Richardson. Not for being a sexual being. I love looking at her, her sexuality makes me feel powerfull as a woman. I feel she owns it and if a man wants to be part of it, he’ll have to play by her rules.
      If being a feminist means I have to start criticizing other women for the clothes they wear, it’s not something I want to be part off. If a man wants to enjoy looking at me, he’s free to, as long as he also sees me as a fullblown person and lets me set the boundaries.

  14. Jamie says:

    I have always struggled with the question of sexual objectification vs sexual liberation. On the one hand, I can see how Beyonce’s highly sexualized image neutralizes her threat to male dominance. However, I also can’t help but think of the shift that has occurred in the last 100 years, or even that last 50 years. Dressing sexy used to be defying the patriarchy; now, dressing sexy is considered to be catering to it. Just a few generations ago, women were expected to hide their sexuality, covering their bodies and forcing them into rigidly shaped clothing. Then the 1920s flapper-styles came, right around the same time as women’s suffrage, and were radical exactly because they allowed women to show the shapes of their bodies, and more of their skin. Think of Downton Abbey, when Sybill wears her flapper-esque outfit to the delight of her sisters and the shock of her parents. The pendulum swung back in the other direction and the 1950s were characterized by women covering up again, wearing corsets to mold their bodies to the “correct” shape. The empowerment of the 1960s and 1970s was partly a nod to the 1920s, a rapid swing back toward the direction of women showing as much of their bodies as they wanted, as a symbol of female empowerment. Since then, I have had a hard time understanding what has happened, perhaps because it is all such recent history we don’t have the benefit of a longer lens through which to look. I tend to think that we have arrived at a place of calculated sexualization. Whereas our foremothers dressed in clothing that for their time was considered provocative in order to declare their independence, I think most women now dress provocatively in order to attract the male gaze. Some do it, I believe, as a calculated financial move, such as Beyonce. Others do it because, I believe, some women have some sort of desire to please men. Think of all the young women who dress in sexy clothing and pose for pictures that they then post of social media, reveling in the bevy of “likes” that their photos achieve. I don’t know if that desire is a construct that we can thus deconstruct, or if it is something deeper. On a personal note, my biggest struggle when I dress in the morning is do I want to cover up my sexuality in order to ensure that the men (and women) with whom I interact focus solely on my mind, or do I want to use my sexuality in a calculated way, in order to attract attention that I can then redirect as I need to? It may sound like a strange train of thought, but as a young women just starting out in the professional world, that is a constant struggle. At the end of the day, I choose to wear what makes me feel good about myself. Perhaps this is a sad fact about the state of feminism today, but usually what makes me feel the best is clothing that hints at my sexuality but doesn’t exploit it. Is this buckling to male dominance, or using the fact that men are attracted to sexuality to my benefit? Which is more “feminist”?

  15. Hi Annie,

    Great post! When reading, what came to mind is that in this discussion of “positive” or “negative” representation of empowerment, it seems that similar to ideology, there’s no “outside” when it comes to the representation/objectification issue – particularly within the sphere of pop culture. I liked someone else’s comparison to Madonna, who was (and continues to be) as polarizing as Beyonce is now — especially once she became a mother.

    It seems to me though, that a “reading” of Beyonce would also have to include the contents of all of her songs, which are one of the main ways to access the “textual qualities” of her stardom and often see her expanding the number of “personas” that she tries on within her career.

    “If I was a Boy,” seems an important inclusion here, as is “To the Left” which is definitely an empowered breakup song.

    I also think her all-girl back-up band is pretty important to the equation…http://colorlines.com/archives/2013/02/but_what_about_beyonces_band.html.

    In other words, how does Beyonce directly effect those she employs and what are the consequences/effects of her hiring practices.

    I wonder if it is even possible to separate “Put a Ring on It” from its dance moves, which presents a complementary (and certainly meme-worthy) level to the appropriation of the song, including by Justin Timberlake and the football team from Glee.

    Finally, what are the ways in which your students might interpret some (or all) of these various competing streams as positive, aside from the negative and obviously ambivalent points that you raise. In my experience, students admire those who can play both sides of the market, and here Beyonce seems as savvy a symbol or figure as anyone else…

    Thanks again for the provocative post!

  16. Phoenix says:

    I agree with this assessment, but I’m not sure about the hand-wringing over it. The ambivalence that comes with thinking about Beyoncé as a feminist icon is the interesting thing about her. There’s no set definition for feminism these days, and people don’t have to agree across the board with everything that their feminist icons say and do. Like, it’s possible that people who label Beyoncé as the de-facto feminist don’t do it because they’re snowed in by her overall image, but because they admire her force of will, while also recognizing/rolling their eyes over her lyrics about putting a ring on it, or upgrading her man or whatever.

    (For what it’s worth, Beyoncé does sexualize herself, but because of how powerful and in control I/we believe her to be, it rarely seems like she’s at the mercy of the male gaze.)

  17. Laura Bracken says:

    I turned age 18 in 1974. My mother and all of my friends’ mothers were stay at home moms. When at age 7 I told my dad I wanted to be a doctor (like my grandpa and uncle), he told me, well, honey, maybe your brother will be a doctor but you’re going to be a mommy.

    The pill was readily available at college health centers and much safer than it had been, allowing women to control whether they became pregnant. Women were beginning to move into fields of study and jobs that had been dominated by men and were trying to figure out how to act so that they would be treated as equals in those jobs. If you didn’t want to be treated like a secretary, you didn’t dress like a secretary.

    The women’s movement changed my possibilities. Unlike my mother’s generation, I believed I could be successful in the world of work and politics without having to resort to using my sexuality to manipulate the men in that world.

    Perhaps this history explains why I HATED watching Beyonce at the Super Bowl. She is a talented artist and is apparently extremely intelligent but the overwhelming message was that her talent is sex and her value is her body. Black leather, boots, grinding her hips, grabbing her crotch: she seems to be deliberately constructing her predominant image as a sexual object.

    What really appalls me is the impact of Beyonce and others like her on young women and girls. They do not see her in a feminist light as a powerful female artist who uses many strategies including her physical image to make money. They see her physical image and her public behavior as an ideal of what a woman should be.

  18. Lada says:

    While it’s worth examining, please let’s not forget that a woman gets to dress and present herself however SHE wants. Yes, it’s a fine line, especially so much in the public eye. But I think Beyonce’s thing is her power, her self-awareness and her support of, obvi, GIRL POWER. I don’t think any less of a feminist who dresses in what might be a stereotypical “attract the male gaze” sort of way. Her really excellent wardrobe is another element of her power. It kind of grosses me out that someone might think that about me–I don’t dress sexy to attract the male gaze. I do it to look good. For me. Don’t you dare demean me by saying I just did this for the male gaze.

    And if a girl wants to run the world in a skimpy dress, let her. If she wants to run the world, encourage that. Don’t nitpick and demean her and try to take her power by saying “now now, that outfit means the men win!”

    I will say again, yes we have to be careful about who presents what, and what is meant behind it. But we’re not talking about a light pop icon here that might have more troublesome connotations–we’re talking about fricking Beyonce.

  19. Allyson says:

    To add to the discussion of sexual liberation vs. sexual objectification, I’d like to present an idea. What if women took photographs of their faces on magazines, excluding a seductive pose? What if women wore suits, that still showed their feminine, highly sexual body, but didn’t show it all (ie- the shape of their vagina wasn’t exposed through extremely tight spandex and made the focal-point of the photograph). Why do we think that because women are sexual, and beautiful, and have fantastic bodies, that we have to put it out there overtly, in everyone’s face all the time, to prove that we own it?

    I think what Annie is so tactfully adding to the feminist dialogue here, is that those images are all over magazine covers because that’s what men want. Men want to see a woman as a sexy object. BUT MEN SEE WOMEN AS SEXY OBJECTS IN THEIR HEADS ALL THE TIME ALREADY! Women need to stop seeing themselves as solely sexy objects, as though their sexual nature is their biggest weapon. Women, have so much more that’s valuable about them, and so much sexuality that exudes from them, that they don’t need to be so obvious about it. A woman can ooze sexuality with just a stare. That’s real powerful stuff, and, I think, really shows what women are capable of more so than strapping on a tight leather and lace costume and waving your ass around in the air (although, feel free to do that, too, so long as you don’t mind all the photos circulating the internet of you making funny faces with strange muscles bulging out).

  20. [...] her car (too sexy by far). Meanwhile, some feminists and cultural critics–including people whose opinions I respect very much–expressed disappointment with the way Beyoncé’s wardrobe catered to the [...]

  21. Janelle says:

    Not once does this article address the fact that Beyonce is a black female. I understand that you are addressing her image and personae separate from her race, when this is actually doing a disservice to the analysis as the two are inextricably linked. Especially when one looks at black women’s portrayal in media throughout modern times, specifically black women portrayed as a sexual object and “other”.

    I do agree that Beyonce straddles the line of feminism(specifically black woman feminism)/and product. But that’s just smart marketing. That’s her embracing and controlling her own image and sexuality, this is her owning her body and her agency after giving birth. Her image is that of a strong black woman, her empowerment and stance is that of a black woman and your failure to address it doesn’t even begin to really examine her image or her place in feminism.

  22. NiNi says:

    This would be a good article if wasn’t so simplified and coming from a perspective of second-wave white feminism. I agree on the fact that Beyonce should not be viewed as a universal symbol of feminism, however she should be seen as a human being and one of the representations of the variations of feminism, especially Black Feminism. It is easy for one to look at songs like Single Ladies and view it solely as yet another song promoting hetero-normalcy and monogamy, it is, but for a(straight and monogamous)black woman to sing about demanding a man not take them for granted and that she will move on with her life if and when they do is empowering; especially considering that black women are taught to put up with less than they deserve in relationships, and all facets of life, and if they don’t, they are labeled “selfish”, “ungrateful”, “disloyal” and “high-maintenance”. It might seem strange that Beyonce talks about women redefining sexiness while allowing herself to be sexually objectified, but that’s only if one isn’t aware of the “scientific” articles written declaring black women the least sexually attractive race, and even when they are sexualized it is exaggerated and without their consent. Whenever she presents herself as a sexual object, it is a breakthrough for not only herself but also black women, because part of the reason she is viewed as a sexual object is because SHE wants to be, she is in charge of her sexuality and her body, and she will flaunt it or withhold it as she pleases. That is a powerful statement for any black woman to make, and it is one that many in the feminist community have made themselves; which makes me wonder why you find it to be regressive and somehow “catering”. You even said very clearly, that she is in control of her image and she is a WILLING object, she is being objectified on HER TERMS, how is that a problem? How she is somehow failing at feminism by consenting to being sexualized? And to be honest, the fact that you get grossed out by her using her husband’s last name for her tour makes me roll my eyes, because Beyonce is well known for her privacy and discretion, so to me, her calling the tour Mrs. Carter is another sign of her displaying yet another side of herself that the public rarely sees, Beyonce as a wife and mother. Which, by the one can be without giving up their feminism.

    • Janelle says:

      I love this comment, I love it. It hits on literally everything that was irritating and wrong with the original piece. namely the clearly 2nd wave white feminism.

    • Janelle says:

      It might seem strange that Beyonce talks about women redefining sexiness while allowing herself to be sexually objectified, but that’s only if one isn’t aware of the “scientific” articles written declaring black women the least sexually attractive race, and even when they are sexualized it is exaggerated and without their consent. Whenever she presents herself as a sexual object, it is a breakthrough for not only herself but also black women, because part of the reason she is viewed as a sexual object is because SHE wants to be, she is in charge of her sexuality and her body, and she will flaunt it or withhold it as she pleases. That is a powerful statement for any black woman to make, and it is one that many in the feminist community have made themselves”

      OH MY GOD YES. Yes. This is exactly what needed to be addressed and was not, I pretty much just want to reqoute your whole comment back to you because it is exactly what I was striving to say.

      • NiNi says:

        Wow, it makes me so happy that you liked my comment! My comment was inspired in part by your previous comments, plus my anger towards the author and some commentors only supporting this one-feminism-fits-all rule, which is a harmful and excluding mindset to have as a feminist. Yes, the male gaze, objectification, and hetero norms are problems, but there are a lot of women out there, including women of color, who do want to be consentually sexualized and get married and take their husbands’ name and be mothers, and we(feminists) have to respect the choices they make, because isn’t feminism about allowing women choices/autonomy? Sorry for the ramble, but thank you for your replies! :)

    • Gen says:

      How is what Beyonce’s doing a breakthrough for black women when she has light skin, long blonde hair, and a nose job?

      When I tan, I’m darker than she is? Most black women don’t look anything like her.

  23. [...] (This is delicious. You should make it. But leave out the cucumbers and spinach.) AND NOW WE TALK ABOUT BEYONCE On Beyonce’s Face It was strange to me that it only referenced her coy facial expressions, instead of the totally fierce dancing faces she makes while dancing. (Examples here.) I assumed those were also a planned part of her image, until I read this. Bey! Own your fierceness! YOU ARE SO STRONG! WE LOVE THAT ABOUT YOU! (Bonus read: Beyonce and feminism.) [...]

  24. Laura Bracken says:

    In the 60s and 70s, when I was a young woman, our mothers had a very difficult time understanding why we would go out in public without a bra. As my comment above indicates, I have had a very difficult time understanding why young women would perceive Beyonce as a strong admirable role model. Taking the time to read and reflect on the comments has helped me understand how others see her. You can teach an old dog new tricks (but only if you take the time to talk to her.) Thank you all for your comments.

  25. Nitaka says:

    Objectifying one’s self compromises feminine power. I always hear this argument from feminists. And I understand it. But, I ask, aren’t men also objectified in media and entertainment. Look at TrueBlood. I would wager the majority of women who watch that show do so because of the eye candy (certainly can’t be for the acting).

  26. [...] 1. And at number one, Anne Helen Petersen of Scandals Of Classic Hollywood fame deftly handles the contentious subject of Beyoncé and Feminism… [...]

  27. Guy says:

    What about Lena Dunham?

  28. [...] 1. I love Helen Anne Petersen’s blog Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style which dissects celebrity gossip with an academic slant. Two favourites are her articles on Denzel Washington’s brand image and on the public perception of Beyonce as a feminist. [...]

  29. [...] è un simbolo di empowerment o di oggettivazione della donna? O come scrive l’accademica Anne Helen Petersen: «il suo potere è evidente ma altamente negoziato, effettivamente innocuo, senza denti: sto forse [...]