Contesting White Feminism

In my feminist media studies class, we’ve moved into the topic of the representation of black women in the media and how mainstream feminism is essentially white feminism, and neglects to acknowledge women of color. Over the last few years however, Beyoncé has really been promoting feminist ideas in her work, becoming a strong feminist voice for women of color. She has always championed the strong and independent woman even back in her TLC days, but her feminist messages have recently become more explicit. This is most notable in her song Flawless, where she uses sound bytes of a speech from Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, and also in her performance at the 2014 VMAs. However, she has been accused by other white feminists of being “tokenistic” and too hypersexual, which is incredibly problematic when you think of the history of black women being stereotyped as hyper-sexualized.

Clearly feminism is a very complex topic, especially in our post feminist age where some women see the feminists of today as self-objectifying. Are these Beyoncé critics make a valid point in saying that her feminist messages should not be so sexualized or is this stemming from subconscious stereotypes? Also, would these critics say the same thing about someone like Miley Cyrus who is known for promoting feminism in a similar manner?

3 thoughts on “Contesting White Feminism”

  1. I remember this conversation! I agree that it is a constant struggle of being subjected to “the male gaze.” There is a confusing line between empowerment and being sexualized. Also, there’s the fact that Jay-Z gets some of the earnings for Lemonade even though it is supposed to be about her. I think this is a very valuable post and conversation!

  2. Movements like the feminist movement or gay rights movement have definitely focused on moving their white members forward while leaving issues that affect members of other races behind. Part of it is the complexity that intersectionality brings to a movement and so those issues are largely discarded in favor of bringing the problems of white feminists and those who identify as LQBTQ to the forefront. So the complaints of white feminists towards black feminists are similar towards the complaints men have about white feminists because there is that bias.

    As far as whether she’s “too sexualized,” I think it undermines the movement to tell her what she should and shouldn’t be wearing or doing. No matter what she does someone will think she’s either “too sexualized” or “too prudish” so it’s in everyone’s best interest to just let her be genuine. What’s most important is that she feels empowered and she most certainly looks and acts as though she feels that way.

    Honestly, I hope Beyoncé keeps doing what she’s doing. She already dropped a bomb with Formation and got a lot of white people thinking about how not everything has to be tailored to fit them. There are other flavors of feminism other than white feminism.

  3. We talked about this in our psych of women class last year! For instance, in Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” video, her dancing is on point (as usual) but seems to be for the male gaze. I’ve struggled with understanding sexualizing yourself as a part of creative expression and empowerment in general, but never considered the impact that race might have. Thanks for bringing this into the conversation 🙂

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