“Currently feminism seems to be a term without any clear significance. The anything goes” approach to the definition of the word has rendered it practically meaningless. What is meant by “anything goes” is usually that any woman who wants social equality with men regardless of her political perspective (she can be a conservative right-winger or a nationalist communist) can label herself feminist.” - bell hooks
Yesterday, recording artist and world-renowned entertainer Beyoncé Knowles released a new song titled “Bow Down/I Been On”. Although I will admit I am a casual listener and appreciator of Beyoncé’s music, I was extremely disappointed with the new track. I was disappointed not only for reasons related to musicality, but more importantly I disturbed by the lyrics and the message of the song. The latter point is what inspired me to make this blog and will be the focus of my post.
I began this post with one of my favorite quotes from one of the foremost feminist theorists, bell hooks. In this quote, hooks is interrogating what feminism is and how define feminism. In particular, she calls into question of the lack of definition and political meaning in the broad and loose way we “define” feminism and instead, offers a succinct and powerful definition of feminism: a movement to end sexist oppression. Given these definition, I wince at people who incessantly advocate for Beyoncé as a “feminist icon” when she continues to produce music with terribly problematic lyrics. This time no amount of cheesy, feel-good tracks like “Run The World (Girls)” can excuse the internalized sexism and misogyny rife in the latest Beyoncé track.
Aside from repeatedly yelling “bow down bitches”, the song also contains lyrics such as “I know when you were little girls / You dreamt of being in my world / Don’t forget it , don’t forget it / Respect that, bow down bitches”. Apparently, Beyoncé thought the appropriate response for young women who admired her and looked up to her was to call them misogynistic slurs and demand they genuflect in her presence. Has showing mutual love and appreciation for fellow women become too difficult? Beyoncé is a successful recording artist and a savvy businesswoman and entrepreneur. She’s married to of one of most powerful music moguls and she’s the mother of a beautiful one-year old girl. With this level of success why would she need to produce track that denigrated other women to praise her success in an industry where misogyny is pervasive?
Is it just a sad reality that in our highly patriarchal music industry, women expressing mutual love for one another doesn’t sell albums the way women degrading each other can? From Beyoncé’s new track to Rihanna’s celebration of her violent relationship with Chris Brown to Azealia Banks “cunt”-laden tracks and malicious internet beefs with fellow female rappers to virtually every song produced by Nicki Minaj, misogyny is for sale and these women are capitalizing on it. Tragic part of Beyoncé’s recent foray into internalized sexism is she is still hailed by many as a “feminist”. Giving an interview in which you discuss the importance of pay equity (which is hardly a radically feminist position) doesn’t excuse you calling other women “bitches” and “tricks”. I realize there are those who argue they are reclaiming these slurs in the same way the n-word was reclaimed by African-Americans. However, the way in which Beyoncé and other artists use these gendered slurs are not intended to be empower. Calling yourself “a bad bitch” is reclaiming a slur, but degrading other women by saying “bow down bitches” is still misogynistic, whether the person uttering those lyrics is Beyoncé or [insert one of a cadre of sexist, misogynistic rappers here].
I, for one, am completely bothered by the casual misogyny in popular music produced by female artists. The recording industry is tragically way too rife with sexism (i.e. the slut-shaming of Taylor Swift and the fat-shaming of Adele) and for women in the industry to be contributing to that sexism adds insult to injury. As Madeline Albright once said “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I agree patriarchy has told women for millenniums to “bow down bitches”, so for a well-respected women like Beyoncé to reproduce these sexist notions infuriates me.
I wanted to end by requesting that no one interpret this as an attack on Beyoncé I have no ill-feelings towards her, I am just hoping that artists like Beyoncé can produce music that continues to celebrates women rather than tearing us down. I refuse to support this type of music and I refuse to complicit by remaining silent to the misogyny in these lyrics.
y r u sullying bell hooks’ good name with ur white drivel
OP I can’t believe you led with bell hooks before launching into the same basic, tired, transparent singling out of black artists for misogyny. You even threw in a poorly thought-out quip about rappers for good measure.
There’s a lot to be said about ‘bow down’ as regards black music, black womanhood, black feminism, trill/trap music, the references she makes in the song that signify that she does not give a fuck what you think, that you’re not even invited to this conversation, but I will leave that to others to talk about and just focus on this bit that you glossed over:
‘i took some time to live my life/but don’t think i’m just his little wife’
I don’t mean to blow your mind or anything, but since you clearly weren’t listening to the track, I’m going to tell you that Beyonce isn’t denigrating her fellow artists at all— the way you’re doing with Rihanna or Azealia Banks in this very post while accusing her of doing so. She wasn’t throwing shade at anyone but YOU. You and the other white feminists and other losers on the internet who have been coming at her for a solid four months— for a photoshoot, for a halftime show, for what she decided to call her tour. Did you forget all that, were you too busy being unintentionally ironic about incorrect feminism, or are you all just that fucking un-self aware?
Basically everything Heather and Amara said.
But also, OP, let’s pretend for 2 seconds that you are right. In being “right,” your post would then imply that feminist icons must practice feminism perfectly 24/7, and idk where you live, but that shit is not a reality in this world. I mean, this post is evidence enough of your struggles w/feminism. But just b/c you’re floundering all over the place doesn’t mean you’re not a feminist anymore. This type of policing is fucking ridiculous and idk why so many of y’all play this game. If someone IDs as feminist, they’re a feminist. End of. Also, LOL at you thinking you can lead w/a bell hooks quote and proceed to paint four black women as villains, while labeling Adele and Taylor Swift as victims. Did you think no one was going to notice or?
Good story, an embracing of the Greek mythology and history, and a Diana that is clearly her own agent. Amazons who are worthy of the name, not in the sense that they’ve amputated a breast, but in the sense that they are not-to-be-fucked-with. Little-to-no romance. A costume that makes more sense. An epic sword fight. A thematic core that addresses the questions of xenophobia v. inclusion, and nature v. nurture, and that takes the core feminism of the concept and instead of apologizing for it or avoiding it, embraces it as a given, so it is simply there, rather than being what it’s about.
Mostly, one that embraces the character rather than apologizes for her.
But the point, the point, is that whenever I hear someone talking about how it’s wrong to have sex and sexiness in YA novels, what I actually hear is this:
I’m terrified that the first fictional sex a teenage girl encounters might leave her feeling good about herself. I’m terrified that fictional sex might actually make teenage girls think sex can be fun and good, that reading about girls who say no and boys who listen when they say it might give them the confidence to say no, too – or worse still, to realise that boys who don’t listen to ‘no’ aren’t worth it. I’m terrified that YA novels might teach teenage girls the distinction between assault and consensual sex, and give them the courage to speak out about the former while actively seeking the latter. I’m terrified that teenage girls might think seriously about the circumstances under which they might say yes to sex; that they might think about contraception before they need it, and touch themselves in bed at night while fantasising about generous, interesting, beautiful lovers who treat them with consideration and respect. I’m terrified of a generation of teenage girls who aren’t shy or squeamish about asking for cunnilingus when they want it, or about loving more than one person at once, and who don’t feel shame about their arousal. I’m terrified that teenage girls might take control of their sexuality and, in so doing, take that control of them and their bodies away from me.
i won’t link to the full review of our show the other night, or even name the publication (if you care, google), because i don’t want to give the writer the satsifaction of the hits. but can i talk for a moment about how incredibly much this pisses me off? thanks, i will. the review begins:
“‘How can I make my friends into feminists?’ ran one of the more odd questions put to Amanda Palmer during a sit-down Q&A in the midst of this show. One answer, if you happen to be an internationally adored cabaret artist, is probably not to coo and gaze adoringly at your bestselling fantasy author husband for two hours in public.”
…and it goes on to give the rest of the show a great (four star) review. the show was, by the way, fantastic. neil read for about an hour, i played for about an hour, we did a bunch of great songs together, and i think pretty much everybody had a stellar fucking time.
i’m not even sure what the journalist MEANT by this statement. did he mean “real feminists shouldn’t show open affection for their husbands?” or did he mean something else? the fact that i’m “internationally adored” and neil is “bestselling” seems to be part of the point he’s making, but….what’s the point? that if i were a real feminist i’d stand there screaming “I KNOW YOU THINK YOU’RE HOT SHIT, GAIMAN, WITH YOUR BEST-SELLING MAN-PENNED NOVELS AND ALL THAT CRAP, BUT I AM FAMOUS CABARET WOMAN! FUCK YOU MAN! I ALSO MAKE AN INCOME! I STAND HERE, EQUAL TO YOU, AND SHOWING YOU AFFECTION WOULD CLEARLY BE A SIGN THAT I KNOW I BELONG TO THE WEAKER SEX.”
the larger irony, of course, is how i ACTUALLY answered the question, which was something along the lines of:
“if you’re trying to turn your friends into feminists, i think you’re taking the wrong tack. i would back up and start off by not trying to turn them into ANYTHING…this is how we got into this whole mess in the first place.”
as far as i’m concerned, the most powerful feminist can do WHATEVER SHE WANTS.
THAT IS WHAT DEFINES A TRUE FEMINIST.
this includes: wearing heels, wearing combat boots, wearing nothing, sporting lipstick, shaving, not shaving, waxing, not waxing, being political, being apolitical, having a job, being homeless, gazing at men, gazing at women, gazing at porn of all sorts, glamming up like a drag queen, going in man-drag, being in a five-way polyamorous relationship, being childless, being a stay-at-home parent, being single, having a wife, having a husband, and gazing/cooing adoringly at those wives or husbands anywhere they fucking choose, including elevators, restaurants, puppet shows (well, maybe keep it g-rated if there are small children present), ….or on theatrical stages at fringe festivals. are we getting the picture here?? the most powerful feminist can do WHATEVER SHE WANTS. the minute you believe you’re a “bad feminist” because you said the wrong thing/wore the wrong thing/got married/chose to have children…or otherwise broke some unspecified ”code of feminism”: DON’T BUY IT. THERE ISN’T ONE. you can do ANYTHING YOU WANT. ANYTHING. THAT’S THE POINT.
let’s say that one more time for good measure:
don’t let anyone try to turn you into a feminist.
just be one.
Brave messes around with the witch-mother element in other Disney films by actually making the witch somewhat innocuous rather than evil, and the mother something other than an absent character, or a malicious step-parent. This is consistent with the more general philosophy in the film of making the women the point of the film: the female characters are not one-dimensional. It is good for your daughters…
It is less good for your sons. The male characters in the film are one-dimensional. They are either spritely, voiceless, little boys, menacing figures, buffoons, or obstacles…
I’m not sure what boys are supposed to take away from this movie, except that women aren’t cardboard cutouts. While that’s not an immaterial message, it’s more subtle than boys will probably recognize. It might lay a foundation for relationships with complicated, genuine, women in the future, and if it does then that is a good thing. But there are no role models for boys in this movie.
I want to take a moment to disclaim this and say: no. I don’t think it’s awesome that boys and men are portrayed with negative stereotypes in this movie, and it’s certainly something I would like to see handled better. But. Welcome to watching movies from a lady’s perspective. 95% of the time, we’re barely in the movies at all, and when we are, it’s usually as a stereotype that makes you cringe. Very rarely is it the sort of person you turn to your daughter and say, “Just think! Someday you could grow up to be like her!” At least, not without a heavy dose of sarcasm.
But let’s revisit this idea that it’s not a good thing for boys to see a movie where females aren’t cardboard cutouts, where women aren’t evil witches or step-mothers, ditzes, mean girls, flawless princesses, shrill matrons, sexy prizes to be rewarded to the hero at the end of the film, etc. When you consider the teeny, tiny number of films or TV shows where women and girls are presented as actual human beings, if they are presented at all, maybe it’s not such a bad idea if boys do get exposed to the idea that women are people, too.
Boys have a plethora of media that is geared toward them—and girls, because no one assumes that a movie that contains almost exclusively male characters isn’t for women, too—that portrays men and boys as all sorts of things: good stereotypes, bad stereotypes, and well-rounded characters with a full back story and range of emotions. You know, characters worthy of having multi-million dollar movies made about them.
Girls have very little of that, and boys are often exposed to even less than exists because movies that feature women and girls are “for girls.” While girls constantly watch movies and shows that feature male leads and never think twice about whether the media was meant “for them” (note: it’s not), boys frequently skip on the “girl stuff” because the female perspective is so undervalued. So seeing a movie where girls/women take center stage, where girls/women are treated as full human beings, where girls/women matter? In a world of media that tells little boys that girls don’t matter, that’s powerful stuff.
Maybe one movie isn’t going to change a boy’s perspective on women and girls, but perhaps if more men and boys supported media where women and girls are treated as fully human, more of that sort of media would get made, and there would eventually be enough (a 50-50 split would be nice) that it could make a difference.
You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t necessarily feel sympathy over the fact that you want to write off boys seeing a movie that features girls because it doesn’t do anything in particular for boys. If that were the criteria for girls watching movies or TV shows, girls would watch…well, almost nothing.
Finally, if we’re going to criticize a movie for using negative gender stereotypes, then it should be on the grounds that those stereotypes are bad for everyone, not just those of the gender negatively portrayed.
can someone help me right now
i can’t think coherently
I always find this frustrating because you almost have to be a middle to upper class, usually white woman (or man) in order to be saying and thinking that. No one else in the world is so incredibly unaware of how much women have always contributed to the workforce of most civilizations throughout time and how often it has not been necessarily out of choice, but out of necessity, often in order to be “good” mothers when one income (or no income) wasn’t enough to support their family.
It’s like history and what “women have been doing for centuries” never counts so long as it was poor women doing it. It’s like having pride in motherhood doesn’t count if you have to (or want to) work at the same time. And then these same people would, of course, complain about individuals who make bad parents, since it’s obviously not actually ideal for everyone- while simultaneously positing that women should not want or feel the need for any other position than “mother.” So what if your mom enjoyed it?? My mom had a great time being a nurse, but it’s not like I’m going to assume every woman in the world is cut out for delivering newborns multiple times a week.
Internalized misogyny and classism at its “finest”… :/
Ugh. PLEASE look at history before you use it in an argument, please! Agreed with feministdisney, above, and also:
What you (FB poster) call “staying home and playing house all day”? For most women in most of the “centuries” you refer to, in Western civilization* that actually meant doing a shit ton of work that contributed at least 50% to the income of the married couple’s household. Depending on what era you want to talk about, that could be vegetable farming, agriculture, taking care of livestock, processing all kinds of food (like a butchered pig for example), textile processing, weaving, merchant trading and running whatever kind of business your family has, budgeting, repairing tools, machinery or your house— among many many other jobs that worked in concert with whatever your husband was doing and was invaluable to the income of the family.
All of these things that you dismiss with the phrase “playing house” (& thanks, that saccharine phrase really makes my teeth hurt) changed with the advent of the industrial revolution, when suddenly people couldn’t make their income by home- and village-based work but had to go work in factories. I’m oversimplifying a huge amount here, but go with me. There are a lot of complicated factors going on, but this “woman stays home and is a domestic goddess” idea cropped up in the Victorian era, when society created (oh yes, I meant that) the ideal for men to go work in these new factory jobs and women to stay home and impart moral lessons to their babies. But hey, guess what? Only rich women got to do that! And rich husbands weren’t even working in factories, they owned them! Because poor women, the ones whose husbands were actually doing the dirty work in those factories? Yeah, those women had to work in factories too, because no one got paid shit for that kind of work. And this isn’t even getting into the ideals of the 1950s which is a whole other can of worms I won’t bother opening right now. Check your history, please, before you make sweeping inaccurate claims about it.
So—honestly, now—I am really glad that it was the best time of your mom’s life. I really am. And I’m really glad that in your family, she got the ability and resources to choose to stay home and make that her contribution to the family. But that isn’t the case in most families now, or ever. And if I end up in a relationship with someone who makes enough money to support both of us without me working at all (haha, unlikely), and if we decide to have kids at all, I will still go out and find a job, because I want to, for a variety of reasons. And who the hell are you to tell me how my relationship should go?
So no, this “get back in the kitchen” mentality is bullshit, internalized misogyny and I unapologetically hate it. “Incredibly different,” in this case, means “lesser than,” and that I will not stand for.
*I say Western civ because that’s what I have better knowledge of; anyone that wants to add from cultures & histories other than that please do!
(*This is all also coming directly from a straight cis-female viewpoint, so apologies for that narrow focus as well. Although not apologies for the OP’s incredibly ridiculous and narrow focus. “Women have babies, men have jobs”?! What the everloving HELL?! Having a baby or not does not a woman make, and having a job or not does not a man make, and you have a lot of shit to learn. A LOT. kjabsjkfbsdfARGH.)