Beyoncé’s Ms. Magazine cover (Spring 2013) has sparked a heated debate. Many disparage Beyoncé’s brand of feminism as washed-out, hyper-sexualized, and highly corporate girl power, while others are thrilled to have an arguably iconic black woman proclaim herself a feminist.
There’s no doubt that Beyoncé is a talented performer, successful businesswoman, and worldwide mega-star. She’s a popular role model for girls, and her albums are full of anthems about women’s power and autonomy.
Yes, her feminism comes from a place of economic privilege. Yes, she often presents her power in sexual terms. Over the years, she has performed a version of femaleness that reifies the idea of woman as object. She’s safely fierce. She challenges kyriarchy while embracing it. She’s powerful because she’s smoking hot. But Beyoncé has also evolved. Her Super Bowl performance with all female musicians emanated another kind of power altogether. She merged with her alter ego, Sasha Fierce, perhaps recognizing that good girl vs. bad girl isn’t healthy. Yes, Beyoncé contains multitudes.
It’s such a difficult line to walk–balancing the desire to be desired with the need to be respected and heard. Those of us who grew up in the 80s had Madonna, who represented both a highly sexualized creature and a relentless badass who controlled every aspect of her empire. Beyoncé works a similar dichotomy, further complicated by race. As Crunk Feminist Collective points out, “[o]ne of the biggest conundrums faced by this generation of Black feminists is the challenge of articulating a pro-sex, pro-pleasure politic in the face of recalcitrant and demeaning stereotypes that objectify, dehumanize, and devalue Black women’s bodies and lives.”
I’m happy to see a woman like Beyoncé talk about feminism. It helps to combat the ridiculous stereotype of the man-hating, humorless feminist. It’s a shame that this is even something to consider, but so many girls today don’t identify with feminism because they think it will suck all the fun out of life or because they think no one likes that kind of girl. Perhaps Beyoncé’s ultimate power, then, lies in her ability to help girls and young women become empowered. Because what I got from Madonna was not necessarily that I should find power in sexuality but that I could do whatever I wanted in life and not feel ashamed or unworthy or afraid.
There’s plenty to criticize and to love about Beyoncé and it’s easy to play the game of who’s the best feminist. There are all kinds of celebrities whose particular flavor of feminism could be deemed problematic by some. We all have different feminisms for different reasons, and we all have something to learn. We’re not here to police each other. That doesn’t mean we can’t discuss Beyoncé’s feminism, but we might do more for gender justice if we become better at working together than we are at tearing each other down.