For those of you who don’t know, bell hooks is an extremely popular black feminist theorist and intellectual. She has published over 30 books and writes publicly about natural hair. She is actually the author of the children’s book, Happy to be Nappy.
In a panel in New York this week called, “Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body” featuring bell hooks, Janet Mock, Shola Lynch, and Marci Blackman, bell hooks said, “I see a part of Beyonce that is, in fact, anti-feminist-that is terrorist, especially in terms of the impact on young girls.”
hooks continued to state, “I actually feel like the major assault on feminism in our society has come from visual media and from television and videos.”
In case you don’t already know, Beyonce self-identities as a modern-day feminist and she has even written her own essay about gender inequality. When Beyonce initially came out as a feminist, social media sites flipped debating whether or not a woman who was so overtly sexual and wealthy could possibly be a face for feminism.
Now, I have to put my two cents in here. First of all, I am sick and tired of people debating whether or not Beyonce is a feminist. In fact, for far too long, we have conflated academic feminism with ALL of feminism. At one point, I thought Beyonce couldn’t be a feminist, but my opinions have GREATLY shifted since I saw a few discussions with black feminists who countered all of my arguments.
Beyonce offers an awesome cultural moment where black feminists are FINALLY talking together publicly. I have never been more excited. It’s so comforting to watch black women come together and talk about sexuality, feminism, and pleasure politics.
As an avid reader of hooks, I am disappointed with her for stating that Beyonce is a terrorist. In my feminism, there is enough room for bell hooks AND Beyonce.
I think it’s highly ironic that bell hooks is acting as a gatekeeper of feminism. One of my brilliant friends stated:
There’s something ironic about bell hooks saying this given she earned her gatekeeper status by cooperating with and benefiting from white academia. In fact, she’s often turned to as a black feminist “queen” precisely because she evokes everything white academia tells us we should respect (she talks a certain way, she had a high degree, she’s light skinned, and all those other things that don’t scare white people).
Second, I can’t believe she appealed to the whole “what about the children!” argument. This is usually a way to police bodies and now she’s using it to police feminism.
It’s really easy to pick on Beyonce because she has an 8th grade education, she’s very visible, she wears blonde hair and is light-skinned, but how many of us ALSO have to perform in white spaces to succeed? I have a master’s degree and I had to perform in a particular way that aligned with the white academic expectations. You have to talk a certain way, act a certain way, know white knowledge’s. In fact, most of the philosophers and key literary figures we had to read were white men. If you didn’t know their theories, you stood out in a negative way. So, before I diss Beyonce for performing in a white world, I have to look to my own performances. You have to be honest with yourself before you even engage with this discussion.
Ironically, bell hooks kept talking about her time at Stanford, a very white elitist space where I’m sure she had to perform as well in order to get a degree. Now we’re going to critique Beyonce’s performances?
Hooks kept talking about beyonce and her class/wealth, however, hooks also has a particular type of social capital through education that makes her more “respectable” than beyonce but no one wants to talk about that. That represents a different form of class privilege that hooks has.
hooks wants to see newer, better versions of black feminism and black sexuality; however, whenever young black women try to claim feminism, they’re immediately cast aside and critiqued. There shouldn’t be just ONE face for feminism.
In reality, I think academic feminists are threatened by pop feminists who do not come to feminism through their books or their articles. They go online as Beyonce did. She merely did a youtube search on feminism to find out what it was. A lot of academic feminism is highly inaccessible to populations who do not have the privilege of going to school. Therefore, hooks’ critique of visual media culture acting as a disservice to our generation is problematic considering it simultaneously offers many of us spaces to learn about progressive ideals.
Academic feminism can breed an elitist attitude, where we are supposedly the “experts” of feminism because we “studied” it. The greatest teaching moment in my academic career occurred when non-academic feminists schooled me hard about my elitist attitude. They checked me hard and it was necessary. It made me see how my opinion wasn’t the only valid one, contrary to everything I learned.
Also, as hip-hop feminist Joan Morgan pointed out in another AMAZING panel about Beyonce and feminism, how does pleasure operate in feminist politics? It’s easy to critique mainstream images of black women’s sexuality. Either we’re invisible or we’re hyper-sexual, but what lies in between? Its easy to critique all day, but what does sexual pleasure look like for black women who exist in a patriarchy and white supremacy? Joan Morgan asked, “What do safe, erotic spaces look like for black and brown bodies?”
We can’t keep exclaiming that Beyonce is hypersexual through her dress because in reality, black female bodies are marked as hypersexual, regardless of our clothing choices. There is no way Beyonce can get around that critique.
I don’t claim that Beyonce IS feminism. She is merely one of the many faces of feminism. Feminism is supposed to have many faces because we all sit at different locations in our lives. Having a degree in women’s studies doesn’t make you more equipped to speak for feminism than someone with an 8th grade education.
For example, my mother has basically no education and rarely reads. I have a master’s level education where I have studied racism and sexism in popular culture. Does that now mean my mother, a black woman, has NO idea what what racism or sexism is? Does that mean my mother is not a feminist because she’s never read bell hooks or Angela Davis? Of course not. It just means that we’ve entered the activist circuit differently and my education doesn’t trump her experience.
Beyonce is a feminist and I celebrate her as one. As a scholar stated in the Beyonce panel [either it was Brittney Cooper or Joan Morgan], “The opportunity to gain an access point through an artist should never be underestimated.” While hooks is panicking over the influence Beyonce is having, I now feel like millions of young black girls are exposed to the term, “feminist.” Ironically, they might even run into hooks’ work through Beyonce. Oh what a tragedy!! What a terrible influence! [sarcasm].