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bell hooks Calls Beyonce ‘Anti-Feminist’ and ‘Terrorist’

bellFor 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.


The most *amazing* panel on Beyonce called “Beyonce: Beauty. Body. Blackness.”

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.


Beyonce found out about feminism by youtubing a ted talk by Nigerian feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

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.


Image of Sojourner Truth who was a former slave. She was uneducated yet shook the feminist world with her speech, “Ain’t I a Woman” which pointed to the contradictory ways black women were treated in a time when “woman” meant fragile and weak.

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].



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  • Carolyn Gray

    I was among the first wave of African American females to earn college degrees in predominately white institutions after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Consequently, I entered the professional/ corporate workforce during the “I am woman hear me roar” 1970’s when ‘feminism’ and ‘women’s movement’ mostly pretained to white females…who (after many generations of being waited on hand and feet by minority females), were now ‘liberated’ and flooding the workforce. Just in time to block the upward mobility of black males (whom we all presumed would benefit first from Affirmative Action….because before ‘white feminism’ ….it was generally a man’s world. But once the way was cleared for black men to finally advance to a level competitive with white males (and in so doing, elevate the status of their family….back then, almost everybody was married before 25…here comes a vast crop of college educated white females…just as he was getting his first ‘spook that sat by the door’ office jobs, who in the past had used college merely to get their “MRS” degree. Yeah, yeah, yeah….I knew all about the academic and literary parlor discussions about ‘feminism’ … but what we witnessed in the 70s…was the uncanny and unyeilding white males asserting his rights to continue to control the workplace and continue to have the lion’s share of income from these jobs go into his household – as opposed to the household of black males. Now – still single after all these years, because I never met a man who’s view of reality matched my own, I am grateful that the woman’s movement and affirmative action – which mostly benefitted white men, created a tiny space for me to be me…to pursue a career that pleased me and to earn a decent enough wage for doing it so that I would no longer feel obligated to buy into the ‘necessity of marriage’ cultural norm and endure a relationship with a man in order to secure my food, clothing and shelter. However, from the perspective of one who literally has been there and done that, I find the entire discussion about feminism a distraction that continues to overlook the elephant in the room … white males and white females are still welding 99% of the power in this nation and taking home a comparable share of the income…while those who should be ploting their overthrow, sit around casually debating Beyonce’s 8th grade education and her take on feminism. Maybe I’m too old to really ‘get’ Beyonce, I think her hypersexuality makes her a poor role model for young black girls. Afterall, if there’s anything our younger generation has got down pat, is sex and sexuality. Regardless of the fact that she and her mate are self-made, filthy rich zillionaires, I deduct a lot of style points based on the how they’ve made it. I’m speaking entirely from my ignorant ‘impressoins’ of the pair and their music/videos and my limited exposure (by choice) to their entire genre of music. It is my impressions that hip hop spends way too much time bragging and bullshitting about sex, abusive treatment of women… especially black women…and elevating a decadent life to the level that young kids fantasize about joining them (by any means necessary) in that world…because only folks in that world are important and relevant. I wish some of them would take a little time out from their general BS rap and spin out a few of those nursery rhyme about staying in school, going to college, being fateful and committed to one person (at a time, atleast), being respectful to older people and generally valuing the young lives they influence. But on the other hand, I have great admiration for Beyonce, for how many women do you know in academia or any other field who, with only an 8th grade education, has honed her skills and managed to avoid so many pitfalls that usually swallow up pretty and talented young black girls. I no longer know what anybody (black or white) mean by ‘feminism.’ One of the luxiuries of reaching senior age, very few people can tell you anything that you don’t already know. So I don’t really care how anyone else defines feminism. I define it as being able to stand in your own space feeling equal to all and claiming such ground as you’ve earned while living your on terms that pleases yourself…with or withou the aid of a mate, an 8th grade education, college degree, or a zillion dollars. I like Beyonce because it not only took a lot talent to get where she is, but it also took a tremendous amount of courage, discipline and fortitude. I have no doubt that she will eventually move into a space of psychic security when she will no longer feel that she has to continue playing the ‘stripper’ in order to sustain her ‘status.’ One day (I hope) she will realize that she can be important, inspire young women, make a very good living and a name for herself without stripping off most of her clothes – thus influencing young girls to emulate that mindset.

    • Aphrodite Kocieda

      Thank you so much for the wonderful response. I’m glad that you’ve taken the time to share your opinions. I also appreciate hearing your experiences with the feminist movement. I completely agree—oftentimes these side conversations about beyonce or other stars can distract from the fact that white folks pretty much still dominate the U.S. However, please understand that MANY black feminists have consistently been pointing this out and some of us also have time to talk about different articulations of feminism and empowerment. It’s important to talk about beyonce…not because beyonce is THAT important, but because what she represents IS. The discussion about beyonce also touches upon the racism in white america.

      There are many assumptions about beyonce, however, in reality, none of us actually know her or what her life is really like. If she claims to be a feminist, then who am i to counter her? Who am I to check her? These issues are ALSO important because it highlights conflicts even within black communities. So, while it’s great to talk about racism from white folks in the U.S. [which many of us already DO talk about], it’s also important to talk about racialized gender issues occurring. As black women, we’re trained to talk only about race while ignoring the simultaneous gendered dynamics in our lives and Beyonce offers a cultural moment for us to do that.

      While I respect your experiences with the feminist movement, I don’t think issues in my generation should be thrust to the side just because they seem silly or not AS important as events that have occurred previously. The discussion SURROUNDING beyonce is just as important.

    • MarieS

      Thank you for expressing my sentiments regarding this matter . I would likely be deemed a member of the “younger generation” , and yet, I could not agree with you more . This compulsion that many seem to have to deconstruct feminism into the most vapid, basic elements of hyper sexuality and attainment of monetary wealth ( regardless of the means) is disturbing and undermining to the greater tasks we face .

  • Instead of claming her sister she just stood there and let her Sister do what she wanted!! That is not a good example of a Sister!!!! She is not helping like she is suppose to help other. Lead by example!!!

    • Aphrodite Kocieda

      Hey Frankye,

      Thanks for commenting. All I can really speak to is the talk where bell hooks called Beyonce a “terrorist.” That’s what my article is about–not the elevator incident.

  • HandACultire

    I couldn’t agree more. Yes, many might not agree with the way Beyonce dresses in skimpy clothes and usually puts up very sexual performances BUT she has also shown many young girls that they can succeed, they can be their own bosses, they can use their naturally given talents to earn a living and be independent. She might not write a book on feminism but she has shown us as women that if we work hard, we can achieve that which seems impossible.

    • Aphrodite Kocieda

      Exactly. We have to be able to recognize the different contributions that black women make. Not all of feminism has to necessarily be academic and beyonce brilliantly shows us that 🙂