beyonce no angel

You of course know by now that Beyoncé broke the world by releasing her self titled “visual album” around midnight last night all in one fell swoop without having the decency to make sure we were sitting down. Well it’s only been about 15 hours since we’ve had access to the album, and while the initial reviews have been wildly positive (or maybe more accurately, akin to idol worship), there’s an interesting fight happening over at Jezebel between the Beyoncé detractors and defenders, who are getting into a complex discussion of feminism, race, and celebrity.

As it stands, the arguments aren’t particularly well formed, because they’re mostly taking place in commenting threads. Jezebel’s excited post announcing the album release set off a bit of a shit storm and has turned into a fight between mainstream white feminism that discounts women of color (among many other groups), the commenters calling them out, and the occasional troll or spambot.

The thread started with questions about the deification of “Queen Bey.” Things started to go off the rails when one commenter under the handle thisismyfirstburner claimed that Beyoncé was not an artist but instead an entertainer, citing Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell as examples of the former. Commenter Unicorn Lover shot back “I find its usually (always) black musicians who are called just entertainers or whatevs whilst white guitar people get to be artists. Its pretty ridiculous.” This is completely true and dehumanizing, and I don’t want to live in a world where Jason Mraz is an artist and Beyoncé isn’t.

Another thread had to do with the old standby argument of “is this woman a feminist?”–aka, does this person stand up to my subjective, personal and prescriptive type of feminism? Commenter isner-mahut took issue with the title of Beyoncé’s current Mrs. Carter Tour, saying

I’m only pointing out that there is a degree of cognitive dissonance between the idea that girls should not make marriage their goal in life, and then going on a year long tour that identifies you solely in relation to your husband.

This seems like a futile criticism, given that the basic tenant of feminism is equal choice for all. Commenters were quick to respond that marriage has different meanings tied up in it in black feminism, criticizing her choice to identify as married only shows a complete lack of understanding or intersectionality. Commenter amybobamy explained it comprehensively:

You do not seem to be taking in account how different marriage is in the black community….Since you seem to be confused, black women marry at a much lower rate than white women, yet men maintain relationships with these women over years and years. So essentially a black girl saying “if you liked then you should’ve put a ring on it” is essentially, I’m great enough for you to decide to marry me, do it. The goal is not to get married, the song is about men staying in relationships with women for a long time and letting the relationship end because they don’t want to commit. Commitment, in this song, is represented by a wedding ring. Y’all really do seem to forget that for a lot of black women, many of the women that I know, marriage really is a source of power. It is not the only source of power, it is not the end all be all, but it can be empowering. It breaks the stereotype of baby-mamas or mammys raising someone’s kids.

And so began a shit storm of white feminism versus black feminism, with the most vocal white feminsts really, really missing the point. But it was commenter Elaine who really put it all into one succinct comment:

Amen. Miley Cyrus appropriates and the Jezzies defend her. Gaga makes a song appropriating religious and cultural attire and they call her brilliant.

Beyonce drops her album with no publicity needed, continually empowers women and little girls (esp black) everywhere and she’s STILL not good enough.

Features a Nigerian feminist on her album. Still not good enough.

Just another day in the life of a black women in a sea of clueless white feminists

Whether you’re a Queen Bey fan or not, this has set off an important conversation about intersectionality, which is something that much of mainstream, white feminism ignores. The problem with ignoring intersectionality is that assumes all female-identified people come at life from an even playing field with the same experiences and cultural mores, which we should know by now isn’t accurate. It’s fun to think that we’re all one big sisterhood of women, but of course no one is solely defined by being female-identified, and so our points of view are vastly different.

Trying to determine if Beyoncé holds up to mainstream white feminism is counter-productive, and I think even worse, it’s anti-feminist. I’m not one for saying what you can and cannot do to be considered a feminist, but I think rooting a person out of a movement that only benefits from visibility because she doesn’t see the world with your eyes means you shouldn’t be able to come to club meetings.

Photo: Youtube