Arielle Loren Asks “Is Beyonce the Face of Contemporary Feminism?” My Response

We need to be clear about who we are trying to be equal to.

In her blog post Arielle Loren asserts that most women do not identify as being feminists even if they share its core ideologies, that there has been a shift in the contemporary agenda for women’s equality and that women are tired of rhetoric of hardcore oppression and patriarchy. She goes on to say that “frankly, all of the traditional feminist criticism of her “Who Runs The World (Girls)” video is just another example of the disconnect between intellectual theory and real life.” Beyonce is the face of contemporary feminism because women feel empowered listening to Beyonce’s music, so consequently, they take this “power” with them as they go on about their day to day lives.


Let me lay out my assumptions.

Feminism is not about being equal to men. All men are not equal. A black man  from 135th street with a Harvard MBA does not have the same social capital as a Black man from 135th street who just got out of Rikers. Full stop.


We need to be clear about who we want to be equal to. In fact, we need to ask do we want to be equal or do we want to be free?

Second assumption.

Black feminists are rooted in Love.

Black Feminists are interested in creating spaces for men to feel because men who don’t feel do not know how to Love. Black feminists are interested in holding themselves, and others accountable when they say racist, homopobic ‘ish, because thats how we roll. Black feminists will get up in that behind when a rapper tries to make jokes and bets about non consensual choking of women during sex. Peace to Jay Electronica. The Black feminist I know are rooted in Love. Being rooted in Love means that you understand that you will not be able to have meaningful emotionally invested relationships with another adult until you have forgiven you one OR both of your parents for abandoning you. Peace to all my homies who are in therapy. We grown.

Black Feminist Love is hella grown.

We are so grown that we understand like Arielle Loren does, the importance of Black women being able to be sexual, complicated, whole human beings. We understand that is is particularly important for Black women who are rendered 50 million ho’s on the regular in pop culture. The mission statement for the Black Feminist blog  Betta Come Correct states that:


So Black women having space to be multidimensional and whole is a part of the contemporary Black feminist agenda.

Back to Beyonce.

As you many of you know I have done a lot of writing about Beyonce, because I am concerned about how the messages that she conveys shapes expectations within Black heterosexual relationships. Given the fact that she made 80 million dollars in 2007-2008 and that earning that kind of money is extremely rare for people in general Black women in particular, Beyonce’s messages influence society and they shape how Black women look at themselves and their partners. Black women are not allowed to earn nearly 100 million dollars unless they are beautiful, talented, non-threatening to White men and they convey historical stereotypes about Black men and women. Dave Chappelle walked away for a reason ya’ll.

Because I care about Black women, I pay close attention to what Beyonce says.

It is dangerous to make open statements that women run the world, because there is so much evidence women get the shit end of the stick in the world.

Black, Latina and Asian women are sex trafficked in the Bronx, East Oakland and Las Vegas.

Eastern European women are sex trafficked globally.

An estimated nearly 100 Million female fetuses and girl children have been aborted or neglected in China and India over the last thirty years.

Women are 50.7% of the US Population. Yet, women are only 16.4% of Congress. They are 17 of the 100 members of the Senate. They are 73 of the 435 member of the House of Representatives.

Women are routinely paid less for the same jobs that men do and this is broken down by race.In fact when I told my students two weeks ago that they could graduate from college and be offered less money, just because of what was between their legs, they looked depressed.

They couldn’t believe how profoundly unfair it was. When I said that “Women are cheap labor” they looked mortified. I explained to them that shutting down was not going to create a more just and equitable world. That they cannot change a system if they do not understand it. And now that they do know that women are offered less money to do the work that men can do, they are expected to go out into the world and change it. Peace to the Equal Pay Act.

Poverty is feminized in this country, meaning that a main predictor of poverty is having a baby because children are expensive (childcare, healthcare, food, clothes, shelter) and there is very little support such as state/federal child care, paid federal family medical leave, support for families who work full time as parents.

We need to be honest about who we are tying to be equal to.

Women do not run the world. The world shits on women. Ask Ester Baxter. Ask Susan Giffords. Ask the woman who claims that she was assaulted and raped by the former President of the IMF. Ask Shaniya Davis’s family.  Ask Ayianna Jones’s family. Ask Sakia Gunn’s family. Ask. Ask. Ask.

Now if we want to celebrate the catchiness of a Beyonce song, or honor her athletic ability, her fierceness as a dancer, that is perfectly legititmate. But to call her the face of modern day feminism is ahistorical and a slap in the face to Black, White, Latino, Asian, Muslim, Native American women and men who have been working to change our world so that being born with a vagina does not automatically mean being raised to be someones wife, street harassment material, nanny, slave or prostitute, but a fully developed human being.

For more readings on the history of Black Women and Feminism read:
Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement and the Black Baptist Church 1880-1920 by Evelyn Brooks Higgenbotham
Living for the Revolution by Kimberly Springer
Radical Sisters: Second Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in Washington in DC by Ann Valk.

For more readings on Black, White and Chicana Feminisms:
Separate Roads to Feminism by Benita Roth

For more readings on Third Wave Feminism
To Be Real, Ed by, Rebecca Walker
“Under Construction: Identifying Foundations of Hip Hop Feminism…” by Whitney Peoples
On Being Feminism’s Ms. Nigga by Latoya Peterson <<<And I still have issues with the title.
Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism, Ed. Jessica Yee.

My post on R. Kelly and Julian Assange mentions some good books on feminism as well.

Thoughts. I know you have them.

Is positing Beyonce as “contemporary feminism” a move to come up?

What is your definition of feminism?

Music as feminist empowerment?

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  1. says

    Thank you! I read the blog post regarding Beyonce, & I wanted to , literally, gouge my eyes out. Beyonce’s work ethic is amazing & I say Kudos to any woman getting paid (and so well) for doing something she loves, but fact is Beyonce is the face of the music industry (a music industry that has objectified women for decades) & NOT of feminism. Her song “Girls run the world” is a joke, especially since the entire beat was plagiarized from an “under dog” group called Major Lazer, who in their video simulate sexual positions with several women. Anyways, i feel like the hype around Beyonce has always been excessive and (frankly) quite distasteful. Girl can dance, sing, look sexy etc.. But there is much more to being a woman than that, there is much more to being a face of feminism than gyrating your hips, making crazy $$$ & sucking Jay Z’s d*ck.

  2. says

    On behalf of our feminist foremothers and ancestors, I thank you for this insightful truthtelling declaration. Maximum respect.

  3. says

    …after reading this all i can say is: thank you.
    thank you for your honesty.
    thank you for your critical consciousness.
    thank you for your bravery and love.
    thank you for speaking and continuing to speak. thankyouthankyouthankyou.

    just. . . spot on.

  4. says

    I wouldn’t have a problem w/Bey being the face of contemporary Black Feminism if she had a clue as to what elements involve the movement. She doesn’t seem to at all. I will admire her for what she is good at doing: performing. It may be unfair to even lay that burden at her feet. I liken that to laying it at the foot of my 17yr old daughter. But Bey has influence that would be useful. If she went on record (and recorded) the things that YOU say, women would react and behave differently. So would men. Music is empowering and it totally could be empowering to feminists if such music didn’t offend the powers that be. If such music wouldn’t fly in the face of status quo and disrupt this system of keeping certain people in certain places for purposes of disenfranchisement.

    For me, feminism is about being free, just as you said above. It’s about being free to be a CEO, a housewife & SAHM, a childcare worker, a creative, a sex worker or just stand at the bus stop without having to sacrifice my livelihood, dignity, peace or my love or my life for it just because I have a vagina. I just wanna be free.

  5. Renina says

    “For me, feminism is about being free, just as you said above. It’s about being free to be a CEO, a housewife & SAHM, a childcare worker, a creative, a sex worker or just stand at the bus stop without having to sacrifice my livelihood, dignity, peace or my love or my life for it just because I have a vagina. I just wanna be free.”

    Your comment gave me chills.

    Girl I had a moment on North Cap and Florida that I still have not written about.

    Dude rode up on his bike in broad day light taumbot, what book are you reading. I just looked ahead and waited for the light to turn…more later..

  6. says

    Here are my initial (read: rough-draft style) thoughts about your post specifically and the Beyonce conversation in general:

    1. First let me say that I am intrigued by complexity of the conversation around Beyonce and feminism (and her space in it). Here we meet again at the intersection of race, art and politics; this time, Beyonce is in the middle of said intersection, and make no mistake, she is in the middle because of those eighty million dollars you mentioned in the above post.

    When speaking of those eighty million dollars, I have to say this: when one makes eighty million dollars in ONE year, one must feel like she runs the world; and if said money-maker/generator is Beyonce, she might feel like girls—by extension—run this world, and she might just write a song about it without doing a Google search to find out if this is, in fact, true. Faulty logic? Indeed.

    2. Does this mean the rise of a new Beyonce-esque feminism? I hate to say it, but…maybe. *cringe*

    Let me explain: In this society most valuable information is still either very expensive (one of the books on your reading list is $77.00) or protected (just try to access, without a password, some databases that contain some of the most brilliant journal articles written by amazing black feminist writers). Much of what the masses (can I get another word for masses?) know about feminism in general and black feminism in particular comes from mainstream sources— (dare I say it?) like Beyonce.

    As such, feminism as shared with the population, becomes the ability to (according to Arielle Loren) “ [be] powerful, driven, smart and sexy. We can hold our own in the workplace, and later that evening, pull out our garter belts and work it for our partner.”

    Now we know feminism ain’t that.

    But there are many [black] women whose thinking has been influenced by Beyonce and others, and they think feminism is just that—a performance of the mythological superwoman in our daily lives and then a performance of sexual object in our nightly lives. The introduction of this performative idea of feminism is dangerous. The question becomes what it does it cost those of us who are black women/girls who need to understand and exercise our agency in real ways?

    3. How do I define feminism? Love. So much love that I stand in opposition to all forms of oppression, including, but not limited to, patriarchy and capitalism. Feminism does not place value on performance, but instead feminism calls attention to, affirms, and celebrates intrinsic value.

    Feminism is freedom.

    4. My interpretation of your second question is “should music be used as a tool for feminist empowerment?” If my interpretation is correct, you are asking about the responsibility of art.

    It is my [not-so humble] opinion that art—all art—tells us something about what is means to be human, and we receive this information from the artist’s perspective and through our own filters. Like the artist, our reception experience contains the energy of the artist and the energy of the universe (small ‘u’) that makes up what we are. As a result, our experience of art is never singular, nor is it neutral, which is why Beyonce’s “Run the World” has caused quite a stir.

    So, is music/art responsible for conveying messages of feminine and/or feminist empowerment?


    Is it capable of conveying messages of feminine and/or feminine empowerment?

    Of course.

    5. One more quick side note: the aforementioned BettaComeCorrect collective makes many black feminist writings available at no cost on the bettacomecorrect Tumblr site.

  7. Candice says

    I really enjoyed your post! Thank you for shedding light on Black Feminism. The world is so quick to label someone without fully understanding said label. Your post was on point! I will be sharing it with others!!!

  8. says

    Shoot chile. And you talk about me? This post as a class in black/ThirdWave/rwoc feminism and what that movement really means.

    I love it. I pretty much agree even though, as I wrote over at Nunez Daughter, I’m a woman in the world and there are things that do appeal to me about Bey, her video and her performance. These issues be complicated.

    Most glad for that note on what black feminist love means. Yes.

    Thank you for being alive.

  9. says

    Every time that I hear a leader or product of popular culture as a representation for a social movement or ideology, I cringe. In this case I’m particularly referring to this notion of Beyonce representing contemporary feminism. I’m not going to get into it but your more than articulated and expanded the reason why I’m just shaking my head. The beat doesn’t make, dictate or support an agenda.

    @Eym . . . word. Information is very expensive. Queens, NY library system doesn’t have a budget for new books. Beyonce’s version of female empowerment and enlightment is free and readily accessible. That’s something to think about.

  10. Renina says

    @ Vee
    “Queens, NY library system doesn’t have a budget for new books. Beyonce’s version of female empowerment and enlightment is free and readily accessible. That’s something to think about.”

    Say word. Wow. You bring up something I had not considered.

    How is the little bear?

  11. says

    Little Bear is smiling and growing. He knows how to sign the letter R!! While he doesn’t know how to sign A-Q,S-Z yet, I’m celebrating every accomplishment and milestone.

  12. Irene says

    Is Beyonce getting up there and preaching girl power so egregious? If we agree that feminism takes many different forms and faces, is her form–that is ultimately palatable for mainstream consumers, and young girls especially–worth such strong criticism? Girls don’t run the world, but someone creating a song and a world in which people can believe they do for all of three minutes is not a terrible thing. Then we can get back to the real work. But for now, we should stop pitting feminist against feminist, or woman against feminist. We’re all in together.

  13. says

    Thank you for this post. Though I am deeply invested in the power of culture media, I sometimes slack. Something told me to watch Beyonce’s video after watching the BET awards. I immediately went to my TUMBLR and asked “Who Really Rules This World?” To add on to the facts you cited, it struck me how ironic her video is. We are witnessing violence and destruction in the Middle East. This is being caused primarily by Western/European nation/states. However, these same power players are using gender empowerment of women (specifically third world women) as their excuse for invasion, but of course we know it’s more politically and economically motivated…