Alexia Holloway, Contributing Writer
Many stamped Beyoncé as a feminist icon upon the release of her self-titled album in late 2013. While some people take issue with that label, their logic is based in internalized misogyny and racism.
People criticize Beyoncé for being a feminist simply for show. Over the years she has been accused of faking a pregnancy and naming a world tour after her husband’s last name. Most importantly, some say she fetishizes herself to appeal men, specifically her husband, Jay-Z.
Of two controversial music videos, the one that has caught the most criticism is “Partition.” In the video, Beyoncé is half-naked in most of the scenes, aesthetically showing off her body. In some scenes, Jay-Z runs his hands along her body.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian woman who is featured on Beyoncé’s hit song “Flawless,” has criticized Beyoncé in the past. However, her criticism is not about how she chooses display her art, it’s about how she thinks Beyoncé’s music focuses heavily on men.
When reflecting on the Beyoncé’s music, Emma Watson said to Insider, “I felt her message felt very conflicted in the sense that on the one hand she is putting herself in a category of a feminist, but then the camera, it felt very male, such a male voyeuristic experience of her.”
Singer Annie Lennox also criticized Beyoncé, telling Spin that, “twerking is not feminism. That’s what I’m referring to. It’s not, it’s not liberating, it’s not empowering. It’s a sexual thing that you’re doing on a stage; it doesn’t empower you.”
She also referred to Beyoncé as “feminist lite” while accusing other artists of taking the word “feminist” hostage.
It is important to note that many of these famous criticisms come from white women. The way white feminists attack Beyoncé is a direct attack on how black women choose to express their sexuality. Lennox’s comments on twerking only further that attack. Twerking is part of African and Caribbean cultures. It is obvious who the comments target — Lennox is implying that black girls expressing sexuality through dance is not traditional feminism.
Feminism is not supposed to have one look. Feminism is supposed to protect sex workers as well as stay-at-home wives and mothers, should these lifestyles be what a woman wants. If we are under the assumption that Jay-Z isn’t some abusive overlord that makes his wife twist and bend at his will, then it is reasonable to conclude that Beyoncé enjoys performing in ways that please her husband. It’s basic sexual attraction.
Beyoncé choosing to be sexy for her husband is normal, and it’s something many women find pleasure in. That does not mean these women don’t believe the gender wage gap exists or that working women are betraying their families. Beyoncé, like many women, enjoys twerking with her friends and being silly. That does not mean she is allowing herself to be a victim of patriarchy or even advancing a patriarchal agenda through her music. She is exercising autonomy over her body and art in a way she enjoys.
Male performers such as Chris Brown and Michael Jackson are famous for their dance moves that emphasize their genitals. Instead of being accused of performing for the female gaze, it is considered normal for them. Feminists can adopt this same attitude toward female performers without betraying the basic pillars of feminism.
The main issue I have with some feminists criticizing Beyoncé is that they use same rhetoric and logic of their oppressors while also using their privilege. They are policing another woman’s body — specifically a black woman’s body — because she is using it in a way they do not agree with. More precisely, she is embracing her culture to express herself, which makes some feminists uncomfortable. Because of this, they are trying to change the rules of feminism to only fit one type of woman.
This is no different from men expressing outrage over seeing scantily clad women or toxic men antagonizing women who choose to dress modestly. Feminism cannot move forward if women choose to use the language and ideals of their oppressors to criticize the women are trying to fight alongside them.