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A Woman’s Body Is Not A Plaything – from Cleveland to Lil Wayne to Beyonce

A Woman's Body Is Not A Plaything - from Cleveland to Lil Wayne to Beyonce

Hello Shadow and Act, I’ve been away for a minute. I like to write one piece per month but I was caught up in development of my feature film. And, I needed a minute to observe the culture before I wrote my next piece. Cleveland Ohio has brought me to the keyboard. Honestly, I have been fuming since ‘The Onion’ unleashed that deplorable moniker on Quvenzhane Wallis. A nine year old? What in the hell do you say to something like that? I think I have been paralyzed since then. I couldn’t understand why every Black woman celebrity that has clout wasn’t railing against this. I expect too much. Or, perhaps, they were paralyzed as well. I was too overcome to get to the keyboard. But, Cleveland, you brought me back.

Look, we have no leadership. Period. I just accept it. President Obama has done some amazing things while walking the racial tightrope. Things that will, ultimately, make a difference to Black america. But, Black america has no leadership. What we do have are children running amok, chasing celebrity and not caring about anyone but their damn selves. The most glaring example is Lil Wayne and his knucklehead statement about Emmett Till. I am not even going to take the ‘i’m more moralistic than you’ approach. His lyric was just plain ignorant. And, it was scurrilous to all Americans not just Black americans. That one lyric let me know who he identifies with, what experience he sees as valid and powerful and what experience he deems as weak- the Black experience.

This weekend, I watched Melissa Harris-Perry’s show on MSNBC. I appreciate her show because she speaks to issues that sit in my craw. And, she does it with an agility and insight that lets me know I am not alone. She speaks to gender issues, immigration issues, healthcare issues, history, issues that black women face in america, so much. And, all of it is important and on a similar continuum. She gives us the impression that we can speak to these issues without fear, without hesitation and with nuance and precision. I look forward to her show as it is a beacon in the american media wilderness. Last weekend, I waited for her to speak about Assata Shakur. Assata Shakur, the first woman to be placed on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list. Like Melissa Harris-Perry, she is a Black american woman. Unlike Melissa Harris-Perry, she lives without compromise.

I read Assata’s autobiography, years ago. Most intelligent, black, law abiding citizens I know have read it, too. If you haven’t, I suggest you do. It is one of the most thoughtful, insightful and poetic works that speaks to the experience of being a Black american woman who cares about black people. Assata, it seemed, cares about the same issues Melissa Harris-Perry does. So, why didn’t Melissa Harris-Perry discuss the fact that this black american woman has been placed on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list? She did not so much as utter her name? Is there something to be afraid of?

It is possible to speak about Assata, and that time period, without supporting a violent overthrow of the government (if you believe that is what she is about). It is possible to have civil discourse about her, the circumstances that lead to her arrest, her beliefs, all of it, without giving consent. Assata embodies the dilemma we face as black american citizens who care about black people, who care about america, who care about all of humanity. Assata is apart of our history. Her story is our story. It is nothing to be ashamed of or afraid of. It is nothing to run from or hide from. It is a story, information, a place to learn about our journey in america. We’ve become so ashamed of associating with anything that offends white america that we run from it. We don’t want to be seen as violent, angry or upset about the condition of black america. Most of us are and we talk about it with friends and family but we keep it out of the public arena. We don’t want to be alienated because “they” don’t understand. How will “they” understand if we hide our truth?

In the April 2013 British Vogue, Beyonce stated that she is a “modern day feminist”. At the same time that she trumpets her “Mrs. Carter World Tour”. I am a Feminist who believes in equality in partnership with men or women, whoever you choose. Feminism is about embracing your status as an individual, with your OWN NAME, your own identity, being able to trumpet that as enough. I don’t understand what Beyonce believes Feminism to be. I would love for her to quote a chapter, a sentence, two words from any books she’s read on Feminism; any conversations she’s had with real Feminists, anything that would indicate she is clear about what Feminism is and what it is not. Is “Bow Down (Bitches)”, the example? Feminists do not make themselves sexual objects. There is so much confusion and under education in the culture. The celebrities have become the teachers yet they have NO knowledge whatsoever.

Look, women’s bodies are not toys. Our bodies are simply what we were born with. We didn’t choose them. Men have different body types. A culture has been created to make all of us believe that women’s bodies are here for the sheer delight of men. Anyone who joins forces with this notion is anti-Feminist.

Right now, we live in a ‘rape culture’. A culture that has the abuse, kidnapping and rape of girls and women at its core. Yes, it was reprehensible that Lil Wayne said what he did about Emmett Till (our collective child). But, at the center of his lyric, he was speaking about doing violence to a woman; a violence where the end result is death. Oh, he was being metaphorical. No, Emmett Till was beaten to death. So, in essence, he is saying that he would like to copulate with a woman so hard that it kills her. I can analyze this away as some sort of romantic ‘i would die with you’ notion. But, that’s not what it is. It is the desire to pound away at someone with a force and a violence that explodes all of his rage and aggression into another human being until it kills her.

And, while we’re at it, getting on your knees and shaking your hair into a superbowl crowd does not serve Feminism in the least. How is this empowering for women? Someone, explain to me how gyrating around on a world stage, in lingerie, is Feminism. I don’t get it. And, I don’t understand why people who are versed in Feminist theory believe that Beyonce represents a new wave of Feminism. What the hell are they looking at? Being powerful in the bedroom does not make you a Feminist. Asserting your right to pleasure is good but this does not equal the playing field. This does not put ‘equal pay for equal work’ as an agenda item. This does not place the safety of girls and women at the center. Pleasure is a selfish pursuit. And, important only in that sexuality should include an agreement between two parties to bring pleasure to one another. This is one item that has to be on a continuum of items that calls for the end of the subjugation of girls and women.

The goal of Feminism is not to help all women find their pleasure center; it is to help women take ownership of our power center. The conversation should be about equality inside and outside of the bedroom. Respect, empowerment and a self-love that is about loving yourself, completely, not parts of your body. Not loving yourself because you look good in lingerie or because your weave falls down your back. And, mind you, I delight in exchanging passion and beauty and sensual pleasure with my guy but I know that equality in our relationship involves a give and take in every arena of our lives. Living for the lower regions of your body is the end result of trauma.

And, this trauma has impacted Black and impoverished communities to the point of devastation. How, in Cleveland Ohio, can so many girls and women go missing for years without notice? And, remain in the same town? Remember the Cleveland Ohio serial killer Anthony Sowell just two years ago? He lured women to his home, killed them and kept the body parts in his house. He barbecued with neighbors, they sat on his porch and they complained of a horrible smell coming from his home. Nothing was done. How is it that so many girls and women can go missing in this town and people aren’t alarmed? Aren’t mothers and fathers combing the streets looking for their daughters?

My mouth dropped when CNN reporter Ashleigh Banfield, reporting on the recent Cleveland Ohio kidnappings, said that people were coming up to her truck asking them to help find their missing daughters. They said the police weren’t helping. What the hell?! The Feds need to shine a spotlight on this town until they get to the root of this issue. This is reprehensible. It is not just about marginalization and poverty; this is about a pure disregard and disrespect for girls and women. Women are not valuable in the eyes of Cleveland law enforcement. Hell, if you aren’t protecting little girls in the culture, what purpose are you serving in law enforcement?

If you are vigilant about your desire to end racism, are you as vigilant to end sexism? Why not? Sexism is real. The objectification of women is real and has severe consequences. People are shocked by the horrors of Cleveland Ohio but, this is what sexism and misogyny enacted looks like. The end result of the objectification of women is violence against women. Yes, it is that simple. It is the belief that women are no more valuable than how we look and how we jiggle.

Women’s bodies are not playthings. We are not property. We are not here for men to have a place to release and be serviced so that they can be productive citizens. No, women are people. We are not here to be gawked at, put in chains, locked in basements, paraded around in lingerie. We think, we hurt, we work, we raise children, we care and some of us carry trauma in our fierce handbags; our bodies are simply vessels that contain our dreams. Our bodies ARE NOT playthings. Audre Lorde spoke to this. June Jordan spoke to this. bell hooks speaks to this. Barbara Smith speaks to this. The list is goes on. If you want to do something to end misogyny- start reading works by Feminist authors. If Cleveland Ohio can produce Barbara Smith, it can be rescued. But, that’s up to us. Be on our side as women or become our enemy. 


Follow Tanya Steele on Twitter at @digtanya. Or on facebook at Or visit

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Thank you for this well written article with a perspective that must be read and heard. "Many things are true" and I'm sure there are other perspectives that can enter the debate without promoting the debasement of women especially black women. We must discuss all of them. I'm glad you are back!!


Taz, my apologies for parroting the second half of your first sentence :)


This is a thought-provoking piece – thank you for writing it. But this definition of feminism that you offer, which seems to disregard the complexities of erotic pleasure and its relationship to bolstering self-confidence is where we diverge. The pursuits of inward pleasure & societal power can and do relate to self-awareness, a deeply feminist act. Wasn't de-shaming sex what the 3rd wave was about?


Wonderful article. Thank you for writing it.

This is about so much more than feminism – but since the majority of comments is about the beloved Beyonce Carter and Lil Wayne – *sigh*- I want to say this……..

We must understand the definition of feminism to have the right context in which to comment, and I think that is a crucial missing link. The other crucial link is that we think this was the most important thing to comment on but I digress. It is more than making money and having control over it – we Black women have always had that!!!!! – it is an ideology that apparently Ms. Steele and I – and probably many others – do not currently see in how Mrs. Carter handles herself as an entertainer or simply in some of the lyrics she writes. Therefore, it is legitimate to ask what she believes feminism to be, if it is not in your face obvious – unlike her sexuality which is very much so. And if you think it is money and having the control of it, then I question your definition of feminism too.

Second, don't get me wrong, being able to flaunt sexuality is powerful, but it is not a feminist action and there is a responsibility that comes with it. We Black women have always had that power and we wielded it well. Sexuality, and other 'attributes', was never been an issue for us, unlike our caucasian sisters, and I think the widening wedge between Black males and females is just one consequence of it. But that is another topic and I digressed….again.

That said, to address MYTWOCENTS, we need to waste some time and energy on Lil' Wayne because he is a symptom to an issue that affects our community. He may be a grown man but awareness is the first defense for squashing foolishness.

The only reason to care about Rick Ross and Lil Wayne – and who knows who else – is to know what type of people our children are listening to and possibly trying to emulate. You can't fight or counteract influences you don't know about. And they won't go away if no one knows to not support them financially (CD's, concerts, etc.)


Maybe there was no "outrage" about Lil' Wayne's comments because well-educated black people who are about the business of being about something don't know who Lil' Wayne is — beyond some ghetto rapper — and place no weight in his ridiculous, minstrel antics.

I see headlines on certain websites, including MSN, regarding people like him, and Rick Ross and think to myself: "Who the hell are these people and who the hell cares?"

Meanwhile, some black people allow themselves to get bogged down in paying attention to such foolishness. I don't.

Whatever he said or did to disparage the legacy of Emmett Till was, of course, disgusting and despicable. Why you, or anyone else, for that matter, would waste more time and energy, debating this low-life's lack of character and lack of understanding about the history of civil rights and those who've gone before, making it possible for him to spew his drivel, is beyond my comprehension.

The more you, and others discuss it, the more publicity he receives. If we ignored him, and those like him, they would go away.

And, please, Ms. Steele, spell check and use correct grammar and punctuation in your writing. "America is capitalized." When you don't take time to write, correctly punctuated, coherent sentences, it only serves to lower your credibility on said topic.

Friday Jones

You are right on about Emmett Till. I could not understand why only Emmett's family was outraged by Wayne's ignorance. I could not understand why the same women's group that caused Rick Ross to lose his endorsement deal – did not rally with Till Family. You can lyrically promise to assert brutal physical force against a women's reproductive organs to death and no – one takes notice….


Welcome back Tanya.

I did a blog piece on the Onion's offensive tweet on Quvenzhané Wallis:

Love this quote from your piece "The goal of Feminism is not to help all women find their pleasure center; it is to help women take ownership of our power center."

And just recently, I wanted to speak up from another perspective on Charles Ramsey:


Why is Beyonce brought up when we talk about feminism or any type of movement? If Beyonce is control of her career or her life, good for her! What the hell does her making millions upon millions of dollars or her so-called "influence" benefit any other woman or girl who is in trouble, struggling, or oppressed? She has nothing behind those big ol' eyeballs of hers. Enjoy her as an entertainer, but AT THIS POINT SHE'S NOTHING MORE than that!!!


**Applause** I too was expecting MHP to say something regarding Assata but maybe she will this upcoming Sunday.

I have to laugh at myself for people defending Beyonce's brand of "feminism." This woman is the epitome of the word whore – not so much in her over-emphasis on sexuality – but on her complete abandonment [or some would say her inability to recognize her lack] of decency and advocacy for the sake of the almighty dollar. She allows magazines to lighten and photoshop her ass to the point she looks like a white hispanic and says nothing. She allows "artists" to manipulate her however they want (including having her face cosmetically darkened- like they do the white models) but doesn't understand what the fuss is about. With all her wealth she has done barely nothing for no one. Is being a clueless woman who remains silent on the plight of black women in this country and the world while perpetuating/glorifying the idea that the only value a black woman has is as an artifically lightened, blonde-weaved, non-threatening, shallow sex object meet the definition of feminist? You can try to boil her actions down to being her choice but I don't think that is her choice. That's just the only way she knows how to function because the men and women in her life did not give her the tools to be anything better when she was younger. She just does what she's told. You can't lie to me and say she's in control of anything – a girl who probably barely has a high school degree all of sudden knows how to manage millions and billions of dollars, and can identify the right people to hire, and could tell whether those people are cheating her or making decisions against her best interest? Yeah right. I'm willing to bet that just about every aspect in her life (except maybe writing music and dancing) is dictated and controlled by someone else. [I'm sure the music and dancing is controlled too but I'll throw that bone out there.] I'd have to cosign with James. Does she walk in and make demands to her label? Does she negotiate her contracts above and beyond the standard boilerplate language, iow demand what she is worth? Heck she could have started her own label by now, assembled her own talent, called her own shots, progressed into being a better, smarter, more conscientious entertainer who actually does have the choice to be something other than a living blow-up doll. The woman has to rely on others to be a "success." She couldn't be a "success" without objectifying her self to the world.

When I look at B, I think about Aaliyah and the way she was propped up to be some hyper-sexed, barely-a-teenager idol for all the girls my age to (supposedly) admire and emulate. I wonder if she was alive today, would she have regretted what her family "allowed" her to do for a little fame and fortune? I'd like to think she would have recognized it for what it was worth (what it cost) and would have tried to build a different life driven by her more mature, more intelligent, wiser ideals. I've been waiting for Beyonce to mature for a long time. It doesn't look like that will ever happen. I'm not holding my breath for the prominent crop of rappers/entertainers and their fans to mature either.

We can only hope that the decent black men wake themselves up and stop remaining silent on these issues. And stop finding excuses to downplay their significance.

Zaidi Baraka

Probably why certain women on "The View" are saying they keep their marriage going by staying on their knees. I'm not joking.


To tie in Lil Wayne his weak lyrics and women. In contrast Kendrick Lamar on his debut album has a stunning song in which he rhymes from the perspective of a young girl prostituting. It's actually a sequel to a song off his Section 80 mixtape. He displays the harsh reality girls in the hood face. And the role men play in this harsh reality. (One of the johns is a married man and father of three). Lil Wayne is nothing close to this. All dunks and chest pounding perfect for an era of hip hop that questions nothing. As for Beyonce she reminds of a book Female Chauvinist Pig. It's "feminism" as long as its showing T&A. I'd like to know who owns her masters? (Her husband owns his) who owns her publishing, how many points does she get on her album. I forgot the rapper who mentioned that MJ had to fight to get something like an extra .50 cent per album after "Thriller". Beyonce is nowhere near his ballpark. She wants to display her power then walk into her label and snap off a few demands and then let's see her feminism work its power.

V. Smith

The Onion, Li'l Wayne and even Obama aren't in charge of raising children. What The Onion wrote, what dudes like Wayne, Rick Ross say are done for shock value. If a kid has the feedback of a parent/parents on the noise that's going through their ears and eyes, they at least know that SOMEBODY thinks this shit is crazy nonsense, and it's not a serious thing to model.

Leadership? In the internet age? Libraries of information are on our phones now. The "black leadership" was for another time, and another struggle. What the issue is now is that everyone's ass is out, and our ass looks like WSHH. That's an ugly fucking ass.

I think that what needs to be done is what's right here, on this site. I made out OK, because I have a good family with good values. Still, I would've loved where we're at now in terms of the black faces I see in entertainment. Not just the Will Smith clan, or whatever. Now we have indie productions putting up numbers on youtube. Issa Rae's the best thing to happen to that site, for me. :)

Blah, blah, blah, I'm just blabbering. MY POINT: This is 2013, and you need a new gameplan to face the children of the future. We've been struggling, there's a lot of nasty stuff out there, but we're also moving towards more black faces in great places.


"Unlike Melissa Harris-Perry, she lives without compromise"

Welcome back Tanya, you've been missed.

I thought I'd start with the above quote because in my opinion, it spoke to the whole spirit of this piece. This post was so unflinching and so direct that I think it's safe to say some (woman & men) may be intimidated. Take for instance this line–> "It is possible to have civil discourse about her, the circumstances that lead to her arrest, her beliefs, all of it, without giving consent".

Although you were referring to Assata Shakur's predicament, I immediately thought of the whole experience of being black in America. And sure enough, you went there–>"We've become so ashamed of associating with anything that offends white america that we run from it". After reading that, I knew a good (forceful) read was ahead, which may have some folks doing a little soul-searching.

Continuing forward, when I read Beyonce's paragraph, I have to say, I did not agree with your characterization of her. And there's nothing wrong with that. But I was pleased to see that William captured my sentiments to a tee. Hat tip to William (below).

I have much-much more to say about this piece (it's all good) because it was so round, so firm, and so fully packed, but I don't want to "gorilla" the post. So I'll come back at a later time.


I've wondered if Beyonce even graduated high school ever since she sang "pay my bills, bills, bills" and "independent woman" all in the same breath. I'm thinking… no.


I think that Beyonce captures the idea of a modern-day feminist because she seems to have things under her own control. Sure, the objectification of women is problematic; but there's also the matter of a woman being able to be sexual on her own terms, and there is also the matter of the female body being seen as something evil whenever it's not covered up.

Perhaps more importantly, there is much more to Beyonce than dancing suggestively or wearing suggestive clothing. She's a prime example of how career, family and individuality don't have to be separate things. Woman are often marginalized into being only wives/mothers, or only being successful professionally, and being defined by the men in their lives. Beyonce is married to arguably the most powerful man in hip-hop, but she isn't defined by him – and that is a powerful message to young women, especially girls who are raised to "find a good man" that will "take care of them" and not to necessarily pursue their own endeavors. The title of Beyonce's "Mrs. Carter" tour seems like an ode to her new family life, not being defined by it. Before this tour, just about everything Beyonce has done for her solo career has been done without depending on Jay-Z's name or clout. Hell, there are other people who would say that not using Jay-Z's name publicly before was undermining her marriage to him.

In my opinion, feminism = a woman being able to define who she is herself. I think that Beyonce defines what it is for herself, the same way that other women should be able to as well. (BTW, I can't stand her music, so hopefully my argument isn't shrugged off as a "SHE'S A BEYONCE FAN SO EFF HIS OPINION" situation).

Lil Wayne's lyric was deplorable. While I believe in his right to say it freely, I was definitely disappointed that he put that on a record.


This was a really powerful article and wonderfully written. Thank you for sharing.

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