Back to IndieWire

‘Beyonce’ Serenades Teenage Boys & Black Feminists

'Beyonce' Serenades Teenage Boys & Black Feminists

I happened to be on Twitter when the ‘Beyonce’ album was released. I appreciate the excitement that people felt. The thrill. The surprise. These days, I am acutely aware of the degraded images of Black women in the media. I understand the power of colorful and enchanting visuals. I understand the need for women to feel powerful, attractive and sexy. I even understand the importance of asserting “personal agency” with respect to one’s body. However, the conversation about Beyonce and Feminism has me confused. I write this to seek understanding.

As a filmmaker, I am keenly aware of demographics. Who sees what. Who buys what. Why something is successful based on who the audience is. It is clear to me that many Black women appreciate Beyonce. The Feminist side of the women equation, however, provided a bit of backlash to her previous album. The previous album’s sales were not at peak numbers. I can imagine, for someone who has made it very clear that she wants to be a legend, a lot of thought went into how to get back “on top”. How do you keep your teenage music base (the ones who promote, buy product and social network the bejesus out of people they adore) and, at the same time, stave off the attack from Feminists? An answer, it seems, is to place one quote (that speaks to men), by a Feminist, onto the album.

bell hooks who is, arguably, the most incisive Black Feminist out there, stated that “Feminism is the end of sexual oppression.” That quote could not have worked as a sound byte. Especially not in an album that provides visuals that reflect the very thing that Feminists have been struggling against for decades: the sexual objectification of women. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s quote and TED talk, could work. It is accessible. The quote does not unsettle. And, I am not expressing disdain for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. As a media analyst, I have to look at the “why” of the choice.

Team Beyonce has a strong fan base in teenage boys and men. I wondered, how do they continue to please the male fans? And, at the same time, stop the flow of anger being unleashed by Feminists? Release all of the album at once. All of the permutations of Beyonce. This way, no one is offended. There is something for everyone. Beyonce made a song about cunnilingus and called it ‘Blow’. The video parades scantily clad women around to whet the male appetite (as do most of the videos). But, because there is phraseology by a Feminist on ONE track -“Flawless”, Feminists can claim Beyonce as being both in control of her sexuality and “sex positive”. Beyonce, on the hood of a car, flexing one butt cheek for the camera, now becomes “sex positive”.

The video for “Pretty Hurts” accomplishes the same goal. Beyonce decries the cost of beauty. At the same time, she puts her physicality on display. One can argue that she can’t help but be beautiful. Many media analysts receive push back because the audience accepts what they see as fact. It is difficult for people to imagine that there are a vast number of choices an Artist can make. The Artist makes a deliberate choice to deliver who they are. Beyonce confounds me in the same way that Kanye West does. They both espouse just enough “progressive” thought but, much of their work contradicts it.

On Saturday, Melissa Harris-Perry, whose show can often be a balm in the wilderness, discussed Beyonce and Feminism. As she did this, she flashed images of a barely clad Beyonce on her knees, snarling at the camera, while they talked of “Beyonce’s Feminism”. Again, I was confused. I am on board with Melissa Harris-Perry’s desire to promote “no shaming” of women. We are simply actors in a patriarchal construct. However, I also believe that women have a choice within this construct. To not consider that we have a choice, infantilizes us. Girls, not so much. And, it is for them that I place a critical eye on the representation of women in the media. Thank goodness my niece was not in the room. Having to explain to any young woman how Beyonce, on her knees, was “pro-feminist”, would have been difficult for me.

Melissa Harris-Perry then had a young college student on who received a scholarship for “twerking”. Again, I embraced the “no shaming” idea. This young woman is supporting her academic pursuits by working as a stripper. The young woman traveled to African cultures to put “twerking” into a cultural context. To understand that “twerking” has roots. I’m thinking, the research helped this young woman become a better pole dancer. And, no, I’m not shaming her or being critical of her choice. I’m certain it will help her work the pole with cultural aplomb.

Melissa then explained that Beyonce is doing a similar thing in one of her videos. At one point, we see children “twerking” their bare asses at the beach.  A visual expression, perhaps, explaining that there is a “cultural context” for this. It signals to women that there is more to what Beyonce is doing. It isn’t just about putting her body on display. Hmmm…

Honestly, I am confused by what many Black Feminists are defending. Oft times, it feels like Black Feminists are too concerned with the White Feminist gaze and want to close ranks around Black women’s bodies. I understand that, too. But, we have to critique Black women with an honesty and a rigor that may be uncomfortable.

I understand the identification with Beyonce as a courageous, confident, beautiful and fierce Black woman. Let’s celebrate that. I get it. What I don’t understand is how her actions translate to Feminism. Historically, Black women are known for being two things: angry and libidinous. How does Beyonce present a challenge to the latter? Perhaps the point is, she challenges the construct of Black women as angry and that is enough?

The response to the album has many Black women feeling “sexy”. The beauty and sexiness of Black women is rarely celebrated in the media. I can barely think of examples that reflect our ability to stop traffic and present our sexuality as both desirable, intelligent and nuanced. In a culture that worships the physicality of White women, one can argue that Beyonce presents a challenge to that idea. I understand all of this. However, I think Beyonce competes within the construct of woman “created for the male gaze”. I can’t say that Beyonce is constructed from or aspires to a Feminist paradigm. Melissa Harris-Perry wondered if it’s possible for Beyonce to push against “woman as commodity” when Beyonce is, actively, commodifying herself.

Most assuredly, patriarchy is the problem not Beyonce. The male dominated music industry promotes women as sexual objects because that brings cash flow. To be a mega woman super star within the American framework, one has to flash ass, right?

There are women artists who are superstars and sexy. Sade being the classic example. There are female music icons who are successful and fully clad: Janelle Monae, whose interview about being a woman in the music industry and how she controls her image is refreshing. Adele, who simply sings her heart. Meshell N’degeocello has some of the sexiest music on the planet. Erykah Badu, is poignant, sensual, thoughtful and precise in her styling. One can argue that these women are more in control of their image and their sexuality because they do not conform to the industry model.

And, before anyone starts with the “pleasure hater”, “jealous” and “pleasure police” push back, I believe an empowered sexuality allows women to make better choices for our lives. I am trying to understand what sexual empowerment looks like for women in the media. I would like to see images of women being the RECIPIENTS of pleasure, versus a woman as object for someone else’s pleasure. I am asking for a dialogue. A conversation to bring some degree of clarity.

Beyonce titillates as she entertains. That is apart of her “brand”. It’s her choice. Her visual is, often, not in sync with her lyrics. American pop culture markets with the visual. For anyone to believe that Beyonce’s lyrics run this show, that’s very naive. The flexing butt cheek, on the roof of a car, will be the shot heard ’round the world -along with the feminist sound byte. In my mind, these two identities are diametrically opposed. There are many who don’t believe so. So, let’s continue the conversation. It’s critical as we try to empower the next generation of girls. Hell, as we continue to try to empower women within the context of patriarchy. The question that haunts me is – how does flexing one’s butt cheek on the hood of a car and feminism go hand in hand, other than to sell albums?

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

This Article is related to: News and tagged , ,



It’s not only about feminism, it’s about liberty. The liberty and the right to be a woman and the kind of woman that you want to be. A stripper can be a feminist. A porn actress can be a feminist. Fighting for your rights and liberty doesn’t mean fighting against the cliches and common ideas, it’s saying yes, i may be completely cliche and then what ? I’ve got the right to be who I want to be and if I want to show my body because I’m proud of it and I love being looked at then why shouldn’t I ? That’s what it is and that’s Beyonce’s doing, she’s doing what she wants to do, as a woman who’s in control of her life, her body and her image. As a strong, liberated women who does exactly what she wants to do, when and how she wants to do it. Everything can go hand in hand with feminism, because feminism is about respecting women’s desire, not forcing them to fit into a case and not forcing them to get out of this case either if they want to fit in it. And Beyonce got it all right.


Feminism becomes cult- like to some women, embracing the groupthink without honest self awareness and individuality.
" We are simply actors in a patriarchal construct " – This, as well as similar feminist rhetoric is pretentious and annoying. Equality is Important . Respecting yourself , giving and expecting respect from males . Not many people like a hypocritical feminist.
Beyoncé is no doubt a negative influence on young girls sexualisation which is sad. Don't be a slave to image advertising , media or mindless celebrity idolising. Get over yourselves and take charge.


I don't agree that displaying women as recipients of pleasure is a more accurate representation of feminism. To me that shows submission and places power right into the hands of the man. If you think this image empowers women, then it is fundamentally at the expense of objectifying men, and that is not the message of feminism. I also don't agree that beyonce is objectifying herself or her sexuality. Beyonce demonstrates control, confidence and total absence of vulnerability in her videos. In that way she contributes to empowering women by representing herself in positions of power and control. That is not to say that in doing so she objectifies or dominates men. To focus on her 'butt cheek' in her video misses the point, and ultimtely is a critique of a choreographic detail.


" The question that haunts me is – how does flexing one's butt cheek on the hood of a car and feminism go hand in hand, other than to sell albums?"
Because she CHOSE to do it without care of what anyone, male or female, thinks.


"We are simply actors in a patriarchal construct." Not so much. Speak for yourself.


Thank you for writing this and then posting it lol. I grew up on Beyoncé and was stan for many years. I sat in a Black Feminist class and defended Beyoncé to the death (mainly because I felt defending her was defending me). This isn't an attack on Beyoncé personally but her image and branding represents so much. It was until about 2011 that I realized her image wasn't healthy for me because she was the black model of beauty for me. I died my hair blonde when I was 13 trying to look like her (this was before I learned about Black Feminism). She has every right to do whatever she wants and we have every right to talk about it. She's been in the game so long that she is influencing the parents and kids. We should be thinking deeply about every image we let into our consciousness. It's funny that Beyoncé finds the need to express her sexuality to the public at the same time that super sexual Rihanna is smashing all kinds of records. I've been to a Beyoncé concert she was oiled, naked, and grinding then. She sang speechless. I thought she was expressing it. I can't say that what she's doing is wrong but I don't buy her reasons. I think she's trying to stay on top and sell records and she's having fun. I'm a woman and understand; I just feel like she's trying to stay current without being accused of copying Rihanna. I feel the feminism is a marketing tool to distract us. Sometimes I feel so conflicted because I don't want to police another woman's body. It's so hard to have conversations like this because people get so emotional. I do think is great that we are all talking about this.
Every where I turn even on feminist sites we are constantly talking about expressing sexuality and relationships. What makes what Beyoncé is doing different from any other over sexed pop star? It's not the 1950's it seems that the world knows we all have sex.


Thank you soooo much for putting this together. I couldnt agree more and the fact that your piece is neither raw emotion nor antagonistic is refreshing. I am UTTERLY confused by Beyonce's latest album. As a woman near her age all I can conclude is that the dollars and cents overrode sense. I don't believe for a moment that this album was premised on feminism, on empowering young women. There are too many better ways to achieve such a goal than the likes of essentially selling your body to the tune or near-pornographic videos. Its so disappointing. She was always sexy. Sexy I get, passion I get, this is just something men get to google and get off to without paying. There's no sophistication here. I can hardly play "4" anymore without feeling so let down that it verges on betrayal. Sure I know some will be disappointed because she left being a role model for young girls in the dust, but I'm a grown ass woman with plenty of passion and she let me down too. Until this I had. o idea how much I identified with her— well das shattered.

Bella Voce

Wow. This article matches my sentiment completely. I finally feel that I'm not alone in my skepticism of how this artist's work is in line with feminism outside of her being a "shot-caller." Even back in Destiny's Child's early days, there have always been holes in beyonce's visual narrative versus her lyrical, and even that has digressed of the years. I'm happy that we are finally discussing these inconsistencies instead of succumbing to the blind idolatry Beyoncé receives and perpetuates. As personal as this album clearly is, it has also exposed the depth of contradictions in placing herself as a feminist or as a role model for feminism. It also opens up critique of the new connections between music as art form and the visual narratives artists choose to present their work with. It is all connected and has an effect on how we see ourselves in society.


Good article, I've been a bit unsettled by Beyonce (and Miley) using 'feminism' as a marketing tool. Obviously it's a great way of tapping into the frustrations felt by women, as at some point most females become aware of the patriarchal structures and question their validity. As a teenage girl I definitely sought out feminist musicians, and found loads in the riot grrl/punk/rock scene, who were sexy and fierce but retained their rough edges. These women writing and performing their own music, with or without world-class 'chops'(/training), portrayed a comparatively realistic image of femininity and sexuality, as it wasn't reliant on the hypnotic, illusory power of moving image to stun us into paying attention. Feminism to them was real life, it was lived through their lonely/violent/scary/courageous explorations of traditionally male-dominated territory, and this real life 'fierceness' comes through in their lyrics, stage presence and attitude.
(Incidentally I think Nicki Minaj displays this sort of 'invader of masculine spaces' style feminism better than Beyonce (although still problematic re: the beauty myth), as she works in a hyper-masculine space whilst retaining/enhancing the aspects of her femininity that she wants to keep….)

Anyway I think the Chimamanda quote was used because it neatly sidesteps acknowledging other forms of oppression such as class and race, which Beyonce definitely benefits from. Her success is directly attributable to her being an upper-middle class light-skinned 'black' woman with blonde hair (aka domesticated exotica). She was trained from a young age to be an elite performer, an opportunity that most kids never have, which demonstrates clear class privilege. She has chosen in recent years to look like an ethnic robo-Barbie sex doll, by denying her African roots (see: Solange's hair) and conforming exclusively to the mainstream idea of sexy female behaviour (animalistic desire, a lack of abstract thought, heteronormative relationships, youth & fertility being the prime factors).

Clearly, she has worked really hard at what she does, and is a great performer, but it's not fair to use her as the media's frontwoman for feminism precisely *because* she's an entertainer. Her job is to distract us whilst the elites destroy the world!!

"Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes"
Honestly, why is 'gender' is the battle line? Why not class or race? Is it because 'femaleness' is broad enough to cover a wide target market; allowing her to profit from the fact that most women DO feel oppressed by their gender? Is it because if the sentence were changed to something more general, like "a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of all humans" then she would have to renounce her neoliberal, pro-capitalist lifestyle?

kasia grebowska

i really appreciate your article.
i am also confused about beyonce's new album.

Green Tara

Thanks for your critique and I would have to disagree with those who find this somehow "sexually freeing" or empowering. For every privilege comes a corresponding responsibility, in this case, a responsibility to young girls to demonstrate power aesthetically and lyrically in socially responsible way. Some of the younger generation view this as acceptable because they are a generation that has grown up with hypersexualization and the pervasive way it has infiltrated pop culture. Desensitization has trumped earnest reflection and thoughtful critique. Beyonce is simply co-opting elements of feminism to drive sales. This co-optation is merely smoke and mirrors, a marketing gimmick that has worked many times before. If we examine the politics of media domination within our patriarchal paradigm, we see very few women as shining examples of true power and agency. The modus operandi of Western media culture establishes value in bodily objectification. Beyonce occupies that nebulous and contradictory space of what I like to think of as “media co-dependency.” On the one hand completely reliant on media exposure to prop up her star status, while on the other, a sexualized, tokenized fixture of media control. She may appear to be empowering, but she is simply a diminished plaything festooned in the disempowering ideology that beauty is a much desired and needed “holy grail” of femininity. This is nothing new. Since the deregulation of the FCC in the 1980s and the subsequent political failure to create a media domain of public trust, we are left with recycled stereotypes of women and the perpetuation of a beauty myth in American media, thus circumscribing and nullifying women’s intellectual and political contributions to society. That is not power, but a display of vulnerability and it is not image-making, but unquestioning image adoption—mimicking a role someone else has created. She is simply the new and improved black Marilyn Monroe, not tragic, but all the more prized for her physical endowments. Feminism models positive and effective power. It is about leveling the playing field despite biology, not because of it. Feminism seeks to cultivate interior self-reflection and personal integrity, not exterior beauty. What happens when she gets old? She is no longer useful in an industry that creates unrealistic, inadequate representations of women and her legacy will have been one of rump-shaking and titillation.


As you are receiving mostly negative comments, I thought I'd thank you for writing this; though I don't agree with all of your points. As a feminist and a Beyonce enthusiast, I was also left with a sense of crossed messages from the album. If feminism is indeed the central theme that's being sought after, it's definitely not cohesive. "Perfection is a disease of a nation" juxtaposed with "he Monica Lewinsky'd all over my gown." Yeah, right. However I don't think her overall goal of the album was to encourage feminism. No, the album was about herself. It focused on the struggles and honest human feelings she experiences. The album was dark and sad, but extremely honest. Something which I appreciated from her. That focus being the case, maybe then, it would've been better to everyone if she left the feminist track off entirely. Let people take the album as they will, without the feminist undertone and implications that that track unavoidably gave to the album as a whole. She identifies as a feminist, she been clear about that. That's great! But as she is so influential, she does a disservice to the rest of those who also identify as feminist, by unavoidably labeling "feminism" and "owning your sexuality" as gyrating on an inanimate object or wearing a g-string around for all to see. I am aware that many proclaimed feminists see that as empowering, however there are just as many that see these actions as purely exploitative. As someone who has great influence over people, people who maybe never have had any interaction with feminism, she could have put up a better face of feminism. I am aware that she doesn't always parade around this type of feminism but has done much good for different charities like Chime for Change. However, in our pop culture society, albums often bring more attention than campaigns like Chime for Change. She is going against what organizations like this, which she supports and works in cohesion with, stand for and work against. She could have chosen more effective pathways if feminism is what she was trying to promote. If that is not what she was trying to show forth on the album as a whole, then she would've been better to leave that track off. When you bring a topic like feminism into a conversation, whether that conversation be an album or some other form, it has to be taken seriously. It cannot be dropped casually. Every implication has to be considered.

swagger jack jack

I think some of these comments are structuring female visuals as a dichotomy – sexy or covered up, which I don't believe is what the author is suggesting. There is a continuum — and on one end, yes, is the covered up turtleneck, or maybe even the non-visual…and on the other end is the completely x-rated. No one is saying beyonce is or should be completely on the turtleneck end but she is closer to the sexy end; and the question is can she be there comfortably, rightly so, without undermining feminism ideals – or should there be a shift, however slight, or nuanced – and what would that look like. We cannot ignore the fact that we are in a society that objectifies women, dehumanizes women and that sexual visuals, or sexualized, one-dimensional characters in media feed this. And we can't ignore that black women are as the author says stereotyped as libidinous. We must also recognize that there is a dearth of characters and images of black women in the media; so if angry, libidinous is all thats seen, it can have a host of negative effects. and its just plain wrong.

But, while I completely advocate and agree that we need more nuanced and varying images of black women in media, and am concerned about the large share of the current images portraying angry and/or libidinous and/or whatever other stereotype you can think of..with no balance… I wonder…

The author posits that many of the scantily clad images are geared towards her male audiences (sure) but maybe, as other commenters have noted, women audiences are enjoying and have even become the 'recipients' of these images as well. As a hetersex, female, I receive pleasure from sexy scenes and provocative dance moves and even seeing myself get all dolled up. I really believe that when I get my sexy on, its more for myself, and I guess my own vanity, than the male gaze.

So maybe the challenge isnt that we define the image that balances sex empowerment and feminism, but challenge the framework that image operates in. change how its received. Can all audiences be the recipient and derive enjoyment from these images – not just teen boys? and can we receive them without objectifying? keeping in mind all the other images that have been given to us and not forgetting them in light of one butt cheek? Don't get me wrong there are some areas where beyonce may lack nuance, but is this really one them? to be fair, she is not always scantily clad and gyrating on an inanimate object.


A feminist criticizing another woman for being sexually explicit! If she made this decision for herself and this is how she feels sexy, this is how she feels like a woman, who are you to say it's wrong? You sound like a man telling another woman what she should and shouldn't do because in your opinion that is not how feminism should be expressed. Feminism is not a neat cookie cutter philosophy, it's varied. "One can argue that these women are more in control of their image and their sexuality because they do not conform to the industry model." You are assuming here that all women have the same image but aren't expressing it like Sade and Janelle thus aren't in control? You really think at this point that Beyonce couldn't express who she really is? Maybe this is who she is! This is how she expresses herself! Maybe Beyonce finds pleasure in being a giver of pleasure, maybe that pleases her! You have objectified women by assuming that we can only enjoy sex if we are "recipients." A free woman is one who makes her own decisions about what sexy is and how to express it, so as a feminist you should steer clear of judging other women for being sexual.

Mako Fitts Ward

Great piece! Love the question you ask at the end – it's bigger than Bey and we have to keep pushing that in this debate. Well said!


This reminds me of the book "Female Chavunist Pig".

The scope was basically critiquing this "new feminism" which embraced lots of male centered ideals. Such as "the girlie girl" who likes all things frilly, dainty and sexual as long as it benefitted men.

I like, the author of that book and the author of this article was confused by this new brand of feminism.

I grew up East New York, Brooklyn. Trust it's not Leena Dumhams Brooklyn. It's a place where recently there was a ceremony for the 1 year annieversay that no one was shot in my old projects.

So you can imagine what life was like during the Crack Era. Putting aside the crime and addiction one thinks of with hard drugs what struck and still puzzles me was the dynamics between the guys and the girls.

Most of the hustlers came from "good homes" as did the girls -most of whom were the hustlers sisters, nieces or aunts. We had working parents, some of us had a dad in the home. We were the last era of black youth to live in the projects with true middle class values. Well the 1980's killed all of that. Crass consumerism with mass marketing and "urban renewal" sold the kids of the post Curtis Mayfield era a very different American Dream. The 80's also went retro -to the 50's to be exact and we all know how sexist and racist that decade was. Women entered the workforce and Oprah was on the air, men were sold some idea that "we lost the edge" (Rambo). Women were sold this too.

So how to get it back? Buy stuff.

I saw news shows with yuppies (mostly white guys) proclaiming retirement by 30. Tv shows like Dynasty were all about "lifestyle".

Meanwhile in East New York, jobs were gone, what jobs one could get weren't going to get you out of the projects (which is why they were built). Here comes cooked up cocaine. It's "easy flip" sold by kids who knew they were never going to be what they saw on tv working dead end fast food jobs. Looking at this from a girls perspective in that era, I can see the thinking: "daddy complains about his job and my brother can't get one but Chris from 215 stay fly and that car is sexy, and he only 17". Checkmate, son.

My Mom wasn't buying $150 kicks (and the 60 dollar jeans too) and that's what girls were looking for in a guy. Why do you think there were shootings and stabbings for Jordan's? When I got a girl alone she was brilliant, crazy smart, knew everything didn't even really hide her intelligence. Some knew its best to hit the books and not just the streets. Yet still even the smart girls bent over backwards to fit the mold. They would sneak out of their apartment in what their mom bought them and change clothes to what the hustler bought her. And dude would show up on Rockway Parkway in a black Maxima well before she got out, gotta peacock yo. It was damn hard understanding all of this new feminism (Clair Huxtible was "tv" I never heard one young women admit to wanting be her till the show was way off air and we were adults) when you see this. The new female empowerment meant pimp yourself because you'll be pimped anyway.
It didnt stop in adulthood when I was in Borough of Manhattan Community College I'd see the same thing with a twist. What changed was the hustlers ethics had become the community's ethics. Now grown up my peer group was "gonna have all the fly kicks and a closet full of the dipest gear".

Of course by 25 the cracks started to show. One young black man after another came back with all too typical story on how his relationship stalled once the reckless spending caught up to him and his girl. The women would tell me how after "the baby was born" things died-fast. I'm talking she's 8 months due and dude has already fled the scene.

I spent most of my 20's wondering what happened to starting small and building to a greater good, what happened to the new way relationships were going to be?

In the late 90's I was still hearing guys and lots of women still talk of their relationships in a 1960's context. Yet it always boiled down to the woman had the better job (education too) and the man seemed to get by with his not so better job(and no education beyond a GED and two semesters at a community college, why'd he drop out? To get paid).

Of course these guys always had a gas guzzling SUV and enough sneakers and boots to start an ebay store, hell she bought most of the sneakers and boots. She was subsidizing this new feminism with its over emphasis on pleasuring a man at a women's expense. I feel it's scarred my generation especially on what we think is a healthy way to treat women. I've run into many young women who used to live like this they-now in their late 30's early 40's they want to talk on the mistakes they made running behind ideologies that only benefit men. I feel them but this isn't my grandmothers era. I can't feel sorry for em. They had a choice, choices my grandmother didn't have. Just like their ex boyfriend(s) had options, options my grandfather didn't have. To paraphrase the line from Easy Rider "they blew it".


"I think men should respectfully stay out of this discussion. Ain't nobody got time to explain basic feminist concepts to you" ~ A Female Reader

You know what, that could be true because I know absolutely nothing about feminist concepts nor their agendas. However, because I am a fan of Tanya's writing I read this post several times. And, quite naturally, I read the ensuing comments. In doing so, the more I read, the more confused I became. I mean, as I said, I read this post several times, methodically going over each line, each phase in an effort to understand Tanya's position and/or take on Beyounce and the feminist movement. After coming to what I thought was an basic understanding and/or the purpose/ message in this post, I realized many have read what's not there and some, imo, misinterpreted the author's thoughts.

What was apparent is that Tanya simply was asking – WHY? She said that in her opening paragraphs and continued asking questions throughout the entire article, "And, I am not expressing disdain for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. As a media analyst, I have to look at the "why" of the choice"… "the conversation about Beyonce and Feminism has me confused. I write this to seek understanding"….. "I am asking for a dialogue. A conversation to bring some degree of clarity" … "Beyonce titillates as she entertains – along with the feminist sound byte. In my mind, these two identities are diametrically opposed….. So, let's continue the conversation"

Okay, I am a dude. Also, I have to admit that I do not own and have never played any of Beyounce's music (but I have stopped to watch her drop it off the floor). I also have to admit that I wasn't familiar with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. So needless to say, I was completely in the dark about about the quote which inspired this brouhaha. Not wanting to stay dumb, ignorant and confused, I did a little research. In doing so, I am now comfortable with why I believe the quote was added. And, as a serendipitous reward, I found out that I was somewhat familiar with Adichie's work. Now check out what this nosey dude (who has no business encroaching upon women's affairs) found out.

By Carolyn Kellogg
December 13, 2013, 9:00 a.m.

Superstar Beyonce did two astonishing things Thursday night: Release a complete album without any promotion or advance notice, and sample Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Adichie, who lives part of the year in the U.S., is the author of the acclaimed 2013 novel "Americanah," a smart and surprisingly funny take on race and gender in contemporary society. In 2008, she was awarded a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship, after the publication of "Half a Yellow Sun," a historical novel set during Nigeria's bloody Biafran war.

Adichie appears on Beyonce's track "Flawless." She isn't in the short video sample of the song that's online; according to Rap Genius, the video is of the third verse, while Adichie's sample makes up most of the second.

The sample is from a talk Adichie gave at TEDxEuston in London earlier this year titled, "We Should All Be Feminists." What appears in "Flawless" pulls from different parts of her speech:

We teach girls to shrink themselves
To make themselves smaller
We say to girls
"You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful
Otherwise you will threaten the man"
Because I am female
I am expected to aspire to marriage
I am expected to make my life choices
Always keeping in mind that
Marriage is the most important
Now marriage can be a source of
Joy and love and mutual support
But why do we teach to aspire to marriage
And we don't teach boys the same?
We raise girls to each other as competitors
Not for jobs or for accomplishments
Which I think can be a good thing
But for the attention of men
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings
In the way that boys are
Feminist: the person who believes in the social
Political, and economic equality of the sexes


Of course i am biased, BUT i assure you this point is totally logic based… So because she's not standing in a turtle neck and a floor length gown she's all of a sudden a trashy anti-feminist giving young girls a bad image. What about EVERY OTHER depiction of females in the media?Beyonce has made the greatest girl power songs of all time; they have defined an entire generation of female empowerment. But because she takes the chance of expressing a deeper more abstract interpretation of her art she's selling out her pro-girl membership card? She's not the first lady,she's not a school teacher she's an entertainer. I'm formally educated, and pro-female empowerment, but when i go out i like to look sexy, and i dance provocatively; does that take away from the fact that i believe women should be treated equally? Absolutely NOT! It was HER choice to show off this side of her, not a marketing scheme of the male executive of her record label. This is 2013; when women were officially considered 2nd class citizens (in many places they still are) showing their ankles was considered to be obscene; we had NO rights to express ourselves in a way that made us feel empowered. They owned our sexuality; it was reserved for men at their disposal. The fact that we live in a society, where we can express our sexual thoughts and visions the same way men day, should be revered. However, the brainwash has gone too far; so when a beautiful talented woman wants to shake her ass her credibility as a progressive vehicle for women is attacked, because young girls will be sent the wrong message. Wake up people. It is not the job of celebrities to raise YOUR children. The parents should be instilling the morals and values of righteous citizens into their children; and if they are exposed to something you don't like explain why you think they shouldn't be that way, but don't automatically attack the motive of someone's artistic creativity as the corruption of our society. If you don't prepare them to make their own decisions and become their own individuals, that is no one's fault but YOUR OWN.


you are so true. We need to be careful of conflating individual/personal power with feminism which also focuses on challenging structural inequalities.


She a grown woman, she can do whatever she wants! This is a married woman. Of she wants to promote having a healthy sexual relationship with your partner while at the same time being fierce and independent then I have no problem with it. From the visuals you'll see that she involved her husband in her efforts coupled with the people that are important to her. It's an album about her life, nothing more nothing less. Part of her life is being champion for wonen empowerment in which you can tell from the Bow Down song

Tanya Steele

Come on, people, put your thinking caps on. I am not interested in policing anyone's body. I am simply asking that we consider what an empowered sexual image of woman might look like. For example, a woman being the recipient of pleasure vs. a woman being an object to provide pleasure to others. What would that image look like?

Kevin Hamilton


When you write a similar article about R. Kelly and his affects on black feminism and the criminal justice system, then it will be a little easier for me to read this article with an objective mind. I've searched for it and couldn't find it.

In the realm of equality, feminism is for all of us to address. Beyoncé has taken her power to persuade and made an empire that empowers many women, although maybe not with the most sacred form of inspiration. R. Kelly is only self-serving; and some of his self-serving musical approach has been well documented as criminal, however he's still out there on prime-time television, grindin' women on the stage floor and playing ho's like a cellos. "Genius", he calls himself. SMH . . . and everybody is sitting there watching the train-wreck slowly unfold. Beyoncé is a boss, Kells is . . . well, we all know. With Bey, there are no victims.

Yeah, write that R. Kelly piece and I will follow everything you write from now on.


so, wait – there is a quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, so Beyonce has to wear more clothes or the message gets cancelled out? "woman, cover yourself so i can see your brains!"

for a grown woman, comfort in your body and sexuality, ownership of that sexuality and the safety to express it without fear of violence or shaming – that's how i interpret these exaggerated displays of physicality in her videos. the song itself, after all, is about female pleasure from an act that a lot of men might feel reluctant to perform.

that said, she does spend a lot of time on her knees, selling the product. at that corporate level, they are all whores, male or female. they all become shills for sodas and pharmaceuticals and cars and mobile phones. but what she is wearing doesn't undermine feminism, or disqualify her from calling herself one and finding out what that might be. and her quotation of a black female author stating what "her" definition of feminism is might have a powerful ripple effect for many who might start exploring the idea, too.

i hope in the end we won't just tell all these young women and men that they have to live up to our standards of respectability in order to exercise their rights fully.


Tanya, thank you so much for writing this. I wish I had the patience, and open-mindedness to listen to Beyonce's new music and videos, and analyze them they way MHP and other academics and/or feminists have done. Beyonce lost me as a young woman with "Bills, Bills, Bills." Just like Tyler Perry, I have seen very little growth in the substance of her music. I stop giving either of them the chance to disappoint me yet again.

She sings some catchy songs and puts some great looking videos, and if shaking her ass while being scantily clad is her thing, then more power to her. I am for women expressing themselves as they desire.

But please spare me any declarations that Beyonce is empowering any other woman except Beyonce Knowles Carter (well her mother, sister, daughter and any other beneficiaries too)!


The real question is who escapes the white (male) gaze? Is there any artist/icon/person? How can we really control how others see us?

I would answer that you can't control the gaze. Only your response to it.

Under that framework of understanding its up to us to either choose the route of a reactionary– condemning any sexualized images of femininity as patriarchal and seeking to emulate and portray the opposite of whatever that represents (i.e. wearing less makeup, showing less skin, dancing less provocatively, etc), OR we can, with difficulty, make our own decisions and require other people to respect them without judgement, stereotypes, or unprovoked harassment.

I feel like the more "feminist" route is the latter.

White-supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy is the water we all swim in. Beyonce, nor any of the other artists listed above are immune to its affects on the mind/body/spirit. Some have resisted certain pressures more consistently than others. All in all it is fair to remember that Black women's bodies still exist as sites of guilt, obsession, and fetishism in the eyes of white culture (bell hooks). My hope is that Black women don't actually start believing that about themselves or that they somehow have to contain themselves to avoid external social judgements.

I'll finish with quotes from 2 of my other favorite artists the author mentioned…
"Am I freak for getting down?" -Janelle Monae
"The booty don't lie…" -Erykah Badu


Beyoncé is too old to be crawling around on all fours showing her ass.

She's a wife and mother. Besides, this 'routine' of hers is getting old and stale and desperate-looking. Wasn't she on all fours crawling around way back for Crazy in Love? Then, it was okay. She was young, single, and not a mother. But even Madonna and Janet Jackson reeled it back in at some point.

I hate to play favorites, but I have far more respect for Solange who behaves like a mother, says no to plastic surgery and whitifying, and seems to have some sort of spiritual grounding.


Well well well, there's many issues on the table so I'll just take a stab at a couple. First, I have to agree with JMac on the "Sex Sells" issue but not her characterisation of Beyonce and her husband as "ain't that deep". Their whole career choices and the personal struggles they've overcome speaks differently than individuals who ain't that deep.

In reference to sex selling or not selling, I believe the devil's in the details. I mean, of course sex sells, how would someone support an opinion that it does not?! Granted, the "TOP" selling albums may not be connected or related to sex, however, without question billions have been earned off movies and music in which sex appeal is a central focus. Consequently, again, I have to agree with JMac, the notion/belief that sex doesn't sell is simply a foolish suggestion from those who must be living in some alternate universe.

In reference to R-Rated movies no way in Hell making as much money as a PG-13 film, again, I'd suggest checking the books because the devil's in the details. Case in point, the 23rd highest grossing film OF ALL TIME is an R-Rated movie. Also, it has to be noted that Hangover I & II combined for sells of over 530 MILLION! On a similar noted, "Matrix" I & II combined for sells of over 450 million. And btw, "Matrix", an R-Rated film, is in the top 70 of all time. Soooooo, no way in hell an R-Rated movie would make as much money as a PG-13 film? Not true.


What Vanessa Martinez said.


Vanessa Martinez

Great read. I don't agree so much that her image is constructed for the male gaze. Straight, gay women, AND men (both gay and straight) love watching her, including me. I think the videos -as sexually charged as they seem- are not necessarily of interest to teen boys (some I'm sure). We're all sexual beings and in these videos she's selling a fantasy. She's not a teen; she's a grown married woman, and in one of the more risque videos she's dancing for her real-life husband. She was inspired by being desired by her husband and/or feeling wanted by a man she loves. Many women (grown and trying to spice up their relationships) naturally crave that, it doesn't mean that we wish to be sexually oppressed by men, and/or subjugated by their desires.

This album definitely speaks to women -not all- and taps into some of their fantasies. If the "need" of being desired by a man you love is anti-feminist, then one could deem feminism as a really narrow-minded, divisive, mis-guided and radical movement. As far as Beyonce flexing her butt cheek on the roof of the car, well, she looked good doing it! It's entertainment after all..

Every female artist is different and expresses themselves differently. I'm not going to buy Beyonce's album more because of the butt-flexing-on-car-roof more so than I'm interested in Janelle Monae's new album. Besides, let's not forget Beyonce is a hell of a singer and performer aside from her physical attributes.

Also, I would have more of a problem, if Beyonce were 19 and not in control of her image. As this stage in her life, she's definitely in control of it.


I think that if men were seen more as sexual objects or at least as much as women were then it wouldn't be a huge issue. I think that there is a bit too much of this type of portrayal from women. I do have to agree that sex doesn't sell as much as people think. There's just so much of it, none of it is shocking or controversial anymore. We've become desensitized to it. In the movie business there is no way in hell an R-Rated or NC-17 movie would make as much money as a PG-13 film. In the music industry, sure popular artist may dominate the charts i.e. Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, but the big sellers usually come from a more PG-13 type of person i.e. Taylor Swift and Adele. Beyonce's highest selling album to date is a Destiny's Child album "The Writings on the Wall".


The Best Selling Albums Of All Time:

■#1: Michael Jackson: Thriller (1982) 65 million
■#2: AC/DC: Back in Black (1980) 50 million
■#3: Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) 50 million
■#4: Whitney Houston: The Bodyguard (1992) 45 million
■#5: Michael Jackson: Bad (1987) 45 million
■#6: Meat Loaf: Bat Out of Hell (1977) 43 million
■#7: Eagles: Their Greatest Hits (1976) 42 million
■#8: Bee Gees: Saturday Night Fever (1977) 40 million
■#9: Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (1977) 40 million
■#10: Shania Twain: Come On Over (1997) 40 million


The crux of this argument is whether Beyonce does "own" her sexuality or whether she just does whatever her handlers think will spark controversy and album sales. The answer is easier for the Erykah Badus, Janelle Monaes, India Aries, etc…. of the world because the control is palpable, visible. Beyonce on the other hand is so full of contradictions (esp. when it comes to her image and protrayal) that unfortunately it does seem as though she -well, more than likely her consultants- may shout feminism as a feeble justification for blatantly satisfying the [white] male objectivication standard. I don't know much about Beyonce but from what I've seen of her she ain't that deep. Neither is her husband. Birds of a feather and all. She allows white periodicals to lighten her skin – dramatically – and says nothing. Wears blond weaves and wigs – making sure you never see the real hair growing from her head. She agrees to wear black face for "artistic purposes." I doubt she sits up late at night reading bel hooks or Sonia Sanchez while meticulously crafting her image in line with any principle – other than to make money.

I also have to wonder why and when did protraying the light skinned Jezebel trope become a powerful pro-feminist image for black women. Is it really the black female's goal to be seen as hyper-sexual, objectified women on the same level as white women or Asian women? If so, how is blonde haired, fair skinned Beyonce positively representing Black female sexuality when very few Black females look anything like Beyonce? Is she not just a tired rehash of Josephine Baker, Dorothy Dandridge, et al? The future of black females resembles the past a little too much for my taste if this is what a black pro-feminist is supposed to look and act like.

And whoever says sex doesn't sell must be living in some alternate universe. There's been a steady degradation of true talent in favor of young, hip, sexy, airhead, barely talented "stars" – at least with regards to the music industry. You'd have to be blind and deaf to not notice it.

Pat Moore

Both side of the arguments have merits! The film/music marketing angle that is working. I heard about the brouha but didn't feel like buying the album. Having read Tanya's article and the comments so far now I wanna see too!


I think there's a discrepancy between how we as feminists critique a public symbol in a societal context versus how we interpret an individual women's behavior. This is why this topic is so difficult to analyze.

When we criticize Beyonce for crawling toward a camera with her butt in the air, are we criticizing an individual woman's behavior? Or we making rules for what is acceptable and what is not? Or are we criticizing the society that rewards women who portray themselves this way?

When we compare her to Janelle Monae or Erykah Badu, are we saying there is an example of acceptable women and those who are more overt with their sexuality have broken the rules? Are we not then putting women in a modesty box? Or are we criticizing the culture that gives Beyonce and Rihanna mainstream success when they appeal to the male gaze while Janelle Monae who chooses not to play continues to fly under the radar?

It's a complicated issue. I personally completely agree with both sides. When Beyonce is criticized for being too sexual or objectifying it is slut-shaming, which is misogynistic at its core. However, you can't deny what patriarchy has done to the image of women, and how damaging that is to our progress.


I just have one thing to say, the whole "sex sells" is really tiresome and irksome to hear mainly because sex does NOT sell. Adele's 21 was the biggest selling album in so many years. She didn't sell sex. The highest grossing films of all times aren't overtly sexual. Thriller the highest grossing album of all time wasn't overtly sexual in images or lyrics. No one is buying Beyonce's Album because she is scantily clad in some videos, when they can watch these videos on youtube etc. Beyonce's biggest market is women and gay men. So please STOP saying sex sells because it doesn't it's a MYTH.


So, let me get this straight- because she CHOSE to not wear clothes in her video makes her not a feminist? Because she is aware of the white male gaze and has decided to manipulate it to make money from it makes her not a feminist? As I haven't seen her actively deny any woman her humanity through her actions it makes me wonder what the real motivation behind these pieces are.. As for the actual videos she put forth, as this being a film blog dedicated to arts from the Afro Diaspora- i'm curious as to why no one here is giving her kudos for directing some of those videos herself, i.e. Blue, or theme concepts- as with in the insurrectionist platform for Superpower, (bringing about political questions about black mobilization) or even the Afro-Diasporic elements she included with Blue again as she worked in Brazil, or in Flawless where she introduced Adichie to at least half a million people, I mean we can even talk about the value of cinematography she brought back to hip hop videos. What I don't understand is the nativity that people are facing when it comes to her declaration of herself- I dont think she presents herself without being aware of her contradictions as a product. However, as a Black female the struggle for her to present herself as A THINKING CRITICAL BEING is being brought to light as the rest just as many other black women struggle for as well.


Because to some, feminism isn't about power, or not being submissive/objectified or whatever else. It's about having the choice and ability to do whatever you choose and not being judged for it…whether that's suzy homemaker or patty the p popper.

It's about owning whatever YOU choose instead of being put into a box by others.


Thank you so much for writing this! I normally lurk, but I know the stans are going to come out in full force for this one, so I just want to say – I agree with you completely.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *