Thursday, May 26, 2011

Girl Power, Beyoncé and Me

I am all about "Girl Power". In the late 90s while I was growing up the Spice Girls burst on the scene and while I was not quite yet in the place I am today developmentally I was all about it. There was no substance. I was also not that into them. I was more into TV...as I got older and began to grow into the man I am today I'm still into girl power though it's not about pop music and peace signs, nor 5 archetypes or platforms (though I would still like a pair). Why is this relevant?

My friend Danielle Patrick shared a video on Facebook. It was by Amber AKA NineteenPercent which discussed the new Beyoncé song Run the World (Girls). The video discusses Amber's problems with the song in that girls do not run the world. Women are oppressed around the world and while have made an improvement are not equal to men in most of the world. She goes on to discuss facts about the song and ties it to feminism. [Feminism means many things to many people. To me at its most basic level feminism is the knowledge that sexism as an institution exists and the desire to see it eradicated.]

Feministing, which was mentioned in Amber's video, posted a response that also discussed the new Beyoncé song but also discussed questions of feminism.
 She is a product of a system that exploits women for capital gain and frankly in the face of that has done amazing, brilliant things, but that doesn’t change the system.
Beyoncé is not perfect and is making an effort to make a change for girls and young women which is not up for anyone to decide if it's enough or not. While I would love to see everyone working to see sexism as an institution as well as racism (and the other -isms) destroyed I cannot expect everyone to take that on or be able to. As a recording artist there are many people who tell you what you can and cannot produce so we do not know what Beyoncé wants to say and can't or how she sees this in a feminist discussion or a race discussion.


Bitch Media also discusses Beyoncé's song and discusses pop music and Bey's place in it.
Much of the criticism I've seen of "Run the World (Girls)" has been about how girls do not, in fact, run the world. This is true, of course. Girls don't run the world, and girls and women are oppressed all over the globe. However, this line of criticism also employs a literal interpretation of a pop song, which, unless you're willing to claim that Lady Gaga unethically promotes casino gambling, doesn't totally work. Lord knows I love to analyze song lyrics, but saying that because women don't actually hold power no one should sing about women holding power is kind of like saying that since we don't all live in a Rhythm Nation no one should sing about that either. Young girls singing along to a song about running the world is, to my mind, preferable to them singing along to a song about wanting a man to fill you with his poison or about "cuffing" a woman so she won't cheat on you (both of those messages are present in songs from this week's Billboard Top 10). In fact, I'd say it's preferable to them singing along to most pop songs, since most pop songs contain off-putting sexist messages about how girls should do anything but run the world.
Ghandi said to be the change you want to see so Bey is doing just that. Men run the world now. Most Presidents, Prime Ministers, lawmakers, etc are men. When it comes to the -isms some say that sexism is over because Hilary ran for President and racism is over because Barack won but we all know this is not the case. For some music is an escape. For others it's critique and expression. Bey is expressing herself and saying that we need to affirm ourselves if we want to run the world. It doesn't erase the pieces that are problematic but it is an effort.
We sort of expect sexist content from 50 Cent, Britney Spears, and Chris Brown (all of whom are currently topping that aforementioned Billboard chart) but since Beyoncé sings about feminist issues and and works with influential women like Michelle Obama and even Oprah, we have different expectations. And maybe we should, because as feminists we have high standards and we want our pop culture to live up to them. But maybe we should also remember that from within the gigantic pop culture industrial complex that makes women feel like shit about themselves a lot of the time, Beyoncé is trying to say something positive to and about women. Hell, she's trying to say that girls can "run the world"! Is that really so bad, all things considered?
This is an important question. And to give my answer and answer a few other questions along the way I need to discuss my standpoint. I am man. This gives me male privilege. We expect male artists to say sexist things and sometimes we call them out. We are a lot more harsh and/or critical with female artists as well as queer artists. While not exempt from our critique like I discussed in a previous post we cannot expect those in the public eye to be our champions for every issue we have to deal with. Just because Bey is a Black woman does not mean we should hold her to a certain standard. I want to do this with President Obama, as a man of color. I want him to do more for people of color but I cannot expect him to do everything (let alone by himself but that's another story). Bey knows she can push the envelope but only so far in the music industry. The Dixie Chicks faced a lot of pressure and were threatened for pushing "too far" according to many. I was happy to see them speak out. I loved their album as well. I am a fan of Beyoncé and when I need a pick me up, an anthem to sing out and dance to I go to her. I go to Survivor, I go to Independent Woman, Part 1, I go to Just Stand Up even Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)...and I'm sure I'm not the only one. I also understand the problems with women's sexuality being sold especially in the music industry (including music videos which I will not discuss at length in this post) and I understand that music videos like movies affect our culture. Bey video and song will affect young people. Dreamworlds 3 looks at this and I am attaching a clip [may be a bit too graphic for some audiences]:

This video and others shows the problem with the media and with passivity when it comes to these and other issues. The way media represents sexuality, sex, gender identity, and activism  needs to be looked at and this is where, like both pieces point out, things get complicated.

Not only is there not one feminism, but many feminisms, there are also multiple ways to advocate for social justice. We need insiders making changing and outsiders making changes. Bey is in the game and she is giving women a voice, singing songs others would not. While it is problematic it is  not as problematic as what we see from other artists. I understand that this is a girl power track that makes it different more suspicious, but we may want to consider critiquing and analyzing other artists so that insiders can feel a pressure to change the norm. Not always seeming to get on our women, people of color and queer artists. While I'm not accusing anyone of doing that I feel that we need to be equitable in our critique.

Going back to where I started my feminism is not about pop music and peace signs, nor 5 archetypes or platforms but it is about all of this as part of a system that oppresses women. Feminism can be about peace, and inspiration. It can be about breaking the gender rules. We all need to be involved in this fight and part of it means not attacking women for doing what they can in the mainstream because if women produce and perform straight-up feminism on a track will we buy it and take it to the top of the charts? Beyoncé cannot be expected to do it alone. Social change is a group effort.

1 comment:

Lady Elaine Fairchilde said...

I think the song is done well the technique use is amazing but ears are not trained like it use to be so some people wont follow what I'm talking about so I will stick to the subject!! I think the message is great I believe woman do run the world. As the generic statement goes- Behind every Great Man Is a Great Woman. I think there is a undefined power inside of a woman!!!