I needed a feminism that would allow us to continue loving ourselves and the brothers who hurt us without letting race loyalty buy us early tombstones.
–Joan Morgan, When Chickenheads come home to roost: A Hip Hop Feminist Breaks it down
“When Chickenheads Come Home To Roost” by Hip-Hop Feminist Joan Morgan talked about feminism from the perspective of a Black woman of the Hip-Hop generation who wants to support Black men, but still has to endure the sexism from men in the fight for racial equity and racism from White women in the fight against sexism. In the quote above when she hints at “needing a feminism” that would be applicable and healthy to her life, she is expressing the need for multiple brands within the feminist movement. In this case, her brand is Hip-Hop Feminism.
On the night of December 12, 2013, Beyoncé dropped her self-titled album, “Beyoncé,” with the feminist anthem “***flawless” featuring a sample from the feminist TED talk by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. And on a night before finals, a new brand of feminism was released, and offered up for debate.
When asked in an interview by VOGUE what her first thought was when Beyoncé asked to sample her speech, Adichie said, “I’m so bored by this question, but I will say that I’m happy that my thirteen-year-old niece calls herself a feminist — not because of my speech, but because of Beyonce.” Beyonce’s branding of feminism is accessible.
The Joan Morgans, Beyoncés and even Nicki Minaj’s all have their own brands of feminism that speak to women, men, transwomen, girls and female-identifying people from various income brackets, educational levels and relationships with oppression. The act of assessing who is a “good feminist” and who is a “bad feminist” in that goes on in the mainstream movement, especially around Beyoncé, is unproductive and alienating. And given the race of women all of the women mainstream feminist tend to attack, respectability politics are at play.
Respectability politics “are an undefined yet understood set of ideas about how Black [women] should live positively and how we should define Black [womanhood].” These politics are fluid, and applicable to the feminist movement because any Black Feminist who expresses any type of sexual agency are deemed “anti-feminist” with the exploration of what is happening behind the art.
At its very base, feminism means the political, social and economic equality of the sexes; however, this definition and goal is only sufficient for those for whom this is actually possible — white, educated, middle to upper class, cisgendered women, the women whom the movement originally catered to in the first place.
It is no surprise that respectability politics are an unaddressed issue within the feminist movement because of the histories of womanhood that differ between White women and Black women in this country. White feminists are the descendants of the women who were told they were virtuous, and educated in “Republican Motherhood.” Black women are the descendants of women in bondage who were raped and physically, emotionally and sexually abused. When a Black woman displays sexual agency, it is taking control of the bodies that were never viewed as theirs when they were first brought to America and put on an auction block. To ignore the history of sexually oppression, and to not even explore the idea that Beyoncé’s brand of feminism or even Nicki Minaj’s brand of feminism, is empowering for many women, especially those who are Black, is a drawback of mainstream feminists who are hypercritical of sex positivity, especially on Black bodies.
Understanding the brands of feminism and being open to discomfort are elements every feminist should be open to engaging with. When Nicki Minaj released her “Anaconda” music video, many feminists were in uproar. They did not take into account that there are women who twerk because they like it, who are constantly objectified by men in their lives and who found their taking control of their sexual pleasures and body positivity empowering. This is Nicki Minaj’s brand, though it is not for everyone.
Similarly, bell hooks made headlines when she called Beyoncé an “anti-feminist” and “terrorist.” But transgender woman and activist Janet Mock put it best, “bell [hooks] and Barbara [Smith] and Audre [Lorde] have feminist cred, their work and commitment to feminism stands on solid ground, but Beyonce’s feminist awakening and stance has been widely questioned.” And despite this questioning around Beyoncé, Mock credits Beyoncé with being a large figure in bringing her toward feminism, and she has high hopes for what Beyonce’s brand of feminism can do. Mock states, “Maybe, just maybe, Beyoncé will serve as the bridge between pop culture and feminists like bell and Barbara and Audre, maybe some young woman bobbing her head to ‘Blow’ or ‘Partition’ or ‘Flawless’ will do so while reading ‘Ain’t I A Woman?’ or ‘Homegirls’ or ‘Sister Outsider.’”
Feminism should be applicable, fluid and take different shapes to what is going on in the lives of women who belong to different cultures, incomes, races, ethnicities and ways of life. And no matter what brand they choose, it should be empowering.
Feminists need to stop trying to create schisms by saying who is a “bad” and “good” feminist. No one is always a “perfect feminist.” The goal should be to uplift all women. The goal should be to make feminism active in the lives of all, and if some women take on Beyoncé’s brand, so what? It is all the same fight against inequality of the sexes and patriarchy.
Contact Mysia Anderson at mysia ‘at’ stanford.edu.