Sunday night was the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards. Besides the fact that women totally came up on top that night the highlight of the night was the closing act, Beyoncé. She did a compilation of songs from her latest album and it was incredible.
The controversy for many came when she performed “Flawless” and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk “We Should All Be Feminists” played in the background. The words flashed across the screen, and froze on the word “FEMINIST”. I watched Beyoncé stand in front of this word and became speechless.
As soon as the performance was over the world took to the internet to either show their support or dismay for the statement. The controversy for many was that a woman who was claiming to be a feminist had, *GASP*, been dancing in a sexy way, as if the two must be mutually exclusive.
Some responses were just straight up comical. Take Fox News. I honestly think they are just terrified of Beyoncé. They tried so hard to cut the artist down, using phrases that were supposed to be negative like, “minimally dressed females” and “smorgasbord of gyrations, leg spreads, stripper poles, body rubbing and pelvic rolls”. Although I appreciate the use of the word smorgasbord I had to laugh at how hard they were trying to convince themselves they did not enjoy that performance.
The news outlet The Federalist complained that “a hyper-choreographed performance isn’t going to solve” all of the problems with feminism. Well duh. I do not think that was the intention of this VMA performance. Although I wish breaking out in song, specifically a Beyoncé song, could solve problems.
But I digress…
On the flip side their were many who praised the performance.
At the Washington Post the article, “Beyoncé proves she’s flawless – and a feminist – at the MTV VMAs” pointed out that, “it wasn’t her spot-on choreography or runs that seemed to enamor the Twittersphere, but rather the small glimpses into her personal life. The camera consistently panned to her husband Jay Z and two-year-old daughter Blue Ivy throughout the performance”.
For me this was one of the best moments of the night. As MTV news describes:
“Jay and Blue were so proud, and we knew that because Hov was beaming when he made his way onto the stage to present his wife with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, crowning her “the best living entertainer.” Beyoncé couldn’t stop the tears from flowing, especially while her daughter was clapping up a storm on stage.
“I’m so full, I have nothing to say,” she said, all choked up. “I’m filled with so much gratitude, I just thank God for this moment. I love ya’ll so much. Blue I love you Blue, my beloved (Jay Z) I love you. My fans, I love you. MTV, I love you, goodnight.'”
We were reminded, as were on her album, that beyond the super star title she identifies with many other facets in her identity: wife, mother, sister, entrepreneur, and feminist.
Rebecca Traister at the NewsRepublic pointed out:
“So yeah, it’s manufactured stage-craft and she’s rich and they’re corporate, but in a business in which performance is the business, this one was broadcast to twelve million adoring fans. And it showed a woman of color as a sexually confident, high-octane talent and as a powerful business woman, as an adoring mother and an equal partner (“don’t think I’m just his little wife”) to a man who called her “the greatest living entertainer” as he was handing her little spaceman statuette and carrying their kid”.
Traister called the performance “the most powerful pop-culture message of my lifetime”. Traister went on to identify how for her (and me) this performance was incredibly important. She pointed out the complicated ways in which feminism is understood. Traister insists that despite all this we have to remember that, “Sunday night, Beyoncé put the word in lights and did not simply use her own voice and body to define it, but turned to another woman’s work as her source” speaking to the use of Adichie’s Ted Talk.
Feminism is not one thing. It is not one set of ideals, values or moral standards. According to Bell Hooks, feminism is, “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression”. Hooks intentionally left this definition open-ended because it is up to the feminist’s interpretation.
Many people will try to achieve this goal through different outlets. Some I will agree with. Some I will not.
If we want to use this performance to talk about sex positivity, and the sexual objectification of people, or capitalism and control in the music industry, I am ready.
But if anything the critics that took to Twitter only further advanced the complete misunderstanding of feminism that I want to rid the world of. Someone on Twitter claimed, “Silly me, I thought #Feminism would involve more clothes”.
Do not use this performance as an outlet to claim the sole reason Beyoncé can not be a feminist is due to her sexy performance. To me being sexy, dressing sexy, dancing sexy, can all be done while claiming the feminist label. Despite the stereotype to be a feminist does not mean to automatically be an asexual human being, void of sexual drive. If that is true for you that is great, but it is not a requirement.
Even if you still are not buying Beyoncé as a feminist you can not deny the conversation it has sparked. Even a decade ago feminism was not being discussed to this magnitude in mainstream news outlets. That is something.
If the woman who lent her voice to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In project, and wrote an article, “Gender Equality is a Myth” about equal pay wants to call herself a feminist I applaud. As Jessica Valenti at The Guardian points out the work Beyoncé does with feminism is public and tangible. Something for the rest of us to grab and identify with.
Because remember…Who Run the World? Girls.