At the height of last week’s feminist dialogue about Beyonce’s "Run the World (Girls)", I got to thinking about how ashamed I should be of some of my favorite musical moments.
For instance, I know Rick Ross is a former corrections officer, a raving misogynist and a wannabe drug dealer, but when the DJ drops "B.M.F.", I still find myself chanting, "I think I’m Big Meech. Larry Hoover. Whippin’ [work]. Hallelujah." Ignant.
Same thing goes for Aretha Franklin’s rendition of "Evil Gal Blues." When she sings, "I’m an evil gal. Don’t you bother with me. No! I said I’m an evil gal. Don’t you mess around with me. Mmm hmm. Well I’ll empty your pockets and I’ll fill you with misery," I know she’s describing transactional intercourse, an internalization of the Sapphire stereotype and an unhealthy defense mechanism. But it’s bangin.’
I’m not even going to get into the R. Kelly "Chocolate Factory" debacle.
Given the transgressive skeletons rattling around in my closet, I couldn’t muster up anything credible about B’s lyrics, Billboard Awards performance or video. Thankfully, I know lots of brilliant people who will weigh in on issues large and small. (And this counts as a small one.) Via email, I asked them what they thought of the whole, "Is ‘Run the World (Girls)’ a real feminist anthem?" discussion popping on Facebook and Twitter and propelled the NineteenPercent vlog Julianne Hing mentioned. Here’s what they shared:
R. L’Heureux Lewis, Ph.D., a sociology professor at the City University of New York who frequently writes and speaks about black masculinity and sexual violence, wrote:
"Ironically, Beyonce has engaged Black feminism before, when others (and she) weren’t even paying attention. On "Upgrade U" she said, "I can do for you what Martin did for the people. Ran by the men but the women keep the tempo." That could have been ripped from Patricia Hill Collins’s discussion on spokesperson (male civil rights activists) verses center people (female civil rights activists) in "Black Feminist Thought." Do I think Beyonce knows she’s invoking contentious feminist traditions? Maybe… Actually, probably not, but isn’t it amazing how she helped birth deep thinking from a club banger!?"
From Aishah Shahidah Simmons, a feminist lesbian activist and independent documentary filmmaker who drops Twitter jewels under @AfroLez:
"It has a funky beat, but I don’t think it is a feminist anthem at all. The infamous "Beyonce-Run the World (LIES)" VLOG breaks it down. And I believe Beyonce’s video is set in a post-apocalyptic time period because it’s too incredulous for the status quo to even imagine what the world would look like if girls (women) run the world."
Yaba Amgborale Blay, Ph.D., who teaches Africana Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies at Lafayette College minced no words:
"Last time I checked, feminism reflects ‘the struggle to end sexist oppression.’ (Insert Beyonce … where?) What would bell [hooks] say? "Selling Hot Pussy."
Kaila Adia Story, Ph.D, who teaches Women and Gender Studies at the University of Louisville and holds the Audre Lorde Endowed Chair in Race, Gender, Class, and Sexuality Studies, wrote:
"While I appreciate Beyonce’s music, I don’t confuse it with feminism or feminist empowerment. … I feel empowered when I read and listen to talks by Black women who have been and are doing the necessary work to really free us from misogyny and brutality. To my beloved Bey: You ask ‘Who run the world?’ A better question is: ‘Who change the world?’ The answer to me is feminists. They have been and still are. But thank you for a great workout/dance song! ;-)"
Elizabeth Mendez Berry, journalist and feminist pop culture critic, had a lot to say:
"Look, if Beyonce’s going to write an aspirational anthem, let it be about women running things, not buying things. (BTW, my fantasy is that when she says "pay me," she secretly means, "Pay me equally for equal work.")
As far as the feminist conversations about this go:
I’m not mad at the NinteenPercent vlogger; obviously her video hasn’t got much to do with Beyonce’s song, but I think it’s worth taking every opportunity to talk about how to achieve genuine girl power. As anyone in pop music or punditry knows, you gotta have a hook.
I’m glad these conversations are happening, and that there’s such a diversity of perspectives on the song. We oughta be arguing about pop culture all the time. But honestly, if I was over at Feminist HQ, Ms. Knowles would be the least of my worries. What about hipster darlings like Odd Future–who mainstream critics are calling "provocative" and "shocking" instead of calling them out for their rape fantasies and homophobia? What about Joe Budden’s latest "I attacked my girlfriend and may have caused her miscarriage, but it was all her fault" single? What about Traphik, who raps "I never hit a chick but I will choke a slut" and gets applauded at the Midwest Asian American Student Union’s Spring Conference ? Or Jay Electronica’s choking campaign ? (Obviously this list is hip hop-centric, ’cause that’s what I listen to). I’d love a nuanced feminist response–one that intertwines aesthetic analysis with an ethical agenda–to these artists, or even just to Rihanna and Britney’s performance of "S&M" at the ‘Billboard’ awards. I think we need to be engaging with ALL pop culture, not just the obvious targets. Glad Beyonce started a conversation, hope it doesn’t stop."
Their persuasion can build a nation, right?