2013 has been a major year for feminism in the media, and feminist victories. Perhaps most importantly, thanks to Mikki Kendall and her hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen, it’s been a year for recognizing the way white mainstream feminism has been failing at intersectionality. It is time for white, cisgender, heterosexual, able feminists to sit down and listen to the other equally important but further marginalized voices. This is partly why Beyoncé’s new album couldn’t have come at a better time. What better way to end a productive year than with a deeply personal and powerfully feminist album by the most popular and loved black woman in pop culture?
Her self-titled album, just released December 13th, has already been hugely successful. Fans and critics alike adore it. The combination of visual media, total secrecy surrounding its creation, and surprise release has everybody talking about it. But arguably the biggest achievement is her unashamed embracement her own identity and feminist perspective. Kendall praised the album for the way Beyoncé silences her many critics who claim she isn’t feminist enough or is the ‘wrong’ kind of role model for women. Proudly in “Flawless” she samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk about why everyone should be a feminist. This demonstrates that she hears those attacks, but is confident in her woman-positive music and beliefs regardless of those determined to bring her down. The album is all about her loving her body, sexuality, and marriage, while acknowledging the struggles she experiences as both a woman and a celebrity. Beyoncé opens up about jealousy, having her appearance critiqued and attacked, and contemplates the way motherhood has affected her marriage and her life. It’s extremely vulnerable, which is one of its most important strengths. Over at Gradient Lair Trudy rightly calls the album “a manifesto of Black womanhood and freedom”. She notes the undeniable way Beyoncé has triumphed, writing that “all of the hot air and hatred in the world couldn’t silence this work, this art, this manifesto”. In a world where black women’s pride and experiences are aggressively suppressed and vehemently ignored, Beyoncé is subversive and revolutionary in her own right.
Beyoncé’s album is one of the many things I’ve encountered this year that has opened my eyes to the ways white feminism has let me down. I’m as guilty as anyone for focusing too much on white feminism in the past, even though my Asian and African ancestry dominates my appearance and the way people see me. Growing up in racially diverse yet culturally ‘white’ Alberta, raised by my white European family, it has taken time for me to embrace the non-Caucasian aspects of my identity. If white feminism doesn’t care about my journey to find wholeness in my identity and choices, Beyoncé does. What Beyoncé’s album has taught me is acceptance, despite of all the forces in my life telling me otherwise. The music is all about unapologetic self-love. It’s an inclusive feminism. She tours with her husband’s last name, revels in her blissful marriage, and features her daughter on the song all about her. There is no shame, only joy and liberation in her choices. For years I have dealt with guilt over being a married feminist who wants to have children as much as I want to have my career. I’ve wondered where I fit in a movement dominated by white women. While on an intellectual level I know these things are not incompatible, there is a distinct dearth of proud feminist narratives that include marriage and children as sources of strength. It’s great that there’s focus on the way the sexuality of women of colour has been commodified and objectified, but not enough about the ways our sexuality is valid or how we can own it.
There are so many white anti-sex, and anti-marriage voices dominating mainstream feminism that there’s a guilt attached to choosing a different path. I feel that when I see people look at my white husband first, and then me. Slut-shaming and a general lack of respect for other women’s choices is rampant in sex and gender journalism. Judging and shaming women for how they choose to live their lives is a form of anti-woman oppression in itself. So it is crucial to have dissenting voices that tell women it isn’t anti-feminist to thrive in marriage and own their sexuality in their chosen way. In this ongoing debate between sex negative and sex positive feminism people seem to forget that ‘one-size’ sexuality does not fit all. It’s okay to identify as either, but not if it comes at the cost of other women. Beyoncé is here for women. While white mainstream feminism has been busy drawing lines in the sand, Beyoncé is telling women of colour that we can have what we want out of life and that we are good enough.
None of this is to say that Beyoncé’s feminism is flawless or exempted from critique. Her version of feminism is not without issues and will not speak to everyone. But we all need to see this powerful black woman in the media owning her version of highly sexual, happily married version of feminism. We need to see a wide array of feminist perspectives and voices in the media, since feminism isn’t one unified movement. Beyoncé may not be your ideal feminist role model, but what she does and says has a meaningful impact. I’m immensely grateful to have her voice be a part of the discussion.
Athena G. Csuti is a young writer and feminist from Edmonton, AB. She is currently studying English Honours with Creative Writing and History at the University of Calgary. When she’s not writing poetry or essays, she’s curled up with her partner and her cats watching a horror film. Follow her for weird anecdotes and debates @AthenaGenevieve.