Category Archives: Feminist Thought
Much has been said about Beyonce referring to herself as “King”. Most of the conversation around her decision to do so has fallen into two camps: Beyonce is reaffirming patriarchy by referring to herself as a “King” or Beyonce should be allowed to call herself whatever she wants. I recognize that both camps make a legitimate argument, but I would like to merge them. I don’t think that it is an either/or matter as some others do.
This isn’t Beyonce’s first time at the gender-bending and gender non-conformist rodeo. In my opinion, Beyonce has always been drawn to masculine expression. In the videos for her songs “Lose My Breath” and “Upgrade U’, Beyonce dawns men’s clothing and mixes feminine expression with masculine expression. She can be seen dipping into a swagger that we traditionally associate with maleness and masculinity.
On her 2008 album, “I Am Sasha Fierce”, one of the first singles off that album is titled “If I Were A Boy”. In this song Beyonce lyrically imagines what it would be like to be a male. Even though the song sticks to mostly to patriarchal notions of manhood. However, it once more represents Beyonce’s seeming fascination with masculine identity.
Historically speaking, Beyonce isn’t the first woman to refer to herself as “King”. Pharaoh Hatshepsut, an ancient Egyptian woman, ruled as a man. A National Geographic article explains,
“Early reliefs show her performing kingly functions such as making offerings to the gods and ordering up obelisks from red granite quarries at Aswan. After just a few years she had assumed the role of “king” of Egypt, supreme power in the land. “
It is absolutely true that historically women have often had to situate themselves into masculinity and maleness in order to be taken serious. Given that patriarchy is the prevailing social concept in many of our societies, it makes sense that the female quest for power and legitimacy has often relied on women embracing a masculine gender expression.
However, it can also be said that gender non-conformity has consistently been one of the ways that we dismantle patriarchy. By recognizing that gender roles aren’t fixed, rigid, and impenetrable we challenge the patriarchal notions that tell us otherwise.
Every feminist has a past, and every patriarch has a future. I am a witness to the potential for radical transformation!
Christian patriarchy teaches us that our mothers wombs are defective, that we must be “born again” via a *male* savior. A lot of patriarchy can be boiled down to men being resentful of the fact that women birth children. A lot of this mess come from that.
A. The depiction of female homosexuality in the video is refreshing. It differs from the “Look how sexy we can be for the male gaze” kind of female homosexuality approached by artists like Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj.
B. The Black woman in the video, is not an object of the White woman, but rather the subject of her love. There is foregrounding of both women throughout the video and the camera pants to both of their faces (which is a rarity in most patriarchal male and female videos). The usual angle going for the ass, vagina, breasts, etc. I saw few, if any, exploitative shots of the two women’s bodies.
C. The Black woman is presented here, how I wish they were more often presented. Not as spectacle or over-the-top fantasy, but as a beautiful Black bodied creation without need for hair extensions, makeup, or other “extras.” These women are stripped down to their bare and beautiful essentials.
D. I was wondering if the Black woman would be shown as being an agent in the sexual experience of the two women, and I am pleased to say that she did. It wasn’t just the White woman leading, but also the Black woman engaging and taking an active role in the mutuality of the sexual experience.
I quite enjoyed the video.
Patriarchal men are not usually thought to be proponents of homosexuality. We often think that patriarchal men are primarily interested in strict gender roles that forbid any recognition of homosexuality. However, there are exceptions to patriarchal males disdain for homosexuality. Lil Boosie, a rapper from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, provides an interesting case for the examination of the patriarchal male endorsement of homosexuality. In his popular song “They Dykin” he “celebrates” same-sexual sexual relationships among women. I put celebrates in quotes because it is clear from listening to the song, with a critical ear, that Lil Boosie leaves much to be desired when it comes to his “celebration” of same-sex sexual relationships among women.
In the world of “They Dykin,” female sexuality exists only in terms of its usefulness to male sexuality. The song does not promote same-sex sexual relationships among women on their own terms, but rather by how those women can satisfy patriarchal straight men. The song begins with a rather sad foray into colorism in the Black community, stating “two red bones kissing in the back seat.” It’s clear from these opening lines that in Boosie’s imagination, two Black women being sexual with each other isn’t enough to turn him on, the women also have to be light skinned. This sentiment is unfortunately too common in a Black community that has internalized white supremacist thinking about its worth and value, and believe itself to be “better” and “more beautiful” when lighter skinned. Boosie continues with “girl don’t stop keep going relax me.” Here the emphasis is not on the women’s pleasuring of themselves, but on how they can relax the heterosexual male who is encouraging the activity. Boosie continues, “I like girls who like girls that attract me.” Once again, Boosie positions himself as the agent in the sexual situation by foregrounding his own sexual interests over that of the women who he sees as only secondary. It is his attraction that matters, primarily, not the same-sex sexual relationship of the women. They are there to please him.
The song also sheds light on an often repeated sentiment among patriarchal straight men. There have been many instances where I have witnessed a patriarchal straight man harass a Black gay woman by suggesting that her homosexuality is a result of her not having a man, particularly one that can “put the dick on her right.” Boosie echoes this sentiment when he raps, “her and her friend got drunk, went to an after party, couldn’t find no nigga, so they both got retarded.” Here we see how the patriarchal straight man assumes that same-sex relationships among women are the result of an inability to find a man, the idea being that women settle for each other only when they can’t find a suitable man to be with first. Homophobic people are quick to assume that a woman is a lesbian only because she failed to find a man, seeing her sexuality as a defeat.
The song finishes with Boosie further “celebrating” same-sex sexual relationships among women. He raps, “but I ain’t got no problem I’ll savage y’all, I’m a real ass nigga, I ain’t mad at y’all.” It would be great if Boosie meant what he said, but tucked behind his tolerance for same-sex sexual relationships among women is the truth that he only gives it a pass when it is useful to him. Many patriarchal straight men are accepting of same-sex sexual relationships among women when they can benefit from the situation, but the moment the woman is not interested in performing for him she becomes the enemy. Many patriarchal straight men are fine with Katy Perry brand of lesbian relationships wherein the women perform sexually for the enjoyment of straight men, but they are not so kind to lesbians who are only interested in sexually gratifying themselves and their female partner. These women become useless as they are no longer sexual objects in patriarchal straight male fantasies.
Do I believe that Lil Boosie–or any of the patriarchal straight men like him– supports homosexuality? No. I feel that these men support their own sexual fantasies, and use same-sex sexual relationships among women to that extent. The problem is not unique to Boosie or Hip Hop. This sentiment is communicated all throughout the culture from the TV shows to movies. The patriarchal straight male does not endorse homosexuality because he respects homosexuality as a legitimate sexual orientation, but rather sees it as a prop to be used for his own enjoyment and gratification. It’s not uncommon to hear straight men speak positively about a threesome with two women, but scoff at the idea of being in a threesome that involves two men and one woman, especially if the two men are expected to perform together sexually for the enjoyment of the woman.
There are cases where straight men support homosexuality, but it isn’t the case with patriarchal straight men, and certainly not the case with Lil Boosie. His song, while catchy, is about seeing women, particularly women who have same-sex attractions, as sexual objects. The sexual agents in Boosie’s world are not women, but rather men who can find pleasure in watching them perform for him. Patriarchal straight men need to understand that female sexuality exists independent of them.
Update: The elephant in the room of the song and my essay is bisexuality. The song suggests that the women involved are “dykes” or lesbians, but it could also be true that they are bisexual. Our tendency to jump quickly from heterosexuality to homosexuality has rendered the lives of bisexuals almost invisible in our imaginations. We should work to overcome binary thinking that suggests that sexuality must be either/or.
“Whether or not women can determine when and whether to have children is the single biggest element in whether we’re healthy or not, whether we’re educated or not, how long our life expectancy is, whether we we can be active in the world or not.” – Gloria Steinem
I have long been concerned by the number of Black people who believe that reproductive freedom is somehow a threat to Black freedom. There have been various instances of conservative Blacks group who perpetuate the false notion that Black women exercising reproductive freedom is somehow antithetical to Black freedom, and the overall progress of the Black community. What I read within these conservative agendas is the notion that Black women’s reproductive freedom is a threat to Black patriarchy and White supremacy. These two entities conspire to relegate the Black woman’s reproductive freedom to a location of betrayal, simultaneously posing a threat to the control that patriarchal Black men and racists White want to hold over the Black woman and the Black community.
I have long believed that reproductive freedom is one of the primary ways in which we assert ourselves as free people. As the great-grandson of a Black woman who was forced to have an abortion, I have always known, or rather sensed, that there was something important and revolutionary in our ability to control our own bodies. Reproductive freedom is one of the main freedoms on which all other freedoms rest, and without it we are forever vulnerable to the forces of oppression. I speak openly about the fact that Black women’s writing has been one of my primary pathways to feminism and feminist movement. Enter Toni Morrison. In her foreword to Beloved, Toni Morrison outlines the questions that propelled her to write her critically acclaimed work. One paragraph stands out from the others in its articulation of the struggles that Blacks, in particular Black women, have faced within this racist and sexist society.
Toni Morrison writes,
“In the eighties, the debate was still roiling; equal pay, equal treatment, access to professions, schools…. and choice without stigma. To marry or not. To have children or not. Inevitably these thoughts led me to the different history of Black women in this country–a history in which marriage was discouraged, impossible, or illegal; in which birthing children was required, but “having” them, being responsible for them–being, in other words, their parent–was as out of the question as freedom. Assertions of parenthood under conditions peculiar to the logic of institutional enslavement were criminal.”
In one short paragraph, Toni Morrison poignantly articulates many of my own sentiments about the role, and necessity, of reproductive freedom in Black life. The powers who conspire to deny Black women of bodily autonomy don’t want us to remember the not so distant past in which Black women, and Black people, were the victims of their anti-choice institution. Sexist and racist America depends on Black people not understanding the degree to which they were denied reproductive freedom, and why our control of our own bodies, our right to make our own reproductive choices, is one of the most important aspects of any Black freedom movement.
In my mind, there is no question as to whether or not Black women, Black people, or any people should have control over their reproductive decisions. How could I look at the past and ignore the many ways in which this sexist and racist society thwarted Black reproductive freedom? It becomes clear me to me that aiding in the denial of reproductive freedom only furthers the marginalization of Black people. White supremacy and Black patriarchy have long been in cahoots. This becomes clear to me when conservative Whites and conservative Blacks unite in an effort to deny Black women reproductive freedom. Those Black people who are interested in Black freedom must think deeply about the ways in which their participation in the denial of Black reproductive freedom functions to further oppress Black people. Our notions of freedom in a White racist society should begin with our bodies. Reproductive freedom is Black freedom.