Beyoncé has not always identified publicly as a feminist. But somewhere between the release of “Run the World (Girls)” in 2011 and the birth of Blue Ivy the following January, she started opening up in the press regarding her belief in feminism — still, sadly, a term her pop star peers mostly try to circumvent. But as celebrated as Beyoncé’s light-touch, low-pressure brand of female empowerment has been by some high-profile feminists like Sheryl Sandberg, Ms. Knowles apparently does not pass bell hooks’ high feminist bar — this week, hooks shocked just about everyone by branding her an “anti-feminist terrorist.” Welp. And there ain’t shit the Beygency can do about it — bell hooks remains a leading voice on intersectional feminism.
As BET reports, hooks spoke out against Bey multiple times — and dominated the conversation in general — at a discussion held Tuesday (May 6) at the New School, titled “Are You Still a Slave?,” the harshest criticism of which saw the word “terrorist” tossed in Beyoncé’s direction. hooks sat alongside fellow prominent black feminists including Redefining Realness author and transgender activist Janet Mock, filmmaker Shola Lynch, and author Marci Blackman. Watch the archived video (below) and you’ll see that this is one of the most fascinating and relevant conversations on intersectional feminism in recent history, ranging from SNL ‘s Leslie Jones to Scandal (“I think TV is like celibacy: we need less of it,” hooks said):
Seriously, watch the entire thing. It shows the wide gap between black feminist theory as envisaged by radical activists and intellectuals, and the few representations of that theory in the media, which are decidedly non-radical and moderate. But in the meantime, allow me to paraphrase the parts about Beyoncé:
The TIME Magazine Cover
There’s been debate about Bey’s recent TIME magazine cover — where she wore a bikini and a sheer shirt — and in particular, whether the image was exploitative. The general consensus is that Knowles must have chosen the cover herself, given that the pop icon’s visual branding is unabashedly sexual in nature. hooks, however, argued that the outfit was not Knowles’ choice.
“Let’s take the image of this super rich, very powerful black female and let’s use it in the service of imperialist, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy because she probably had very little control over that cover — that image,” hooks claimed. Others on the panel disagreed with hooks on this point, Mock most prominently: “I would argue she chose this image, so I don’t want to strip Beyoncé of choosing this image — of being her own manager.”
hooks was having none of this argument — she countered that if Beyoncé did choose her outfit for the cover, she was “colluding in the construction of herself as a slave.”
Of course, no one really knows the answer to this except whoever was there at the shoot. But Beyoncé is among one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, women in the music industry. She fired her own father in order to better control her career. It’s hard to imagine her being dictated to.
Beyoncé, a Terrorist?
This part gets heated. When Mock expressed a pretty widely held belief — that Beyonce’s self-chosen sexual representations felt empowering to her — hooks completely disagreed.
Mock: Having ‘Partition’ come out a couple months before my book came out — when I am writing about sex work and sexual abuse and issues with my body, my sexuality — it was freeing to have Beyoncé owning her body and claiming that space.
hooks: I see a part of Beyoncé that is in fact anti-feminist — that is a terrorist, especially in terms of the impact on young girls.
Beyoncé’s Views on Feminism: A Primer
If you haven’t been following Beyoncé’s views on feminism, let’s just say that they have been growing more and more public in the last two years. Most recently, Bey partnered with Lean In author/Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg for her TIME 100 write-up and participation in Sandberg’s #BanBossy campaign (above). (Personally, I think the Sandberg x Bey match-up is not a great one, given how divisive the former’s brand of feminism is.)
Beyoncé focuses more on female empowerment than feminism, opting for less politicization than we’ve placed on her recently. “That word can be very extreme. … But I guess I am a modern-day feminist,” Knowles told British Vogue last spring. “I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything? I’m just a woman and I love being a woman. … I do believe in equality and that we have a way to go and it’s something that’s pushed aside and something that we have been conditioned to accept. … But I’m happily married. I love my husband.”