Let's all get into formation to minimize a woman: Beyoncé and patriarchal criticism // Madeline Brodt
I unabashedly love Beyoncé. So when she surprise dropped the video for Formation the day before the Superbowl I about lost my mind. I immediately loved it, who wouldn’t with it’s great beat and positive empowering message? Apparently, a lot of people do not love it. It has been a significant cultural moment for many to start a conversation about creating media that is speaking to Black people (Robinson, 2016), where White people should be in that conversation (Hillman, 2016) and some White people’s inappropriate response to the conversation (Gilbert, 2016). All of this is influenced by her SuperBowl performance where she made choices that were purposefully displaying a message about #BlackLivesMatter and other topics (BBC, 2016). Many have written about the performance and the video including about her capitalist message (London, 2016), the colorism she perpetuates (Blay, 2016), and even Saturday Night Live has commented on it (http://bit.ly/1QLyEF7). Others have written about the validity or appropriateness of Beyoncé making statements like these in her music and performances (Caramanica, Morris, & Wortham, 2016; Chu, 2016; Przetak, 2016; Tinsley & O'Neill, 2016). The conversation within the media and more specifically the Black community has been very thought provoking for me to follow and read about. As a White person, I do not feel that it is appropriate for me to add to the conversation about the Black American experience. To me however, there is a big part of the conversation surrounding Formation that is missing: the fact that she is a woman making these statements and how that might be influencing the reaction just as much as her ethnicity.
The conversation about Beyoncé’s activist roots are perhaps the greatest example of this sexist treatment. Many of the articles surrounding her activism seem to be “surprised” by her “new” identity. One article even made this clear in the title “Beyoncé’s Formation reveals an activist and political side to pop queen's brand” (Bowden, 2016, emphasis added). This is not a new fad for Beyoncé and it is easily evidenced by her actions in the past. In 2013, Beyoncé released ***Flawless where she included a speech from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about the meaning of feminism. That was a surprising activist choice at the time (Dockterman, 2013) and she was criticized for the activist choices that she made (Danielle, 2014). Beyoncé also wrote an essay for The Shriver Report on gender inequality (Shriver, 2014). Even though this was a more traditional activist choice, she was still marginalized and called a “Budding Social Activist” (Improper Staff, 2014). Last year, Beyoncé and her husband Jay-Z provided money to bail out protesters who were arrested in Ferguson and Baltimore (Glenza, 2015).
The history of her activist choices seems pretty clear and one does not have to agree with them to acknowledge her efforts. What is it that allows for them to continue to go unnoticed and to have the same narrative repeat over and over again? In large part I think it has to do with her being a woman and the tendency to denigrate women’s contributions as leaders. A recent meta-analysis gives some evidence to this claim, Williams and Tiedens (2016) evaluated the negative impacts that female leaders experience compared to male leaders. They identified that “it is interpersonal (rather than instrumental) evaluations that obstruct women leaders” (p. 165) and that because of these negative evaluations women face a difficult catch-22 “To get ahead, women must project competence, and yet if they prioritize being seen as competent, they are likely to be penalized in terms of actual leadership positions” (p. 179). Beyoncé’s activist narrative very much embodies this catch-22. Other celebrities have jumped on the activist bandwagon but because they have different identities they are not subtly undermined in this way such as Aziz Ansari’s feminist statements (Marcotte, 2014). I was not able to find any articles that denigrate him as a newcomer or other barbs that were used in reference to Beyoncé.
I wish to note the importance of Beyoncé’s intersecting identities that impact her ability to effectively walk the line on this catch-22. Her race and ethnicity are incredibly important here. Other women, more specifically White women, are “allowed” to be activists such as Emma Watson (Robinson, 2014). Her activist efforts are called “game changing” instead of the newcomer, dismissive appraisal that Beyoncé receives. It is disheartening to see this difference side by side and it speaks to the larger issue within feminist communities of a focus on “White feminism” (Zeilinger, 2015). It is important that we recognize the discourse occurring when Beyoncé is being constantly minimized as a Black feminist activist because we all are in this fight together. You do not have to agree with all of her choices and can be critical of them but please recognize the sexism that is playing out before us.
BBC. (2016, February 8). Beyonce's Super Bowl performance: Why was it so significant? - BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-35520636
Blay, Y. (2016, February 08). On 'Jackson Five Nostrils,' Creole vs. 'Negro' and Beefing Over Beyoncé's 'Formation' Retrieved from http://www.colorlines.com/articles/jackson-five-nostrils-creole-vs-negro-and-beefing-over-beyoncés-formation
Bowden, E. (2016, February 8). Beyonce's Formation reveals an activist and political side to pop queen's brand. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/beyonces-formation-reveals-an-activist-and-political-side-to-pop-queens-brand-20160208-gmo1s2.html
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