Last week's piece on Womanism started a powerful dialogue both about race as much as it was about gender. But the conversation also brought up an interesting question: What makes a person a feminist or a womanist?
The release of her new album, Lemonade shows the highs and lows of female expression. She has labeled herself a shirt wearing and word affirming feminist. She told Elle, in their May issue, "I’m not really sure people know or understand what a feminist is, but it’s very simple. It’s someone who believes in equal rights for men and women. I don’t understand the negative connotation of the word, or why it should exclude the opposite sex. If you are a man who believes your daughter should have the same opportunities and rights as your son, then you’re a feminist. We need men and women to understand the double standards that still exist in this world, and we need to have a real conversation so we can begin to make changes."
Beyoncé even discussed issues of gender roles, saying "When we talk about equal rights, there are issues that face women disproportionately... If your son can do it, your daughter should be able to. Some of the things that we teach our daughters — allowing them to express their emotions, their pain and vulnerability — we need to allow and support our men and boys to do as well."
And the Beyhive and the entire womanist community applauds. Bey is the womanist of our time, right.
However, not everyone is a fan. bell hooks, a powerhouse in the womanist camp, unleashed her own brand of critique on Lemonade in her piece Moving Beyond the Pain says “(Beyoncé’s) her construction of feminism cannot be trusted. Her vision of feminism does not call for an end to patriarchal domination.”
Whoa, Bey can't be trusted. You would trusts woman with killer dance moves and a baseball bat named hot sauce?
hooks continues “In this fictive world, black female emotional pain can be exposed and revealed. It can be given voice: this is a vital and essential stage of freedom struggle, but it does not bring exploitation and domination to an end.”
This sour response to Lemonade has garnered hooks, who is used to criticism, much of it. And not only from the Beyhive. Ebony writer Jamilah Lemieux says "The writer (hooks) seems to believe that Beyoncé’s self-ID as a feminist means that she is required to speak plainly about ending patriarchy, or offer nothing at all. hooks uses this woman as a receptacle for all her angst over capitalism and the male gaze, expecting that “good” feminists must able to divorce themselves from those concepts lest we be a danger to ourselves."
Here's what I think: I think that both hooks and Beyoncé can be womanists, and so can anyone else who sees the genders as equal.
What hooks fails to realize is that she and Bey are on the same side. It makes no sense to fight each other and lose sight of the real fight, which is equality among men and women. It actually makes hooks guilty of the same crimes the early white feminist (mentioned in the Womanist piece)were guilty of. Luke 9:50 says "Whoever is not against us is for us." and maybe we need that reminder that, just because we fight the battle on different fronts doesn't makes us enemies, but allies.
I am in no way, shape, or form saying that we cannot be critical of Beyoncé. After all, everyone deserves a critique every now and then.
What I am saying is that we should avoid the dialogue of saying who can and who cannot be feminists simply because they may not be our own personal brand of tea (or in this case, Lemonade.) our feminism doesn't have to match to be effective.
There is enough room in the fight for gender equality for both bell and Bey. And gender equality can be more easily won if we fight the battle together.