Whenever Beyonce releases new music, she elicits strong reactions from fans and haters alike. Recently, the streak-haired R&B songstress has sparked a vibrant debate in the black blogosphere about whether her latest video single 'Run the World (Girls)' can be considered a legitimate feminist statement.
'Essence' editor Demetria Lucas argued in her story, 'Is Beyonce Sending the Wrong Message?,' that the video merely inspires male lust. Responding to a reader comment on gossip blog, 'The Young, Black and Fabulous,' which compared the pop star to feminist icon Gloria Steinem, Lucas said there's a difference between "p-popping and actual empowerment."
The post sparked considerable reaction among the young black female writer set on Twitter and Facebook.
Soon after, Arielle Loren penned a reaction piece for Clutch Magazine online, 'Is Beyonce the New Face of Contemporary Feminism?' in which she wrote: "Like Lucas, women pushing the traditional hyper-sexual critique have been focused on the 'male gaze' for far too long."
Clearly struck by the title of Loren's Clutch piece, Jamilah-Asali Lemieux responded to the notion of contemporary feminism by stating, "I think the 'new face of feminism' should be able to articulate what feminism is."
A woman who identities herself only as NineteenPercent, called Beyonce's proclamation - "Who run the world? Girls!" - a lie. She added that Beyonce is merely trying to lure impressionable young women into feeling a false sense achievement, and "distracting them from doing the work it takes to actually run the world."
And Natasha Theory from BeGirlManifesta, a site that asserts that every woman is "multifaceted, complex, and nuanced," chimed in too. In response to NineteenPercent, Theory wrote, "I think Beyonce is an artist doing what artists do...creating her vision of what reality should be."
This isn't the first time Beyonce's version of feminism has been called into question. Back when she was still a singer with Destiny's Child, Beyonce and her bandmates belted out girl-power anthems like 'Bills, Bills, Bills,' and 'Independent Women Part 1,' and suggested a kind of kinship with the black female performance tradition popularized by Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Aretha Franklin. There was much debate then around whether Destiny's Child was male-bashing or offering up a new brand of sexual politics.
Now even as a solo artist, Beyonce seems to be fueling similar discussions. A few years ago, Princeton professor Daphne Brooks claimed in the 'Nation' magazine that Beyonce, beauty and sexy dance moves notwithstanding, "delivers a unique version of black female dissent in pop and R&B music culture." Brooks' point made about the singer's 2006 album 'B-Day' could just as easily describe Beyonce's significance today. Brooks adds, "Beyoncé is part of a tradition of black women's musical expressions of personal and political discontent ranging from singers like Nina Simone (pictured below) and Odetta to MCs Lauryn Hill and Jean Grae to the brilliant new artist Keyshia Cole."
To dismiss Beyonce's lyrical sassiness or the 'I will never disappoint' message in her 'Me, Myself, and I' does us a gross injustice.
As Loren argued in Clutch, there is something that happens when a Beyonce record plays - it's visceral and empowering at the same time. We feel a connection to these songs and they command us to get up and dance. And we react in the affirmative when she says "Who run the world?" just like when we scream "Hell yea!" after a DJ shouts, "Do my ladies run this muthaf**ka?
These black female voices like Lucas, Loren, Lemieux and Natasha Theory, among others in the social media space may recall the debates about how women should define themselves that Patricia Hill-Collins (author of 'What's In A Name? Womanism, Black Feminism and Beyond'), Alice Walker (pictured below), Barbara Omolade, June Jordan and Sherely Ann Williams had in previous generations. Are we feminist, black feminist or Womanist? Or all of the above?
However, perhaps it's time to broaden our definition of feminism so we can transcend the idea that the easiest way to pick a fight is to wear stiletto heels to a conference on feminism. In that case, Beyonce may doing her job.