I’m not a cultural critic. My expertise lies not in culture as conceived by many cultural critics – pop culture – but in culture as conceived by sociologists and legal scholars. My expertise lies in how individuals live their culture in their every day lives.
More importantly to what I’m going to speak on here, however, is that I am a mother. Of a daughter. A black mother of a black daughter. That’s really all the expertise that matters.
But in case you’re wondering, I am a black feminist. A young, married, heterosexual, highly- and elitely-educated, black, middle-class mother feminist. I own all of that. Please do not get that twisted as you read what comes next.
This is about Beyonce and “Beyonce.” I’m not even going to talk about whether Beyonce is a feminist. I honestly don’t care. You virtual celebrities of the Twitter and blogosphere can hash all that out with the white feminists that y’all say don’t “get” black feminism.
But Ain’t I a Woman? If we can all agree to that, then let me tell you something.
This is about why I will not ever encourage my black daughter to listen to, emulate, or strive to be the Beyonce on “Beyonce.” “Beyonce” is not the feminist ideal I want pushed on my child.
This is about why I don’t think “Beyonce” should be held up as the feminist role model for ANY black girl.
And this is why I think all self-proclaimed new generation black feminists idolizing “Beyonce” as a positive manifesto should take SEVERAL proverbial seats. Because you’re messing with my baby. And that makes me angry.
I know what the new-generation black feminists are going to say: “Beyonce” is not an album for children. And you’re right. It’s not. But that’s really beside the point.
Because children will listen. Because children will emulate the adults that will listen. Because pop culture infuses every-day culture. Because the messages “Beyonce” is promoting are everything BUT powerful, pro-woman, pro-black messages. Because our girls, our beautiful, black girls deserve so much better.
As a social scientist, I kinda believe that your opinion without evidence is just that: an opinion without evidence. Good for you, but not rigorous analysis. Not the work of a true critic, which again, I’m not. But I did watch the videos and listened to the songs, and again, I’m a black mother.
Funny thing is – I’m not mad at Beyonce. She has every right to make the songs she wants. In this current culture where we recognize it takes a village to raise a generation of strong black people but we refuse to actually take on that responsibility or hold our “leaders” accountable – what can we expect? But if you are a so-called “public intellectual,” if you are at all influencing young people, if you are at all responsible for promoting what makes it into mainstream culture, then I expect more of you. And your insistence on being ride-or-die for this album is seriously problematic.
Here’s why, taking it song by song:
Pretty Hurts. This song is supposedly about the pain associated with the label “pretty.” It talks about how girls are taught to think of themselves only according to their looks. “Pretty” hurts the pretty and the not-so-pretty. I get that. I live that.
But coming from Beyonce? The woman who makes it very clear that her success is partly due to her own looks, her own pretty, her own body that follows a ridiculous dieting and fitness regime:
“Photos make you fatter, television adds pounds, and discipline is very important in this profession…. I am a natural fat person, just dying to get out. I go through agonies to keep my stomach as flat as possible – though it is never flat enough for me,” she has said.
I’m guilty of weighing myself every day, of agonizing over my after-three-babies-in-eight-years tummy, and of curbing my sweet tooth so I can fit into my size 2 jeans. But now that my daughter is getting older, I’m stopping the daily weigh-in. I’m stopping the complaining about the belly that shepherded three souls into the world. I talk about working out as stress relief, and for keeping healthy. I limit sweets because cavities hurt. I encourage my daughter to play sports and dance because she loves to do it and it keeps her healthy. I don’t need her seeing Beyonce say, “Pretty hurts” while showing it actually does. Some say the meaning of the song is “QUEEN BEY LESSON #1: You’re beautiful the way you are.” That’s bullshit. Kids see right through that wack-ass logic. She obviously does not find herself “beautiful as she is” with her fat-bashing and embrace of all that is wrong with mainstream media. Self-awareness without action is like no self-awareness at all.
Ghost. Honestly, I have no idea what this song is about. Without the video, it would have been skipped way before my usual 30-second appraisal of whether a song is worth my time. Sometimes I’m wrong, and songs get better after 30 seconds and so I miss out, but that’s rare. Not missing out here. For all I know, Bey is sending subliminal messages. Since I don’t know what those messages are (I mean, they’re subliminal) I can’t evaluate their value for my kid. So, no.
Haunted. See above. Used to be a time that wack songs were called wack. But the new generation black feminists must have missed that memo.
Drunk In Love. I’m drunk in love every day. The love I have for my husband grows every day. I have a partner in everything. He loves me, he loves his children, he loves black people. We have a great marriage full of all the things great partnerships are made of. Sex, love, laughter, and work. Again, I get it. And again, I get that many black women don’t have this and it’s great to celebrate this deep, deep, love.
But what I can’t understand is why y’all are making excuses for this gem:
Catch a charge I might, beat the box up like Mike / In ’97 I bite, I’m Ike Turner, turn up / Baby know I don’t play, now eat the cake, Annie Mae / Said, “Eat the cake, Annie Mae!”
Y’all know who Ike Turner is right? Y’all saw “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” right? The reference (for those who have not seen this classic black film) is to Ike yelling at Tina Turner in a restaurant to eat the cake that’s on the table. He’s calling her by her “Christian” name, Anna Mae. He’s mad because some kids ask for Tina’s autograph and say, “Ms.” Turner instead of “Mrs.” Turner. He’s a controlling violent man who smashes the cake in Tina’s face and then slaps the black off her friend who jumps up in Tina’s defense. “Eat the cake Anna Mae” is a reference to a husband who is jealous of his wife’s success and presence and fame and feels the need to humiliate her every chance he gets.
There is NO ONE who will convince me that these lyrics can EVER be a part of a song that is empowering to black women. This is not about willing submission. It is about violent submission premised on jealousy and hatred of successful black womanhood. The fact that this is even debatable…
Blow. Ok. This song is all about sexual pleasure. Part of the new-generation black feminist movement (?) is about regaining our sexual pleasure as black women. Once again, I get it. I do. But really?
Can you lick my skittles/That’s the sweetest in the middle/Pink that’s the flavor/Solve the riddle
As I’ve written before about black women’s genitalia being portrayed as candy that can be bought and sold, we need to come up with better ways:
Selling vaginas? Surely this cannot be. … Surely they know that selling part of a woman’s anatomy … commodifies women’s sexuality, holds it up as something that can be bought and sold on the open market, something to be consumed in the most vulgar of ways?
Furthermore, the man’s part is referred to as “wood” (strong, stable, enduring) but we get “skittles” (sweet but deadly)? Nope, don’t want my daughter associating her vagina, a legitimate site of sexual pleasure with sugary sweet candy that has little nutritional value that makes you feel good for a minute and then causes a crash. Now I know I’m probably breaking it down more than it needs to be broken down, but I’m competing for idea-space with fellow PhDs and masters of the internet.
No Angel. Nobody is an angel. True enough. That’s all I get from this song in terms of positive messages. Why, you ask? Because of this:
You’re not an angel either, but at least I’m trying / I know I drive you crazy, but would you rather that I be a machine / Who doesn’t notice when you late or when you’re lying / I love you even more than you I thought you worried for
If there’s candles near your bed, no need for a spell / Stop acting so scared, just do what I tell / First go through my legs, go back on your head / And whatever you want, yeah baby I’ll beg, it comes
Wait…what? He’s a liar and implicitly a cheat that you are driving crazy by calling him on his ish…but then you’re in control…but not really…because you begging to for him to tell you what to do and you’re down for whatever?
Not for my daughter. No. Stop. Please.
Again. The fact that this is even a legitimate source of debate…
Yonce. Pure bravado. But once’t’agin, it comes back to the booty: “Ya man ain’t never seen a booty like this.” But Pretty Hurts? Sigh. This one actually had promise.
Partition. The stans went crazy for this one. And I’ll admit – the beat is sick. But reminiscent of the Chris Rock joke “Slap Em With the Dick,” we seem to forgive any wack-ass message due to a sick-ass beat.
He Monica Lewinski all on my gown
Take all of me / I just wanna be the girl you like, girl you like / The kinda girl you like / Is right here with me
What in all that makes sense in this world is a reference to Monica Lewinsky empowering, sexually or not?? Monica Lewinsky was denied, debased, and sentenced to infamy for giving a powerful, married man a blow job and letting him cum on her dress. The moral of the story there?? NEVER be any man’s Monica Lewinsky. NEVER.
Jealous. A song that “keeps it real.” Many a woman can relate to this song. She can have a point for this one.
Rocket. There is a bit of feminist dribble in here:
Ooh my shit’s so good it ain’t even right / I know I’m right / Hell yeah you the shit / That’s why you’re my equivalent / So sexy
I feel that. We should all feel like we’re the ish and we should feel like our partner’s the ish. I dig that. (Not for my daughter, but a good message for grown women.)
But then she went here:
You ain’t right for doing that to me daddy / Even though I’ve been a bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad girl / Tell me what you’re gonna do about that / Punish me / Please / Punish me please
Look, I know some women like to be submissive. Maybe every heterosexual woman at one point or another wants to be dominated by her man. It’s a fantasy. But what I don’t get, and likely never will, is calling your man “Daddy.” And for black girls/women, I have a HUGE problem with it. We don’t want our girls calling any man that ain’t her daddy “Daddy.” We don’t want to perpetuate the idea that a man who can satisfy your sexual needs deserves to be treated like a parental authority. ESPECIALLY when the next words are about punishment. And isn’t “Daddy” something that prostitutes call their pimp?
Grown women can call they boo anything they like. Whatever floats your damn boat. But you’re not going to teach that to my daughter. Nope.
Mine. I like Drake. (And no, I don’t let my children listen to him.) I like his voice. I like his sound. This song sounds just like Drake. He coulda sang the whole thing. And I’m not mad at this song. She even talked about getting married. [Gasp!]
XO. We’re good here. A song actually about hugs and kisses. Cute.
Flawless. Again, y’all can say she’s not talking to you as a bitch. Right. Tell yourself that lie. But because I’m not a fan, I’m quite sure she’s telling me to bow down, and she’s calling me a bitch. So.
And you know what else? I am CONFUSED by Adichie’s verse on this song. Not confused by the verse, which was sampled from the author’s recent TedX talk, but confused by why it’s even here. Do you forgive being called a bitch because now girls who you hope aren’t listening to the record but actually are listening to the record get exposure to one of the greatest writers of our generation?? (Americanah was my ish.) I don’t know. But I do know that I can’t let my daughter listen to Beyonce’s part in order to get to Adichie’s part. Because if I’m confused, what about her?
Superpower. This song is just boring. But not offensive to my sensibilities.
Heaven. My condolences over whomever she lost.
Blue. Any song that someone has their child on is a-okay in my eyes. I liked Egypt on New Day. And I think Blue Ivy is cute as a button looking just like her daddy. Not that’s he’s cute. But you know what I mean.
So six acceptable songs out of 17 songs is not bad in terms of current day pop. But the other 11 make this album a no go for my daughter, and I hope for every other black girl out there.. Given the atrocities some of these songs inflict on the listener, I am really surprised at the new generation black feminists who are riding HARD for ‘Yonce on this one. What about our daughters? No really: what about our daughters?? Can y’all not imagine that these images of women being debased, thought about only in terms of their “skittles,” and calling grown men “Daddy” are exactly what helped R. Kelly prey on DOZENS of teenage girls? Can y’all not see that these conflicting and confusing images are doing nothing to empower girls, but rather are confusing them about what constitutes their worth? Pretty hurts but sex sells?
You can say, “Well, don’t let your daughter listen to the album,” and I will not let her listen. But I can’t shelter her from the world, and this album is now a part of our WORLD. This album influences grown men and grown women who then influence children. Everything we put out there affects all of our children. Black girls are under ATTACK, and we, the folks who are supposed to be protecting them are turning out to be their worst enemies but cosigning foolishness masquerading as empowerment.
And I have the right to say this because I am a mother. A black mother. A black mother of a black daughter. And a feminist under the age of 35. And an intellectual. And a member of the hip-hop generation. And I’m telling y’all – this is NOT the message we, as black mothers, want you, as “professional” black feminists giving OUR babies. You are not our unified voice on this one. Your fight with the white feminists to recognize you is not our fight, not this time. THIS is not what we want y’all to be fighting about. So please – stop. Stop. STOP.
And, to give credit where credit is due, I’m not the only one that thinks this Bey worship has gone too far. Check these posts out:
If there are others, please mention them in the comments. And of course, say whatever you need to say in the comments too. Let’s dialogue🙂