Since Beyoncé's VMA performance last night - much like anytime Beyoncé does anything - there has been much typing and tongue wagging over whether Beyoncé is or isn't a ("good") feminist. Only this time it's somewhat disingenuous for the stans of the Beygency to chime in with their usual cries of "Why does she have to live up to some standard, just let Beyoncé live" because homegirl showed up and planted herself under a giant neon sign that said: FEMINIST. And feminism ostensibly has something to do with promoting the interests of all women and not just Beyoncé.
She made herself the standard-bearer.
Personally, I find a lot of things problematic with the label in general. For one, I find it unnecessary. I am a person of color. As such, I abhor racism because it is a social power dynamic that oppresses me. But there is no word that means the opposite of racist, i.e. pro-colored people. I suppose there is anti-racist but nobody really uses it, you know why? Because the only people who aren't anti-racist are racists.
I suppose you could say it's a matter of intensity, but that's where things start to break down. How aggressively not racist does one need to be to be considered "anti-racist"? Is it enough to simply NOT be racist? Similarly, when we get into comparing BIG "F" Feminism with little "f" feminism (I'll be honest, I don't even know what the difference is supposed to be) and "good" feminists vs. "bad" feminists things start to get blurry and I think folks often lose sight of the larger issues: does a given thing belittle/demean/dehumanize/exploit/subjugate/erase/oppress women and why? And how? And how do we fight it?
Clearly reasonable women can disagree on what they find demeaning or oppressive. After all, there are roughly 4 billion of us on Earth and we are not a monolith because we all (more or less) have vaginas. But there is also a wealth of scholarship, not to mention a loooooong history of sexism, to inform the discussion and use as a point of departure to compare and contrast.
I have always believed that if one has educated themselves on that history and lived a little bit of life as a woman, the distinction between sexist/not sexist or feminist/not feminist is much like the distinction between porn/art: you know it when you see it.
Beyoncé, and the controversy she incites every time she opens her mouth and/or her legs (usually both these days), has shaken that belief to the ground.
Meanwhile, back in March, Jennifer Lopez - she of the booty that rocked the world long before we had heard of Beyoncé or Kim or Nicki - released a video that is every bit as aggressively, obviously and in-your-face feminist message and in my opinion far less ambiguous than Beyoncé's latest performance despite it's lack of a giant neon sign explaining what is purportedly being demonstrated. Despite not using the word.
I don't think she needed to.
I invite you to take a look at the two performances and share what distinctions you see taking into account the lyrics, the choreography, the staging and the overall message.
Does one of these look more or less like an expression of feminist ideals to you?