Let's hope the Beygency doesn't get wind of this. During a panel discussion about "liberating the black female body" at the New School in New York City earlier this week, legendary feminist scholar bell hooks (real name: Gloria Jean Watkins) took aim at pop superstar Beyonce, branding her as "anti-feminist" and "a terrorist" on young girls.
The conversation about Queen Bey unfolded when hooks' fellow panelist Janet Mock, a transgender activist and author, noted what an inspiration the singer was to her when she was writing her book. Mock said she takes issues with certain things about Beyonce's image — for example, the lyrics to "Drunk in Love" — but praised the entertainer for "owning her body and claiming that space."
Ain't I a Woman? author hooks had a different opinion. "I see a part of Beyonce that is, in fact, anti-feminist — that is a terrorist, especially in terms of the impact on young girls," she said. "I actually feel like the major assault on feminism in our society has come from visual media and from television and videos."
(It's worth noting that the singer has called herself a "modern-day feminist" and even wrote an essay for The Shriver Report about striving for gender equality. She also included a sample from writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk "We Should All Be Feminists" in her song "Flawless.")
One point of contention among the panelists was Beyonce's recent Time magazine cover, which showed her wearing a white bikini under a sheer top. "She probably had very little control over that cover, that image," hooks said.
Mock challenged that assumption, reasoning that the star may have picked that look for herself. "I don't want to strip Beyonce of that agency, of choosing this image, of being her own manager," she argued, to which hooks replied that Bey was then contributing to the "construction of herself as a slave."
Panelist Marci Blackman piped in with a different theory: "Or she's using the same images that were used against her and us for so many years, and she's taking control over it and saying, 'If y'all are going to make money off of it, so am I.' There's collusion, perhaps, but there's also a bit of reclaiming, I think, if she's the one in control."
hooks went on to wonder aloud about the source of the "Partition" singer's power. "Would we be at all interested in Beyonce if she wasn't so rich? Because I don't think you can separate her class, power, and the wealth from people's fascination with her, that here is a young black woman who is so incredibly wealthy," she said.
"Wealthy is what so many young people fantasize, dream about, sexualize, eroticize…and one could argue even more than her body is what that body stands for…wealth, fame, celebrity — all the things that so many people in our culture are lusting for, wanting," she continued. "Let's say if Beyonce was a homeless woman who looked the same way, or a poor, down-and-out woman who looked the same way — would people be enchanted by her? Or is it the combination of all of those things that are at the heart of imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy?"
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