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bell hooks sounds off on Beyonce
May 8, 2014 2:36 PM   Subscribe

bell hooks calls Beyonce a "terrorist" and a "slave" At a panel discussion at the New School yesterday, bell hooks raised eyebrows in a conversation about the controversial Time magazine cover seen here, saying that Beyonce "colluded in the construction of herself as a slave," going on to say “I see a part of Beyoncé that is in fact anti-feminist — that is, a terrorist, especially in terms of the impact on young girls.”

This is not the first time intellectual giant hooks has criticized Queen Bey, although she later tempered those remarks by saying that "in the spirit of sisterhood, I embrace her use of the term ‘feminist’- it’s a starting point; it gives us something to work with."

The feminist blogosphere has already offered several cogent critiques.
posted by zeusianfog (177 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think the writer at Gradient Lair (the "cogent" link) has it:
With my most compassionate honesty, I must admit that I was incredibly harmed by, hurt by and repelled by the way bell hooks spoke of Beyoncé. I found it to be incredibly unloving, violent and harmful. bell hooks herself has created a template to approaching Black bodies and Black people with love (i.e. in her books Salvation: Black People and Love, Communion: The Female Search For Love, The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity and Love, and All About Love: New Visions) and she did not utilize this template for Beyoncé.
hooks's comments are a real shame, in my opinion.
posted by likeatoaster at 2:42 PM on May 8 [18 favorites]


bell hooks turns out to be Bill O'Reilly in disguise?
posted by yoink at 2:43 PM on May 8 [4 favorites]


Perhaps we can just all agree to never use the word "terrorist" again?

and much as I hate the TIME ranking thing for being generally stupid, I'm struggling to understand why that Beyonce's TIME cover is controversial. (I am not even a fan of Beyonce as a celebrity or musician)
posted by Bwithh at 2:43 PM on May 8 [9 favorites]


Seriously, a terrorist?
posted by indubitable at 2:43 PM on May 8 [7 favorites]


How is that image a "slave" image, by the way? Is there a specific reference I'm missing?
posted by yoink at 2:44 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


Meant to include: The Huffington Post offers a more measured critique of the Time cover.
posted by zeusianfog at 2:45 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


bell hooks was saying Beyonce was a slave to the white male capitalist patriarchy by allowing that image to be chosen for her (whether or not that was the case).
posted by perhapses at 2:46 PM on May 8


Interesting. Is there a transcript somewhere of bell hooks' comments?
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:48 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


bell hooks was saying Beyonce was a slave to the white male capitalist patriarchy by allowing that image to be chosen for her

That's not clear to me from the actual exchange:
Janet Mock: "I would argue she chose this image, so I don't want to strip Beyoncé of choosing this image — of being her own manager."

bell hooks: "Then you are saying, from my deconstructive point of view, that she is colluding in the construction of herself as a slave."
That sounds like she thinks that particular cover photo "constructs" her as a "slave" and that Beyonce colluded in that process.
posted by yoink at 2:54 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


No, she's saying that if she chose the image than she is colluding, which is an important difference because hooks seems to have suggested that beyonce did not choose the image.

Again, I wish there was a transcript; am I just missing it?
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:56 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


Here is a transcript of the exchange, although I'm not certain it is 100% reliable. (The actual video is over an hour long.)
posted by likeatoaster at 2:57 PM on May 8 [5 favorites]


Thanks, likeatoaster!
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:57 PM on May 8


From what I've read, bell hooks has an important point, namely that the fact that a woman of color making money off of a particular sexist/racist act or image doesn't strip it of its power to harm other women of color, nor does it dismantle the larger power structure behind racism/sexism. I absolutely agree with that.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:02 PM on May 8 [53 favorites]


I don't feel qualified to weigh in, at least until I've had time to absorb. But everyone should read that transcript, it's something to chew on. This is challenging stuff.
posted by naju at 3:05 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


We need to keep our eyes open about a lot of this stuff, and sometimes shocking words are good for that. Is it empowering or not when women get on stage in almost no clothing and most of what people ever see of them is that? Is it empowering for our media to be so full of the same few bodies that are the same few shapes? Is that what feminism looks like, what progress looks like? She has some measure of control over her career, but so does Ann Coulter. Okay, she's clearly better than Ann Coulter at feminism. So where on the spectrum of "really damaging" to "really healthy" is Beyonce's performance and image?

It's a place to start a conversation, not a place to finish it. Being Beyonce is clearly working quite well for Beyonce, but I think anybody should be troubled by that being the public face of feminism when we are so very far away from it being possible to be as famous for being a brilliant woman as for being a beautiful one.
posted by Sequence at 3:06 PM on May 8 [8 favorites]


We need to keep our eyes open about a lot of this stuff, and sometimes shocking words are good for that...It's a place to start a conversation, not a place to finish it.

This may be true, but calling someone a "terrorist" is how you end a conversation, never how you begin it.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:14 PM on May 8 [30 favorites]


From what I've read, bell hooks has an important point, namely that the fact that a woman of color making money off of a particular sexist/racist act or image doesn't strip it of its power to harm other women of color, nor does it dismantle the larger power structure behind racism/sexism. I absolutely agree with that.

I agree. I guess I just feel like, why put that on Bey's shoulders specifically? Also "anti-feminist" strikes me as rather cold and unfair, and also, like, misdirected. I think part of it is the difference between Bey is anti-feminist versus her actions in this context aren't feminist. Which maybe is pedantic, but I also think it's more compassionate, and focuses more on the structural aspects of the issue.
posted by likeatoaster at 3:17 PM on May 8 [8 favorites]


Looking at the wider context it's clear enough that she sees this image as constructing Beyonce as a "slave" but not so much because the image itself reads as "slave" but because it reads as infantalized/sexualized and that that is, by extension, part of the general disempowerment that is inflicted upon black women and has a certain continuity with their disempowerment as "slaves." I think it's an unwieldy argument.
Marci Blackman:
The Beyonce cover isn't just about denigration; it's also about, black women are supposed to be child-like and children. They need to be taken care of or bossed around...Let's make this powerful woman a little girl.

hooks:
A little girl we can lust after. A little girl we can prey upon. A little girl that can be Woody Allen's daughter taken up into the attic and sexually abused with people witnessing from a distance but taking no action on her behalf. Because I feel we have to draw those connections of our enslaved black female body to the enslaved bodies of all girls, all colors, with that predatory gaze.
hooks: Let's take the image of this rich, very powerful Black female and let's use it in the service of imperialist, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy because she probably had very little control over that cover — that image.

Janet Mock:
I think she had control of what she wore. She hires a stylist, who's been with her for a long time. They've developed probably that look for that specific cover...She has final cut approval, and she chose this image. So I don't want to strip Beyonce of that agency...

hooks:
But then you're saying, then, from my deconstructive point of view that she's colluding in the construction of her self as a slave. Are you still a slave? It's not a liberatory image.
It's a pretty poor reading of the image, I think. There's something just bizarrely kitchen-sinky about piling pedophilia upon slavery upon terrorism, and it all seems like a bad misread of the image itself--which is certainly not beyond criticism but is hardly either conspicuously "infantalizing" (it's not like a pigtails/schoolgirl outfit shot or some such) or some kind of slave-girl fantasy.
posted by yoink at 3:27 PM on May 8 [25 favorites]


FWIW, bell hooks has been instrumental to my growth as a political person and loving person many times over. Dismissing her for your distaste for her use of language (which she historically does very intentionally) or for how she capitalizes her name without spending more time with her work would be a shame: she has a lot to teach.
posted by wemayfreeze at 3:27 PM on May 8 [16 favorites]


You know, as a black woman, I am never quite sure who bell hooks' audience is. Because if it is other black women, she lost me a long time ago. In 2014, why are black women still not allowed to define themselves, for themselves without being labeled "terrorists" ... and by a woman who claims to speak truth in love. I do not at all understand the vitriol aimed at Beyonce. In her time in the spotlight, she's had ONE boyfriend, whom she dated for eight years before marrying and then and only then, did she have a child.

When she's scantily-clad, it's because she's a performer. She's never been photographed drunk in public, never exited a limo with her cooch all up in the camera, never had a multimillion dollar fly-by-night marriage. But she's anti-feminist? Bell hooks and the rest of academic black mafia needs to find another target. Let Beyonce be (because in my estimation, she's fierce!!! Self-defining, hard-working, body-positive.) Black women will never be free until we stop being bound by sexual shame.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 3:27 PM on May 8 [140 favorites]


I broadly agree with hooks' general position, but all she seems to be saying -- or would be saying, if she even once acknowledged Beyoncé's immense success, wealth, and power in the entertainment industry -- is with great power comes great responsibility.

It's a trite cliché, but fair enough.

But she's saying it in the most trollish terms possible, which, ugh.

But that's why we're talking about it at all, so, mission accomplished?
posted by Sys Rq at 3:31 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


I think it's important to remember that no matter how great someone might be in other ways, they can still make mistakes. This is hers.
posted by corb at 3:32 PM on May 8


There really needs to be some sort of hashtag and/or new left catchphrase that essentially means "let's get on with making the world a better place by keeping the conversation productive, not saying crazy ragey hyperbolic shit about others, and ignoring people who do".
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 3:37 PM on May 8 [16 favorites]


I mean, she's a pop singer and dancer. This seems very appropriate DANCE garb..? I can imagine a ballerina in the same exact clothing without thinking they are being exploited.
posted by Captain Chesapeake at 3:42 PM on May 8 [9 favorites]


if she even once acknowledged Beyoncé's immense success, wealth, and power in the entertainment industry

She specifically mentions her wealth as something that draws attention and adoration.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:47 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


[Questions about moderation can go to the contact form. We do in fact regularly delete things without leaving a note. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 3:48 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


"... woman of color making money off of a particular sexist/racist act or image doesn't strip it of its power to harm other women of color, nor does it dismantle the larger power structure behind racism/sexism.''

But see, to me, that statement ... the fact that you think you get to decide what is and what is not harmful to women of color is far more offensive to me than Beyonce on the cover of Time.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 3:48 PM on May 8 [7 favorites]


"The first function is distinguish bell hooks from her grandmother Bell Hooks. The second function is to indicate the importance of the text and not the biography of the author."


Um, about that second function, doesn't the lack of capitalization automatically attract attention to itself, and particularly in the internet age, immediately provoke people to look up the biography of the author to try to find out why she doesn't capitalize her name? That's what it did to me, just now.

I find all the ego and demagoguery in political academia really tiresome. Stuff like this makes me feel like fiction is a better vehicle for learning about social justice and society in general.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 3:48 PM on May 8 [34 favorites]


Why is Bey off-limits for this discussion? Keep in mind the context, the title of the panel was "Are You Still A Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body." If this is about ways in which black female bodies are consciously, deliberately presented in ways which support a white, capitalist patriarchy, then the TIME cover, and Beyonce's appeal and the way we desire her / to be her within that power structure, is certainly on the table. If the assertion is that she's one of the most powerful people in America, then it's worthwhile to deconstruct the Beyonce imagery and machine. She's not off limits, she's THE person to talk about.

Keep in mind I have conflicted feelings about what she's saying - I think the latest Beyonce album is one of the most complex and fascinating records to come out in years. In some ways I feel it presents a radical black sexuality and feminism that deserves to be dissected. There are other ways I found the album troubling. But regardless - whatever bell's comments are, they are NOT "crazy ragey hyperbolic shit." She has clearly thought a lot about this and does not use her words lightly. It doesn't do anyone good if you see some provocative words and dismiss the content and speaker.

(P.S. comparing her TIME cover with others is a worthwhile exercise.)
posted by naju at 3:51 PM on May 8 [25 favorites]


I'm trying to understand how that image can be construed as infantilizing. It's a striking image. It is as if the photo has been captured in the midst of a conversation; it seems like Beyoncé is about to speak (or has just finished speaking) and is making eye contact with the viewer. I don't know how that can be construed as particularly childlike.

Also, it's spelled with an acute accent on the second 'e', as above. Please respect how she chooses to spell her name.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:51 PM on May 8 [4 favorites]


That's underwear? I saw that cover on a newsstand out of the corner of my eye and it registered as very chaste beachwear. Girl in bikini, no one cares.
posted by jfuller at 3:52 PM on May 8 [10 favorites]


Men who make the cover of Time aren't in their panties. It is getting tiresome to see men on the cover in full suits looking dignified and women, no matter what, looking like they belong on a street corner with a vapid expression.

I don't know if the magazine got the memo, but it's 2014. Women are not toilets for men to relieve their urges. As annoyed as I am with women like Beyonce who docilely go along instead of rebelling as she is now in the position to do so, she is not a terrorist, but taking advantage of a system where that sort of vulgarity is rewarded over and over again.

Yet it is the press that create that atmosphere by shutting out performers who won't play that degrading game. If anyone is guilty of terrorizing women, it is whoever green-lit that cover.

But you can't go to the supermarket or the newsstand without two silicon bags being thrown in your face at the check out...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 3:53 PM on May 8 [15 favorites]


part of the issue with the cover is that it's a pretty big change for time, and specifically for that issue. if you look through the other covers you'll see that besides beyonce, the only other person that hasn't had an arty face shot (or be part of a monster collage) for the 100 most influential people, was li na, another woman of color.

and just as background - you'd be pretty hard pressed to find someone who loves the new beyonce album more - i listened to it earlier today, and yesterday, and probably the day before that. i do generally think that people put beyonce's name in their mouth because it's a good way to get notice to your conversation. i'm not surprised that bell hooks has controversial things to say (i also love and respect bell hooks).
posted by nadawi at 3:53 PM on May 8 [4 favorites]


if you look through the other covers you'll see that besides beyonce, the only other person that hasn't had an arty face shot (or be part of a monster collage) for the 100 most influential people, was li na, another woman of color.

Didier Drogba is shown in a full-body shot wearing tight-fitting athletic wear. His shirt is so tight you can see his ribs.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:58 PM on May 8


I'm not sure I agree with her about the cover, mind, but while it might be acceptable dance wear, is she somehow one of the 100 most influential people Time could find because of her dancing? If that's it, then the cover's appropriate enough, but it's not much of a feminist message. Either that, or she's influential because of things other than just her body, and yet what Time's using to promote the whole thing is her body, valuing the sex appeal over anything else, which is one of those things I just kind of stamp the big PROBLEMATIC on. I don't hate it, but it's a problem. Not because it's remarkable but because it's not. Because this is the sort of picture of a woman that's always on a magazine cover. Janet Yellen doesn't get a picture like that on a magazine cover. But the woman they thought was big enough to put on the cover was presented there for her body, and I think it's really important to ask what that tells girls about the ways they can influence the world.
posted by Sequence at 3:59 PM on May 8 [10 favorites]


Men who make the cover of Time aren't in their panties. It is getting tiresome to see men on the cover in full suits looking dignified and women, no matter what, looking like they belong on a street corner with a vapid expression.


Time typically doesn't use scantily clad poses for its covers at all, with the exception of athletes (both male and female).

I agree with Janet Mock's assertion that this cover image was most likely Beyoncé's choice (and crafted by her style advisors). I suspect that she and her team had to apply at least a bit of pressure in negotiating with the TIME editors to use it.
posted by Bwithh at 4:02 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


Men who make the cover of Time aren't in their panties. It is getting tiresome to see men on the cover in full suits looking dignified and women, no matter what, looking like they belong on a street corner with a vapid expression.

Street corner? Now we're using vague anti-sex worker analogies? Ug. Otherwise, I totally agree with the point. We need more scantily clad attractive men on magazine covers, stat.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 4:04 PM on May 8 [12 favorites]


There is plenty of territory to explore with regard to a critique of Beyonce's imagery, whether we're being positive, negative, or something else. For now, it might be best to avoid bell hooks' exact framing, however, as it does not appear to be all that productive.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:08 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


i don't think it's anti-sex worker to notice that women are generally allowed to be virgins, mothers, or whores and very little else.
posted by nadawi at 4:08 PM on May 8 [7 favorites]


what Time's using to promote the whole thing is her body, valuing the sex appeal over anything els

Although what's interesting about the photo is actually how unlike normal "glamor" shots it is. There's no push up bra, no "come-hither" look, no frilly lacy stuff (that's really not "underwear" she's wearing, in fact). In particular the pose and the face are really interesting--and interesting in terms of racial presentation as much as in terms of gender presentation. There's something very direct, almost confrontational about that gaze and, as mr_roboto notes above, the fact that she looks like she's just about to start speaking. Compare it to, say, this image of Beyonce (a GQ cover) and the differences are stark. Indeed, doing a Google Image search on "Beyonce Magazine Covers" shows just how starkly divergent from her normal image that cover is.
posted by yoink at 4:12 PM on May 8 [14 favorites]


Alexandra Kitty : As annoyed as I am with women like Beyonce who docilely go along instead of rebelling as she is now in the position to do so, she is not a terrorist, but taking advantage of a system where that sort of vulgarity is rewarded over and over again.

Er, exactly what evidence do you have that Beyonce "docilely went along", as opposed to shaping her own image? It's fair enough to argue about whether she is promoting patriarchial constructions versus feminist confidence, but don't erase her agency like that. Because that is a *hell* of a lot more infantilizing than any cover.
posted by tavella at 4:13 PM on May 8 [19 favorites]


I find all the ego and demagoguery in political academia really tiresome.

So, for the record, does most of the rest of academia.

The parts of academia that have been most politicized are also the parts that value clarity and careful argument the least, and which are least known for intellectual rigor and commitment to free and open inquiry.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 4:13 PM on May 8 [4 favorites]


immediately provoke people to look up the biography of the author to try to find out why she doesn't capitalize her name?

This is precisely what it does. Capitalizing proper nouns attracts way less attention to the name than not-capitalizing proper nouns, because non-capitalized words are interpreted not as a name, but as another element of language, creating an immediate jarring effect that you then have to spend time reconciling. Utilization of this trick is indicative of a massive, famished ego, not of a desire to belittle one's biography.
posted by Jimbob at 4:14 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


I want to watch an Odd-Couple sitcom with bell hooks and Noam Chomsky living together.
posted by klangklangston at 4:14 PM on May 8 [18 favorites]


The Time cover does not communicate to me motherhood, virginity, or whorishness, nor does she look anything like a so-called street walker.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:15 PM on May 8 [17 favorites]


Utilization of this trick is indicative of a massive, famished ego

Can we discuss the topic at hand without getting into ad hominem armchair psychoanalysis, please?

I disagree with bell hooks' statements, but I'm not going to ground my critique in complaints that I don't like how she spells her name.
posted by suedehead at 4:20 PM on May 8 [12 favorites]


never said it did - someone objected to the use of "anti-sex worker" language in a comment and i was just saying that it's not pejorative to point out part of the virgin/mother/whore thing as it relates to depictions of women in popular culture. the person who said the street walker thing also didn't seem to be referring directly to beyonce, but rather the tendency for women to be half dressed on covers while men are all powerful looking in suits.
posted by nadawi at 4:21 PM on May 8


If the street walker comment was not meant to entail the topic at hand, then the comment lacked meaning. Either way, it was a remark which freely trafficked in the imagery of the mother/whore dichotomy, and not in a critical way. It is interesting that some people seem to think that Beyonce's state of (dance-appropriate) dress ought to communicate less power than a suit, even though the entire source of Beyonce's power comes from her longstanding mastery of song, dance, and image. Further, the idea that women can only be x, y, or z has been necessarily challenged by how Beyonce has presented herself in the very cover under discussion. Since it is not true that women can only be x, y, or z, it is important to recognize when something else is going on, for good or for ill.

Her presentation is fair game for all kinds of criticism, but so are remarks which try to claim that Beyonce's very own "scantily-clad" body deprives her of power, and so on.

Besides, would anyone normally refer to, say, a boxer in shorts as being "scantily-clad"? It's a gendered remark, a remark even critiqued by the cover itself, and that remark is not above criticism.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:41 PM on May 8 [13 favorites]


talking generally about women on magazine covers is on topic in a thread about a woman on a magazine cover. and yes - you can always find a specific reason for a woman to be in some amount of not as covered up as men generally are, but when you pull back and look at the whole picture, it seems like women are wearing a lot less clothes then men do in similar types of shoots. is that out of bounds to notice?

i never said she was deprived of power - i said it's a departure from how the time cover for this issue usually looks and as such is going to be commented on. as i said upthread - i'm a huge beyonce fan and specifically of this era of beyonce. i think it's a beautiful picture. i just don't know that it was exactly right for this cover.
posted by nadawi at 4:52 PM on May 8 [5 favorites]


You would definitely see Jay-Z in a suit for this cover. Maybe a cigar. Looking like he runs things. He's entered the club, he's "in." He's as proven establishment as Obama is. Put Beyonce on the cover and it's as if she's at the gates of the club but not invited in - she exerts power and influence, but not THAT SAME kind of power and influence, not the "running things" kind. It's a power for people to desire her (desire her looks, her status, her skin, her confidence.) I think it's an entirely different kind of cover and to me the connotations are clear.
posted by naju at 5:03 PM on May 8 [15 favorites]


Nobody said anything resembling the idea that it was out of bounds to notice that women often wear less clothing on magazine covers. Instead, among other things, people are criticizing easy references to street-walking, or the idea that women can only be mothers, virgins, or whores. The latter remark is under direct attack by, among many other things, the magazine cover itself.

The question of who wears what on magazine covers seems like it would have more to do with magazines' choice of subjects than with Beyonce's particular decision to dress as she did. Beyonce does not typically wear a suit, especially when she is doing her job - why should she pretend otherwise? Her wearing a suit reminds me of Jules Fieffer's bit about how Superman is only really wearing a costume when he's dressed as Clark Kent.

For me, the bigger question is, why aren't more women who aren't entertainers on the covers of magazines? I don't think that Beyonce is the one who is most at fault here.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:03 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


i don't think beyonce is at fault at all, so i guess we agree?
posted by nadawi at 5:04 PM on May 8


You would definitely see Jay-Z in a suit for this cover.

jay-z on the 2013 most influential time cover
posted by nadawi at 5:06 PM on May 8 [6 favorites]


> I don't feel qualified to weigh in, at least until I've had time to absorb. But everyone should read that transcript, it's something to chew on. This is challenging stuff.

Seconded. Academic controversies like this remind me of reading about string theory controversies in Scientific American, when I was a teenager who really liked physics. I am not even close to being able to form a valid opinion on this thing. It's, like, theoretical high-energy particle feminism or something.
posted by officer_fred at 5:06 PM on May 8 [12 favorites]


I agree that Jay-Z would wear a suit. That said, my take would be that we shouldn't invest suits with that much power. Flip it around - Beyonce dresses like Beyonce, and she's very much in charge.

But, I'll step back from the thread for a bit.

...

Do we all agree? Well, we might, but bell hooks doesn't, but I guess I already said I'd set her remarks to one side for now...
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:06 PM on May 8


Utilization of this trick is indicative of a massive, famished ego

I highly doubt bell hooks's ego is famished...but I hope it is massive, because it should be. She is--deservedly--a giant in the feminist movement (among others).
posted by sallybrown at 5:08 PM on May 8 [19 favorites]


talking generally about women on magazine covers is on topic in a thread about a woman on a magazine cover. and yes - you can always find a specific reason for a woman to be in some amount of not as covered up as men generally are, but when you pull back and look at the whole picture, it seems like women are wearing a lot less clothes then men do in similar types of shoots. is that out of bounds to notice?

It's definitely A Thing and worth noticing, and at least from my very casual glancing at magazine covers as I walk by in the store, doesn't seem to be changing.

It's particularly worth noting in this situation, where Beyonce's cover is so strikingly different than the others in that series. The missing voice here (at least in the links in the FPP) seems to be Beyonce's, though -- whether or not she felt she had control of what type of photograph was selected, how she felt about it after, and how she responds to bell hooks' critique.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:13 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


and is bell hooks really innocent of complicity with the power structure? - she's using the same tabloidy, fox-news worthy, sensationalist language the power structure uses without satire or deconstructive effort

beyonce may not be free of mass media conventions that are harmful and questionable - but neither is bell when she uses this kind of loaded language that is in the same class of mass media conventions
posted by pyramid termite at 5:19 PM on May 8 [14 favorites]


I've been noticing lately the resurgence of respectability politics in WoC Social Justice land, which bell hooks' comments harken to, and they deeply frustrate me as a WoC who deliberately uses sexuality as a means of liberation.

Last year when FEMEN had the whole Topless Jihad thing you were either pro-FEMEN or pro the side of Muslimahs who were all "I don't need nudity to be liberatory". Mads in the American Apparel Made in Bangladesh ad was discussed by South Asian activists as being some docile pawn in their sexually exploitative ad campaigns. Ever since Slutwalk started many WoC activists and allies claimed that it was purely "White Feminism" because WoC don't identify with 'slut' at all.

I'm with Batty Mamzelle (I think she's the last link in the FPP) in that trying to claim that any overt expression of sexuality must be by default "slavery" or "less powerful" or whatever is just as anti-woman as what they're supposedly decrying.

Why couldn't Beyonce consider her outfit and look on the Time cover to be how she experiences power? Why does she have to be in a suit or something similarly coded masculine to be counted as powerful? Why does the fact that she is in a relatively sexier outfit on Time mean she couldn't have possibly chosen this outfit for herself?

And yes, no choice is free from patriarchal influence - but how is celibacy or prudery somehow less patriarchal and more feminist? How is "Respectability" free from patriarchy and the slave mentality hooks is on about?

Yes, I find nudity and sexual expression liberating and empowering. Yes I am a non-White woman. And apparently that's so controversial to some people that I get deemed a tool of the patriarchy. If you saw my history you'll see that the patriarchy I grew up with hated any kind of sexuality, considered "sexy" to be the worst slur possible, that just considering sexual interest was in and of itself already a radical act. And then you have the dominant (in this situation White) cultures trying to police or stream or determine the correct way to be sexual - making your own choices as a marginalised person is huge.

I'm not a Beyonce fan. I like a couple of songs, but I would be first in line for eradication by the Beygency. I find a lot of the hype over her somewhat overrated. I'm also in a lot of social circles where bell hooks is cited as one of the Great Social Justice Canon members, alongside Audre Lorde...and more Audre Lorde. But in this case? I'm pro-Beyonce. I'm with Janet Mock. Our sexual expression, on our own time, fuck what anyone else says.
posted by divabat at 5:21 PM on May 8 [63 favorites]


So, Marilyn Frye, in The Politics of Reality, talks about how oppressive systems tend to leave individual members of oppressed groups in a "double-bind", meaning that however one tries to oppose the system, one often ends up reinforcing it. (The lesson, in the end, is that collective action is called for.)

I think whatever Beyonce does (and she's clearly talented beyond words as well as dead smart about the business), it's likely she can be read as supporting the white male capitalist patriarchy ... and as resisting it, with credible evidence both ways.

bell hooks's work is so, so important; I nevertheless think that she can sometimes speak too quickly, in a way that requires follow-up at least, if not interesting dialogue (more backing for the collective action strategy, I guess). I thought her critique of "Beasts of the Southern Wild" was facile and weird, and this "terrorism" (Beyonce's threatening non-combatants with harm?) is at best part of a longer more fruitful conversation.

Shit is super complicated, is what I am saying -- but all of the women involved here are worth paying attention to, and I will be interested in what comes of it.
posted by allthinky at 5:30 PM on May 8 [20 favorites]


People might be put on Time covers in their usual work clothes.

Cultural theorists always seem like Statler and Waldorf but not funny. If Beyoncé's a slave because she didn't make a choice, then Beyoncé's a slave because because she did make the choice - at what point is hooks just someone who wants to call names regardless of actual fact or reasoning?

I don't know much about Beyoncé, or pop/mass culture for that matter, so maybe I just don't get it. But I have a hard time finding a problem with artists doing things on their own terms, defining their own spheres. That seems very much not being a slave, unlike someone who's so controlled by her compulsions and perception of her culture that she just has to disagree.
posted by c10h12n2 at 5:32 PM on May 8 [6 favorites]


Our sexual expression, on our own time, fuck what anyone else says.

But is this really on her own time? That's an important distinction to make. There's also the fact that making money off of projecting a certain image of one's self is not inherently a private act, but a public one, that affects other women.

So, Marilyn Frye, in The Politics of Reality, talks about how oppressive systems tend to leave individual members of oppressed groups in a "double-bind", meaning that however one tries to oppose the system, one often ends up reinforcing it. (The lesson, in the end, is that collective action is called for.)

This is a really interesting point.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:35 PM on May 8 [5 favorites]


I think the really interesting thing is - why do we think this cover is sexualized? To me, Beyonce reads as confident in the skin and clothes she happens to be wearing. Yes, she's not wearing much - but it's expressively non-sexualized. It's "Here I am, take me that way" rather than "come and take me." If we are reading any instance of women wearing less covering clothing as sexualized, we are taking a male view of images rather than a neutral one.
posted by corb at 5:39 PM on May 8 [16 favorites]


It's an odd wardrobe choice for Time, but not an unusual one for Beyoncé.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:39 PM on May 8 [6 favorites]


There's also the fact that making money off of projecting a certain image of one's self is not inherently a private act, but a public one, that affects other women.

And? Is she supposed to hide who she is or what she wants because "zomg someone might get the wrong idea and disrespect women"? Isn't that where slut-shaming is rooted?

In the very same discussion you have Janet Mock saying that she really appreciated Beyonce doing what sh does because it gave her a model of embodying empowered sexuality. Are we supposed to give that up now because some people still have very restrictive ideas on what it means to be a Proper Woman?
posted by divabat at 5:44 PM on May 8 [7 favorites]


I do a lot of public-facing work that involves sexual expression too - doesn't make any of it any less "in my own time". Yes, being on the Time cover means you tend to have to deal with a lot more gatekeeper or editor types, but that doesn't mean it wasn't on her own time or that none of this had her input. Like tavelia said, assuming this was her playing along is infantilising her.

I can't seem to find the comment upthread, but someone mentioned that Beyonce's own voice is missing, and I agree.
posted by divabat at 5:49 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that Beyoncé's voice is in her face. In the photo, I mean.
posted by c10h12n2 at 5:53 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


I think hooks is a bit to far to the left, to the left, to the left. We need critics like her though to keep knocking down the walls we've built. I hope she never gives it up. At the same time I think Beyonce is her own person, doing her own thing. It seems that hooks is mad at Beyonce because because some brother noticed her on the cover of Time magazine. If liberal academics wanted to claim Sasha Fierce they should have put a ring on her. In conclusion Beyonce run the world.
posted by humanfont at 5:53 PM on May 8 [6 favorites]


Agreeing with divabat and the earlier comment about Beyoncé's voice. It strikes me as insulting how the bells and Bills of the world talk around Beyoncé, and seemingly ignores anything she says about her own agency, as if she's not a grown woman - what is she, 35 by now? - who doesn't know her own mind.

It's odd and disconcerting. If people are going to openly call her "slave" and "a bad influence for girls of color", let see them actually talk to and engage her about their concerns, instead of trying to make their bones on denigrating her.

I wish I could find other statements she's made about her choices and opinions besides her short essay for Maria Shriver's site.
posted by droplet at 5:54 PM on May 8 [10 favorites]


beyonce talks about her influences, and what being included in the list means to her - it seems pretty similar to her behind the scene videos for her newest album, all of which i've enjoyed. she's done a really good job on all of the promotion of the album and herself this year, i think.

i also just realized that sheryl sandberg wrote the copy for beyonce's section of the list, and, as it happens, bell hooks has written about sandberg.
posted by nadawi at 6:01 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


To my eye, attention is directed towards Beyoncé's body as much by the framing as it is by the outfit. For all the other covers, we can only guess whether their important people are wearing any pants. And there's a lot of layers to how appropriate that is. In this cover she is performing her very deliberate public persona, which persona, taken as a whole, is key to her importance. So in that sense I don't feel this cover is particularly problematic. But that persona is surfing on a sea of complex and messed up parts of our society, and if we didn't have those societal problems, she would have less impact, but hey maybe surfing's a better metaphor than I initially thought because you can maybe get somewhere useful by riding on those waves?

That stuff's too complicated so I'm just going to talk about typography now: I have no real opinions on bell hooks's use of capitalization, but I think I would prefer a dieresis on Beyoncé's second e. While it is a syllable and not a silent letter, it's not the stressed syllable. However I do recognize the need to avoid confusion with the differently articulated terminal vowel of Brontë.

Pokémon, on the other hand, has no excuse.
posted by aubilenon at 6:04 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


I really wish I could fully relate the story I have that is incredibly relevant to this post, but I'll just say this:

If you think Beyoncé didn't have complete control (and veto power) over this photo shoot... then you don't know anybody who has worked with Beyoncé before.
posted by lattiboy at 6:27 PM on May 8 [25 favorites]


If you think Beyoncé didn't have complete control (and veto power) over this photo shoot... then you don't know anybody who has worked with Beyoncé before.

I'm sure she had the same control that I had over whether I put pants on this morning. Nobody put a gun to my head.

But to interact with the world we live in requires pants, so pants I wear. If she wants to interact with the world she is subject to its limitations the same as we all are. And frankly she appears to be quite bright and know what limits to stay within even while she flaunts others.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:36 PM on May 8 [4 favorites]


I'm sure she had the same control that I had over whether I put pants on this morning. Nobody put a gun to my head.

I'm guessing every magazine in the world isn't absolutely begging you to put your pants on while throwing wads of money at you, but I could be wrong.
posted by lattiboy at 6:38 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


This is the sort of situation that calls for Zach Galifianakis to pose for a cover next week wearing the same outfit, but what we'll probably get is James Franco doing it instead.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:01 PM on May 8 [7 favorites]


As I reflect more on this. I find myself outraged at the application of the terms terrorist / slave to whatever it is that Beyonce has done. Recently over two hundred African girls were taken from their school for daring to try to learn, they will be raped and sold into slavery as punishment. The proposed equivalency is outrageous and absurd.
posted by humanfont at 7:09 PM on May 8 [12 favorites]


I think that is an equivalency you are proposing, rather than bell hooks.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:16 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


Come on guys, its the "100 most influential people" cover.
Are you seriously telling me that beyonce wasn't able to influence that?

She's hustling like she is because thats the image that earns her the moolah. She's not some 17 year old giggly girl in front of terry richardson's camera. That's freaking bey.

I like her as an artist and a businesswoman. What's all your problems with her? Shit, if I worked on my body like she did on her, you know id be wearing thongs and shit on the cover of time.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:19 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


Is this something I'd have to be a "terrorist" and a "slave" to understand? These are awful word choices.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:35 PM on May 8 [5 favorites]


I like her as an artist and a businesswoman. What's all your problems with her? Shit, if I worked on my body like she did on her, you know id be wearing thongs and shit on the cover of time.

Have to agree with you and divabat.

But not without mentioning all the criticism that people I used to admire who are thought of as intelligent or thoughtful or creative (Rashida Jones, Sinead O Connor) hurling accusations at younger women that they're selling themselves if they get naked or "acting like whores" (Rashida said that and it sucked to hear because I thought she was intelligent and thoughtful).

On the other hand, you stay covered up, don't talk explicitly about your sex life, date a bunch of famous guys who wanted to go out with you (even if one is basically an Erin Moran lookalike) like Taylor Swift, you get accused of "pretending" to be "innocent" by other women and selling fake sweetness.
posted by discopolo at 7:46 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


I'm guessing every magazine in the world isn't absolutely begging you to put your pants on while throwing wads of money at you, but I could be wrong.

People often beg me to put my pants on. I hadn't thought of charging them but it is a viable business model.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:49 PM on May 8 [17 favorites]


Australian here. Can anybody fill me in on why this Time cover photo is being construed as controversial? It strikes me as a fine-looking woman wearing I guess swimming togs and some kind of invisible magic shroud, and the image has obviously been picked because I don't think Janet Yellen clad similarly would sell quite so many copies. It's textbook Magazine Selling 101.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:54 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


Also the slave thing, I don't get that either. And why is the cranky lady bell hooks instead of Bell Hooks?
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:57 PM on May 8


I find it strange that the outrage is directed at Beyonce, and not at Time magazine. No one is surprised or even cares when Beyonce performs a show scantily clad, but the cover of Time has different standards.

Why should it be Beyonce's responsibility to uphold Time's integrity? That is their job. Beyonce was just being Beyonce here. The problem is, Time was not being Time.
posted by foobaz at 7:59 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


And why is the cranky lady bell hooks instead of Bell Hooks?

Her reasoning for not using capitalization in her name is so as to emphasize what she says is most important; her words and works rather than who she is. Whether this actually makes sense and whether her use of non-standard capitalization serves to draw attention away from or towards her name is left as an exercise for the reader.
posted by Justinian at 8:01 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


im.disappointed
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:04 PM on May 8


Justinian: I see. Cheers.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:06 PM on May 8


I'm guessing every magazine in the world isn't absolutely begging you to put your pants on while throwing wads of money at you, but I could be wrong.

It's pro bono duh.
posted by discopolo at 8:25 PM on May 8


The other thing that really frustrates and disappoints me - and which a few commenters here have mentioned as well - is her cavalier use of "terrorist", completely ignoring those who get "terrorist" thrown at them violently just for daring to exist as a brown, vaguely Muslim-seeming person.

Yet there are so many people - notably White cis American men - who should be called 'terrorist' and don't. Their actions get excused away.

By no stretch of the imagination is Beyonce a terrorist.

bell hooks of all people should know what it's like to be racially profiled and to have that profiling used against you in violence. Her comments play into Islamophobia - it allows the more casual thoughtless use of "terrorist" without really examining how that term gets or doesn't get used.

(I just tweeted her this; I figure she's heard from the sex-positive folks amongst us.)
posted by divabat at 8:32 PM on May 8 [14 favorites]


Nobody is a slave here in any sense of the word slave.
Nobody has been terrorized here either, not by an act of terrorism.

What's next?

Is it genocide to wear sheer? Is it incest to produce popular music? Is it rape to smile? Is it burglary to fly in a jet? Is it suicide to have children? Is it extortion to exercise? Is makeup murder?

Is metafilter hitler for making us click on that magazine cover?
posted by oceanjesse at 8:42 PM on May 8 [7 favorites]


I think intentional hyperbole is a bad way to make a point.

I also think the chances Beyoncé and her team didn't have final control over the photo aren't even slim to none - they're none. That image would have been chosen with her explicit consent, as would the photoshoot and her clothing choices. No 'gun to her head'; she was definitely in control.

I think any efforts to discuss this should be careful, in giving credence to bell hooks, to not then immediately take away from Beyoncé's power to do so. Considering she is to be damned by some people no matter what she does, however, I think she's perfectly within her rights to just do whatever she wants and ignore the detractors, no matter who it might be calling her a 'terrorist' and a 'slave' (or part of terrorist or slave narratives, or deconstructing said narratives, or however far down the distancing path you want to go).
posted by gadge emeritus at 9:07 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


what should I read to understand the importance of bell hooks? Some people I really respect really respect her, so I am quite open and interested, but thus far I have only read bits and pieces (the last I really remember before this was her review of Beasts of the Southern Wild) which have seemed sometimes on point - like what she has to say about the strong black woman survival narrative and other stereotypes in that film - and sometimes way out there - she accuses Beasts of "eroticization of children" for some reason. But presumably a few scattered pieces of cultural criticism do not capture much of her life's work and influence.
posted by atoxyl at 9:20 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


also sorry but "imperialist capitalist white supremacist patriarchy" - yes I do in fact understand how those things are all related, but if your readership does then you don't have to say it every time and if they don't it comes across as word salad
posted by atoxyl at 9:26 PM on May 8


I find it a little dismaying what people are choosing to focus on. If you can get past two words that were unfortunately left non-contextualized in the post's framing, or capitalizing her name, there's a whole lot of intelligent, academic discourse here from very smart, thoughtful people, if you choose to engage with it. 2 hours worth, actually! And it's as much about class and wealth, and race, as it is about gender. A little bit more that wasn't in the transcript, starting around 32 minutes in (poorly transcribed, sorry):

"How do we free ourselves from those images, to claim a different set of imaging? One can deconstruct for days - first, she's looking kind of like a deer in headlights, and she's wearing a little panty and bra set, you know, like some of us would wear when we were ten or twelve - and isn't it interesting she's being held up as one of the most important people in our nation, in the world, and yet - she's not black on this cover. And what is this cover meant to say about the black female body?"

Later on:

"A terrorist - particularly in terms of the impact on young girls. The major assault on feminism in our society has come from media, from television. The tirades against feminism occur so much in our image-making business... Why is it that we don't have liberatory images that are away from, not an inversion of, what society has told us, but are about our own sense of 'what am I looking like when I'm free?'"

There's a lot, lot more but I can't really transcribe it all. These excerpts don't do justice.
posted by naju at 9:27 PM on May 8 [14 favorites]


Is metafilter hitler for making us click on that magazine cover?

Metafilter: Literally Hitler. Literally.
posted by young_son at 9:32 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


i just hope i'm never deconstructed.
posted by el io at 9:32 PM on May 8 [4 favorites]


I think Beyoncé is great. My partner is an artist (singer) and loves her to bits, so I can't help but be up to date on her. When her new album dropped out of the sky late last year complete with music videos, I found some of them—videos and lyrics—so sexually aggressive/forward it made me, a white male, uncomfortable.

It felt like she was challenging my gaze, if you will, forcing me to consider the way I passively consume women in popular culture. It was a powerful experience.

Later, it has led me to all kinds of interesting trains of thought; I have her to thank for that, which only increases my respect for what she's doing, both for herself and for young girls and women everywhere.

Knowing what I know about her, I honestly can't see the controversy in the TIME cover. It's a beautiful photo; she know's what she's doing. End of story.
posted by flippant at 9:33 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


bell hooks' argument is a good example of one of the fundamental failures of feminism: the way women have taken the word feminism and used it as a rolling pin to bash each other over the head with. Ninety percent of feminism seems to involve policing who is and isn't a feminist. Someone above mentioned Ann Coulter and said she was "bad at feminism." Is there only one feminism? Do women all have to agree for feminism to work? Is plurality of opinion a bad thing? Can't there be many different approaches, each suited to the life and circumstances of each woman?

As the father of a daughter, I certainly hope she can grow up in a society where other women aren't constantly trying to tear her down for having opinions about feminism which are different from theirs or living her life in ways that they think is "contrary to feminism" or whatever.
posted by luke1249 at 9:41 PM on May 8 [6 favorites]


Well, seeing as Ann Coulter says misogynistic things so that people will pay attention to her and (she hopes) buy her books, I'd say she is pretty bad at feminism.
posted by LindsayIrene at 9:52 PM on May 8 [14 favorites]


bell hooks' argument is a good example of one of the fundamental failures of feminism: the way women have taken the word feminism and used it as a rolling pin to bash each other over the head with. Ninety percent of feminism seems to involve policing who is and isn't a feminist.

It's one of the notable features of oppression that its easier for the oppressed to beat up on other oppressed people than to go after the oppressors. I feel like sometimes this sort of policing can easily fall into that category. Its notable that the target here is the "complicit" black woman, while the actual apparatus is backgrounded.
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:03 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


Someone above mentioned Ann Coulter and said she was "bad at feminism."

This is true, but I think that's merely an artifact of her being bad at being a human being.
posted by el io at 10:05 PM on May 8 [11 favorites]


I'm not sure I necessarily agree with the argument I'm going to outline, but here goes:
there is a sense in which how much control over her image Beyonce had in this instance is completely irrelevant. By participating at all, by allowing her image to appear on the cover of the magazine, she is implicitly legitimizing it. She is reinforcing the systems in play, saying "Yes, this is one of the ways I am explicitly choosing to send a message." The next time Time runs a photo or an article that portrays women or POC or women POC in a way Beyonce would not necessarily agree with, she has already opened the door for someone who looks up to her to say to themselves "well gee, Beyonce was on the cover of that magazine, they must be doing something right." etc.
posted by juv3nal at 10:27 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


seems to be a surprisingly numerous amount of people backing up and cheering on bell hooks' "terrorist" accusation against Beyoncé on Twitter, including people I thought were more level-headed. Yikes.
posted by Bwithh at 10:28 PM on May 8


Well, my point wasn't to assess Ann Coulter's ideas, but as a target of a lot of hatred, she's actually a pretty good example. Here's a woman who is obviously smart and successful, and disagrees with mainstream feminism. Shouldn't the parameters of feminism be broad enough to tolerate even people who you totally disagree with?

At the other end are women who reject the label "feminist," like the woman who goes by the name "furry girl" on the internet. (She does pornography and doesn't shave her body hair.) She's smart, articulate, clearly in charge of her life and decision-making, and she totally rejects feminism as totalitarian.

I think the problem is that women are diverse and have all sorts of opinions, which are sometimes at odds with other women's ideas, but because feminism has the word "feminine" in it, and, being a single word, would appear to mean one thing, the result is people thing all women have to fit into one mold in order to be feminist.

Few things could be less empowering, if you ask me.
posted by luke1249 at 10:28 PM on May 8


Words aren't empowering.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:05 PM on May 8


Why is it that we don't have liberatory images that are away from, not an inversion of, what society has told us, but are about our own sense of 'what am I looking like when I'm free?'"

Why can't Beyonce's cover be her sense of what she looks like when she's free? Is there only One True Way to Looking Free and any other way reflects some sort of brainwashing? What was she hoping to have on the cover? What would have happened if Beyonce was on the Time cover all prim and proper - would the argument be then that the partriarchy is too scared to have a Black woman be so openly sexual that they have to tone her down?

(and dude, I of all people would more likely get "terrorist" than Beyonce - because I have an Arab-sounding name and I'm technically Muslim and I have a Muslim-country passport and if I bothered to wear a hijab I'd totally pass. The only thing I have working in my favour is that I'm female. Randomly accusing people of being "terrorist" just adds to the whole problem of being profiled as one for bogus reasons.)
posted by divabat at 11:06 PM on May 8 [4 favorites]


"Translucent shirt tucked into Granny panties, a large bra that could also pass for a bathing suit top, and a facial expression that makes the wearer appear slightly mentally challenged" isn't the greatest look ever, in my opinion, but she is a grown woman who presumably gets to control how she looks on magazine covers, and there is nothing "vulgar" about the female body.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:14 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


But everyone should read that transcript, it's something to chew on.

I'm not going to. People here are reasonably intelligent and right thinking; if they're puzzled about exactly what argument is being made I'm not going to waste my time and feeble brainpower on trying to unpick it.

I'm a bit sick of noise and exaggeration being an easy path to attention.
posted by Segundus at 11:15 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


Feminism is a very simple concept, isn't it? Women want to be treated as human beings, just as men are, with their gender not considered a factor when assessing their worth, whether it's as a student, a worker, a boss, an entertainer, a soldier, internet participant, whatever.

All right-thinking people (in my opinion) are feminists, in that sense.

And this is easy to fix, in theory: Men can stop being assholes. Whenever you hear that "women can't do [thing]", when you examine the argument, it turns out that women "can't do [thing]" because the men involved are asses.

Alas, our society and institutions are constructed to reinforce this assholism (everyone likes power, no one likes sharing it), and that's where we get to "feminism": how do we fix this?

There are a million ways people who care approach this problem, from "work slowly from the inside" to "we need a revolution!" None of them are wrong, just as not all of them will work, but what works in one arena may be completely different from what works in another.

I think all of the people we're talking about realize this, but also think it's important to point out problematic aspects of things held up to be evidence that Things Have Changed if from their point of view they don't think they have. They may even use strong language to underline the point, and I think that's OK, especially when they explain why they used the words they did.
posted by maxwelton at 11:49 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


So, Marilyn Frye, in The Politics of Reality, talks about how oppressive systems tend to leave individual members of oppressed groups in a "double-bind", meaning that however one tries to oppose the system, one often ends up reinforcing it. (The lesson, in the end, is that collective action is called for.)

Well, yeah, that's the basic lesson of socialism: you can't escape capitalism individually and any attempt to change therefore has to be done wholesale.

In which context it becomes absurd and meaningless to argue whether or not Beyoncé is or isn't compliant with capitalist patriarchism; she can't change it on her own and she can always be exploited the same way we all can and are.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:50 PM on May 8 [8 favorites]


Why is it that we don't have liberatory images that are away from, not an inversion of, what society has told us, but are about our own sense of 'what am I looking like when I'm free?'"

Oh but, oh... That hit me right in the gut because...because this is what it looks like for Beyoncé to be free. To the extent that anyone is "free" in this system of things.

A lot has been said about Beyoncé's voice in all of this, or lack thereof. She has spoken, extensively, in fact, she's spoken more in the past few months on sexuality and feminism and her life than she ever has before...but much of it has been through her music. Since it is ultimately because of her prowess as an artist that Beyoncé is Beyoncé, I find it necessary that if anyone is going to interrogate Beyoncé's choices and her agency then that requires interrogating her music. bell hooks is a cultural critic, and one who is particularly in-depth in her critiques. But she gave Spike Lee more respect in her deconstruction and decimation of his works than she ever gives Beyoncé.

bell says "I've really been challenging people to think about, would we be at all interested in talking about Beyonce if she wasn't so rich?"

How did Beyoncé get to be "so rich" that we are talking about her? It's not her daddy's money, he's bankrupt since she fired him years ago whereas she just became the highest-paid black artist of all time due to her huge world tour, passing Michael Jackson. Yes, she has a materialistic image but it's not one of idleness and passivity the way bell frames it. Beyoncé is a hustler. She is powerful and seeks power but she rather obsessively defines power for herself.

I have no doubt she decided exactly what her image would be on that Time cover. Controlling her image has become something she is notorious for, particularly within the last year. She's ceased marketing herself in any of the conventional ways pop singers do: the talk show circuit, SNL performances, red carpet at all the shows, releasing singles before the albums (or even letting anyone know an album was coming). It's one of the things a lot of people don't like about her, how obsessively "crafted" everything about her is. But she is the one who is doing the crafting. To understand what it means and really deconstruct it a cultural critic should look to Beyoncé's largest sphere of cultural influence: her musical performances. But in this discussion bell didn't look beyond Beyoncé's body and talked almost exclusively about her physical body as if there is no more to her.

In this part of a video documentary of the making of her most recent album, Beyoncé talks about what liberation, freedom, means to her. She talks about how using sexual fantasy as an outlet was liberating for her as a new mother. When her image was, for her, unkempt (breastfeeding, corn-rowed hair), she found freedom in recording what for her was initially an "embarrass[ing]" song, "Partition", the one Bill O'Reilly is up in arms about now (he too thinks Beyoncé is dangerous for young girls due to her sexualized image). One interesting thing is that she was worried about playing this for her husband. It's interesting to me because I've seen many critiques of her dancing sexily in the video while her husband watches as if she is just doing it for him and not herself. I see an extension of this in bell's critique and many critiques of Beyoncé's sexual image, that she is performing for "imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy" and this is all her image represents. But in Beyoncé's words, playing dressup in fancy lingerie and making public a private fantasy, her fantasy, was a way of "finding my sensuality, getting back into my body, being proud of growing up."

She ends that video by saying she believes sexuality is a power that we all have and that's what she wanted to express in her music. Sexuality as power deserves critique and definitely deconstruction, but this can't be done while taking it away from Beyoncé. She has a rationale for what she does and if there's any infantilizing being done, it's done when she is reduced to a puppet. As she often has been constructed throughout her career, first supposedly a puppet of the manager-father while she now successfully manages herself and has done so for years. Recently called a puppet of the husband who follows her around on her tour, remaining backstage. Now a puppet I suppose of Time magazine, one of the few magazine covers she's chosen to shoot in recent months.

Beyoncé and I are the same age, born a month apart. I've been aware of her since her first single from Destiny's Child's first album. We lead very different lives. Yes, she is very rich and light-skinned with long straight hair and fancy clothes. I'm poor, dark, kinky-haired and my clothes are all second-hand. She's overtly sexual and has always had a sexy image; I'm a lifelong celibate. But this most recent of album of hers spoke to me, which is why I say to hear and critique her voice there must be a hearing of her music. I especially got that feeling of "being proud of growing up" (which Beyoncé mostly ties to giving birth, I tie it elsewhere for myself). Many women when they hit their 30s experience their bodies differently than before, often for the better. This is definitely true for me and I never felt it as strongly as I did when bopping around to "No Angel" or "Rocket". And I certainly wasn't "being sexy" or feeling sexy or projecting sexuality for anyone else, not even thinking of anyone else. I was loving my ***flawless body for me and it felt great. I felt proud of it, all the workouts I'd done to make it stronger, all the time I've taken over the years to care for "difficult" natural hair. I was pickin' up what Beyoncé was puttin' down and I'm grateful for the experience.
posted by Danila at 11:59 PM on May 8 [51 favorites]


Well, my point wasn't to assess Ann Coulter's ideas, but as a target of a lot of hatred, she's actually a pretty good example. Here's a woman who is obviously smart and successful, and disagrees with mainstream feminism. Shouldn't the parameters of feminism be broad enough to tolerate even people who you totally disagree with?

Of course not. Feminism is an ideology, not a club house. There's a lot of room for disagreement within feminism, but there's a point at which you're no longer one.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:06 AM on May 9 [7 favorites]


Of course not. Feminism is an ideology, not a club house. There's a lot of room for disagreement within feminism, but there's a point at which you're no longer one.

I'm really uncomfortable with men deciding it's appropriate to pass judgment on which women are or are not feminists.
posted by corb at 12:30 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


Ann Coulter has made her views on feminism very, very clear. Are you at least comfortable with HER deciding if she's a feminist?
posted by solotoro at 1:46 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


[Let's stop the Ann Coulter derail now, please.]
posted by taz at 2:43 AM on May 9


For context, the depiction of women and BME people on variant covers has come up before. con ferre Elle's Mindy Kalling cover, which was black and white, when covers of the three white women in their "Women of Television" variant cover issue were in color, and which inverted the procedure here by cropping the image to Kalling's face and upper torso, when the others were full-length shots.

It's almost certainly true that Beyonce had final sign-off on the image, and it's certainly true that this is "textbook Magazine Selling 101", but the cover exists in a context.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:46 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


The terrorist thing was unfortunate, but I'm giving hooks the benefit of the doubt. She's old-school and probably meant it in a sense that wasn't meant to fully implicate the troublesome racial meanings it's taken on post-9/11. She wanted to challenge and impress upon people the notion that cultural terrorism can be a force that acts upon us to cause great harm. It's a particularly nefarious force acting against women and people of color. There's undoubtedly a better way to phrase it than 'terrorism' while still having the effect of waking us up a little bit, but I honestly don't know what that phrase is. 'Cultural warfare' sounds like there's a war between two opposing sides playing out in the media landscape, when it's really just a one-sided attack. Like drone strikes on unsuspecting non-combatants, maybe.
posted by naju at 4:59 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


This is really not that salacious of a picture. Generally speaking, or as pictures of Beyonce go. Beyonce performs in more revealing and eroticized costumes. (e.g. at the Superbowl.) It's part of her persona, which she controls.

Also, Beyonce is being featured in Time as at the forefront of the most influential people. It seems indisputable that her approach to creating and controlling her own version of femininity is an important part of her influence. Other mefites have remarked on it above. And, for better or worse, she's a star performer and her looks are celebrated by many.

And they are selling magazines.

As they were here, ten years ago: Michael Phelps on the cover of Time.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:04 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


The terrorist thing was unfortunate, but I'm giving hooks the benefit of the doubt. She's old-school and probably meant it in a sense that wasn't meant to fully implicate the troublesome racial meanings it's taken on post-9/11.

What about the slave thing? She's not that old.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:09 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]


The profligate, lazy, stupid, blatantly agenda-pushing overuse of words like "terrorist", "racist", "sexist", "misogynist", "rape apologist" etc. robs them of their power and usefulness. The people who indulge in this regrettable modern behaviour are the equivalents of the boy who cried wolf, and they are damaging the political conversation far more than they realise - if they even have the basic wit to realise it at all.
posted by Decani at 5:24 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]


The use of "slave" was very conscious, and part of the 2-hour discussion as a whole. The title of the panel was "Are You Still A Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body" and it was very much about the ways in which a form of slavery is still being enacted upon the black female body today by cultural image-making and dissemination machines. You can disagree with that, but it's not mere shock tactics.
posted by naju at 5:26 AM on May 9 [5 favorites]


[One comment deleted. If you want to respond to someone's comment, that's fine; if you want to discuss it as a complaint of how things "always need to be" on Metafilter that should probably go to Metatalk. ]
posted by taz at 5:44 AM on May 9


The profligate, lazy, stupid, blatantly agenda-pushing overuse of words like "terrorist", "racist", "sexist", "misogynist", "rape apologist" etc. robs them of their power and usefulness. The people who indulge in this regrettable modern behaviour are the equivalents of the boy who cried wolf, and they are damaging the political conversation far more than they realise - if they even have the basic wit to realise it at all.

It seems to thrill you to not have to engage with the actual ideas behind the words she's using, conveniently dismissing them because she's too strident or whatever, so cool, sounds like it's working out for you.

I'm against the notion that powerful progressive statements always need to be couched in safe, conciliatory, vetted phrasing that everyone can be comfortable with.
posted by naju at 5:49 AM on May 9 [7 favorites]


Decani: The Tone Argument

Basically, maybe having lived through racism/sexism/classism/etc makes bell hooks angry in a totally justifiable way which neither you nor I will ever be able to actually grok.
posted by radicalawyer at 5:50 AM on May 9 [4 favorites]


It's not really about tone, it's more about the use of the word against an individual person who probably doesn't deserve to be scapegoated, rather than its use in an attack on the "cultural image-making and dissemination machines" which bothers me not a whit.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:58 AM on May 9


Most remarkable is how hooks imagines Beyoncé as a terrorist and a slave. Now that's some real white-people-thinking right there.

it was very much about the ways in which a form of slavery is still being enacted upon the black female body today by cultural image-making and dissemination machines. You can disagree with that, but it's not mere shock tactics.

What precisely does a "form of slavery" mean? Is it like those guys who say they are slaves because they have to pay taxes?
posted by octobersurprise at 6:02 AM on May 9


I have to say that the whole time that I was looking at this photo that I hadn't seen before to try to figure out what was supposedly wrong with it that would somehow tie it in to slavery, the thought "she looks like a child" did not enter my head even once.
posted by Flunkie at 6:07 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


It's not really about tone, it's more about the use of the word against an individual person who probably doesn't deserve to be scapegoated, rather than its use in an attack on the "cultural image-making and dissemination machines" which bothers me not a whit.

The exact words were that "she's colluding in the construction of her self as a slave." That has a meaning that goes beyond scapegoating one person. To what extent do many, many black people within the media machine - not just Beyonce by any means - collude in the constructions of their selves as slaves? I feel like this is not as hard a concept as people are making it out to be. It's possible that this is a discussion not intended for a broader white audience.
posted by naju at 6:16 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]


I get the latter part of this phrase: "imperialist capitalist white supremacist patriarchy"

But what does imperialism have to do with this? This was entirely a domestic affair. And capitalism? Would it be OK if the writers of Time owned the magazine?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:21 AM on May 9


Most remarkable is how hooks imagines Beyoncé as a terrorist and a slave

Exaclty, if we take the metaphor further, if one is a slave, and commits acts of political violence, in what way is anyone justified in calling them a terrorist? They are a slave. Political violence is their only choice.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:24 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


I feel like this is not as hard (or unforgivingly accusatory) a concept as people are making it out to be.

Then maybe you could explain it a little more clearly to those of us in the cheap seats? In what sense is "slavery" being used here, since, as far as I can tell, none of these people are being worked to death on plantations while they watch their sons being sold and their daughters being raped.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:25 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


Exaclty, if we take the metaphor further, if one is a slave, and commits acts of political violence, in what way is anyone justified in calling them a terrorist?

It is ironic, because only from the perspective of the mainstream [implicitly white and male?] establishment does this elision of labels make any sense at all, and I hardly think hooks would be happy with her thinking being reflective of the establishment.
posted by aught at 6:30 AM on May 9


Did bell hooks even listen to "Flawless"?
posted by whuppy at 6:48 AM on May 9


[Several comments deleted; popping in with "feminists should go somewhere and castrate cliterectomists" etc. is sort of the definition of a flamebaiting derail.]
posted by taz at 6:49 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


while i lovelovelove "***flawless" i'm betting that bell hooks knew who chimamanda ngozi adichie was before beyonce did. i would also bet that bell hooks probably has some problems with the beyonce parts of that song if this is anything to go on.
posted by nadawi at 6:52 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I'm just sayin' the two of them should be on the same side is all.
posted by whuppy at 7:03 AM on May 9


Now that's some real white-people-thinking right there.

Wow.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:49 AM on May 9


The exact words were that "she's colluding in the construction of her self as a slave." That has a meaning that goes beyond scapegoating one person. To what extent do many, many black people within the media machine - not just Beyonce by any means - collude in the constructions of their selves as slaves? I feel like this is not as hard a concept as people are making it out to be. It's possible that this is a discussion not intended for a broader white audience.

Perhaps. It still seems like the focus is too much on Beyonce, personally, to me. But I'm happy to acknowledge that I'm probably not the kind of reader hooks is most interested in getting her point across to, or whose reaction she really cares about.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:58 AM on May 9


The exact words were that "she's colluding in the construction of her self as a slave." That has a meaning that goes beyond scapegoating one person.

Maybe, but it does, also, levy a specific charge against one person. It is Beyonce as an individual who is being accused here of collusion with various oppressive institutions.
posted by yoink at 8:02 AM on May 9


the thought "she looks like a child" did not enter my head even once

Yeah, I found that really especially ugly, right alongside the comparison of her to an animal and the other sneering comments in that paragraph.
posted by elizardbits at 8:03 AM on May 9 [4 favorites]


Wow.

Well, I was thinking of how the white slave owners both despised and feared the slaves who rebelled against them. Slave and terrorist at once. And I found it remarkable—even shocking—that hooks can claim to imagine Beyoncé, a performer, in the same way. Is it absurd? Yes, it's absurd. Is it offensive? Yes, of course it's offensive.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:09 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


Feminism is a very simple concept, isn't it? Women want to be treated as human beings, just as men are, with their gender not considered a factor when assessing their worth, whether it's as a student, a worker, a boss, an entertainer, a soldier, internet participant, whatever.

All right-thinking people (in my opinion) are feminists, in that sense.

And this is easy to fix, in theory: Men can stop being assholes. Whenever you hear that "women can't do [thing]", when you examine the argument, it turns out that women "can't do [thing]" because the men involved are asses.


I normally wouldn't engage with this sort of argument but it is so out of place in this thread that I have to comment.

bell hooks, it turns out, is female. She is the one tearing down Beyoncé and what she has chosen to do. She is the one proscribing acceptable roles for women.

There is plenty to say about men's role in gender discrimination, but the main thrust of this particular discussion is the role that women play in it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:11 AM on May 9


> Feminism is an ideology, not a club house. There's a lot of room for disagreement within feminism, but there's
> a point at which you're no longer one.

Heh, that's one guy's opinion anyway. But it's not either/or. At this moment in time it is bothan ideology and a clubhouse. If it were possible for all to focus on fighting real enemies like ideologists instead of cutting each other up like clubbies I expect fundamental change would be nearer. But then it wouldn't be Planet Earth any more.
posted by jfuller at 8:55 AM on May 9


I've been waiting for elizardbits to show up on behalf of her glorious queen. Have to confess I'm a little let down it wasn't a monumental dismantling. (Not like Bey needs any help but still, loyal subjects gotta represent, no?)
posted by whuppy at 9:03 AM on May 9


That stuff's too complicated so I'm just going to talk about typography now: I have no real opinions on bell hooks's use of capitalization, but I think I would prefer a dieresis on Beyoncé's second e. While it is a syllable and not a silent letter, it's not the stressed syllable. However I do recognize the need to avoid confusion with the differently articulated terminal vowel of Brontë.

Regardless of how it's pronounced today by speakers of American English, Beyoncé's name is taken from her Louisiana Creole (with Acadian roots) mother's maiden name, Beyincé. It may sound different now than when the spelling was written down by her ancestors, but I'm willing to bet many of our names do.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:22 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


Well, it's an aigu, not a stress mark, right? It means that it's pronounced the way... well, the way you pronounce it in "Beyoncé".
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:30 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


She is the one proscribing acceptable roles for women.

But there are acceptable and unacceptable roles for women. One unacceptable role for a woman*: the commandant of a police precinct who encourages her subordinates to terrorize random people on the street because of their color. Another unacceptable role for a woman*: the boss of a human trafficking ring. These are unacceptable roles for a woman no matter how much money she makes from them or how much she is in control.

Now that we've established that there are roles for women that are unacceptable, we can move on to the much more interesting discussion of what roles those are. This is the discussion bell hooks is trying to have. It's not typically a discussion that works in mixed spaces (vs explicitly feminist ones).


*or a man, but we're talking about women here and I am criticizing an argument often lobbed at feminist critiques of women's behavior
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:49 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


but we're talking about women here and I am criticizing an argument often lobbed at feminist critiques of women's behavior

Yeah, but these aren't unacceptable roles because she is a woman, these are unacceptable roles because of other reasons, many/most having nothing to do with feminism. The commandant of said police precinct may be feminist - she's also a raging racist, which is the part we have trouble with. Thus, it's not a feminist critique, it's an anti-racist critique, unless it's A-OK for men to do it.
posted by corb at 9:52 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


Thus, it's not a feminist critique, it's an anti-racist critique, unless it's A-OK for men to do it.

This seems like a nit-picky distinction that doesn't really address the underlying assertion. The underlying assertion is that a woman gaining power does not immediately render criticism (in this case, bell hooks' criticism) of that woman's behavior anti-feminist, misogynistic, hypocritical, or otherwise invalid. One usually sees the argument I'm debunking in response to criticism that identifies itself (or is identified by others) as feminist, but it could just as well be anti-racist or anti-homophobic or anything else. It's an outgrowth of a shallow identity-is-everything form of activism/critique.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:04 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


Well, I was thinking of how the white slave owners both despised and feared the slaves who rebelled against them. Slave and terrorist at once. And I found it remarkable—even shocking—that hooks can claim to imagine Beyoncé, a performer, in the same way. Is it absurd? Yes, it's absurd. Is it offensive? Yes, of course it's offensive.

Yes, I would agree, but I think we might be talking about different "it"s. It seems like you're using the example of slave-owning white Americans to upbraid a black American - one who is old enough to have gone to a racially segregated high school. That feels kind of... yeah. Anyway. Let me get myself back ontopic...

So, this FPP is conflicting. On the one hand, and again, wow. It's a bit heavy, isn't it? I mean, what did Beyoncé do to bell hooks? Speaking as a super white dude, I think I need to think about this, and where hooks is coming from, because it makes me feel very uncomfortable - and society is set up to minimize my discomfort, so it must be discomfiting. Also Beyoncé is pretty great, IMHO.

On the other, when people actively refuse to look at the context in which four black women talk about this issue, and that refusal gets favorites, that's also conflicting. The celebration of that kind of determination to remain unsullied by data is not, I think, something that generally goes over well here.

This is disquieting to me. The subject of the FPP feels like a conversation that takes place in a context - and that context, or at least one facet of it, is a panel in which four black American women are talking about the persistent power of the experience and iconography of slavery in the representation of the black female body.

This is really difficult stuff, and if you feel, without acknowledging that difficulty and seeking out the context, entitled or compelled to opine about this - or to opine specifically about bell hooks, a woman you have possibly only just heard of, and how she is an attention-seeking, emotionally fragile megalomaniac based a few hundred words of transcript from a two-hour discussion and the fact that she doesn't capitalize her name - that's not necessarily contributing data about bell hooks or about Beyonce.

Sometimes, discussions by black women about issues of concern to black women are not enriched, I suspect, by (often) white (often) men on the Internet who feel a powerful need to express their reckons about the discussions, and the black women having them, doing so. It's impossible to prevent, of course, but I'm not sure it has a lot of utility.

The counter, I guess, is that if these discussions are not actively seeking the eyes of a larger (Internet-based, white, male, not RingTFA) audience, they should not be advertized, and should not be streamed, but I think that's a complicated assertion to make. Public speech does not always demand public response, or immediate public response. The desire to make comment, or pass judgment absent consideration of the larger context, is not necessarily a good desire.

(I acknowledge the irony.)

I'd actually say that the larger context probably includes WingTFV (or at last RTEntireFTranscript), but also having some sense of bell hooks' larger project. Rage - the rage caused by racism, and the need to end both - is a huge part of her work.

The ways in which she looks at rage are often shocking. A good - and not very long - read on this is this chapter of "Killing Rage", in which she describes wanting to kill the white man who took the first-class seat her friend and colleague had been sitting in, after a misprinted boarding pass assigned the same seat to both of them. One can certainly think that this is a huge overreaction to a bureaucratic error. One can absolutely feel gut empathy for a man who, through no fault of his own, finds one of America's leading black academics explaining that he has done a bad thing and should feel bad, when all he wants to do is enjoy the premium experience he has paid for. One can demand to know why she didn't go back and sit in coach with her friend, if she's so into solidarity.

On the other hand, one can also consider that bell hooks just saw her friend sent to the back of the (air)bus, and what that means, and how it might affect her on a level that the reader may or may not find easy to access.

hooks also has form in dealing with this kind of explosive conceptual language. Her description of young black men as laboring in the plantation of misogyny - working to till fields the harvest of which does not benefit them - in "Misogyny, Gangster Rap and 'The Piano'" - which is also really worth reading - is shocking. It's meant to be. It's not language that I should feel comfortable with encountering or using. That's a feature, not a bug, within the broader project. Slavery is a really bad thing. The legacy of slavery is also a really bad thing. I think everyone on that panel, and in that audience, was past the point of needing to have that 101ed.

Fortunately, that panel is available, on video, and I can watch to see how this disquieting language is being used by people directly affected by the intersecting forces of racism and misogyny, and commentary by same, and how at times they are taking advantage of not having to 101 things to take risks. Like, around the 1hr25 mark hooks suggests that celibacy might be the most successful way to navigate the difficulties of expressing a libertary sexuality in a world where black female sexuality is commoditised, and the rest of the panel kind of loses it in fits of giggles. That leads to a bunch of riffing, and some interesting collaborative discussion. Likewise, the panellists take issue, respectfully, with hooks over Beyoncé.

Setting black women with different attitudes to Beyoncé up to fight each other, though, or setting bell hooks up against beyoncé, and refereeing that fight from a position with really very little skin in that game, does not feel like a good response for me to take to what is clearly an environment where the panellists are feeling able to play with difficult concepts, and to riff on them.

(Like, there's some really cool stuff by Janet Mock about how her self-perception as a woman, and as a black woman, was informed by Beyoncé, but also by Janie Crawford, and her imagining of what she might look like, and the policing of black women's bodies and how that impacts on black trans women, but that very positive, interesting discussion about Beyoncé's role in the construction of black womanhood is passed over...)

All of which is really just a longer-winded version of allthinky's somewhat eponysterical post, above. But my ambivalence must be heard; if it isn't, how will other people know this is an important topic?
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:26 AM on May 9 [20 favorites]


Have to confess I'm a little let down it wasn't a monumental dismantling.

tbh I don't really feel right going much deeper into it than that. I don't have any lived experience as a black woman, I have lived experience as a mixed race native american/latina woman with a lot of white privilege from white parents. So while I personally see hooks' comments as something that would be virulent misogynoir from a person of any other race, I can concede that there are potentially other angles and issues involved in this kind of commentary between two black women which I may be fundamentally incapable of fully understanding.

All I know is that it made me feel really disappointed and more than a little nauseated; I think hooks' words were ugly and harmful and divisive.
posted by elizardbits at 10:35 AM on May 9 [9 favorites]


naju: It seems to me that you're assuming that the dissent and misunderstandings here are coming from White people, and if only they'd understand the context of Black history they'd really get bell hooks' point.

There are a few of us here dissenting who are people of colour. Some of us are woman. At least one person in the discussion dissenting is Black. There were Black women in the very same panel dissenting - as running order squabble fest notes, Janet Mock's discussion about seeing representations of Black trans women is completely lost here.

Some of us get the context. We disagree anyway.
posted by divabat at 11:10 AM on May 9 [4 favorites]


naju: It seems to me that you're assuming that the dissent and misunderstandings here are coming from White people, and if only they'd understand the context of Black history they'd really get bell hooks' point.

I'm not assuming that at all, and I'm sorry if I left that impression. Really, running order squabble fest said very articulately what I was struggling to say. I'm seeing people here (not you) not even attempting to come to terms with the context and complicated nature of the discussion. I don't necessarily know or am interested in what their identities are. This has been a personally frustrating conversation, and I wonder if it's simply not suited for this particular space. At the same time, I can see how it would be hypocritical for me to say that; I already feel like maybe I've been speaking out of turn in this discussion, as both a man and a non-black person of color. In any case I'm politely bowing out of it and taking some time for reflecton.
posted by naju at 11:22 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


It seems like you're using the example of slave-owning white Americans to upbraid a black American - one who is old enough to have gone to a racially segregated high school. That feels kind of... yeah.

Mm. I'm not interested in upbraiding hooks or setting her and Beyoncé against each other. Was merely ruminating on why the image hooks invoked seemed so offputting. I might've remarked too that I'm struck by the functions of agency in that pairing of slave/terrorist, which is to say that the slave has no agency at all while the terrorist—as figure, at least—has nothing but agency, striking whenever, wherever (but I was writing quickly and flippantly, I suppose). Beyoncé comprises both, apparently.

I think it was an, uh, unenlightening choice of metaphors, but like others I'm happy to concede that I'm missing some nuances.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:15 PM on May 9


I get the latter part of this phrase: "imperialist capitalist white supremacist patriarchy"

But what does imperialism have to do with this? This was entirely a domestic affair. And capitalism? Would it be OK if the writers of Time owned the magazine?


Writers at this particular intersection of feminist, race, etc. theory often refer to the operation of white/male supremacy as akin to colonization regardless of where it happens. Imperialism has somewhat broader connotations to me as well but I think in this context it's mostly metonym for this colonization, which carries I assume intentionally additional implications of violence.

Whites/males enforce their supremacy through the power of capitalism. Would the cover be the same if the writers of Time owned the magazine? Would the writers/owners include women of color? Would the cover be the same if editorial decisions were not driven by trying to sell magazines to white men?

I'm not sure I agree with bell hooks on everything here (not that she would care) but that's what I think she's getting at.
posted by atoxyl at 1:32 PM on May 9


Yes - the source text - the panel - includes discussion of decolonization, and how a decolonized view of black female beauty would function - which, actually, I sort of cross-read with W Kamau Bell's "It's not easy being black on SNL", about Leslie Jones' bit on black beauty standards on Saturday Night Live.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:35 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


(sorry for these long messages, this is a lot I'm trying to understand and work out)

I can't bring myself to watch the panel discussion at the moment because the question "are you still a slave" is something I'm very sensitive about, having recently gotten into arguments over Cliven Bundy's insinuation that poor black people like myself are slaves to the government plantation and in some ways were better off picking cotton. Now I know that panel doesn't agree with Cliven Bundy in any way, shape or form; it's just I personally am fed up with the slave question because how long are black people going to have to answer to that? Why isn't the question asked of anyone else?

Anyway, since I can't watch the whole panel right now I'm trying to find other ways to understand a little more about the issue with Beyoncé specifically. Beyoncé shouldn't be untouchable just because she's inspired people, including Janet Mock and myself. Something that makes us feel good can still be problematic, this is obvious, and on balance, may be more problematic than its worth. This much I understand.

An old interview with bell: Cultural Criticism and Transformation(pdf transcript):
I began to use the phrase in my work “white supremacist capitalist
patriarchy” because I wanted to have some language that would actually remind us continually of the interlocking systems of domination that define our reality and not to just have one thing be like, you know, gender is the important issue, race is the important issue, but for me the use of that particular jargonistic phrase was a way, a sort of short cut way of saying all of these things actually are functioning simultaneously at all times in our lives and that if I really want to understand what's happening to me, right now at this moment in my life, as a black female of a certain age group, I won't be able to understand it if I'm only looking through the lens of race. I won't be able to understand it if I'm only looking through the lens of gender. I won't be able to understand it if I'm only looking at how white people see me.

To me an important break through, I felt, in my work and that of others was the call to use the term white supremacy, over racism because racism in and of itself did not really allow for a discourse of colonization and decolonization, the recognition of the internalized racism within people of color and it was always in a sense keeping things at the level at which whiteness and white people remained at the center of the discussion. In my classroom I might say to students that you know that when we use the term white supremacy it doesn't just evoke white people, it evokes a political world that we can all frame ourselves in relationship to.
videos of interview

I went looking for the transcript of this interview because I remembered bell absolutely excoriating Madonna in it but never putting Madonna in a position of being powerless the way Beyoncé is being represented, even though both of them play up sexuality and both embrace capitalism. However, reading it now I'm seeing a lot that relates to what she's saying now.

She also discusses rap music again just like in her essay on gangster rap, and while I think she's clearly no fan, again she at least both critiques and defends:
I mean one of the things that's amazing to me is that there has been this demand somehow that rap musicians be more moral and more ethical than anybody else in American culture as they approach the business of creating a product and making money.
Now, what I don't understand is why Beyoncé is to receive such harsh statements as being called anti-feminist and terrorist but not rappers. Where is the balance? Even when she talked about Madonna, she talked about Madonna as someone who once embraced feminism and then turned Right and racist because it was profitable. So I may grant Madonna's former feminism as bell kindly does. But in my opinion, Madonna's aggressive brand of sexuality was revolutionary for a white woman. Black women had been incorporating the starkly erotic in music since long before Madonna was born, e.g. the blues. When Madonna was still a teenager Donna Summer was here. But it doesn't seem to count when black women do it. It is still being "hypersexual" being Jezebels being slaves being bed wenches. And now I come back to Beyoncé (very much a disciple of Donna Summer), who is not receiving any credit for power the way she claims and publicizes sexuality.

That Beyoncé's image is frequently white supremacist and capitalist and patriarchal I completely agree. Completely. Now usually when people talk about Beyoncé's hair color and her skin they say she's "acting white" or denying her blackness in some way. I categorically deny that Beyoncé ever represents herself as anything other than a black woman. But in that quote bell clarifies that white supremacy is something any of us can support. Many of Beyoncé's choices seem to support white supremacy, she clearly embraces capitalism and as for patriarchy, well that's where this whole discussion comes in. So I do see this.

But the idea that Beyoncé would be more powerful if she was not so sexual, if she was visibly celibate rather than promoting a "hurtful" image, that this celibate image would be "liberatory" for black women, I'm not sure I can agree but it might be because I'm more used to womanism (which advocates black women being themselves in full) than black feminism.

Trudy (Gradient Lair) identifies as a womanist, which is related to but not the same as the radical black feminism of bell hooks. For one thing, radical black feminism denies the possibility of reclamation, so bell denies Beyoncé's ability to take "patriarchal" imagery and empower with it. To be radical the entire system must be torn up "from the root" with not a stone left unturned. At the very least, every single element of that system must be scrutinized and understood in order to see how the sick system is maintained.

I often see Janelle Monáe held up as a counterexample to Beyoncé, because Janelle explicitly calls for deconstruction and uses an image that is not immediately identifiable as "traditionally sexy". She wears suits and dances like James Brown while singing like a bird and would certainly never wear a bathing suit on the cover of Time magazine.

But Janelle understands that "The Booty Don't Lie!" A black woman using sexuality both aggressively and romantically can be a powerful thing in womanism, which centers and honors the perspectives of black women in all spheres. From a womanist perspective, Beyoncé can be powerful in publicly claiming the rightness of her image as a black woman, mother, wife, sexual icon. In her song "Yonce", while talking about her recording industry prowess and why she's so powerful she says "The Man Ain't Ever Seen A Booty Like This". Yes, "The Man" wants to use her to make money and run roughshod over colonized people in the process. But it's her body and she's using it to the benefit of herself and her family and putting it out there that our bodies are not colonized, we can throw that off, we can laugh in their faces. Just by being a black woman claiming power for herself she is radical. I like this more, of course, but it could be that the womanist view is not challenging and too insular. Still much to ponder.
posted by Danila at 8:08 PM on May 9 [15 favorites]


Feminism is a very simple concept, isn't it?

Many, if not most, feminist theorists would seem to disagree with this
posted by Bwithh at 10:21 PM on May 9


My impression is that this is a sort of inside baseball conversation among women who are all fundamentally on the same team and know it. And who all would be, when push comes to shove, on Beyoncé's team against almost anybody else, and I would guess that Beyoncé know that too. This is conversation and critique offered with a larger social purpose (at the least, understanding racial sexual power dynamics and increasing the liberation and power of Black women in America). They can take Beyoncé as a sort of focus of conversation *because* she is so powerful, because she (her image, her career, her self esteem) can surely take it, because in a way it's really not personal - if she happened to be interested in or even aware of this conversation. I don't see it is tearing her down. The conversation depends on her being, in many practical ways 'up.'

I don't think everyone has to agree with any particular position in the conversation but it seems to me that respecting spaces where women can have conversations like this, conversations that can posit and discuss and distill and perfect perspectives that in other contexts would too easily be stupid simple racist talking points, is so so vital. bell hooks may be wrong (I don't know). But her wrongness could be an important part of moving towards something more right. It's an absurd expectation that women have to be right about everything every time for their discourse to be meaningul and useful.

That said, it's not at all obvious to me that this couldn't be the beginning of a fascinating and helpful and deeply *mutually respectful* conversation between bell hooks and Beyoncé. I for one would love to be a fly on the wall. Unfortunately I fear that it would become a total side show for racist and sexist concern trolls looking for sound bytes to make everyone except white look bad.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:02 AM on May 10 [8 favorites]


Er, exactly what evidence do you have that Beyonce "docilely went along", as opposed to shaping her own image? It's fair enough to argue about whether she is promoting patriarchial constructions versus feminist confidence, but don't erase her agency like that. Because that is a *hell* of a lot more infantilizing than any cover.

Aside from the fact that it takes no imagination to pose like that and that there are a dime a dozen disposable women doing that on a daily basis?

Dressing like a streetwalker? Is that what women are? Genitalia?

That takes zero effort and if she fought hard to bring women back decades, that is really sad. Her husband wears a tux on the cover of Vanity Fair.

She ought to hang her head in shame and I will not enable that kind of sickness.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 5:23 PM on May 10


So... The patriarchy will not be defeated until all women are in burqas?
posted by Sys Rq at 6:43 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]


Dressing like a streetwalker

Where the hell do streetwalkers dress like that? The mean streets of St. Moritz?
posted by yoink at 7:05 PM on May 10 [9 favorites]


The patriarchy will not be defeated until all women are in burqas?

Mao suits. Or maybe jumpsuits. Orange is the new black, after all.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:14 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]


Aside from the fact that it takes no imagination to pose like that and that there are a dime a dozen disposable women doing that on a daily basis?

I don't think I've ever met a disposable woman.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:18 PM on May 10 [12 favorites]


More seriously, Alexandra Kitty, you're really, really not looking at that photograph. All you're doing is going "there is skin exposed, therefore it's bad." That photograph is radically unlike most "glamor" shots. As I said upthread, just do a Google Image Search on "Beyonce Magazine cover" (or, if you really want radically different, on "Beyonce lingerie" or "Beyonce sexy"). This cover sticks out like a sore thumb--the pose, the facial expression, the lighting, the outfit which is some kind of swim- or dance-wear and not remotely "underwear." This is not, at all, Beyonce doing whatever it is you mean by what "dime a dozen disposable women" do on "a daily basis."
posted by yoink at 7:21 PM on May 10 [5 favorites]


Even if she DID dress like a "streetwalker" (wow, sex worker phobic much?!), or was nude, or was in a nun's outfit, or a burqa, what the fuck ever...

That does NOT make her disposable, and that does NOT make her as lacking in autonomy.

Nobody is disposable.
posted by divabat at 10:08 PM on May 10 [11 favorites]


Aside from the fact that it takes no imagination to pose like that and that there are a dime a dozen disposable women doing that on a daily basis?

Dressing like a streetwalker? Is that what women are? Genitalia?

That takes zero effort and if she fought hard to bring women back decades, that is really sad.


Your ugly, aggressive misogyny couched as concerned feminism is one of the more unfortunate things about this thread and indeed about this entire situation.
posted by elizardbits at 11:33 AM on May 11 [15 favorites]


yeah, i honestly feel like an idiot for giving a charitable read up thread about the streetwalker thing. it was obviously undeserved.
posted by nadawi at 12:04 PM on May 11 [2 favorites]


I'm not really ready to comment on this yet-- I'm still reading more about both Beyoncé (comparing her-- perhaps unfairly?-- to Josephine Baker as I go along) and bell hooks-- but I just wanted to say thanks for the thread before it closes. Even if it did present more heat than light, it was worth the read!
posted by tyro urge at 2:42 PM on June 6


> Your ugly, aggressive misogyny couched as concerned feminism

Certainly no one's watching this thread any longer so I expect I'm just wondering out loud to myself.

Alexandra Kitty self-identifies in her mefi profile as female. It's been thoroughly explained and over-explained to mefi users why Persons of Color can't be racists--reason being that racism requires both prejudice and lopsided power relations. So is prejudice without lopsided power relations sufficient in the case of misogyny? If they are required, then how can a female be aggressively misogynist? Where are the lopsided power relations between women as a class and women as a class? But if power relations don't matter in the case of misogyny, why not? How does that work? (Or are we just denying Alexandra Kitty's self-identification? Sorry AK, elizardbits thinks you're a dude.)
posted by jfuller at 5:11 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


poc can't be racist against white people in the same way that misandry isn't real, this is where the power differential conversations come up. poc can self hatingly be racist against themselves (or racist against other poc) in the same way that women can push the patriarchy forward in a misogynistic fashion.
posted by nadawi at 5:58 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]


for instance, ann coulter, sarah palin and their ilk are raging misogynists despite being women.
posted by nadawi at 6:00 PM on June 7


AK, elizardbits thinks you're a dude.

elizardbits is wrong about a lot of things, apparently.

I am woman, hear me roar, but it is the misogynists who think that a woman's place is in her skivvies no matter what she accomplishes in her life.

But people like elizardbits have their little theories and shut themselves off from contrary evidence by labeling people as misogynists, bigots and any other sort of defense that allows them to hold to their delusions with the help of the confirmation bias.

You do that too often and you water down the impact of the word. Overkill is a dangerous game.

And insults are just for the weak whose faulty arguments have cornered them and it is why I have no respect for the practice. It is merely a misdirection hoping I would take it personally instead of see the truth.

Nice try, but it doesn't work.

And I did see you comment (shocking because I usually let go of a thread after I comment)!
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:27 AM on June 8


elizardbits never insinuated that they thought you were a dude, that was a wholesale fabrication by jfuller due to a (purposeful?) misunderstanding of how power affects bigotry.
posted by nadawi at 7:17 AM on June 8 [5 favorites]


Alexandra Kitty: how the fuck did you get "women's place is in her skivvies" from "don't judge women who are in their skivvies for whatever reason"?
posted by divabat at 10:50 AM on June 8 [4 favorites]


But people like elizardbits have their little theories and shut themselves off from contrary evidence by labeling people as misogynists, bigots and any other sort of defense that allows them to hold to their delusions with the help of the confirmation bias.

"Disposable." This is a word you used to describe women whose choices you don't approve of.

It doesn't take a lot of confirmation bias to reach the conclusion we did.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:58 AM on June 8 [3 favorites]


"Interchangeable" might have been abetter word than "disposable," but I took "disposable" to mean "disposable in the eyes of the male gaze," not actually, literally disposable in real life.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:12 AM on June 8


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