[Source: Annie Sky Walker]
I recognise that my writing is influential and am therefore accountable to my readers. Concerned about what my previous posts may communicate to younger readers I decided to post this discussion. In response to my recent article on a Beyonce video @DavidMcQueen commented:
My objection to the video is based around my ideology as a pro-feminist. Whilst the embracing of culture is to be rewarded Beyonce often crosses that line both lyrically and visually from sensual to sexual. Given her massive reach to all girls she sends out an image that in order to be empowered you have to be this dancing, writhing sexual goddess. Check her last ten videos for reference.
I don’t expect her to be some major ambassador for women’s empowerment but she tends to lend herself to this, from Single Ladies to present. In the end its entertainment pure and simple, but although discerning minds like you and I can break down and analyse the root from where this dance, musical theatre is coming from I am afraid on the surface (in my humble experience) the messages being sent out to way too many women – from schools to older – is this is how you empower yourself.
And my response:
I enjoyed reading your response Mr McQueen because you have held me accountable. All that you have said is true and I have to confess that in writing the article I was not mindful of a younger audience (nor the impact my endorsement on their development). I have only recently switched ranks. In 2009 I deleted her catalogue from my music collection and this is the background to what is essentially a very personal response to Beyonce’s artistry. My particular experience of Pentecostalism gave rise to a very troubled sexual identity. It was mostly suppressed and battling my sexual desire I internalised the figures of ‘vixen’, ‘scarlet lady’ and ‘adulterer’. Now older, with more intellectual strength, I am very interested in Beyonce as a counter symbol.
Certainly as far as our girls are concerned her iconism is at least problematic. I loved her remake ‘Move Your Body’ as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to tackle childhood obesity, but would I want young girls to draw on the message of ’Get Me Bodied’ (the original song), probably not. In a previous article I expressed why I don’t see Bey as a feminist persona. I think young women should engage with various models of sexual expressions/agency – that it is not catastrophic for them to see Bey ‘work it out’. Perhaps the difficulty is that we do not see her in her capacity as wife, or even as the business woman she clearly is, (the public-private divide in the entertainment industry being necessary).
She is sold as sex and that is likely to be all that impressionable young girls will take from her. But I don’t want to play into extremes or think in binaries. Any woman who has had to share her body knows that there is absolute validity in the concept of sexual agency/freedom/liberty and young girls will have to learn at some point to empower themselves. But that challenge is not singular. Along sexual confidence we have to learn to be assertive at work, set boundaries with parents, take control of our spirituality etc. All of those (and more) are frontiers where young women will have to battle with power. To support young women and teach them tools of empowerment we can continue to offer them additional – not essentially alternative – voices to Beyonce’s (Jazmine Sullivan, Monica, erm Nikki Minaj? Foxy Brown, Chrisette Michelle, Mary J Blidge all examples of music entertainers). I am not a parent yet but I don’t suspect that I will know immediately what my son/daughter’s sexual identity will be. As they chose how they share and express that aspect of themselves it will be my responsibility to teach them how to do that safely. That private responsibility belongs to all of us. Publicly we can continue to critically engage with the society that has set the standard for the hegemony of sexually transmitted everything!