My first notice of last night’s VMA performances came from my “Camille Paglia” Google alert. Someone wanted a Paglia analysis STAT. Curious, I checked my feminist feeds for some reaction context. They were either glowing about Beyonce’s Divine Feminism, asking as MTV did, “What more could we have asked for?” or silent.
Then I watched and I understood.
I’m all for sexy women. Being a feminist shouldn’t mean that old trope about not ever being sexy. But I’m more than sure that feminist thought fights against the notion of women as primarily a sexual being.
So I admit, I am stunned to find proud feminists this morning, like Jessica Valenti who is waiting to pounce upon the expected irrelevant feminism article, heaping praise on a performance by a scantily-clad Beyonce, with glitter-lubed backup dancers in thongs presenting their asses to all in face down submission, singing songs with refrains such as, “I can’t wait to get home and you can take my cherry out” and “Bow down bitches”.
All this from the performer who will feature prominently on the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack. (Beyonce sings the song in the trailer.) In case anyone is unfamiliar with the feminist implications of 50 Shades of Grey, here is a lengthy but worth the read book review notable both for the declaration that even people who see a distinction between bondage sex play and misogynistic aggression consider 50 Shades solidly in the misogyny category and that Twilight–that nadir of women’s empowerment– is a much more nuanced and tolerant story. (I put both Beyonce’ s VMA performance and the 50 Shades trailer after the jump as neither are safe for work.)
Valenti is correct about the critical articles to come. Those feminists who are silent this morning are only temporarily stunned. I doubt they will declare feminism irrelevant, just that the sexy feminists are wrong. As one commentator put it, “‘Sex Positive’ Feminism is Doing the Patriarchy’s Work For It“. They will hate Beyonce’s performance.
As for those of us who think feminism is irrelevant today, yes, Beyonce’s performance proves our point. Reports pour in from everywhere, of a horrific rape culture in India, of kidnappings and forced marriages in the Middle East, of income inequality hitting single mothers hardest at home—and because a Hollywood mega star strutting around stage in a sparkly leotard while singing about sex claims the title “Feminist” the movement has power?I suppose they assume that Beyonce’s showy display of feminist identity will reverse the trend of women, famous and not, disavowing feminism. Among younger women, the Valentis might be right. But for those of us with daughters, our discomfort over showing the performance to our daughters and our surprise upon realizing that 2 year old Blue Ivy got a center seat for her mother’s performance will not exactly add a positive sparkle to the tarnished term “feminist”.
Image a still from MTV’s video of Beyonce’s performance.