Pawtucket Times

‘Lemonade’ sparks debate well beyond entertainm­ent world

Beyonce’s album turning feminism upside down

- By CAITLIN GIBSON The Washington Post

If a pop culture icon flaunts her beauty and sexuality, does that make her an empowered feminist — or an unwitting agent of the patriarchy?

The icon in question, in this case, is Beyoncé. For as long as she’s been famous, feminists have debated Queen Bey’s feminism: Is she pushing for progress? Marketing her brand? Both?

(Beyoncé herself first resisted the “feminist” label, then claimed it, in blazing white lights during her performanc­e at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards.)

Following the recent release of Beyoncé’s acclaimed visual album, “Lemonade” — hailed as a potent portrait of black womanhood, infidelity and redemption — feminist activists bell hooks and Janet Mock offered conflictin­g views about its portrayal of women in the hour-long video.

Hooks — an eminent scholar who once declared Beyoncé a “terrorist” after she posed in lingerie on the cover of Time — published a nuanced essay Monday that found some reasons to praise the star singer’s latest effort:

“It is the broad scope of ‘Lemonade’s’ visual landscape that makes it so distinctiv­e — the constructi­on of a powerfully symbolic black female sisterhood that resists invisibili­ty, that refuses to be silent,” hooks wrote. “This in and of itself is no small feat — it shifts the gaze of white mainstream culture. It challenges us all to look anew, to radically revision how we see the black female body.”

Yet it wasn’t exactly a rave review. Hooks also noted the “utterly aesthetici­zed” presentati­on of the female form in Beyoncé’s project, and questioned whether the album does anything to resolve the challenges faced by black women: “Simply showcasing beautiful black bodies does not create a just culture of optimal well being where black females can become fully self-actualized and be truly respected,” hooks wrote.

Hooks’ critique drew a swift response from author and transgende­r advocate Mock, who took the opportunit­y to address a key underlying issue: the perception of “femme” women — those who, like Beyoncé, present themselves as traditiona­lly feminine — in the black feminist movement.

“Let’s move beyond the clickbaity soundbiten­ess of ‘bell vs. Beyoncé’ and discuss the dismissal of black femme feminists,” Mock wrote on Twitter and her Facebook page.

Mock argued that hooks’ descriptio­ns of the women in “Lemonade” — their “big hair,” their “fashionpla­te fantasy” looks — are phrases that “reek of judgment of glamour, femininity & femme presentati­ons,” Mock wrote. “It echoes dismissal of femmes as less serious, colluding with patriarchy, merely using our bodies rather than our brains to sell, be seen, survive. We gotta stop this. All of us.”

In other words: Bey shouldn’t get side-eye just because she chooses to embrace her convention­al beauty.

“Our ‘dressed up’ bodies and ‘big hair’ do not make us any less serious,” Mock wrote. “Our presentati­ons are not measuremen­ts of our credibilit­y. These hierarchie­s of respectabi­lity that generation­s of feminists have internaliz­ed will not save us from patriarchy.”

Hooks and Mock are friends, Mock noted, but they’ve publicly sparred before.

In 2014, both participat­ed in a panel discussion at the New School about the portrayal of women of color in media, a debate that prompted hooks to describe Beyoncé as a “terrorist.”

The remark was in response to Beyoncé’s controvers­ial May 2014 Time cover: Beside a headline proclaimin­g her one of the magazine’s 100 most influentia­l people, Beyonce posed in a white bra and panties, her lips parted, her gaze sultry. Hooks did not approve.

Mock argued that Beyoncé had ultimate control over her public persona and the image chosen for the cover, and her authority should be respected: “I don’t want to strip Beyoncé of her agency, of choosing that image — of being her own manager,” Mock said.

 ?? Parkwood Entertainm­ent ?? Beyoncé's "Lemonade" visual album debuted April 23.
Parkwood Entertainm­ent Beyoncé's "Lemonade" visual album debuted April 23.

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