Beyonce, bell hooks & #LEMONADE: when your faves are problematic
If you missed it on the timeline, bell hooks dropped a post that outlined her views about Beyonce's latest project LEMONADE.
"Lemonade offers viewers a visual extravaganza—a display of black female bodies that transgresses all boundaries. It’s all about the body, and the body as commodity. This is certainly not radical or revolutionary. From slavery to the present day, black female bodies, clothed and unclothed, have been bought and sold."
bell hooks isn't all the way wrong. Lemonade is a visual extravaganza, it does transgress boundaries, and it is all about the black female body. But, where we disagree is the notion that Lemonade is about the black female body as a commodity.
"Even though Beyoncé and her creative collaborators daringly offer multidimensional images of black female life, much of the album stays within a conventional stereotypical framework, where the black woman is always a victim."
I wish bell hooks wasn't the one that wrote this. It hurts when someone that introduced one to feminism, almost misses the boat on where the pedagogy has evolved to in the current day. Lemonade is not about positioning Beyonce as the victim. In fact, Lemonade positions her as an agent. Yes, the album is about Jay Z's infidelity and how it impacted both their relationship and Beyonce. It's about her rage, her sadness, her "screw you" moments, her pain, her decision to forgive, and her love - love forJay Z, but ultimately love for herself.
Beyonce was not forced to stay with Jay Z. She chose to and that's what's important. Sure, Beyonce doesn't "need a man" and could easily take care of herself and Blue Ivy without any income or alimony from Jay Z. So, while it's true that her wealth plays a factor here, it's not the most important thing. Beyonce stayed because she decided to. She stayed because she loves her man. She stayed because she loves herself and expresses her love for herself by choosing to love Jay Z.
"Beyoncé’s character responds to her man’s betrayal with rage. She wreaks violence. And even though the father in the song “Daddy’s Lessons” gives her a rifle warning her about men, she does not shoot her man. She dons a magnificently designed golden yellow gown, boldly struts through the street with baseball bat in hand, randomly smashing cars. Smug and smiling in her golden garb, Beyoncé is the embodiment of a fantastical female power, which is just that—pure fantasy. Images of female violence undercut a central message embedded in Lemonade that violence in all its forms, especially the violence of lies and betrayal, hurts."
This is not Their Eyes Were Watching God and Beyonce is not Janie. Jay Z is not TeaCake. Beyonce and one could argue women in general today do not have to kill their man to save themselves. We have more options because society is finally beginning to catch on to the idea that women can, do, and should exist outside of the male gaze and male dominated culture. This means that whether women choose to leave or choose to stay, they can do so of their own accord - just like Beyonce did. In addition, lies and betrayal do hurt and responding "violently," in the case of the video smashing a car, is not necessarily an inappropriate reaction. One can only move beyond pain by processing it. Being human is always okay. Violence, in the case of Lemonade, is not about liberation, it is about expression. By denying Beyonce the right to express her emotions in her critique, hooks takes away her agency.
"but her construction of feminism cannot be trusted. Her vision of feminism does not call for an end to patriarchal domination. It’s all about insisting on equal rights for men and women. In the world of fantasy feminism, there are no class, sex, and race hierarchies that breakdown simplified categories of women and men, no call to challenge and change systems of domination, no emphasis on intersectionality. In such a simplified worldview, women gaining the freedom to be like men can be seen as powerful."
Again, hooks is missing the boat. Feminism is about giving women choices. It's not about then judging what women do/the choices they make. As I understand it, feminism is about the equality of the sexes. In my mind, the only way to achieve that true equality is to end patriarchal domination. I don't believe that Beyonce is advocating for a world where women are able to be just like men. To make that claim would be to ignore all of the things that make women beautiful and unique, like our nurturing nature, sexuality, and femininity, among other things. hooks also argues that black men do not have any real power and in our white supremacist world, she is halfway correct. But, black men have been overcompensating for their perceived lack of masculinity since the days of slavery and inflicting pain on black women because of it. So, in some spheres, namely the black one, black men, do exist as patriarchal figures and do have "power" over black women.
"It is only as black women and all women resist patriarchal romanticization of domination in relationships can a healthy self-love emerge that allows every black female, and all females, to refuse to be a victim. Ultimately Lemonade glamorizes a world of gendered cultural paradox and contradiction. It does not resolve."
I believe in a feminism that means that if I don't agree with a woman's choice, I stand by her right to make it. bell hooks would do well to do the same thing. Because, if feminism is truly for everybody as she herself argued, then it has to be for Beyonce too, even if, especially if she doesn't agree with her particular "brand" of it.
"To truly be free, we must choose beyond simply surviving adversity, we must dare to create lives of sustained optimal well-being and joy."
I would argue, that Beyonce did just that.
To argue anything else, is to recreate patriarchy and misogyny within her life by taking away her agency to tell her story, design her life, and choose herself - even if that choice is exhibited by choosing to stay with the man she loves.
Taking lemons and making lemonade is the definition of creating a life of sustained optimal well-being and joy because it involves taking something bad and fashioning it into something that works for you. If that isn't thriving through adversity, I don't know what is.