On Beyonce’s Feminism

Last night at the VMA’s (Video Music Awards hosted by MTV), Beyonce did this.

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Many people had mixed feelings about this coming from Bey.  They argued that Beyonce couldn’t be a Feminist because of her marriage to Jay-Z.  (Jay-Z often raps lyrics that are pretty misogynistic, but that’s another blog all together.  “It’s complicated.”).  Whether you agree or disagree in Beyonce’s version of Feminism, I was happy to see her bring the F-word back into a mainstream dialogue.   Thank you Bey, for sexing it up.

Many young women in the US today take for granted the privileges and rights they have.  Many don’t even know they are privileges that were hard earned not that long ago.  I am 43 and my generation is arguably the first to get to “have it all”.  We are also the first to have the choice to “opt out” of working when we have had our kids.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/magazine/the-opt-out-revolution.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Many women aren’t fighting wanting to “have it all” because we gained access to all options from the women before us.  But many still are.  In a recent conversation with a man close to me, he asked me why we still have to be having this conversation.  My response was that it’s just the beginning.

And dare I say that the men we choose to be with in our journey are also conflicted?  What happens to men whose purpose shifts with the choices his partner makes or who is asked to be flexible and redefine who he is when the roles change?  What happens to the man who is asked to partner, change diapers, provide, be sensitive, be alpha but not too alpha….

It’s confusing.  Beyonce can be seen as “having it all”.  She can be seen as a role model for female power, sexuality, sensuality, creative control and being a working Mother.  I am thankful for that.  The debate roars on that she can’t be a Feminist because she is shaking her ass.  I disagree.

When I was 19 and a Teacher’s Aide for the most well known Feminist Professor in the United States, Bettina Aptheker, I stood in front of the class in a mini-dress, lipstick, cowboy boots and curled hair.  I did this on purpose.  I wanted young students to see that you could be a Feminist and look traditionally feminine.  In the late 80s, lipstick Feminism hadn’t happened yet.  It was shortly after that Naomi Wolf wrote “The Beauty Myth” which was a breakout book and school of thought for Feminism at the time.  Yes, beauty standards are a problem for women but ALSO, women can do what they want with how they look.  Arguably, this is why women now feel inclined to say that getting surgery or cosmetic alterations is “their choice” but let’s not digress.

Ass shaking aside, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  On a global scale, we are still facing massive inequality in most developing nations.  In China, it is highly dangerous to identify oneself as a Feminist.  To “lean in” simply isn’t an option.  My friend Erika Merrill traveled to Kenya this summer with the Daraja Academy which aims to provide funding for the education of girls.  Here are some facts about the global situation for the education females.

Out of the world’s 130 million out-of-school youth, 70% are girls.

Human Rights Watch, “Promises Broken: An Assessment of Children’s Rights on the 10th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” [December 1999]

Less than 2¢ of every development dollar goes to girls.
Nancy Gibbs, “To Fight Poverty, Invest in Girls,” Time Magazine [February 2011]
Women’s education was the single most important factor behind falling levels of hunger and malnutrition in the developing world according to a 30-year study.

The US Institute of Food and Nutrition

A girl who receives secondary and higher education beyond grade 7 has, on average, 2.2 fewer children.

United Nations Population Fund, State of World Population 1990

An extra year of primary schooling raises a woman’s eventual wages income by 10%. An extra year of secondary school: 15 to 25%.

George Psacharopoulos and Harry Anthony Patrinos, “Returns to Investment in Education: A FurtherUpdate,” Policy Research Working Paper 2881[Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2002]

Every extra year of schooling reduces infant mortality by up to 10%.

T. Paul Schultz, “Health and Schooling Investments in Africa,” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 13, no. 3 [1999]

http://www.daraja-academy.org/why-girls/

If you or someone you love, thinks we no longer “need” Feminism I would like to provide the following photo from the “We Don’t Need Feminism” movement on Tumblr as a cautionary tale.

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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2704889/Have-completely-misunderstood-concept-Women-Against-Feminism-blog-sparks-fierce-backlash-statements-I-like-men-compliment-body.html

We still do.

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