Feminist Legend bell hooks Critiques Beyoncé, 'Lemonade' & Fantasy Feminism
Know your intersectionality.
Seminal feminist thinker bell hooks has penned an essay that both celebrates and critiques Beyoncé's
album life-changing experience Lemonade. As one of the first feminist theorists to really investigate the links between feminism and race, and feminism and class, bell's impact on theories of intersectionality is huge (your homework is to read Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center if you haven't already).
bell opens her essay by praising Bey's latest album for its commercial success, saying, "As a grown black woman who believes in the manifesto 'Girl, get your money straight' my first response to Beyoncé's visual album, Lemonade, was WOW — this is the business of capitalist money making at its best." She points out that the album speaks to more than just black women because it's a product that's designed to be sold: "Commodities, irrespective of their subject matter, are made, produced, and marketed to entice any and all consumers," she writes. "Beyoncé's audience is the world and that world of business and money-making has no colour."
Next, she praises the Queen for showcasing a diversity of black female bodies throughout the visual album, but points out that this is not a radical nor revolutionary act, since black bodies have been displayed, bought and sold from slavery to the present day. However: "What makes this commodification different in Lemonade is intent; its purpose is to seduce, celebrate, and delight — to challenge the ongoing present day devaluation and dehumanisation of the black female body." True.
After recognising the lineage of of black artists and image-makers who came before Beyoncé, and whose work Beyoncé's draws from, bell gets into the parts of Lemonade that she doesn't vibe on. She writes:
"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." She also objects to the glamorisation of violence within the visual album, that sees Beyoncé wreck havok as the smug and smiling embodiment of a fantastical female power. The problem? That it's 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."
bell points out that by making the violence erotic, Beyoncé buys into the idea that it's acceptable to use violence to reinforce domination, especially in relations between men and women. But she reservers her most pointed criticism for Bey's idea of what feminism is. She writes:
"[Beyoncé's] 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. But it is a false construction of power as so many men, especially black men, do not possess actual power. And indeed, it is clear that black male cruelty and violence towards black women is a direct outcome of patriarchal exploitation and oppression."
Whether you agree with bell or not, it's definitely food for thought. Read the full essay here.