ccBy Rakhi Kumar
This article references a previous blog I wrote, entitled: An Open Letter to Michelle Obama: Beyonce is Not a Role Model
Two months, an estimated 300,000+ readers, and over 30,000 actual Facebook likes after I wrote the Beyonce piece, I've gotten a piece - a piece of everyone and the world's mind.
(As precursor here I should say that in this article I am not singling out any one person who sent me messages in 'conversation' no matter how strong their position because I don't think that's fair. But, for those writers who published reply articles (that I know about) and who actually wanted readers, I am citing those here with links attached for people to visit and read.)
Through that lovely vehicle of social media, the #Beyhive came out, appropriately in droves: warm, fuzzy and stinging. They told me I should 'watch my back', that my 'very life was in danger', that I was 'a ho', that I had a 'double chin', and rather directly that I needed 'more dick' in my life. Aah. I see - #girlsruntheworld.
Others were less clever, if more labored in noting their contempt: In a departure from its title, a website called The Moderate Voice wrote a reply article with the clearly immoderate title 'The Dumbest Thing I've Read This Week'. Elsewhere someone studying for an MPhil in Linguistics at Oxford penned an essay in reply on 'The Complexity of Beyonce". One person in total commented on this essay, saying that they 'think Beyonce and Jay-Z are poor role models based on their sick infatuation with wearing the murdered bodies of innocent animals as coats, garish shoes and other gruesome garments'. When I read this, I couldn't help thinking that often times for many of us, it's just not a very complex world at all.
Some people thought Beyonce's costume was a celebration of the primal goddesses of ancient cultures. It was an emancipated return of the divine feminine rising, they wrote to me: 'Can't you see? You with your spirituality blog. Ha!' I asked myself how could I have been blind to this? Where was my awareness of the divine feminine when it showed up and shimmied in my face? Inspired, I looked into it and found out the dress designers who produced the piece said their inspiration for the costume was to create 'one of the most glamorous and provocative looks she's ever worn…(to) give the illusion of being covered in crystalized honey…'
They also said the costume was a collaboration between Beyonce and her mom. Such a nice mom and daughter project - perhaps all the women who wrote and said they had just had baby girls and would love to see their daughter grow into a Beyonce will want to try this for a first grade Halloween. Why wait till she's a multi-million $ earner who has no material need to 'earn' her money like this. Ladies, you already know that I 'just don't get it.' You've written to tell me so. But you know what - if it works for you - go ahead, make it happen: Objectify Her Now. Perhaps if you mobilize the power of the #Beyhive in support of this, Beyonce will issue a home-costume-design-kit for this one.
I'll still be scratching my head at the hashtag, that's all:
Elsewhere, others were impassioned to write that my feminism was not theirs (I agree completely) although they mistakenly decided I have zero education in the practices, and circumstances that lead to sex trafficking (especially urban USA), and also decided I conflated voluntary sex work with trafficking. They also confused an essay about the dangers of presenting the notion of feminine success as being dependent on sexualizing the self to very young girls, with the idea that I as its author wanted grown women to suppress their sexuality because it was shameful. They wrote about the rights of women to choose sex work, they wanted to 'call me out' for my own lack of liberation.
I never wrote it in my piece because it was so unrelated, but for what it's worth let me say it here: women who are adults engaged in consensual, safe, sex or erotic work that you enjoy, and find personally fulfilling and that you do by your own independent choice: more power to you. What you do as adult women is your business. Literally. The question in the original piece was never about an adult woman's freedom to make her own choices in an adult environment. The question was about the packaging to very young girls a message that ultimate feminine success for them comes with the necessity to sexualize themselves.
Lastly, sometimes I saw some things about some people talking - shouting mostly, actually - about 'slut shaming'. I read my piece again when I got these comments just to check if I'd lost my mind and written something irresponsible but I hadn't: I did NOT write a piece that supported the idea that women or young girls are ever responsible for the prejudices imposed on them by society. I did write a piece that said that women who present themselves as recording artists targeting young girls as their audience, who then present themselves to those young audiences in overtly sexualized terms - are not role models for our young girls.
Once that was set aside, the feelings of being unwilling to engage in a conversation about 'slut shaming' set in and here, after some reflection, I can finally articulate why:
When I was little, the part of the world where I come from, they called me a Paki. But you know what - I don't care how ubiquitous the term, I never was and never will be anyone's Paki. No British Asian ever was or ever will be anyone's Paki. We are individuals of separate and sometimes collective origins: human beings commanding the same human right to live in peace, freedom, and dignity as anyone else on earth.
Re-appropriating an offensive slur is not a route I am prepared to go down in order to claim my empowerment - or to stand for the the empowerment of anyone else. I may not stand with popular culture in saying this, but I say no.
Beyonce - just like every woman on this planet - can never be called a 'slut'.
Just like I am never going to be anyone's - not Jay-Z's nor even #QueenBey's - 'bitch'.
Just like Jay-Z - like every other black man on earth - can never be called anyone's 'nigga'.
The brutality of the language we choose in addressing the other is deliberate.
If we want to address issues about the inequality suffered by some of us because of social values that judge us, then - no matter what the mood, or how strong the sway of popular culture - let's exercise some awareness in the words we use. Let's not start the conversation by framing those whose interests we stand for in a language that is inherently demeaning. Let's begin the conversation instead with a language that acknowledges each person's innate right to equality, respect, and dignity. Let's not close off our hearts in an effort to make a point.
All points made with a closed heart are lost. Let's keep our hearts open and meet one another, differences and all - especially differences and all - with respect, dignity, with Love.
And speaking of Love: someone tell me, where is it in the just released: 'Turnt' by The Dream featuring Beyonce and 2 Chainz?
Far more than the views I received above, tens of thousands of people weighed in on this subject with support for what I wrote. They've also messaged me, and I think in essence they're asking the same questions I did in my piece.
For anyone still wondering why it's time to move beyond rampant music industry misogyny that recruits female superstars as proponents of a toxic ideology, take a look at the video for this track featuring Beyonce's vocals. Let me know if this is kind of partnership one should expect of our complex, feminist heroes of the twenty first century.
For my part, when I saw this video I stopped to think about what makes a person successful. And I came back to saying that the Buddha said:The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.