WHEN world acclaimed feminists label other women and self-proclaimed feminists “terrorists” it only goes to show that women are fighting a losing battle.
Legendary feminist scholar Gloria Jean Watkins, known as Bell Hooks, attacked artiste Beyonce Knowles during a panel discussion in New York, branding her “anti-feminist” and a “terrorist” because of her impact on young girls.
Under attack was the sexualised image of Beyonce, her posing for Time Magazine in her delicates, her lyrics and videos.
She explained: “Wealth is what so many young people fantasise, dream about, sexualise, eroticise. . . and one could argue even more than her body is what that body stands for . . . wealth, fame, celebrity – all the things that so many people in our culture are lusting for, wanting.
Let’s say if Beyonce was a homeless woman who looked the same way, or a poor, down-and-out woman who looked the same way – would people be enchanted by her? Or is it the combination of all of those things that are at the heart of imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy?”
Looking at Beyonce, she is a self-made artiste and a powerhouse in her own right – that you cannot take away from her.
She began her musical career at a tender age, singing at talent shows until she and her cousin Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams formed Destiny’s Child which propelled her to a solo musical career and acting.
Her music celebrates life (I was here; love(Xo), motherhood(Blue; Heaven), marriage (Cater to you), financial independence (Upgrade U (feat. Jay-Z); Independent woman), female liberation (Run The World (Girls); Flawless) if one cares to listen to her lyrics. She is a woman who has embraced her sexuality (Partition; Rocket; Drunk in Love).
In the song Flawless (featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)she brings out how women have the world at their feet, but choose to engage in cat-fights instead of propping each other up. She urges women to fight for equality – the right to education, compete for employment opportunities and actively engage in civic matters.
She is a role model for women – she fought for recognition from a tender age and proved that if you work hard, keep your eye on the mark you are bound to succeed. She has earned her fame and her riches, so why shouldn’t young black girls look up to her.
Despite her fame and riches she got married on her own terms and fights to keep her marriage intact. She is not just a feminist, but human – we thrive on companionship, we are social beings.
Whoever created humanity knew that they need the comfort of company and family. Women are nurturing by nature, why should one deprive oneself of that for the sake of radical feminism? Beyonce and other female artistes like Madonna and Victoria Beckham chose to be wives and mothers on their own terms. Women keep the world rolling.
Her choreography and costumes show a woman who has embraced her femininity, and sexuality and is not bound by the norms of a conservative society, a woman who “owns her body” [Janet Mock]. Her lyrics have changed with her marital status.
This also determines her target audience – the mature audience.
When men dance bare-chested, hug their crotches, pose provocatively in their boxer shorts it is “sexy”, when the opposite sex does the same there is an uproar the world-over.
When Demi Moore posed in the nude celebrating oncoming motherhood, she was attacked by all and sundry, but when David Beckham modelled his underwear and posed provocatively in each and every short praises were showered upon him.
He also stripped for his perfume advert, but all people saw was Beckham the muscular, well-endowed superstar and loving father. What was the impact on the impressionable minds of his young fans?
All this is hypocrisy coming from a society that claims to be democratic, a society that frolics naked on beaches and celebrates nudity as proven by the growing number of nudists or naturalists in their midst, a society that crowned Rihanna, who turned up pretty naked at the annual Council of Fashion Designers of America gala in a Swarovski crystal-embellished see-through gown, a fashion icon.
As parents, we should educate our children on the influence of media on their impressionable minds and not let the media take the parenting role.
From time immemorial women’s bodies were revered and their beauty celebrated. In Africa women were the embodiment of spirituality, fertility and sexuality.
That to me is wielding power and not exploitation. Society, in Africa, celebrated all this through dance, which colonialists viewed as savage and women as too sexualised. We, as Africans only became ashamed of our bodies, music, dance and dressing after colonisation.
We were stripped of our identity. Women became more oppressed as the “civilised and Christian” society assimilated Western ways.
In modern day society female artistes who are fighting for recognition, financial freedom and have embraced their sexuality and are not afraid to express themselves find themselves at the centre of criticism from both men and women.
Locally, innovative artistes like Sandra Ndebele came under attack for her seemingly unconventional costumes and her vigorous dance moves.
Ndebele had found an untapped market and exploited it and that is innovation. If we go back in history her beaded and revealing costumes came from her roots – the Ndebele culture. Some Ndebele people in South Africa still adorn the same costumes during traditional marriage rites and weddings.
They are not ashamed of their culture, but still identify with it, which is liberating. Sandy is still an internationally recognised artiste and a self-made businesswoman.
Zoey and Beverly “Bev” Sibanda also carved their niche in the entertainment world – adult entertainment.
The ladies can dance, that we cannot take away from them. They have been given all sorts of names and some pastors also tried to convert them, free them from their “lives of sin”. What sin? They are working women and responsible employers who do not want handouts, but seek to earn a decent living from their sweat.
They are women who have embraced their sexuality, turned it into art and have chosen to earn a living from it. They are not being exploited, but CHOSE that path.
They are artistes, just like Oliver Mtukudzi, Fungisai Zvakavapano-Mashavave, Beyonce, Shakira and the Samba-dancing Brazilian women.
They are not different from yesteryear Jerusarema/Mbende performers. We take pride in Jerusarema, but what was the context of the dance? It was a fertility dance rich with sexual connotations. Young men and women expended their pent-up desires through that dance.
We appreciate one sexual move and choose to despise another. If the defence against attacks on sexually explicit dances such as Jerusarema is that they are traditional, then we can equally argue that we are our great, great grandchildren’s ancestors and we should not be stuck in time, but make our own history.
Since dance evolves, the Zoeys and Bevs of this world help people vent those frustrations. They are not immoral, but are moving and evolving with time. No one should be trying to extricate them from the shackles of art by labelling them “sinners”.
They should set targets for themselves and their crew and achieve them, polish their act, go to business school and learn how they can earn more from their talent.
When the police harass and arrest these women, it is victimisation of all womankind. Why aren’t the patrons of those night clubs arrested together with these artistes? If Beverly breaches her contract and allows a patron to touch her, both Bev and the said patron are guilty of the same offence and should both be arrested.
We are so bent on being righteous that we fail to enjoy art and life as it comes. As women and feminists, let us positively compete with each other and the male species.
Let’s not pull each other down, but see the positive in what each and every one of us is trying to achieve or has achieved. And where are the righteous feminist groups in all this? Are they also, like the male chauvinists who arrest Bev, silently pontificating?