Monday, October 17, 2011

Beyonce, Pregnancy, and Feminism

I've (surprisingly) got Beyonce on the brain. Her new video premiered, and in it she fronts a "boy band," complete with a progression through several braless, neck-plunging pantsuits.

She says of the video, "I always wanted to make a video and be part of a boy group myself. It was so much fun."

By positioning herself as the front "man" for a boy band, Beyonce does some interesting bending of gender roles. 

In the video she is clearly the center of attention, the focal point. She is also clearly the one in charge. At the end of the video--after a series of different sets/costumes--it cuts back to her in the simple black leotard with her back-up dancers in street clothes. She says "Cut" and walks off screen, looking satisfied but not particularly excited, avoiding eye contact with the camera as if it's presence isn't really that important, leaving her dance crew to celebrate their completed act. This cool, disconnected leadership role coupled with her pantsuits suggest a certain masculinity. 

But of course, those pantsuits are clinging (sometimes just barely) to a very present reminder of this frontman's femininity, her body. And while women's bodies are often objectified by others, Beyonce is famously in control of the way hers is displayed and consumed.

This brings me to my interest in Beyonce and feminism. 

See Beyonce had some words to say about feminism, or, rather, some words to say about not saying the  word "feminism":
Although many women today steer away from the word 'feminist', the Texan insists she's always been one, although she believes the movement needs a new name.
She explained: 'I don’t really feel that it’s necessary to define it. It’s just something that’s kind of natural for me, and I feel’s, like, what I live for.'I need to find a catchy new word for feminism, right? Like Bootylicious.'
Interesting that Beyonce's "catchy new word for feminism" is one that is directly connected to sexualization of the body. And it fits with the way that she has managed the sexualization of her own body, a posturing which she has seemed in control of even when she was very young.

Indeed, the video for "Bootylicious" suggests not a commodification of the body, but an self-image based in power and acceptance. Within the video, there are shots of a dressing room scene with various people-- the members of Destiny's Child, but also everyday people: men and women whose bodies might not pass the test of Hollywood, but are still portrayed here as "Bootylicious." Above all, the people are having fun.

I take issue with Beyonce's desire to circumvent the word feminism, but like Charing Ball's blog post on the Atlanta Post points out:
I don’t always agree with every statement by every self-proclaimed feminist or every proposal that has been floated in the name of feminism.  I have seen some very disgraceful attacks by self-proclaimed feminists, who label any woman that doesn’t agree with their brand of feminism as sister mule, a derogatory termed coined from Toni Morrison “Their Eyes Were Watching God” to describe a woman, who empathizes with the plight of men, particularly black men, as much as they do there own.  This has led me to believe that beneath that ‘I Am Woman’ pretense is a deep-seated resentment of women by women.
And, surely, there is some "resentment of women by women" inherent in the cruel, uncalled for rumors that Beyonce is faking her pregnancy. Technorati writes about a recent video where the dress Beyonce is wearing causes her baby bump to appear folded in on itself:
The media went into a feeding frenzy accusing her of wearing a prosthetic baby bump while a surrogate carried the baby. Others accused her of faking the pregnancy to boost sagging album sales, maintain her status as one of the biggest entertainers alive and/or keep her figure. Why anyone would accuse a woman who has consistently celebrated her curves of faking a pregnancy to maintain her figure is beyond me!
Even before this incident, the blogosphere was hopping with discussions of how ugly the baby would be and how she was just faking the pregnancy for publicity.

Sure. Beyonce is incredibly successful and, you know, haters gonna hate. But there's something particularly insidious about attacking a woman who has carefully crafted her persona based on the power of her own body over her pregnancy.

Pregnancy is a time when the power of the body is very complicated. In some ways, it is at its most powerful--it's creating a human being, after all! In other ways, it is at it's most vulnerable. Fears of losing the baby, of eating the wrong thing, hell, even of lying on the wrong side while sleeping plague many pregnant women who are just trying to ensure a safe delivery of a healthy baby. Then there's the way the body becomes public property. You are caressed by strangers in public. Your weight, breast size, and proportions are suddenly acceptable water cooler fodder. And these are things that happened to me. Me! Someone who rarely wears make-up and throws her hair in a pony tail. Imagine how much more magnified these deleterious effects are for someone who is already in the public eye--someone who has branded herself through her body.

While men are guilty of this transgression, I am frequently dumb-founded by the way women tear down other women when they are pregnant. This seems especially true when it's a woman of power, and Beyonce is one of the most powerful women in entertainment. Has setting herself up as "Bootylicious" created an increased risk of falling victim to pregnancy objectification?


  1. wow, that hollywood tape sure works well! I was a bit worried for a few moment!

  2. No kidding! That's some amazing stuff!

  3. See, this is what I mean when I say that you write really intriguing posts that pertain to the media.

    As to your concluding question: probably, yes -- but might that not be her point? To draw attention to how that happens?

    Did you see Madison Young's take on this at BlogHer:

    "When you become pregnant, the world decides that all of a sudden they're able to throw all this advice your way," she told me when I called her to talk about motherhood. "And touching your body! I always thought it was interesting that everyone wanted to touch my fundus. It's a part of my body, like my breast -- would you walk up to somebody and touch that? When I was pregnant I felt like my fundus was an extension of my mons, a very sensual part of my body, and to have strangers wanting to put hands on me -- I thought it was very interesting that they felt they had the liberty to do that."

    The link to the full article is here:

  4. I'm glad you found the blog; thanks for reading! I think you're right that Beyonce may very well know exactly how the public will treat her pregnant body and is using that to keep the upper hand. I guess that makes me wonder which comes first? Does she legitimately enjoy using her body as spectacle and identity shaper (like when she calls feminism "bootylicious"), or is she just smartly aware that the media objectifies all female bodies and so decided that if it was going to happen anyway, it would be on her terms.