Everyone should be a feminist.
The belief that women deserve political, social and economic equality isn’t some far-fetched ideology. It’s doable, and it’s necessary. Feminism liberates us all.
Freedom is something I think we all crave. My father once told me that the most powerful thing a person can have is their freedom. I agree. That’s probably why I was so impressed with Beyoncé’s latest body of work. Lemonade, like most things Beyoncé does, sent us all into a frenzy, prompting discussions and think pieces from every direction. For the first time, we were able to see Beyoncé as she is. No cover ups, no pretense. Just raw emotion. She was free.
bell hooks arrived to the Lemonade party a few days late, with no gift. She sauntered in, popping balloons and eating cake with her hands. The party was over. For those of you who don’t know who bell hooks is, let me explain. bell hooks is a scholar, an activist, a teacher, a writer, and a feminist. She was born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. She doesn’t capitalize her pen name because she wants readers to focus more on her thoughts than her name.
And oh yeah, she called Beyoncé a “terrorist.”
It all started with a 2014 issue of TIME Magazine, of which Beyoncé graced the cover. “The major assault on feminism in our society has come from visual media and from television and videos.” Beyoncé was a part of the problem, she concluded.
hooks’ most recent charge against Beyoncé appeared on her site, In her essay, she claimed that Beyoncé wasn’t much of a revolutionary, and should stop pretending. She suggested that Beyoncé’s latest venture was simply “capitalist money making at its best.” There were other claims throughout her essay that were equally unfounded. hooks went on to criticize Beyoncé (again) for being “too sexy.” This is an argument that doesn’t hold its weight in regards to feminism. Too often, we see feminists discrediting women who present as “femme,” who present as “sexy,” accusing them of distracting from the real message. That’s not fair, and that’s not feminism.
Sure, none of us are ever above critique, even if you’re a girl named Beyoncé, with flowing hair, and killer sequin bodysuits. But some critiques just aren’t as helpful as the critic believes them to be. Personal attacks won’t produce solidarity.
I’ve grown tired of the “I’m the better feminist,” “I’m the better activist,” the “anything you can do, I can do better,” crowd. I’m disappointed. I didn’t leave hooks’ essay feeling more enlightened (as I thought I would). I left feeling yucky. Dispirited. Sad.
I’ve seen a lot of this, not just from prominent feminists. I’ve seen it on social media, in the press-constant policing of women by other self-proclaimed feminists, just waiting on the sidelines, ready to rip someone’s “Feminist” badge off their chest. I wondered what it meant to be a good feminist. What credentials did you need to be a badass womanist who people deemed worthy of the title?
I never found my answer. I don’t know if there is one. But here’s what I do know-
Like our good sister-friend Janet Mock once said, “Femmephobia, like whorephobia, must be abolished in our spaces, our theories and our critiques of one another and one another's work.”
We can’t move forward if that doesn’t happen, and we can’t claim to be fighting for the greater good if we refuse to look beyond our differences.
The divide between “liberal” and “radical” feminists, while understandable, truly does more harm than good. “Liberal” feminists tend to take more of an individualistic approach, valuing a woman’s right to choose, while “radical” feminists aim to attack an overarching system that no woman stands to benefit from. Do both of them want the same things? Of course. Do they disagree on how to get there? Absolutely. This divide is nothing new. Since the days of Alva Belmont and Mary Ritter Beard, the split has been distinct.
hooks’ argument is that Beyoncé isn’t “revolutionary” enough. She isn’t “radical” enough. I disagree. As THE most visible Black female celebrity in the world, to take the stances she’s taken, to speak out against police brutality, to pay tribute to the Black Panthers during a Super Bowl performance, to center Black women, to use her art to speak about things that MATTER…that’s pretty damn radical if you ask me.
No, Beyoncé doesn’t write essays, she doesn’t dress in “gender neutral” clothing, and she doesn’t say things like “patriarchal,” but who are we to question her authenticity? Who are we to question how “woke” she is? For hooks to suggest that Beyoncé can’t be trusted is disingenuous and irresponsible. After all, hooks sells us books thanks to the capitalist institution she criticizes Beyoncée for taking advantage of.
Her feminism isn’t like hers, and your feminism isn’t like mine, but at the end of the day, empowerment is the goal. Resistance is the tool. Sisterhood is key. Just like bell hooks, the state of feminism isn’t above critique. We can do better. We have to do better.
When we seek to devalue another feminists’ work because it doesn’t look like our own, we haven’t furthered the cause. A feminism in which only one kind of woman is free is a feminism I don’t want. It’s a feminism that has failed.