SmithAdichie

Last night in New York something amazing happened. Award-winning authors Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith had a wide-ranging conversation about literature, feminism, Blackness, and hair. But the best part? Even if you didn’t score a ticket to the packed event, you could still watch their awesome conversation online.

The event, sponsored by Schomburg Center in Harlem, was organized to discuss Adichie’s novel Americanah, which recently won the National Book Critics Circle prize for fiction. Like the book, the conversation touched on the complicated issues of race, class, migration, and the politics of sexuality.

While Adichie is one of the most talented writers of our generation, she recently became introduced to a whole new segment of the population when an excerpt of her TED Talk about feminism was featured on Beyoncé’s latest album. Adichie’s inclusion on Beyonce’s song “***Flawless” caused many to argue the singer was a feminist icon, but not everyone was convinced.

For weeks arguments raged on Twitter, blogs, news magazines, and other parts of social media about whether Beyoncé was or was not a feminist. Although many proclaimed she was,  others countered that the singer’s overt sexuality and willingness to “pander to the male gaze” proved she was not a feminist.

Apparently, Adichie disagrees.

At one point during the chat, the Nigerian author took a question from the audience about whether or not Black women are “boxed in” by notions of sexuality and femininity, which lead Adichie to discuss Beyoncé.

I think the world views [Black women] differently and how things are read differently. For example, Beyoncé, so she chooses to own her sexuality and there’s somehow something bad, just deeply bad about it. It just seems to me like the White version of Beyoncé wouldn’t have that kind of response.

(Skip to the 59-minute mark to hear the discussion, but be sure to watch their entire conversation.)

Another question about feminism and sexuality arose later in the evening, which prompted Adichie to assert that any woman who calls herself a feminist is indeed a feminist in her opinion.

If a woman is sexually overt is she still feminist? It’s a question that…obviously for me, the answer is yes. But also in a larger sense, I’m not interested in policing feminism either. I have such a problem with the idea of people saying things like, “Oh she’s not feminist because of blah blah blah.”

Whoever says they’re feminist is bloody feminist. And I just feel like we live in a world where more people need to be saying it and we shouldn’t be looking to pull people out of the feminist party. And I think the reason I find myself reacting so strongly to questions of female sexuality is…there’s something very disturbing to me about the idea that a woman’s sexuality somehow is not hers. So when certain feminists who will say, it’s about the male gaze, it’s for the man, there a kind of a self-censoring about that that’s similar to what they’re fighting.

So as long as women have the choice…why shouldn’t women own their sexuality? Why shouldn’t a woman who does whatever with her sexuality identify as feminist? I’ve just always found that very troubling. It’s almost unfeminist to make that argument that if you shake your booty, you’re not feminist.

But I’m thinking, well, do you want to shake your booty? Shouldn’t you have your choice to shake your booty?

Adichie also defended Beyoncé’s use of her TED talk this week on NPR’s Tell Me More:

I think that anything that gets young people talking about feminism is a very good thing. I also think that I have a problem with the idea of feminism as being some sort of exclusive party that someone gets to decide whether you can come, and also the idea that somehow a woman who is comfortable with her sexuality, that there’s something wrong with that. I have a problem with that … Why have we decided that somehow a woman celebrating her sexuality somehow is something bad? Maybe it’s that slightly puritan idea, it’s also the idea that sex is something a woman gives a man, and she loses something when she does that, which again for me is nonsense.

I want us to raise girls differently where boys and girls start to see sexuality as something that they own, rather than something that a boy takes from a girl.

Though I doubt Adichie’s assertion that merely self-identifying as a feminist is enough to stop folks from wondering whether Beyoncé is a real feminist or not, her stance on not allowing anything or anyone, other than a woman herself, to define her feminism needs to be heard.

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  • Child, Please

    I wanted to finish watching this talk when I got home; I started it before I went it to work. I must say, Adiche was singing a different tune in an interview I saw a juuuust yesterday. I wonder if she’s just ascribing to the notion of not tearing down another black woman; before this talk, she wouldn’t even mention Beyonce (and rightfully so as it takes away from her work, which people have loved and more are growing to love!)

  • Ivory

    Dane

    I agree with you. I can’t believe people here are saying Beyoncé is do average as if anyone can do what she does. What more do they want this woman to do? Britney Spears wasn’t even remotely as talented as Beyoncé but had she not had her breakdown she would have been bigger than her. Instead of supporting a black woman that has had to work extra hard, keep her image squeaky clean (no one forgives black folks) and has had to be politically safe we just trash her because she is light and sexy.

    Beyoncé is a credit to the image of black women. I will always be grateful for her career.

  • Ivory

    RJ

    Your comments are vile and if Beyoncé is so basic you most be… I’ll let you live with it.

  • Fifi-Gongon

    Actually, I think Beyoncé is not “owning her sexuality” but is completely corresponding to the colonial image of the black woman, or the mulatta. White people built that stereotype of the wild, can’t-get-enough type of sexuality regarding black women ONLY. Some white men wouldn’t dare to have the same fantasies with white women. By exposing her sexuality (or her fantasies, since it could all be fake, we wouldn’t know), she enters that frame perfectly. Moreover, talking about sex is the most safe move in a western country nowadays. It is not politically conscious anymore, whereas being a feminist demands a political conscience and a sense of history, of what the sixties and the seventies feminists went through.

  • Treece

    “So as long as women have the choice…why shouldn’t women own their sexuality?”

    That’s just it though…I don’t think Beyoncé “owns” her sexuality. She is required to produce albums like this to sell and stay relevant, in a male dominated culture that demands that women strip down and be overtly sexual to maintain relevancy in the entertainment industry. When we live in a culture that has placed women in a box labeled “Only to be used for tits, ass, and the vagina”, it seemed kind of disingenuous for Beyoncé of all folks to claim feminism. She is catering to the male misogynist agenda that women should just be sucking down “watermelon” and riding “surfboards” while maintaining a perfect body with a big round behind. That image gets top billing, top dollar, and keeps you in the spotlight. If you highlight any other area you may be talented in (choreography, song writing, playing an instrument, math), it’s downplayed and no recognition is given. Beyoncé plays right into that ideal. Yet she can part her lips to say she is a feminist, and all of those who studied it, learned the struggle for true gender equality, and live it daily are supposed to just accept that and not question it? I’m sorry Ms. Ngozi. But I won’t.

    Black feminism is an actual “thing”. It can be defined and has an agenda. And there are things that one can do to work against that agenda. Especially in the face of such hatred and degradation the black women face on a regular basis, mainly aimed at the fact that men see us a collection of parts used for their sexual pleasure, rather than human beings capable of things other than sex.

    Particularly with the release of this album, Beyoncé encourages that mentality among men. She feeds it. And her sexuality is presented in this album as being owned by her husband, not her. In my opinion, she did this album as an attempt to keep the spotlight aimed in her direction because younger pop singers are creeping up, and she has to do what she has to do to stay relevant. She is indeed a slave to the music/entertainment industry, the most anti-feminist and misogynistic industry in the world. Can’t agree with Beyoncé as a feminist, and some new fangled idea of feminism that doesn’t really have parameters. It’s a total set up.

    • BeautyIAM

      So many great comments and yours is one of them. I agree with everything you said. I really do question how Beyonce is really helping women/black women. Of course I can’t ask that question without asking myself that the exact same thing. So I know I have to do my part.

      But I refuse to accept her corporate brand of “feminism.” Beyonce does not give two craps about women. She cares about the money that her audience will give her. So if she has to use feminism to get money from her audience, that is what her and her team will do. It is so laughable that people really think she is genuinely participating in feminism. The bar is set so low for these entertainers. No wonder its easy for them to pretend to care about certain issues.

    • Deebo

      “So as long as women have the choice…”

      What part of this is hard? No one is forcing Beyonce to do anything. If the need for this overt sexuality bothered her, she could retire tomorrow and her entire family for 20 generations will live like top 1%ers. She isn’t forced to make music, she doesn’t need to make music, she WANTS to.

      And if she didn’t want to do it all sexed up, that’s also her choice. She could go the neo-soul route, stay fully clothed, and make good music. Would she be as big? Maybe not, but again, these are all choices. I chose my career even though others were more lucrative. Choices.

      Now, you’d have a point if Beyonce was doing this but hated it all. But maybe, just maybe, Beyonce likes the sexual release, the adoration, the lust. Maybe she craves it and maybe doing this feeds her need as much as it does any male admirer. Is she not supposed to have such needs? Does having that incredible sexual lust, and sating it publicly, mean a woman is not feminist? As if a woman with such unrestrained sexuality can only be that way because of the influence of or catering to a man? She can’t just be, at least not in your world. There, we’re all brainwashed. You all sound like men who throw the word “slut” around to control women’s sexuality. Do you think a bunch of women attempting to police and control other women’s sexuality is better than a man doing it? You want to tell women how they should exercise their sexuality, how they should feel when they do it, what they should wear, what they should enjoy, what is always bad without exception, why they should enjoy this and completely avoid that, who they should enjoy it with, what to keep private, what to make public. You are so certain of your worldview that you don’t allow for the possibility that there, somewhere, is a woman who believes the exact opposite of what you do about sexuality and is still a feminist. If, as you just said and as feminists believe, a woman is more than just sex…then for Pete’s sake let them be…release your hold on their sexuality just as you ask men to.

      And one last gem, you can only define something through its opposite….think light, dark, good, evil, etc. A woman’s sexuality isn’t defined just by her. No one’s is. Our sexuality is a reflection of what brings our opposites verbal, visual, physical and mental pleasure. And catering to those desires of our opposites, privately or publicly, brings us pleasure. You’re trying to have women’s sexuality without male influence, which is oxymoronic since her sexuality doesn’t exist just for herself, nor for just one man. Anyway, good luck with all that.

    • Ivory

      Deebo

      Nevermind the fact that Beyonce’s fans are mainly women and gay men. However I agree with you. They want Beyonce covered up not to protect her from the male gaze but the female ego. That innate competition we have in us all.

      Beyonce’s career has been pretty safe up until recently. She is coming out more as an older married mother. This isnt about men, this is about her.

    • Treece

      From what I’ve seen and in my opinion, what Beyoncé does (in this album and prior to this album) does not advance the ideal of feminism. Feminism as I speak about it here is defined as the idea that men and women should be seen as equals in our society. This is not so. And it is not so (especially in the music industry) because we (women) have been minimized down to our sexual parts and what we can do sexually for men so often that all other talents are made null and void. Men in the industry are not asked to strip and sing X-rated lyrics just to stay relevant. Woman are. That is UNEQUAL and UNJUST and ANTI-FEMINIST.

      Using the common sense the good Lord and my parents gave me, and knowing what I have learned and researched about the music industry (via other artists accounts, tell-all interviews/articles, and the like), I can not say with a straight face that Beyoncé “chose” to do this album. The production companies run female artists. Beyoncé knows from whom and where her money comes from. There is always someone higher up on the food chain and to make money for the both of them, she knew she had to porn it up. Under the guise of “choice”. Just like women who prostitute on the street under the guise of “choice” after they’ve been hoodwinked and bamboozled by a pimp. So don’t give me that “choice” stuff.

      If this was outside of the music/entertainment industry, and you spoke about this being her choice and Beyoncé being allowed to display her sexuality without male influence, you’d have a point. If this was literature or some other less tainted and corrupt force in American society, I may not have a comment on the issue. But music and entertainment will do what it has to do for the most money it can make. And for women, it unfortunately means sacrificing your clothes and singing sexually explicit lyrics. If one wanted to be a true feminist and fight that issue, one would not do what Beyoncé has “chosen” to do. At this juncture, I would call JLo more of a feminist because she has made a song recently that “objectifies” men and shows them shirtless and oiled up in a video for a change. Not a JLo fan, but at least she is really making a statement. Beyoncé ain’t sayin a darn thing in her music but “f– me and let me give you head”. Which, in and of itself, does not encompass feminism. But carry on…..no time for silly, faux-feminist musings that are not based in the realm most of us call reality

    • Ivory

      Treece

      What you should be asking yourself is why are you reducing this black woman to nothing? Why do you reduce this talented singer dancer and song writer because men find her attractive? Your reduction of her is as objectionable as the misogynist male gaze. Why are you guys so damn obsessed with men finding her sexy? What is it about the way men view her that bothers you so much? Are men the only one with eyes and opinions? When I see Beyonces perfect body and round butt, I take myself to the gym. I dont tell her to put on some clothes and try doing to quadratic equations to get my respect.