The battle between bell hooks and modern day female artists continues. Last week the feminist scholar-in-residence led a panel — called “Whose Booty Is This?” — for New School students that put a critical lens on the butt “trend” that’s now made it to the mainstream. She then used this time to come for Beyoncé (again) and Nicki Minaj.
According to hooks, reducing female sexuality to “the pussy” raised questions about “who possesses and who has rights in the female body.” By contrast, the booty is a more visible, PG-13 stand-in for female sexuality, easier to represent (and sell) in pop culture, but freighted with more racial connotations. A booty-centric vision of female sexuality, hooks explained, asks, “who has access to the female body?”
hooks and Beyoncé need to talk about “Partition,” specifically. The song’s lyrics exemplify hooks’s somewhat conservative fear that feminist women might be sexually liberating themselves “against their own interests.” “If I’m a woman and I’m sucking somebody’s dick in a car and they’re coming in my mouth and we could be in one of those milk commercials or whatever, is that liberatory?” hooks asked. “Or is it part of the tropes of the existing, imperialist, white supremacist, patriarchal capitalist structure of female sexuality?”
hooks’s criticism of Beyoncé’s self-presentation extends to her appearance. Take her Time magazine cover, with stick-straight blonde hair.“I mean, try to imagine Beyoncé with some nappy dreads. Would she have the money that she has? Is there a kind of blackness that isn’t marketable?” Though hooks says she likes Beyoncé’s music, she would prefer everyone go look at Carrie Mae Weems’s photographs of black women instead. “I wish for black teenage girls that those images were as accessible to them as the images of pop culture that are limited in their vibrancy and are in some way a reproduction,” she said.
“That’s one of the things that struck me about ‘Anaconda,’” she continued. “I was like, this shit is boring. What does it mean? Is there something that I’m missing that’s happening here?”
Well, I too thought Anaconda was a boring video and was in the ‘been there, done that’ territory. But beyond that, hooks’ criticism seems to be in the ‘been there, done that’ territory as well. It’s very easy for an older generation of women to criticize current celebrities like Beyoncé and Minaj for always putting hot sex on a platter, but they seem to ignore the fact that maybe women find pleasure in displaying themselves or in pleasing a man but on her own terms?
To stifle these women’s expressions is to stifle the potential breadth and the width of feminism and all its possibilities. Do little girls need other images aside from Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj? Of course. It’s the same way that my generation needed other images than Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown. Thank goodness that for a brief moment, we had Lauryn Hill.
What does matter is not necessarily that every woman conduct themselves the same, view sexuality and pleasure the same, but that we have the option to be different and define our individual power. There will always be a male wanting to gaze and we should create for ourselves the opportunities and freedom to give a thousand different views of womanhood, femininity, and feminism so he can have no opinion, no say so on how things should be.
Diana Veiga is a Spelman woman, a DC resident, and a freelance writer. Of course, she’s also on Twitter.