The following exchange between Annie Lennox (previously of the Eurythmics) and an interviewer can be found on Pridesource.com:
So what do you make of someone like Beyoncé? She recently performed on the MTV Video Music Awards and proclaimed herself a “feminist” during her set.
I would call that “feminist lite.” L-I-T-E. I’m sorry. It’s tokenistic to me. I mean, I think she’s a phenomenal artist – I just love her performances – but I’d like to sit down (with her). I think I’d like to sit down with quite a few artists and talk to them. I’d like to listen to them; I’d like to hear what they truly think.
I see a lot of it as them taking the word hostage and using it to promote themselves, but I don’t think they necessarily represent wholeheartedly the depths of feminism – no, I don’t. I think for many it’s very convenient and it looks great and it looks radical, but I have some issues with it. I have issues with it. Of course I do. I think it’s a cheap shot. I think what they do with it is cheap and … yeah. What can I tell you? Sex always sell. And there’s nothing wrong with sex selling, but it depends on your audience. If they’re 7-year-old kids, I have issues with it.
Not only have I always liked Lennox (and the Eurythmics), I completely understand what she’s saying. In fact, the academically feminist part of me—the one who grew up during a similar time period as Lennox—agrees with her. I’m uncomfortable when I see videos of Beyoncé performing in outfits that look like they were made for heterosexual male porn and bending over chairs, shaking her butt at the audience. When I watched her duet of “Drunk in Love” at the 2014 Grammy’s, where she was, as we used to say, “scantily clad,” and Jay-Z was fully clothed, I recoiled. “How can she claim to be feminist,” I thought, “when her actions so clearly belie her words? Isn’t she just buying into the heterosexual male gaze and female objectification?”
I’ve written about this before. Although I think there is often a troublesome and blurry line between reclaiming one’s sexuality as a female and letting male sexual desire supplant female sexual desire, I tend to believe (or maybe I just want to believe) that Beyoncé falls on the reclamation side. In “Partition,” she sings from the perspective of a woman in a healthy sexual relationship who is very much a full and desirous partner. If nothing else, maybe we should trust her when she says that’s the case—both in her lyrics and in her interviews—rather than assuming that we know the truth better than she does.
But Lennox makes an important point: What of the boys and girls who are watching her? What message are they receiving? I think as adults we tend to think we know the answer to that question. When we’re in the company of kids and teens, we may feel uncomfortable with what we’re viewing and listening to because we assume that they’re seeing and hearing things just as we do. But how often is that actually the case? It’s certainly not true with suggestive or even blatantly “inappropriate” lyrics to songs. Seven-year-olds choreographing and performing dances to Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” are rarely paying attention to the meaning of the lyrics. It may bother us to watch them or even hear the words coming out of their mouths as they sing along, but they’re just not thinking about what an anaconda represents in the song. They might not even bother to ask what the word anaconda means.
But Beyoncé is a slightly different case. She’s such a huge and influential star. So we do have to be concerned about the message received, particularly by young girls. I would argue, however, based on my conversations with girls and young women, that Beyoncé’s message of female empowerment is getting through to many of them. They “get it.” Yes, in an ideal world, Beyoncé would not just sing in a song like “Flawless” about the terrible pitfalls of our focus on beauty and perfection. She would also make a video of her transformation from how she really looks when she wakes up in the morning to how she looks when she gets up on stage. It would be wonderful for girls (and all of us) to see that Beyoncé is not actually flawless. Thus, her legion of female fans may not be receiving the kind of feminist education that Lennox and I would ideally like, but they’re getting something—and probably a whole lot more than if either she or I went into their classrooms and tried to explain to them what it “really” means to be a feminist.
So for those of us of an older generation with a rightfully earned chip on our shoulders, we need to remember that there isn’t one way to be a feminist. It’s unfair to call the feminism of Beyoncé and other celebrities “feminist-lite.” I think if Lennox had watched Beyoncé’s videos in which she provides commentary to go along with her 2014 album, “Beyoncé,” or if she had listened carefully to the lyrics of many of those songs, she might not have chosen to claim that Beyoncé had taken the word “feminist” “hostage” in order to promote herself. As for other celebrities who proclaim their feminism, good for them. I understand the fear engendered by claiming that label. How about if we just embrace them and welcome them into the fold?