The recent announcement of a new course, “Beyoncé Feminism, Rihanna Womanism,” was met with praise, confusion and most of all, online opposition from students and alumni.
Proponents say the course, crosslisted under African and African Diaspora Studies and Women's and Gender Studies, is revolutionary and long overdue. Opponents claim these women aren’t positive influences and don’t deserve the honor of “the f-word.” Feminism today has a new face. New age feminism takes multiple forms, varying from individual to individual. While feminists can all agree on the need for equality and change, the ethnic counterparts to the much-praised Lena Dunham and Jennifer Lawrence are rarely given the same accolades, and are even criticized for similarly speaking out.
One of the course’s titular subjects, Beyoncé, has been subject to such derision, most recently facing criticism after the release of her self-titled fifth album in which she bravely declares herself an avid feminist. She proclaims her ability to bear a child, marry and have a career all the while embracing her sexuality and flaunting her body, a testament that women really can “have it all.” Straying from traditional feminism, Beyoncé outwardly expresses her sexuality in songs and onstage. She even pays homage to her roots using African dance moves many mistake as attempting to sell sex. Young African-American girls and grown women alike find empowerment in her work, reinforcing the ideals of feminism in a modern way.
Comparatively, Rihanna unapologetically displays herself on the red carpet and the stage to show the confidence in her body and embrace sexuality while speaking of her self-made success. Her use of expletives and refusal to stray from her lively persona puts her on the same level as her male hip hop counterparts, an equality for which feminists work tirelessly to make the norm rather than the exception. Rihanna and Beyoncé both embody the ideals of modern feminism, so why do mainstream feminists make it their mission to exclude them from the movement?
They’re ruled out as feminists simply because of their ability to contribute to the movement in a modern, sensual manner. The flaw in the opposing argument lies in unintentional prejudice and internalized racism that often goes unnoticed. While we can all relate as women, social activists or feminists, the black feminist experience is unique and needs its own leaders who can empower this subgroup. Black feminism differs from the mainstream in liberation characterized by emphasizing rather than suppressing sexuality. Black women have long been directly and indirectly taught by society that their only worth is defined by their sexualization by men. These women defy this tradition by embracing their sensuality and defining its worth in their own terms, while influencing others to follow suit — a true act of feminism. Herein lies the irony in mainstream feminism: It encourages the liberation of women but only under specific terms, echoing the exact mindset that oppresses women in the first place.
A modern feminist can embrace her (or his) identity by wearing a pantsuit, a romper or barely there clothes. Modern feminism doesn’t judge solely on outside appearance. A feminist can be conservative like Emma Watson, radical like Rihanna or find a balance like Beyoncé. This New Age movement creates a cognitive dissonance as women want to let loose while maintaining a professional image. They should be allowed to twerk, work, get degrees and maintain a collective equality. This course will not only analyze the subtle, and not so subtle, womanism that Rihanna, Beyoncé and other black woman artists embody, but it will open the minds of those who narrowly define who can and can’t be a feminist.
Griffin is a journalism freshman from Houston. Follow her on Twitter @JazmynAlynn.