Tag Archives: Beyonce

Culo, Coffee and Crime: More on Disrespectability Politics

23 Jan Popular representations of Black and Latina women
Popular representations of Black and Latina women

From left to right: Jennifer Lopez (Lucywho.com), Nicki Minaj (King), Duchess (NY Daily News), Beyonce (Lucywho.com), and Saartjie Baartman (Wikipedia)

From an Australian researcher claiming Beyoncé’s name and her celebrity bum with a horse fly, a pissed Wisconsin congressman attacking the national obesity campaign by deriding the First Lady’s derriere, to Diddy riding on somebody else’s butt for more fame in his new book called Culo, across the academic, political, and the popular, our booty remains integral in what CF crunktastic has deemed disrespectability politics.

I came across Culo as a recommended Christmas stocking stuffer from Amazon. The accompanying website bends over backward to market the “coffee table” book as high art by telling the would-be buyer that “culo” is an Italian word rather than the familiar Spanish slang tossed about in rap and reggaeton songs by Pitbull, who pairs with Timberland to provide the soundtrack to the book’s R-rated promotional (music) video. The site also hypes famed fashion photographer Raphael Mazzucco, who has made a career of capturing near-naked women for Victoria Secret and Sports Illustrated.  Diddy’s collaborator, Jimmy Iovine, suggests the book is a part of Interscope’s diversification—expanding from music to book publishing [and I would add, expanding the Black American hip hop aesthetic to include diverse women (read: non-Black)] as part of Interscope’s global booty. (Interscope is a part of the largest multinational music group in the world.)

Book cover for Culo

Book cover for Culo

The art claim is supposed to give Culo international cachet and curtail local cries of racism and sexism. The claim is also deployed to distinguish itself aesthetically from similar visual representations, such as those seen in Waka Flocka’s “No Hands.” It is supposed to celebrate a so-called new era in which “the world is no longer flat.” It ain’t so flattering for African-descended women who carry the cultural baggage of the fuckable, unrapeable, insatiable, and hyperfertile jezebel because of a muscle. Along with my frustration with the postrace rhetoric is the postfeminist one that wants us to believe that Culo is a celebration of women’s power and beauty (by reducing us to a body part).  I mean, actor Al Jolson celebrated his mammy in blackface, but most black folks ain’t remixing that cinematic minstrelsy. [Insert your Tyler Perry comments here.] My 15-year-old Sir Mix-a-Lot big butt loving self might have bought some of P. Diddy’s pro-woman posturing. But, the glossy-printed, 240-plus page fake feminist fantasy could not be sold to me today. I am a grown ass woman.

Poster from facebook page dedicated to Claudia Aderotimi

I am a grown woman who grew up in a southern inner-city believing that outer beauty—the booty specifically—could trump intelligence and was the biggest asset for a dark skin Black girl, so when I heard about young Black and Latina women participating in p(l)umping parties where they inject one another with illegal infertility hormones, industrial-grade silicone, cement, or superglue, I became deeply disturbed that the thang that has narrowly defined our desirability is also taking our lives. Such is the case for the Nigerian-born Londoner, Claudia Aderotimi (aka Claudiyah “Carmella” James), who came to a Philly hotel for the injection and died 12 hours later when a poisonous concoction entered her bloodstream. Aderotimi, named an African princess by 50 Cent, was convinced her hip hop stardom would be deflated after folks figured out her booty was padded.

The sensational news coverage about botched butt injections is as much about the illegal (and deadly) act as it is about criminalizing particular Black bodies. (BBD said you can’t trust a woman with a big butt and a smile in the 1990 hit “Poision.”) Duchess, a transgender woman who has been charged with the near-death of a Florida woman seeking an injection, has had her mug shot along with a full body photograph released to the press. The side view harkens to pictures of Saartjie Baartman, a South African woman dubbed the Hottentot Venus in 19th Century European freak shows. Fast forward two hundred years and African-descended women are still at center stage, fulfilling the twin feelings of lust and disgust regarding Black women.  There was no retraction when the Miami Herald news reported Duchess as having a backside the size of a “truck tire.” And, two women providing a PSA about pumping parties (which turned into an attack on race and gender conformity) saw nothing wrong with describing the supposed ugliness of (transgender) women whose full lips looked like “inner tubes” and whose booties were just too big for their bodies. There was a reason why Baartman was pejoratively called a Hottentot Venus: It could recall erotic beauty defined by the Roman goddess while reminding folks that our so-called less-than-human bodies could be exploited for commercial profit under white patriarchy. In the “new era” of booty worship, we might want to remember that one.

Make Me Over: The dangers of ‘Pumping Parties’

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Arielle Loren Asks “Is Beyonce the Face of Contemporary Feminism?” My Response

14 Jun

We need to be clear about who we are trying to be equal to.

In her blog post Arielle Loren asserts that most women do not identify as being feminists even if they share its core ideologies, that there has been a shift in the contemporary agenda for women’s equality and that women are tired of rhetoric of hardcore oppression and patriarchy. She goes on to say that “frankly, all of the traditional feminist criticism of her “Who Runs The World (Girls)” video is just another example of the disconnect between intellectual theory and real life.” Beyonce is the face of contemporary feminism because women feel empowered listening to Beyonce’s music, so consequently, they take this “power” with them as they go on about their day to day lives.

Interesting.

Let me lay out my assumptions.

Feminism is not about being equal to men. All men are not equal. A black man  from 135th street with a Harvard MBA does not have the same social capital as a Black man from 135th street who just got out of Rikers. Full stop.

Next.

We need to be clear about who we want to be equal to. In fact, we need to ask do we want to be equal or do we want to be free?

Second assumption.

Black feminists are rooted in Love.

Black Feminists are interested in creating spaces for men to feel because men who don’t feel do not know how to Love. Black feminists are interested in holding themselves, and others accountable when they say racist, homopobic ‘ish, because thats how we roll. Black feminists will get up in that behind when a rapper tries to make jokes and bets about non consensual choking of women during sex. Peace to Jay Electronica. The Black feminist I know are rooted in Love. Being rooted in Love means that you understand that you will not be able to have meaningful emotionally invested relationships with another adult until you have forgiven you one OR both of your parents for abandoning you. Peace to all my homies who are in therapy. We grown.

Black Feminist Love is hella grown.

We are so grown that we understand like Arielle Loren does, the importance of Black women being able to be sexual, complicated, whole human beings. We understand that is is particularly important for Black women who are rendered 50 million ho’s on the regular in pop culture. The mission statement for the Black Feminist blog  Betta Come Correct states that:

BECAUSE BLACK FEMINIST SEX IS THE BEST SEX EVER…THIS IS ALSO A WAKE UP CALL TO ANYONE WHO INSISTS ON INTIMACY WITHOUT ACCOUNTABILITY, CONDONES VIOLENCE AGAINST BLACK WOMEN, OR REFUSES TO BE TRANSFORMED BY THE ECSTATIC MIRACLE THAT BLACK WOMEN EXIST. YOU ARE SERIOUSLY MISSING OUT.

So Black women having space to be multidimensional and whole is a part of the contemporary Black feminist agenda.

Back to Beyonce.

As you many of you know I have done a lot of writing about Beyonce, because I am concerned about how the messages that she conveys shapes expectations within Black heterosexual relationships. Given the fact that she made 80 million dollars in 2007-2008 and that earning that kind of money is extremely rare for people in general Black women in particular, Beyonce’s messages influence society and they shape how Black women look at themselves and their partners. Black women are not allowed to earn nearly 100 million dollars unless they are beautiful, talented, non-threatening to White men and they convey historical stereotypes about Black men and women. Dave Chappelle walked away for a reason ya’ll.

Because I care about Black women, I pay close attention to what Beyonce says.

It is dangerous to make open statements that women run the world, because there is so much evidence women get the shit end of the stick in the world.

Black, Latina and Asian women are sex trafficked in the Bronx, East Oakland and Las Vegas.

Eastern European women are sex trafficked globally.

An estimated nearly 100 Million female fetuses and girl children have been aborted or neglected in China and India over the last thirty years.

Women are 50.7% of the US Population. Yet, women are only 16.4% of Congress. They are 17 of the 100 members of the Senate. They are 73 of the 435 member of the House of Representatives.

Women are routinely paid less for the same jobs that men do and this is broken down byrace.In fact when I told my students two weeks ago that they could graduate from college and be offered less money, just because of what was between their legs, they looked depressed.

They couldn’t believe how profoundly unfair it was. When I said that “Women are cheap labor” they looked mortified. I explained to them that shutting down was not going to create a more just and equitable world. That they cannot change a system if they do not understand it. And now that they do know that women are offered less money to do the work that men can do, they are expected to go out into the world and change it. Peace to the Equal Pay Act.

Poverty is feminized in this country, meaning that a main predictor of poverty is having a baby because children are expensive (childcare, healthcare, food, clothes, shelter) and there is very little support such as state/federal child care, paid federal family medical leave, support for families who work full time as parents.

We need to be honest about who we are tying to be equal to.

Women do not run the world. The world shits on women. Ask Ester Baxter. Ask SusanGiffords. Ask the woman who claims that she was assaulted and raped by the former President of the IMF. Ask Shaniya Davis’s family.  Ask Ayianna Jones’s family. AskSakia Gunn’s family. Ask. Ask. Ask.

Now if we want to celebrate the catchiness of a Beyonce song, or honor her athletic ability, her fierceness as a dancer, that is perfectly legititmate. But to call her the face of modern day feminism is ahistorical and a slap in the face to Black, White, Latino, Asian, Muslim, Native American women and men who have been working to change our world so that being born with a vagina does not automatically mean being raised to be someones wife, street harassment material, nanny, slave or prostitute, but a fully developed human being.

For more readings on the history of Black Women and Feminism read:
Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement and the Black Baptist Church 1880-1920by Evelyn Brooks Higgenbotham
Living for the Revolution by Kimberly Springer
Radical Sisters: Second Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in Washington in DC by Ann Valk.

For more readings on Black, White and Chicana Feminisms:
Separate Roads to Feminism by Benita Roth

For more readings on Third Wave Feminism
To Be Real, Ed by, Rebecca Walker
“Under Construction: Identifying Foundations of Hip Hop Feminism…” by Whitney Peoples
On Being Feminism’s Ms. Nigga by Latoya Peterson <<<And I still have issues with the title.
Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism, Ed. Jessica Yee.

My post on R. Kelly and Julian Assange mentions some good books on feminism as well.

Thoughts. I know you have them.

Is positing Beyonce as “contemporary feminism” a move to come up?

What is your definition of feminism?

Music as feminist empowerment?

Originally posted on New Model Minority.com.

Nicki’s World

26 Aug

As BET gets set to air its documentary about women and hip hop Monday, I am finding my 30-plus, old school feminist-self working hard to gear up to get down with the over-the-top, lyrically layered, brand savvy rapper that is Nicki Minaj.

The self-described Barbie is inescapable. She works every rap and R&B hook, and changes her looks to fashion what could be categorized as camp, cultural appropriation or classic sexual objectification.  Until Minaj, I’ve managed to safely maneuver around mainstream new millennium starlets because they offered no more than a cookie-cutter replica of the unique hip hop dynamism I remembered.  (See the links to artists below.) Likened to Lady Gaga for her eye-catching performances, this former theater student is adept at staging media spectacles, such as autographing breasts, adopting different voices, and orchestrating a coming-out tweet to squash rumors about her bisexuality for those who might have misread the Remy Ma viral video confession from her masculine persona, Roman, as Nicki Minaj. You can call the latter a cop-out or a capitulation to a commercial model that demands that all women perform hyperfemininity period. As I enter Nicki’s world (slowly and with caution), I am not only considering the ways she uses her body, but I am thinking of three ways her performances of race, gender and sexuality instigate a feminist engagement with the popular.

1.  Beauty and Postfeminism

Postfeminism advertises the sexy, smart, economically successful self-absorbed it-girl from a post-patriarchal world where politics are defined by “style wars” rather than issues of gender inequity. Here, beauty and postfeminism seem to be disconnected from critiques of consumerism, gendered labor, or political citizenship.  On the one hand, the look-good-feel-fine empowerment that Minaj offers feels as lifeless as the dolls she suggests every girl wants to be—you know, the nonspeaking, decorative, plastic bodies to be handled and watched. Then again, I can imagine her Barbie thang as her way of injecting a sense of beauty and wonderment for homegirls, like herself, who’ve had to create other worlds to escape the ugly one they lived every day. In either case, Minaj has managed to capture the attention of young women—hook, line and stiletto.

2. The Lady and The Freak

In what could be described as a post-Tip Drill moment where folks are “manning” the line to distinguish the ladies from the freaks, Nicki Minaj is not the only one who is creating personas to perform otherness. As Roman Zolanski she can express desire for another woman, and as Harajuku Barbie she can perform a sexualized Asian girlhood without damaging the central “brand” or image. Beyoncé is another celebrity with a freak persona. In big hair and tall heels, Sasha Fierce does Beyoncé’s “dirty work.” Both entertainers talk about a sense of freedom—which is almost always connected to sexual freedom.  Celebrity aside, ordinary young women on and off screen are crafting “real” and alternate/virtual identities as a response to the increased policing of their bodies through this hip hop binary. Rather than marking public/private bodies, young women like Minaj are now describing their “real” good bodies and their fake freakish ones. In our sincere efforts to “free the girls,” it is possible we might have caged our “real” sexual selves.

3. Camp, Celebration or Cultural Appropriation

From her Anime-inspired Vibe magazine cover, her Harajuku Barbie persona, to her recent music video, Your Love, where she plays a geisha girl (among others), Minaj reprises dated stereotypes about Asian women that suggest desirability comes in part from submissiveness or obedience.  Costuming conceals and reveals her body, and both frame her as the exotic; the hand gestures she does in separate scenes either to seduce her lover or to fight her foe are grafted from other forms of popular culture depicting Asianness. I can remember the debut of the Harajuku Girls shadowing Gwen Stefani at a music awards show. Then, folks flipped about a white woman co-opting Asian culture and parading other women (as objects of her imagination).  Yet, as Minaj mines the visual landscape to reinvent herself, her Afroasian encounters – whether camp, celebration, or cultural appropriation – remain unchallenged.

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All the Single Ladies… are 7

16 May

I don’t really watch mainstream news so it took a friend to bring the 7 year old single ladies to my attention. Have you heard? A pack of surprisingly skilled Orange County 7-9 year olds shaking what they don’t have to Beyonce’s unrelenting anthem Single Ladies at a dance competition went viral on the interwebs.

CNN, ABC, MTV, E!, have all been talking about how far is too far as they play the video of the girls in nearly nothing on a loop, in between reporting on Miley Cyrus’ lecherous lap dance, the latest drama on The Hills, Teen Cribs, and commercials for age defying skin cream. Not to mention, one too many bloggers said the routine made them feel dirty and uncomfortable. Needless to say, not one of these entities takes any responsibility for contributing to our youth and sex obsessed culture, nor the inevitable merger of these two larger than life forces in media. Can we really feign surprise at the hypersexualization of seven year olds when just a few years later they are used to sell any and everything in ads and on runways around the world?

Bey’s video is pretty tame compared to what some (white) choreographer taught these white girls to do. Her video is built on the 1960’s Bob Fosse choreographed, Gwen Verdon danced Mexican Breakfast; middle aged white women prancing around a studio does not exactly equal risque. The parents claim that Sasha is just too fierce for their girls and that they got the moves from Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel. You be the judge (I’m giving serious side eye to the parents). And how is it possible that Bey & Co’s outfits are less revealing than the 7 year olds? Which soccer mom stitched those costumes together? And if perhaps in their lust for a trophy, in their craze for victory, they hired a black choreographer or had a brown person sew those tiny nymphet outfits by hand, its still connected to the white privilege of parents who employ people of color to sex up their seven year olds.

I mean lets be honest, part of the reason white folks are upset is because its white girls killing those suggestive dance moves. I did some youtube research and found numerous videos of little black and brown girls doing their best to put a ring on it but none of them quite compare to the tour de force that is this routine. They didn’t invoke a public outrage or garner CNN coverage.  When a group of equally young brown boys and girls, spurred on by cheering adults,  do some dancing of their own it didn’t make the evening news. So why is the nation up and arms suddenly about children being sexualized? It begs the question, whose children?

This pattern is visible with more serious things like missing children, childhood sexual abuse and child murders. White children are eagerly searched for and black children may not even make the evening news. This disparity in dance however has been marked by other bloggers before without interest from mainstream media.

In addition to the way whiteness is operating in this story, the technical skill of the girls is part of the reason this story has captured the national imagination. Little kids trying to do grown up things is one thing but little girls successful execution of straight up stripper dance moves is something else.

Unlike their brown and black contemporaries on youtube, little Jamie and Allison aren’t doing it for love, they have to win. In an age where upper and middle class helicopter parents are paying Olympic coaches to train their children in team sports, a 7 year old’s reproduction of Annie at the school talent show just doesn’t cut it. If winning means more sex in the routine, fewer clothes, no mistakes, parents are willing to teach their kids to do whatever it takes to make it happen. Good to know you’ve got them learning the important life lessons so early; win at all costs.

I think what one of the father’s says is true. I think the girls don’t know what they are doing, aren’t particularly clear on how their dance moves are being interpreted by the masses. I think they are having fun, excited that they can mimic the movements of adult women. Unfortunately, in this world we live in, its really hard for their accomplishments to be celebrated because of how their movements and outfits are so sexualized.

But I’m not surprised. American culture sexualizes children just as it infantilizes women every day. Bieber Fever is professed by women of all ages, male bloggers created a countdown clock to when the Olsen Twins turned 18, and as soon as girls get body hair they are learning how to remove it. We say we don’t want children to be sexualized too early but we allow advertisers and media to use sex to sell EVERYTHING and then act shocked when children pick it up or parents use sex to give their kids a competitive edge in a dance competition.

This has everything to do with consumption. Who is consuming these 7 year old sexualized bodies and for what ends? We say we don’t want our kids sexualized but we love to tease pre-schoolers about having boyfriends and girlfriends when they can barely talk, we make bikinis for babies, sexify children’s cartoon characters and yet we still refuse to talk to our children about sex. All of this and we still feed children the myth that sexual predators are out there somewhere and not in our neighborhoods, intimate relationships, and families. All of this as we pretend that people who abuse children are “sick individuals” as opposed to people we know shaped by the world we created. All of this and we teach children that its their responsibility to defend themselves from “bad touches” from strangers as we dangle sexuality in their faces, or have them dance in ways that are overtly sexual. All of this and we have the audacity to pretend that none of it is connected.

What will it take for us as a society to say that we care more about people than profits? Children than competition? Where will we draw the line and begin the serious work of examining culture and the way it informs the way we behave?

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