Is Beyonce a feminist?

This excellent article says yes, she is, and a big one at that. In fact, the feminist Ms. Magazine chose her for their cover this month.

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Others, however, have disagreed with what’s being called her “fierce feminism,” and it’s worth recapping some of the rather loose ends in the discussion of what, exactly, a feminist role model looks like. How does she act? What does she stand for? And is it enough for her to call herself feminist?

First off, it’s important to note that few famous women call themselves “feminists.” If asked about it, they usually say something along the lines of this, via Taylor Swift:

“I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”

Pretty neutral and meh, right? Other women feel the need to flat out reject the label, as Katy Perry did when she–wait for it–accepted her 2012 Woman of the Year award from Billboard:

“I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.”

Hmmm. Okay.

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But in an interview with Vogue UK, Beyonce had this to say about the term:

“That word can be very extreme…But I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything? I’m just a woman and I love being a woman.”

So, better. Although I’m not sure about the “modern-day” qualifier. As opposed to what, a 19th century first-wave feminist? A 1970s second waver? I’m certainly not looking to be described as an old, antiquated somewhat stale feminist. I guess it frustrates me that women feel like they have to dance around the issue.

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But, perhaps this hesitance is to be expected, because as soon as Beyonce sort of agreed to the whole feminist thing, she received flak for it. According to the Salon article, several feminists had some on-point things to say about the image of her sexuality:

Freeman insists flashes of underboob and feminist critique don’t mix. Petersen concurs, calling the thigh-baring, lace-meets-leather outfit Beyoncé wore during her Super Bowl XLVII halftime show an “outfit that basically taught my lesson on the way that the male gaze objectifies and fetishizes the otherwise powerful female body.” A commenter on Jezebel summed up the charge: “That’s pretty much the Beyoncé contradiction right there. Lip service for female fans, fan service for the guys.”

But there is, of course, the very third-wave argument for Beyonce’s display of sexuality as a symbol of her empowerment. After all, Beyonce faces the same challenge that all women do: we must find success in terms of a deeply patriarchal world. We just have to decide and define our own terms.

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It’s kind of like a game, and if Beyonce’s success and self-confidence tells us anything, there is more than one way to win.

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I’m waiting for Wonder Woman

For the last few years, movies about superheros have dominated the big screen. Spiderman, Batman, Thor, Ironman…the list goes on. Classic Marvel and DC comic-book figures have been transformed into larger than life fan obsessions. This summer, the trend continues with new movies about Superman (Man of Steel) and Wolverine (The Wolverine). The trailers look good, and I’m looking forward to seeing them. Still, I have to wonder: When are we going to see an awesome movie about a superheroine?

So far, superheroines have appeared as side acts in otherwise all-male ensembles. Think of Storm in X-Men or Natasha Romanoff in The Avengers.  A little ironically, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, and Cameron Diaz had more screen time, character development, and dialogue in the Charlie’s Angels trilogy than either of Halle Berry’s or Scarlett Johansson’s roles. And then there was Berry’s Catwoman…sigh. I’m tired of seeing superheorines as an afterthought or even worse, as a joke.

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Last year I wrote an article about the fantastic PBS documentary Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines. It traces the history of Wonder Woman, the Amazonian Princess Diana, since her creation in the 1940’s. The documentary is most moving in its exploration of what Wonder Woman actually means to young women. She stands for compassion, justice, even love. She is strong yet kind.  She is powerful yet fair. And most importantly, she “keeps going,” no matter what. She’s a superheroine, but the best, most admirable parts of her character feel real.

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Done right, a Wonder Woman epic could mean the next superhero/ine blockbuster for the the film industry. But for women it would mean much more.