by Amalia Judith Nickel
As we at Team Heartbreak have partnered with Battered Women’s Support Services for the Create Your Own school series, in which students learn about dating violence alongside song writing, video production and branding, my feminism has been challenged in a big way. Not only that, but the brands of feminism that I see in the mainstream media have started to appear as apparitions, thinly veiled spring-traps that lure me in and then glue me to a social construct that I never wanted to be a part of.
Here’s what happened. I watched the Beyonce documentary. It was a girls night – the plan was nachos, brownies and some fluffy movies. The movie ended up hitting my guts harder than the cheese and the chocolate combined, and left me with a sleepless night during which my thought cycles pointed to something my instincts were trying to tell me, but I wasn’t sure what that message was.
Through the process of presenting Beyonce as a “real person” that struggles in relationships, has vulnerabilities and wrestles with daddy issues that no amount of private jets can really make up for, she is also presented as a feminist of sorts. This is what she says as the film builds her up a strong, rebellious woman who’s not afraid to take charge: “Women have to work so much harder to make it in this world. It really pisses me off that women don’t get the same opportunities men do. Or money, for that matter. Money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define our values and to define what’s sexy and what’s feminine – and that’s bullsh*t,”
When she said this, my heart soared. Finally! I thought. Things are changing – women can be beautiful and sexy and in charge and they can be mothers and wives and businesswomen all in one! It was as though clouds had parted and I saw the shift that we – as women – have been waiting for. The appreciation of care ethics and the acceptance of a strength that come from within and doesn’t involve intimidation, the space for babies and dancing all at one.
But as my brain felt an intellectual triumph, my gut had something else to tell me. It started whispering to the most silent parts of my heart – what are the values that are actually being espoused by her actions? Words are easy to say, and goodness only knows who actually scripted this documentary, but what was Beyonce teaching me about my role as a woman?
Despite her assertion in re-defining sexy, her tiny clothes and stripperesque dance moves as part of her live show did not show any kind of redefinition, only an enforcement of what men have found to be sexy. Okay, I thought, fair enough. If that’s sexy to her, then she’s speaking her truth. Next item: money. Being filthy rich, Beyonce now has, according to her on words, the power to define our values. So what are her values and in which way is she helping share and shape those values in society? Well, I can’t really say for sure. She talks about hardships in her own life, including a tragic miscarriage and a heart-stopping song that came from that pain, so I can only assume that her values include self-expression. She continues to live a busy lifestyle on a cushion of comfort, so I suppose having money and spending it on luxury might be one of those values. But overall, I did not feel that anything new was said – my initial hope that our society finding a more healthy balance of motherhood and business, which is a common struggle for the ambitious woman who want s a family, was not really addressed.
When one can afford to shut down an entire wing of a hospital in order to give birth privately, it’s hard for me to understand what the overarching message might be for all those mothers who give up their dreams, or who work all day then come home to clean the house and take care of the children all night, or whose children rarely see them because they’re struggling to make ends meet.
So what are you actually telling us, Beyonce, besides a bunch of empty, pretty words? That you can do business and follow the same business model that a man does? That you can present yourself as a Barbie doll but be revolutionary at the same time? That singing a song about how girls run the world (which they really don’t, unfortunately) makes you a feminist? And who wins if I, as an intelligent, strong and ambitious female who yearns to be both sexy and taken seriously, decide to get on board with your movement? If I buy your album and dress like you and follow your tweets who really wins? Me? You? Corporations?
The answer is that I honestly don’t know. But when I walk into the Create Your Own classroom and see a bunch of 15-year-old girls who want to sing, dance, design and invent something beautiful, I worry about where that path will lead them if they can’t distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t. If they aren’t able to ask the questions about why they like, what they like, what they believe, or act how they act, what lures will cause them to stray?
A night of fitful tears brought me no closer to an answer, but it did teach me one thing: my intuition must be honored. As a woman it is perhaps the most sacred part of me and I must listen to it. Only through its wisdom can I be guided on a path of true feminism, one that tells my own truth and not anyone else’s. And it’s not for sale.
For further information about the Create Your Own school series, please visit: