On Tuesday, The New School hosted a conversation between bell hooks, Marci Blackman, Shola Lynch, and Janet Mock, titled “Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body.” The conversation explored representations and images of women of colour in the media.

bell hooks was one of my earliest influences. Every time a woman — young or old — asks me for a solid place to start, I recommend hooks. I’m just so grateful for her. The whole conversation is very insightful and I recommend you watch it in its entirety.


In the early part of the conversation, hooks talks a lot about Twelve Years a Slave, which she said, on the Melissa Harris-Perry show, was “sentimental claptrap.” I haven’t actually see the film, so I can’t speak to it directly, but hooks apparently experienced a lot of backlash over her critiques because so many people enjoyed the film. She responds, saying: “As a black woman, when I see images like myself, abused, beaten, raped, tortured… I don’t feel entertained… If I never see another naked, enslaved, raped black woman onscreen as long as I live, I’ll be happy.”

Thank the lord for bell hooks. This is what I’ve said many times about rape scenes in film and television and is why I stopped watching, for example, Game of Thrones last year. I don’t need to see any more raped, abused, objectified, sexualized, brutalized women. I have seen enough. Though there certainly are defensible reasons to include depictions of gendered violence on screen, at times, and I have seen scenes of rape and other forms of male violence done in a way that is critical and do not sexualize or normalize it (I think the scene in Mad Men when Joan is raped by her fiancee is a good example of this), the vast majority of this imagery is gratuitous and sexualized.

It’s worth noting that hooks has been critical of sadomasochism (which has its roots in colonialism, slavery, and gendered violence such as witch hunts) — something that has become untouchable in terms of feminist critique because people feel “judged” (sadface). She says: “Imagine Twelve Years a Slave without Patsy. Because it’s her whole sexualization and the S&M cruelty that she endures from white males and females — all of it gives a certain ‘spice’ to the film”  and then asks whether “we have to have the black female, dehumanized, tortured, raped, enslaved, in order to have our entertainment?”

And of course, we as a culture seem to think we do need this in order to be entertained. We need our porn, we need our naked, exploitable, fuckable female bodies, we need our rape fantasies and our S&M. We deserve whatever it is we desire. Our culture is one of selfish individualism, greed, excess, and anything goes if it makes us feel good; all of which we’ve seen bleed into feminism and stifle and silence critical thought and women’s voices.

hooks says she asked Janet Mock if glamour was a source of power, and Mock responded “yes,” immediately. Mock explains that, to wear makeup and heels, to “pretty [herself] up,” to “claim [her] body” and to “prettify” it in the way she wants, constitutes power. Mock sees it as claiming space. As claiming power. “This little space is mine,” she says, referring to her body. “I will do it for myself. Not for the pleasure of or for the gaze of a man.” Does she gaze at herself, I wonder? Through whose eyes? Where did these images of glamour and female beauty come from?

I do understand this in a way. I like to dress up too sometimes. I wear makeup. I’ve started painting my nails again after an almost fifteen year hiatus. I do enjoy certain parts of those rituals. But what any of that has to do with “power,” I don’t know. Certainly my nails are not what give me or will ever give me “power.” Whatever “power” “glamour” bestows upon Janet Mock is a kind of selfish “power” that may grant her access to spaces she wouldn’t otherwise have access to or at least make her feel more comfortable or accepted in this world as a transwoman, but it isn’t a kind of power that will extend to anyone but herself and I don’t believe it’s the kind of “power” we should be teaching girls and women to strive for — to tell them that crippling themselves in heels and getting a ton of cosmetic surgery will give them “power.” It’s conformity, not power. It may be “fun” conformity, but it’s still conformity in that it challenges and changes nothing about women’s status or systemic power and oppression.

Which brings us to Beyonce.

I will preface this by saying that I think Beyonce is an amazing entertainer. Drunk in Love is one of the best tracks of 2013 and is one of the few that will get my lazy ass off of the bar stool and grinding on the dance floor (DON’T JUDGE ME. Kidding, you can judge me…). But as we’ve discussed numerous times on this site, just because you like it doesn’t make it feminist. My enjoyment of Beyonce doesn’t interfere with my ability to understand what feminism is and what it is not.

hooks, in looking critically at Beyonce’s recent Time cover image, describes her as looking like a “deer in headlights” and in her (very girlish) underwear. She says: “isn’t this interesting — that she’s being held up as one of the most important people, in our nation, in the world… What does that say about the black female body?”

It’s clear many would prefer to look away from the image and from what Beyonce represents. Or theorize it into something other than what it is. (“A little girl we can lust after,” hooks says, pointedly. “A little girl who could be Woody Allen’s daughter who can be taken up into the attic and sexually abused, with people witnessing from a distance but taking no action on her behalf.”) Lynch quite literally says she doesn’t want to look at it, but would rather “shift [her] gaze” towards the “people and places that feed [her].” Third wave feminism taught us to look for agency rather than victimization, which has merely provided us with blinders and an academic language with which we can lie to ourselves about women’s realities.

But how can we look away from Beyonce? Especially when we are being told, now, that she represents female empowerment? That she is a feminist icon? All the while objectified and sexualized and, really, is more representative of capitalist patriarchy than anything else?

hooks describes these efforts: “Let’s take the image of this super rich, very powerful black female, and let’s use it in the service of imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.”

Despite all Beyonce’s “power” she still, hooks points out, didn’t likely have much control over that cover.

Mock protests, claiming that Beyonce chose the image. Which, I don’t know… almost makes it worse…

What we’re witnessing in this conversation is significant of almost every debate and struggle happening in feminism right now. The “she has agency therefore she is empowered and what she is doing is empowering” argument versus the “choice doesn’t equal empowerment” argument. It’s the delusions of neoliberalism, individualism and the self-help movement versus radical struggles against colonialist, capitalist patriarchy.

“What you’re saying,” hooks responds, “is that she’s colluding in the construction of herself as a slave. It’s not a liberatory image.”

This point is countered with the “reclaiming” argument. Similar to the one we are met with every time we critique Slutwalk or burlesque or Femen or selfie self-objectification. “We’re taking back ‘slut,'” they tell us. Or boobs. Or whatever.

Women are now empowered by everything they do, as The Onion would say.

hooks, of course doesn’t let anyone get away with this. “I think that’s fantasy,” she says to Blackman. “I think it’s a fantasy that we can recoup the violating image and use it…”

hooks says this is exactly what Audre Lorde meant by her famous phrase, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

“You are not going to destroy this imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy by creating your own version of it,” hooks says. “Even if it serves you to make lots and lots of money.”

Let’s hear that one again.

“You are not going to destroy this imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy by creating your own version of it.”

hooks also points out that it’s unlikely we would be so fascinated with Beyonce if she weren’t so rich and says that we cannot separate her class power and her wealth from people’s fascination with her.

“There’s a price for decolonization,” hooks says. “You’re not going to have your wealth.”

“Part of what has to happen if we are going to be free is that we have to create our own standards.” Which is to say that we need new imagery and new ideas about gender and power — not just the same ones, repackaged in order to make us feel better.

At the end of the day, hooks points out that most of us do not want to be oppressed but that people will sometimes remain enslaved because “it’s just simply easier.”

No matter how much you enjoy (or claim to enjoy) your own oppression, that enjoyment or those temporary, personal feelings of power or pleasure will not free us either as individuals or as a culture.

To hear someone say in the public realm that Beyonce is “anti-feminist,” as hooks does, going on to say that there is a part of her that functions “as a terrorist — especially in terms of the impact on young girls” is quite exciting. I mean, it’s clear, but few will say it… When “the major assault on feminism has come from visual media,” as hooks says, how can we ignore the imagery Beyonce is putting out there? How can we look away from that and call her wealth, combined with her sexual objectification, empowering? Or feminist?

hooks manages to stay radical and bring forth unpopular and challenging arguments though she must experience enormous pushback. What say you, liberals? Are you listening?

Who here has the balls to tell bell hooks that she’s wrong?

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Morgan

    *rapturous applause*

    I really don’t know what else there is to say, hooks tells it so well.

  • Kate

    Awesome! Thank you so much for speaking about this. I had a realization this morning when my friend told me about this panel – that a huge part of Beyoné’s current image hinges on her being confident and unabashedly sexual, but only in the confines of her marriage. She’s a master image crafter, so there might be stuff we don’t know about, but neither my friend nor I could think of another person she’s been publicly romantically involved with besides Jay-Z. And when they were together but unmarried she definitely wasn’t singing about all-night kitchen sex with him. This is your standard male virgin-whore fantasy, right? Beyoncé (or rather, the “Beyoncé” character she plays in her songs) is a smoking hot nymphomaniac who’s only had sex with one guy. And yes, that’s damaging to young women who look up to her. Like you I think she’s a solid gold entertainer, but she gleefully embodies all the impossible standards that keep us all down.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Toootally. Good point (re: the virgin-whore fantasy and the way she talking about sex and sexuality before and after her marriage).

    • Jennifer “Renee” Bernard

      absolutely! Excellent points. She makes all the men want her and leaves all the husbands asking “where’s my beyonce? The freak in the bed, but don’t sleep around. The porn star faithful wife who knows how to keep her man “happy”…..such trash.

  • Jennifer “Renee” Bernard

    “No matter how much you enjoy (or claim to enjoy) your own oppression, that enjoyment or those temporary, individual feelings of power or pleasure will not free us either as individuals or as a culture.”

    This is a concept that people ignore and/or blatantly deny…..voluntary oppression. I would like to share the following excerpt from Roksana Alavi dissertation that reads:

    “……the fact that there is so little social mobility between classes in our society is itself a sign that either people have accepted their positions or that the society is set up so that it is extremely difficult for people to
    make dramatic changes in their lives from the lives of their parents. Rich stay rich and
    the poor stay poor. The upshot is that oppression is much more subtle than we once thought. It is
    “civilized”, as Jean Harvey puts it. Civilized oppression “involves neither physical violence nor the use of law. Yet these subtle forms are by far the most prevalent in Western industrialized societies.” In order to better understand our society, we ought to have the theoretical framework by which we can recognize all kinds of
    oppression, including those that are not prima facie categorized as such, and those that do not have any one specific oppressor. We might find that most of us participate in oppression of others or ourselves in ways that are quite harmful to them or us. Perhaps this identification would help in ending the attitudes that cause them” (2008).

    For Complete Work See the Link Below:

    Thanks for writing yet another great blog, Meghan!

  • morag

    Of course Mock thinks femininity is empowering, he’s a man who supports childhood prostitution. The only reason anyone listens to him is b/c he’s a “hot transwoman” but he has no business discussing feminism. He really shouldn’t be allowed near any women’s discussion group period.

    • None of your business

      It’s one thing for you to not agree with Mock’s stances of how femininity is empowering. However, why must you misgender Mock herself? She does very much has a place in women’s group discussion as a trans woman. Just because she was assigned male at birth does not mean that she doesn’t understand what is like to be a woman who experiences sexism later on in her life.

      No offence to you, but I think you are feeding into this simplistic definition of what a “real” woman ought to be. I mean aren’t we still feeding into this whole notion of what a woman ought to be based on what these biologists classify as “female”? You know with the whole vagina=woman and penis=men.

      • morag

        I have no obligation to call a man who likes to uphold femininity as a natural part of womanhood and who thinks child prostitution is empowering “she.” The only reason he’s given a voice in feminism at all is because he transformed himself into the perfect patriarchal idea of a woman. Meaning that dudebros want to fuck him and he can keep those ugly feminists in line. And no, he will NEVER understand what it’s like to be a woman because no amount of surgery or voice lessons can be a substitute for female socialization from birth.

        With all due respect, I think your idea that biology is somehow wrong is a bigger problem than my refusal to capitulate to a man once again asserting his male privilege over females.

        • Flux and Virtue

          Thank you, Morag!

      • “Just because she was assigned male at birth does not mean that she doesn’t understand what is like to be a woman who experiences sexism later on in her life.”

        But for people born physically female, sexism is not something that just happens “later in life”. The gender indoctrination process basically begins from birth. Vagina-ed babies are treated differently to penis-ed babies. Vagina-ed children are treated very differently to penis-ed children (take a look through the toy section of a department store if you don’t believe me.) Contrary to liberal belief, we’re not born with a “true self” that floats around inside us from the moment we’re born. We become who we are as a result of our experiences. While genes may play a role in influencing one’s personality, it is simplistic to suggest that people are “born with” certain personality traits, they have to develop them.

        “No offence to you, but I think you are feeding into this simplistic definition of what a “real” woman ought to be.”

        She’s not saying anything about how women ought to be, she’s describing what they are. She’s not recommending that anyone get sex change surgery (radical feminists are usually against that.)

        “I mean aren’t we still feeding into this whole notion of what a woman ought to be based on what these biologists classify as “female”? You know with the whole vagina=woman and penis=men.”

        What’s so wrong with that definition? It helps us understand reproduction, that’s why biologists use it. But I do think that our society places too much emphasis on what kind of reproductive system a person has and thus indoctrinates people into social roles based on their reproductive system and this indoctrination has a real effect on people’s pyschologies that need to be considered. If this indoctrination did not occur it would not matter much which kind of reproductive organs one had. But it does occur, so we can’t simply ignore which reproductive organs a person was born with.

        What I want to know is, what is the trans movement’s definition of the word “woman”? The only alternative to “woman=person with vagina” which I know of is “woman=gentle, dependent, other-pleasing, prettiness-focussed person”. I think the latter definition is way more prescriptive than the former (not to mention, way more likely to contribute to a world in which people with penises rule over those with vaginas.) The trans movement sometimes says “woman=person who claims to be a woman” but you can’t put the word you’re defining (in this case “woman”) in your definition, that makes the definition meaningless.

        So what exactly is a “woman”, according to the trans movement? And why is it important to acknowledge someone’s womanhood?

        • And what about those babies born that grow into small children and know they do not fit into any of society’s constructs. Small children can know they are different, no one is dissing what it is like for a girl, but what about the child that has no clue to why they feel different, not fitting in with girls, and certainly not fitting in with boys. The limbo children, even alienated from (often) their own family…peers. This is NOT a competition of suffering, you write of what girls go through, (no argument from me), yet deny empathy, understanding for the limbo, intersex children. This is cruelty at it’s highest and I urge you to re-think. That is all I have to say apart from do you also have any grasp or understand sex and gender research

          • morag

            There are plenty of blogs run by intersex people expressing their dislike of transgender people appropriating their struggles and lumping them together in one movement. And why is it always women who say NO to men that are examples of “cruelty at it’s (sic) highest” and not all those lovely intersex appropriating gender fanatics threatening to rape women with chainsaws on radical feminist blogs? I am not some weak nurturing earth mommy nursemaid who will beg for forgiveness for my politics just because some man whines about how mean I am.

          • “This is cruelty at it’s highest and I urge you to re-think.”

            I’m not sure who you’re talking about/to here, but I fail to see how posting a comment which contains no threats of violence whatsoever can be an example of “cruelty at it’s highest”. This is an even stronger accusation than calling someone a “terrorist”. I suggest you familiarise yourself with history, which is full of actual examples of “cruelty at its highest”.

            Also, the book chapters you endorsed (in your link) appear to be about how babies’ genitals should not be surgerically altered for non-health related reasons. What would you think that radical feminists who are critical of sex change surgeries performed on adults would support the same type of surgery being performed on babies?

      • Missfit

        Well yes, people with vaginas are women and people with penises are men. What other criteria would you use to classify who are men and who are women? The notion of what a ‘real’ woman ought to be is used by patriarchy to enforce femininity on women.

    • ghosts

      Actually that kind of view of transpeople/women has strong roots in colonial imperialist notions of sex/gender that led to the brutal killings of gender nonconforming people and transpeople for the past 500 years or so. Deciding who gets to even talk about feminism is a tricky position in the first place if you’re taking about categories of people, especially when feminism has come to represent white western ideals of the female.

      • The fuck are you talking about. There was no
        “view of transgender people” in the original post.

        As far as I know, the only imperialist ideology here is trans advocacy, which seeks to erase the third genders of the world to stuff them all under their umbrella.

  • bell hooks is WRONG! Believe me when I tell you… I have loved her for all of my adult life. But she is wrong here. I have loved bell hooks for the better part of my womanhood… she is wrong in this regard. I think being an assassin of women and their choices is anti-feminism. I don’t like using strong words like terrorism when terrorism is not in play. Stealing those girls from school in Nigeria is TERRORISM. Beyonce is not a terrorist. Ms. hooks is wrong to brand Mrs. carter that way. Beyonce is good at the game that was handed to her to play. She is comfortable in her skin… isn’t that what we all want. She is a leader in her industry… isn’t that what we want? For me feminism allows me to define how I define my feminism. Feel me? Yes, I know more was said other than Beyonce is a terrorist. And I can roll past this. What I can’t do and won’t do is allow any other woman to tell me how to define myself. How to make money, how to be Black, how to be sexy, how to be anything. So with all due respect and sincerity… Ms. hooks does not speak to me or for me. And from where I stand she ain’t listening to me either.

    • Morgan

      “For me feminism allows me to define how I define my feminism.”

      Feminism is not whatever you want feminism to be. Feminism is for the liberation of women. Women are not liberated when they’re playing into the fantasies of their oppressors (ie. men).

      Way to go, third wavers.

    • Lo

      Do you realize you’re saying that hooks is an oppressor?
      When are you people going to stop blaming women? Especially feminist ones?
      I mean it sounds so childish and ridiculous. And yet, you don’t even have any arguments besides calling her ”assassin of women/choices/”. And come on, you know that hooks didn’t mean ”terrorist” litteraly.

      If feminism exists, it is because there are oppressions, and don’t start with the ”radfem are oppressors too”. If you’re fine with oppressions, call it whatever you want, and I’m not blaming you if you don’t see any oppressions around you, but this just can’t be feminism.

      About Beyoncé being comfortable in her skin, doesn’t she have a tigh gap now?
      And not a natural one imo. As every women she has no choice but to follow what patriarchy says to exist (how women should look and behave, and Beyoncé, the singer, plays the role of the perfect faithful and hot wife/mother/maso porn star who will do anything to please her man, and there is nothing incredible about that, all female singers do this, and this since a very long time. I don’t understand why when it comes to Bey, everything she does is suddenly feminist and a good example for black women. But whatevs.).
      The worse is that now she’s a Role model and a feminist for many many women who take her as an example…

      ”feminism is what I say it is”, this doesn’t even make any sense. Sigh.

    • “I think being an assassin of women and their choices is anti-feminism. I don’t like using strong words like terrorism when terrorism is not in play.”

      But you don’t mind accusing her of assissination? LOL, the irony.

      “Beyonce is good at the game that was handed to her to play. She is comfortable in her skin… isn’t that what we all want. She is a leader in her industry… isn’t that what we want?”

      Who’s “we”? Radical feminists want an end to the “game” and I want all industries to be lead by those who work for them and who’s lives are thus most effected by them. Beyonce’s not the leader in her industry. She may have a lot of money, but as far as I know she’s not the owner of any media companies, she’s just a figurehead. Even if she did own a part of the industry, feminism is about the liberation of women as a whole, not the advancement of a single woman. Worshiping successful people is not feminist, it’s just a way of buying into the pro-capitalist, “American Dream” nonsense that the culture is constantly shoving down poor people’s throats.

      Speaking of individualism, Beyonce is comfortable in her skin because her skin’s smooth, hairless and acne-free (at least that’s how it’s represented on screen.) We’d all be “comfortable in our skins” if we looked (or were represented) like that. Her “comfort” comes at the expense of black women who don’t look like her. The only way women could all feel comfortable with their bodies is if society stopped focusing on women’s appearances and music videos like Beyonce’s encourage people (both men and women) to focus on women’s appearances.

      Let’s look at the facts shall we. Since the 1970s, images of “sexy” female butts and boobs have become increasing common in the culture, meanwhile female self-esteem has declined during that same time period. Body image is typically thought of as a teenage girl problem, but when I was a kid (which was not that long ago) girls started hating their bodies when they were 10 and 11. Nowadays around 42% of girls aged 6 – 8 think they’re fat, ugly pigs (I got that fact from one of Laci Green’s liberal feminist videos by the way.) Face it liberals, your “sexy” solution doesn’t work. Our society keeps shoving butts, boobs, pornography and “sexiness” in girls and women’s faces and the problems you claim to want to fix just get worse. Even if I grant that “sexiness” is not the cause of the problem, it sure as hell isn’t fixing it. If pornography and sex-positivity were the key to liberating women and ending body hate, body hate would have been ended by now. I think it’s about time the liberals stepped down and gave “old, outdated” radical feminism a chance.

    • lizor

      “Beyonce is good at the game that was handed to her to play. She is comfortable in her skin… isn’t that what we all want. She is a leader in her industry… isn’t that what we want?”

      1) How do you know how Beyonce feels in her skin? (Hint: you have no clue)

      2) Where do you get the idea that being a leader in an industry that reinforces the status quo is what we want? (Hint: “we” don’t)

      Do you even understand the Audre Lorde quote? Did you somehow manage to skip over this statement, which was repeated for emphasis: “You are not going to destroy this imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy by creating your own version of it.”

      You specifically define women as a group that you disallow to “tell you how to define yourself”. Your statement begs the question whether you allow men to do that – and your defence of Beyonce infers that dudes defining you is hunky dory, given that this is EXACTLY what Beyonce The Consumer Product is: a conformist commodity defined by and for men.

  • Another brilliant post, thanks Meghan!

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks Davina!

  • sharon

    a refreshing, insightful and downright brilliant post! thank you…

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks Sharon!

  • anonymous

    Well, Gawker and Jezebel have ‘the balls’ to tell bell hooks she’s wrong. The condescending tone of these articles is atrocious. They reek of sexism/racism/ageism.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Egads! “Older feminists don’t always see feminism in the same way as the generations after them — that’s why we have the “waves.”



      • relieved

        Another popular one is “you’re white that’s why you’re bashing bey.”


    • Morgan

      Ahh, yes, if she doesn’t agree with you, it must be because she’s old. And if she’s old, then she’s clearly irrelevant, and her opinions can be ignored/discarded.

      Oh wait, pretty sure that’s how patriarchy has treated older women for literally all of time.

      Way to go, thirdwavers.

      • Tigermilk

        It seems to me like some of the labels attributed to those who espouse second-wave ideology are infused with ageism as well as sexism. Specifically those labels with sexual connotations – “sex-negative.” Given that societal “beauty” ideals bleed into expectations about sexual attitudes and behaviours, and that youth has been made central to such ideals, one cannot help but recognise that as one gravitates away from youth the more one is seen as a desexualised being. Just from the way I’ve observed reactions to the notion of sexuality among older generations (specifically older women), I think many people have trouble understanding sexuality when it *isn’t* centred around the eroticisation of youth. Without youth it is either ignored, reviled, or derided. In fact, *most* of the times I have observed people exhibiting enthusiasm about older women’s sexuality is when it is connected to an age/social role fetishism.

        If you are a younger woman and you reject the sexual tenets of your time, there is definitely the pervading sense that you are “wasting potential” and are in some way deficient (in your mind, more often than not) because you don’t see how fun and freeing all this third-wave stuff is.

      • Please forgive this derail, but this has been making me crazy-go-nuts for some time now: It hasn’t been “for literally all of time.” It has been only since the creation of patriarchy, which began towards the end of the Neolithic Era, therefore has existed for only a tiny fraction of human existence (see Gerda Lerner’s “The Creation of Patriarchy”).

        To say patriarchy has existed since the beginning of time itself is to imply it is the natural and inherent state of the human condition, when it is actually the exact opposite. It makes the quest to end patriarchy seemingly impossible and erases tens of thousands of years of the history of women, which has been hard enough to dig up having been literally buried by men.

        It empowers patriarchy even more than it already is, hiding the fact that it is merely a system that had a beginning, therefore, it can have an end. This old woman knows in her bones it hasn’t always been this way and that there will come a time when the entirety of the patriarchal era will be known as The Dark Age. That is, if life on Earth survives it as men are hell bent on destroying everything they can’t control and now have the means to rapidly do so.

        Again, sorry for the interruption, but this is a crucial shift in thinking that needs to be made.

        • Morgan

          mmmariguana, no worries, you want to be factual (as much as is possible) and that’s good. “…for literally all of time” was intended as a ridiculous expression to counter the ridiculousness of the commenter’s argument. Further to that point, humans did not even exist when time started, so I think most people get it.

          • You’re right, Morgan, most people here on Feminist Current would get it. I should have kept in mind that I’m not reading NYTimes comments (why do I do that to myself?) or some other malestream media site so willfully ignorant and proud of it.

        • “That is, if life on Earth survives it as men are hell bent on destroying everything they can’t control and now have the means to rapidly do so.”

          Got to think about this picture when I read that line.

    • lizor

      Wow, that Jezebel article is absolutely idiotic! (Sorry. I am far too tired to try to exercise diplomacy here and I swore off Gawker entirely some time ago.)

      “… what’s the alternative? Beyoncé eschewing her diet and walking away from the treadmill? She is a business, and she wants to look good.”

      Way to misframe the entire argument. Beyonce’s looks ARE the product and that product is not feminist. End of.

      Somehow the twisted notion that if you make enough money to join the 1%, then your politics are whatever the hell you say they are contrary to the facts of your actions has taken hold in a serious way. It’s so absurd it makes my head hurt.

      And I must admit that I don’t share other’s admiration of this so-called “artistry” – though I understand why people like it. Pop music like Beyonce albums (I did not use the possessive because I can’t call it “her” music.) is a carefully crafted product that involves a number of people who know what sounds, rhythmic structures, lyrics, etc will sell at a given time in the same way that McDonald’s executives understand which blend of chemicals will keep the customers lining up at the drive through. Yeah, technically it’s food, and I do get its appeal, but claiming it’s GOOD food in quality, or in its effect on the consumer’s health is nonsense.

      The public version of Beyonce (it’s important to understand that no one here knows who the woman who performs this role actually is; how she feels or what she really thinks about anything. Those aspects of her public character are carefully produced and choreographed by marketers and handlers) is neither musician nor feminist. She’s a highly-processed product.

    • Are you fucking kidding me? That Jezebel article is a load of bullshit. Here’s the comment I posted:

      “Apparently, for Jezebel, “feminist analysis” means “ageist bullcrap wielded against older women to silence their arguments.” Ho-hum. Pretty low-blow, even for a liberal rag like Jezebel.”

    • Meghan Murphy

      AHHHHHH! I just read the Gawker post now. It’s like this is the first these people have ever heard of bell hooks! I also find it kind of ironic that the dude who wrote the Gawker post accuses hooks of being condescending. Anyway, like, hasn’t hooks gained the right to be condescending at this point? Come on.

      • morag

        I know, how dare an accomplished black feminist woman actually hold other people to an intellectual standard! But of course when the white boys at Gawker write condescendingly, it’s all ironic and hipsterish because they’re “progressives” who are so above it all maaaan.

      • ozzie

        What’s more condescending than a man writing on feminism? It’s a women’s movement seeking women’s liberation that was created for women, by women. He has no business policing one of feminism’s greatest authors/thinkers/activists. He should stick to what gawker does best, like reporting mind-numbing celebrity gossip or dropping the ball on the Rob Ford crack tape or starting quixotic beefs with Hulk Hogan.

  • Morgan

    Note to thirdwavers: feminism is about the LIBERATION of ALL women, not choosey-choice, empowerment crap that only serves to entrench patriarchy further. Allowing and encouraging women to believe they are somehow being feminist by doing exactly what men want them to do is the exact opposite of feminism. You are doing patriarchy’s job.

    Feminism is not about what YOU want. It’s not about being able to get rich, or give men boners. So deal with your hurt feelings. Accept that what a woman does and what is feminist are not the same thing. Move on from that, and maybe we can start talking about revolution.

  • sharon

    i’m of the so-called 2nd wave of ‘feminism’ – i am an older womyn’s liberationist and guess what – very little has changed for womyn in this patriarchal world (patriarchy is, after all, the ultimate religion for those who benefit from male privilege), so i’ll just repeat the quote – “You are not going to destroy this imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy by creating your own version of it.” and add audre lorde’s words, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”

  • Donkey Skin

    This panel sharply demonstrates the degradation of feminist discourse via third-wave politics that has happened in the last thirty years.

    The reaction of the other panelists to hooks’s statements is mostly one of bewilderment and a refusal to engage with her points. They have no idea how to respond to someone who making a structural critique of sexism, racism and capitalism. So instead they counter with assertions about Beyonce’s ‘agency’ and ‘choice’ and talk about she makes them feel ’empowered’. But hooks is not talking about individual agency or what kinds of superficial feelings of ’empowerment’ Beyonce inspires. She is talking about how media images function to reinforce structures of power that ensure whole groups of people continue to be oppressed via their sex, race and class. This perspective used to be at the heart of feminist critiques of popular culture. Now it’s so unusual that people who consider themselves feminists are actually *shocked* when someone does it.

    I wish I could agree that bell hooks will save us from wretched apolitical third-wave popular feminism. Unfortunately, I fear that this version of ‘feminism’ chimes so perfectly with the neoliberal worship of individualism that it will continue to resonate much more strongly with Western women than a feminism that militates against such a worldview. And of course, it is in the malestream, white-dominated capitalist media’s interest to marginalise women who advance a radical critique of the same structures that keep them in business.

    Thank goddess for the internet, and sites like Feminist Current, which enable us to be exposed to the voices of such women!

  • Missfit

    ‘Mock explains that, to wear makeup and heels, to “pretty [herself] up,” to “claim [her] body” and to “prettify” it in the way she wants, constitutes power. Mock sees it as claiming space. As claiming power.’

    Makeup and heels or corset were still the prerogatives of women when we couldn’t vote, own property, go to university. What power have they brought concretely? Why haven’t men ever claimed that power for themselves? Why aren’t MRAs fighting for men to wear makeup and heels, denouncing the sexism of marketing that excludes them and highlighting this oppression that denies them a claim to space and power? I would really like to hear the arguments for such a case…

    I am tired of hearing liberals focussing on Beyonce’s agency while not addressing that there is a business behind her operating under the parameters of patriarchal capitalism and working for its interest. When this is pointed to them, their motto seems to be ‘well yes, there is nothing we can do about it so we have to play by these rules if we want to ‘make it’’. Ultimately, the conversation always stops at women ‘making it’ and is never about changing the rules.

    The image Beyonce represents is no different than the continuous advertising aimed at women. Singing that girls (not women!) rule the world in high heels and sexy lingerie is absolutely not threatening to the patriarchy (it is simply not credible) while sending the message to girls that they are empowered by buying femininity, which works enriching the cosmetic/fashion industry. Those who laud Beyonce because she apparently ‘owns her sexuality’ (whatever that means) seem to be under the impression that we still live in the 1950s and that posing semi-naked doing rehashed sexy poses constitutes a revoluationary act while the reality is that this standardized exhibition of women’s bodies is constantly push at us. I guess many talented women who choose to not cater to the male gaze remain unheard of because they don’t own their sexuality appropriately… Limiting women’s possibilities and delineating their value on the basis of their patriarchy-approved sexiness is oppressive. Shouldn’t feminism be about extending women’s possibilities? Answer: yes! Why don’t we elect someone whose agency (since agency is apparently what feminism is all about) chooses to defy gender norms as our feminist icon? And I don’t think it will be the patriarchal capitalist mainstream entertainment business that will push it on us…

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  • This is a great article Meghan! I loved all your points and in particular I wanted to comment on the one below:

    >Though there certainly are defensible reasons to include depictions of gendered violence on screen, at times, and I have seen scenes of rape and other forms of male violence done in a way that is critical and do not sexualize or normalize it (I think the scene in Mad Men when Joan is raped by her fiancee is a good example of this),

    Yes this is possible and in my opinion more of this needs to be done. Many foreign films are doing this. Violence against women is onscreen and it is done in such a way that sensitizes viewers and increases empathy for women. One example of a film that did this is Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the rape scenes are quite explicit and they sensitize and teach the viewer about violence against women so much so that the Swedish version has been used by RAINN as a teaching tool.

  • I admired how calm Bell Hooks was in this conversation. Somehow she managed to make everyone feel fairly respected while making her points and holding to her points. This is great to learn from!

  • Margaret McCarroll

    I agree with bell hooks that Beyonce looks ‘deer in the headlights’ on the cover of Time. Her ‘outfit’ is inappropriate for this occasion like wearing a fur coat to a PETA protest or dirty jeans to the prom. If one of the 59 men were chosen, there would be zero chance that he’d be in his underwear.

    In the past Beyonce has denied being a feminist but in her latest album ,’Beyonce’ , she quotes Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in ‘Flawless’. Perhaps the definition of feminist (a person who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes) is more what we 60s feminists would have assigned but isn’t it better that the word is used as something positive than the use of the word as a insult or a slur. And isn’t it better that Beyonce is accepting the word contrary to many other celebrities (Lady Gaga, Madonna, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Bjork, Carrie Underwood, Sarah Jessica Parker, Susan Sarandon, Demi Moore – Huffington Post 12/17/2013) who treat feminism as a negative word and say stuff like ‘I’m a humanist’ or, like Shailene Woodley just yesterday who said she likes men.

  • SaraClue

    Funny how all the liberal feminist intersectional rhetoric vanishes in a puff of smoke when an eminent black feminist says something they disapprove of. I guess we are only supposed to listen to approved WOC.

    I do think Beyonce deserves some credit for touring with a very talented all-female band. Maybe Bibi McGill shredding will inspire some girls out there to pick up guitars!

  • ozzie

    Did you notice the hint of absolute bewilderment in both the gawker/jezebel articles and their comments? It’s like its the first time they’ve ever been exposed to real, in-depth critique of patriarchal institutions and their minds are spinning like in a centrifuge and they just don’t know what to do with themselves. ‘Like, umm, are you trying to say that making music videos of you on all fours in a thong while your self-proclaimed pimp husband raps about rape and domestic violence (” I might, beat the box up like Mike/In ’97 I bite, I’m Ike, Turner, turn up/Baby no I don’t play,/ now eat the cake, Anna Mae/Said, “Eat the cake, Anna Mae!”) makes you an anti-feminist? Are you trying to say the patriarchy won’t crumble because Beyoncé is singing ”I just want to be the kind of girl you like” in a song about servicing her mogul pimp/husband in the back of the limo, in a video where she’s dancing in a cage with the Crazy Horse strippers while a projector imprints animal print onto her skin? Are you trying to say telling young girls to ”Bow down, bitches” is degrading and disempowering to women everywhere? Patriarchy won’t be destroyed by doing everything men tell you to? I need someone to please hold me and tell me none of this is true and that bell hooks is a jealous sensationalist old hag.’
    The jezebel author even tries to do some anterograde appeasement of the confused commenteriat by including a fun bullet point-form list of reasons why bell hooks can safely be dismissed (hint: she’s an old and her senile croney mind just ‘sees things in a different way’).

    (As an addendum, regardless of Beyoncé’s complete acquiescence to both male supremacy and white supremacy with the subservient image and bleach blonde wigs and Marilyn Monroe/Betty Page make up, I’ve been detecting a lot of condescending comments directed at her in the past few years ie. instead of ‘she looks good’, it’s been more like ‘she looks good, for her age or ‘she looks good, for a mom or ‘Queen B still got it’. There was the whole superbowl thing of people making very cruel, unflattering memes of her or ageist back-handed comments (one jezebel commenter saying how ‘she’s starting to look like Oprah’). In a way it’s really sad because it serves as a testament to how women have an expiration date in a patriarchy, regardless of their dutiful compliance to its mores and imperatives: I feel like we’ll be seeing the same trajectory we saw with Britney Spears, Madonna, Mariah Carey etc., where a woman arbitrarily goes from favorite sex symbol/ object to favorite punching bag in a very public, sadistic, ritualistic manner every few years.

    • Margaret McCarroll

      Thanks for this Ozzie! Made me realize that I know nothing about Beyonce, hip hop and ‘intertextuality’. Not sure I want to.

      • ozzie

        Yeah, I’ve never understood why these two get a pass. Their lyrics can get especially vile and whenever I hear a song or see a video I keep waiting for someone to say something or for a conversation to happen. But nothing.

  • Michelle dilena

    Great article! All the way through…UNTIL the last “balls” comment. Really? In a feminist article? Let’s deconstruct just a tad bit more and look at our language. There is nothing “strong” about “balls”. I don’t think we need to have “balls” to tell anyone anything!

    • Morgan

      Michelle, good point about balls not being strong – they’re the exact opposite, aren’t they? I am reminded of this every time I see America’s Funniest Home Videos (always at least one dude getting hit in the crotch by his kid/dog/random animal/his own nunchucks/airborne object).

    • Meghan Murphy

      I hear ya.

  • Thank you Megan for this great post, and I thought that the panel discussion was very insightful — I think the same about all of the comments that appear on your blog. I liken all of these teachings about feminism to all of the books that I read thirty years ago about parenting, but there wasn’t one super-be-all manual on how to be a perfect parent or raise a perfect child.

    I don’t have a problem with seeing a successful woman’s career being highlighted in a magazine, but really, come on! Front cover in her underwear — yeah this is just ridiculous! And it’s not likely that any popular news magazine is going to feature ‘Man of Year’ in his boxers.

  • Todd

    We should all start asking “Who has the bells to do x?” from now on.

    • Meghan Murphy


      • Such a wonderful and important essay. Thank you, Meghan!

  • Thanks for this excellent recap of hooks’ common sense. About the sadomasochism thing though: As I recall, in the chapters on lesbianism and sex, she is not so much critical of BDSM in itself as she is wistful about how feminist conversation broke down over it. Indeed, hooks is excruciatingly equivocal about the issue, more than once affirming the idea of ‘the bedroom’ as a space with a magic circle around it:

    “Sexually conservative feminists, gay and straight, found and continue to find consensual sexual rituals of domination and submission inappropriate and see them as betraying feminist ideals of freedom. Their absolute judgement, their refusal to respect the rights of all women to choose the sexual practice they find most fulfilling, is in actuality the stance which most undermines feminist movement.” (p 98)

    • amongster

      i don’t understand how hooks can speak out against ‘choice feminism’ when it comes to how beyonce sells herself while being so uncritical about ‘choices’ made in the bedroom.
      i also told myself that i found it “most fulfilling” to get slapped, chocked, verbally abused etc etc while getting sexually violated. but the only thing that got satisfied was my own self-hatred as a rape survior. so again, what does ‘choice’ mean at all? what does ‘fulfillment’ mean? nothing.
      also, i have never met a “dominant” man that wasn’t a total asshole and misogynist outside the bedroom as well. the bedroom is not another dimension after all and people don’t change their mindset when they leave it.
      anyway, i find this quote sad and dangerous. i’m not sexually conservative when i say that bdsm is absolutely betraying feminist ideals of freedom and that consense means nothing in this world in which we get brainwashed every day.

      • Consent doesn’t mean nothing, it just doesn’t mean everything. The space of consent, of freedom that individuals have, is not the same for everyone. Beyonce’s freedom (as a rich person) is far greater, so if she has agency, then she also bears responsibility. In a private sexual encounter, your responsibility is mainly to yourself and the other person. The fact that its terms might also be the terms of patriarchal violence deserves critical attention–but from those involved. Beyonce is making a choice that affects others and contributes to the texture of the public sphere, and is thus a political choice, worthy of criticism.

        • amongster

          i consented to everything that was done to me, i literally asked for it, because i was traumatized by what had been done to me before and sometimes i even believed those who said bdsm could be a healing experience (thanks choice feminism aka patriarchy for adding more trauma to my life and disguising it as empowerment!). so this funny word “consent” now even takes away my right to call abuse what it is.
          at this point, after all what i have seen and all the men i have met, i don’t even understand anymore how anyone could see anything positive in violence and pain.

          those women who are into “kink” because they are traumatized (and often socialization is enough trauma) need therapy and no sadistic partner who tortures them even more, calling it love and respect.
          and those women who are into “kink” because they get pleasure from appropriating the experience of real victims also need therapy because this is definitely not healthy and also disrespectful.

          i better don’t lose any words about the abusive men who call themselves master cause it might get ugly.

          • Meghan Murphy

            I had an (abusive) ex who kept repeating to me over and over again that “some women use rape fantasies to heal from rape/abuse.” Like implying that he had ex-girlfriends who played out that shit with him and he was very clearly trying to convince me I should try it with him to, you know, “heal.” Fucking piece of shit. Just thinking about it makes my blood boil.

      • Candy

        As a kinky woman and a very sex-critical person (not just for feminist reasons, but due to my psychology background), I have never been convinced that the bedroom is some holy grail of liberation from patriarchy. It’s not. I definitely believe many of my desires were socialized. How disappointing that Ms. Hooks comes across as quite a hypocrite. Can’t say I like her calling Beyonce a “terrorist” (which is going too far, in my opinion) yet not analytical of BDSM.

    • ozzie

      This is exactly why I’ve always kind of been on the fence about bell hooks: there’s lots of contradictions and inconsistencies and logical failings in her philosophy. On one subject, her critique is radical and integrates analysis of behemoth institutions and multiple forms of oppression, and on another subject (ie bdsm) she pulls out navel-gazing choosey choice pop feminism garbage. She’s also been incredibly disrespectful and misogynistic towards certain feminists and has called them ”ruthlessly dogmatic”
      (” dogmatic” here serving as an insult leveled against any woman who is uncompromising and speaks with authority on things she knows to be factual) or ”man-hating” and has blamed them for ‘failing to provide a blueprint for what sexuality should look like’. She’s been more than happy to construct a straw man of an ivory-tower, overly-educated, frigid, man-hating, anti-sex feminist so she could posit herself as feminism’s libertine and sexual renegade. In this particular roundtable discussion, she’s rejecting the same navel-zing choosey choice pop feminist garbage in favour of what the women she’s repeatedly insulted have been saying for decades, and the same pop feminists that previously worshipped her unceremoniously dumped her and implied she is an old senile bag lady.

  • amongster

    it makes my blood boil too cause those manipulative men get too often what they want and also away with it. even in so called feminist spaces in which people go out of their ways to pretend like domination and submission could be a good and even healing thing in the bedroom.

  • Mora

    I just love it when feminists start telling women how to act. It’s almost like patriarchy, you’ve just switched one master for another.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Where has that happened? Who has told who ‘how to act’?

    • There’s a lot of men telling feminists (and their allies) to shut up, stop making waves, and so on and so forth. I don’t consider them feminists, though. So could you be more specific?

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  • Arielle

    I think things are much more nuanced than this article and bell hooks implies. One: I know actual victims of terrorism and the flippant use of the term, much like getting “raped over a car payment” or calling a greedy person a “Jew” is inappropriate at best. Full stop. Saying that because hooks wasn’t ‘serious” so that makes the flippant analogy ok, like most holocost comparisons/nazi comparisons, is incendiary. Beyoncé is not trying to fill young girls with terror and fear for a political purpose. Period.

    Two: full disclosure, I only like some bell hooks, and am on the fence about Beyoncé as well, but I like them both enough to read this article and find it interesting. I work with young women every single day. Young women of color from desperate circumstances; heck, I was one myself, and also was an original Destiny’s Child fan and grew up with B; my minor was women’s studies so I also grew up with bell hooks. My young women love B. They love her because they experience her as strong, because her husband changed his last name to Knowles-Carter and because sometimes they just want to sing the lyrics to “Survivor”. Sometimes they tell me that the lyrics she sings inspires them to work hard, to not be financially dependent on boyfriends and lovers (which in turn, destroys one of the foundation blocks for domestic abuse). I love me some bell, but on the ground, she’s not giving the young black and brown girls I work with 60 hours a week some basic, get through the day grit. Theory is lovely, but can she uplift a teenaged alcoholic ex prostitute and help her kick her “boyfriend” to the curb? I know it sounds ludicrous, but my client literally said she “pretended to be Beyoncé” during their potentially frightening exchange and it helped her hold her ground. I don’t scoff at that. Believe it or not, I hear more stories than I expected like that. Of girls suddenly interested in reading Adiche, and, irony of ironies, bell hooks herself, because they got a tiny intro to feminist theory from a three min song and it lit a spark to go read some. I am grateful and glad for each spark. Each and every spark. Period.

    Three: this doesn’t mean I don’t see the colorist, patriarchal and classist ramifications of Beyonce’s popularity. I think we should hold each other accountable and Beyoncé has a looooooong way to go in terms of being a “feminist icon”; quite a few places have already lambasted her tour being called “Mrs. Carter”, her skin color, the audacity to have a song about suffering from the pressure of beauty ideals when she is so conventionally attractive, etc…..each of these critiques is valid. Calling her a feminist icon is quite a stretch, especially because she obtained her position of power through an intense patriarchal bargain that every woman is familiar with; we often have to be pretty and non threatening to open doors of power, and once there, are judged wanting if we don’t perfectly balance out ways to keep the dominant power structure comfortable. We can rock the boat, but not too much, at least until we own it. I would argue that calling Beyoncé a terrorist is also quite a stretch.

    Four: I don’t believe in binaries. Most of the time, things are not either the worst thing ever nor are they the best thing. Beyoncé is not Joan Didion or the female equivalent of Chris Brown. She is inspiring to many of my clients, brown girls who bell hooks aspires to “liberate” but can’t seem to actually RELATE to. This doesn’t mAke her the feminist messiah, but it does mean that having her proudly claim the term “feminist” could actually do our movement a whole damn bit of good. Good because not every woman is college educated and can throw words like “imperialist” and “decolonization” around; hell, that language can be down right alienating. Good because we all had to go through 100 level theory to begin parring put 200 and 300 level lol say, genderqueer trans womanism. Good because EVERY woman needs feminism and I’m pretty sure that we all can agree on that. Maybe many will never get past the version of feminism that Beyoncé exposes the Masses to, but I’m glad for the wide exposure, for the conversation starter, and for the backbone it gives my girls.

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  • Liz

    The kind of “power” described by Mock is the most basic power a human being can have: power over her (or his) own body. And that power really should be taught to everyone. Whether we respect their identities or not, trans people positively break stereotypes for men and women. Like if Mock is a “woman”, then her past is radical. If she is a “man” then his present is radical. I think that positivity is why “choice Feminism” prevails.

    I’d rather support “sex worker” union rights than oppose “the industry” (and so many women in “the industry”). They could negotiate more realistic/respectful portrayals, consent rules, safe sex rules, healthcare and exit assistance. But a prohibition… isn’t likely to ever pass, would get more sisters locked up, with criminal records, with nowhere to turn, and make it all the more dangerous, esp since mostly male police have been known to abuse the women in it, and profile the rest of us who aren’t in it.

    I guess, why try to take from an oppressed group’s few choices if you can probably have more success helping make those choices less oppressive and providing more, better options to choose from?

    • Meghan Murphy

      I think that patriarchy limits men and women’s ‘choices’ by creating a binary (masculine or feminine) that every individual must fit into. I’m pretty certain feminists would like people to simply be able to exist as people rather than feel they must achieve this ideal version of ‘woman’ that is fuckable, passive, pleasant, agreeable, beautiful — perfect. ‘Choosing your choice’ within such limited parameters is not liberating for women, as a whole — it’s akin to saying that consumer ‘choices’ are liberating (and, in fact, is very much connected to consumerism/capitalism — see: the beauty/porn industry).