Thursday, January 16, 2014

What Beyonce Teaches Us and Female Friendship

“The presence of evil was something to be first recognized, then dealt with, survived, outwitted, triumphed over.”

The critics have spoken. They have debated and pontificated. They have analyzed and weighed in. Beyonce- feminist or not? Beyonce – Self-actualized woman living the dream or pawn in the capitalist, patriarchal society we find our ourselves in?

My question is: what if she is both?

What if she lives in the tension of the world as it should be: where we as woman can be who we choose to be while operating in the world as it is where we are scrutinized for every decision, every choice, every mistake and misstep.

And what if this discourse is a distraction from the reality? Beyonce leads a life many of us only can dream of, and the reason we, her loyal fans flock to her faithfully is because we too want to believe that we can have whatever we want. If it’s a husband or not. A successful career or not. Beyonce for many of us represents the ability to choose. To chart our own life’s path free from the gaze of a society that tells us we can do it how we want to, but then ostracizes our choices.

But more than that for me is something bigger I want to process with you all. I watched Toni Morrison and Junot Diaz at the NYPL. Toni Morrison and Beyonce what do they have in common? Well Junot Diaz posed a question to her about her legendary book Sula and the lens or commentary it provided the world about Female Friendships.

I have read Sula several times and in one poignant moment that remains my favorite part is when they describe the connectedness of the girls. I believe they talk about two heads, one body. This is intimacy here people, one we don’t often see depicted in popular culture. Sula sleeping with Jude does not shatter that connectedness, it survives despite it. Reconciliation is not the aim; it is the realization that friendship and sisterhood transcends all of the mess of life and the muck of romantic relationships. In the end, as TLC put it “what about your friends”?

Female friendship in the novel is about an emotional intimacy that even male dominated culture and infidelity cannot destroy. It defines the construct of women as competition and catty vying for the attention of a man.  And although it doesn’t ever repair itself we know Nel and Sula grieve the lost of each other.

The conversation about Beyonce being a feminist is a distracting one. It gets us off course with the real discussion we should be having. How have we as woman been indoctrinated to critique and compete with one another? (I realize this may be a generalization) How does this lack of reverence for female friendship hinder us from addressing patriarchy and white supremacy head on?

I think the real feminist act would be to stop squabbling over who’s in and whose out and begin the process of unlearning that which has continued to keep many of us in shackles. We define ourselves in proximity to men, in proximity to power and if don’t do this than we have arrived and we sit back, rest on our morals and become the judge about how pro-woman progressive everyone else is.

What is the revolutionary act is to allow each woman to choose for herself her own course and then to love her anyway?

More than whether or not she is a feminist she is self-proclaimed woman and today that is good enough for me.

Beyonce teaches us that female friendship is the crux of the movement. We liberate ourselves, we get free on our own and whether or not someone measures up or looks at the world just like us, we choose to love.  I am not naïve to the structural and systemic ways, which women are locked out, but I think we need to ask, is how to we use love and freedom and choice to widen the table and begin the work?

So in the words of Toni Morrison “She had been looking all along for a friend, and it took her a while to discover that a lover was not a comrade and could never be - for a woman. And that no one would ever be that version of herself, which she sought to reach out to and touch with an ungloved hand. There was only her own mood and whim, and if that was all there was, she decided to turn the naked hand toward it, discover it and let others become as intimate with their own selves as she was.”

Let others become intimate with their own selves. Labels don’t last. Loving the reflection of yourself you see in others, Deciding to be a friend is the most radical act we can take. And the first step. No movement work had ever been done absent of love for people and a desire to translate that love into the work of justice. 

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