Friday, July 25, 2014

Feminist Friday: Beyoncé

I think we all knew this was coming. I saved the best for last and I am so excited writing this because we are going to see the On the Run Tour on Sunday!!!! I digress..

Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is an American singer and actress. Beyoncé is from Houston, Texas and became famous in the 90's as a member of Destiny's Child.

Beyoncé has a writing credit and a producing credit on many Destiny's Child songs, including some great feminist anthems. "Independent Women Pt. 1" came out in September 2000 (when Beyoncé was only 19) as part of the soundtrack for the Charlie's Angels movie. The song praises women who are independent financially, able to support themselves, and "always 50/50 in relationships." "Survivor" came out in 2001 and tells the story of someone moving on (and thriving) after the end of a bad relationship/despite setbacks. "Bootylicious" came out later in 2001 (when Bey was 20) and is a super body-positive song in which the female singers know their self-worth and declare "I don't think you can handle this" and "I don't think you're ready for this jelly." (Not even being ironic, I think this song promotes a great attitude about loving yourself and your body.)

Following the disbandment of Destiny's Child, Beyoncé pursued a solo career, continuing to crank out hits with a feminist message. "Irreplaceable" is about a woman who knows her self-worth and isn't going to put up with a bad relationship anymore, "If I Were a Boy" is about a woman wishing she were the guy in the relationship so she could get away with behaviours that society sets a double standard for, like "Drink beer with the guys and chase after girls. I’d kick it with who I wanted and I’d never get confronted for it." "Single Ladies" is again about a woman knowing her self-worth and refusing to be undervalued by the person she's in a relationship with. The song values marriage/commitment but also celebrates the freedom of being single. And of course, "Run The World (Girls)" declares that girls run the world.

At the 2009 MTV MVA's Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me" beat "Single Ladies" for Best Female Video. Kanye West interrupted Swift's speech to declare that Beyoncé had the "best music video of all time." Later that evening when "Single Ladies" won Music Video of the Year, Beyoncé gave up her speech to let Taylor Swift have the moment that Kanye stole from her. (you can watch it here.) This moment really showed how classy Beyoncé is, as well as what a role model and support she is for other young women in her industry.

In 2011 Beyoncé severed professional ties with her father (who had been her manager since she was 9) and began managing herself. But what I really want to talk about is the latest album. Beyoncé dropped her self-titled album without any kind of promotion or announcements on December 13, 2013. Beyoncé said, "I just felt like I don't want anybody to give the message of when my record is coming out. I just want it to come out when it's ready and from to me the fans." The album debuted at the top of the US Billboard charts, making her the first woman to have her first five albums debut at number one. The album sold over 800,000 copies worldwide in the first three days. It was released as a visual album, with a music video for each of the fourteen songs and a bonus video.
I think one of the reasons this album is so popular is because it's not how people are releasing music these days. There were no singles, the entire album was released at once following Beyoncé's vision because she is in charge of her own empire. I think the other reason for its popularity is that it is so personal.This album portrays all sides of Beyoncé, showing her as a complete person, which is not a view of celebrities (especially women) we often get.

"Pretty Hurts" talks about the pressures women feel to be physically perfect and the harm that can cause. "No Angel" talks about loving somebody's imperfections because you are also imperfect. "Jealous" talks about feelings of insecurity in a relationship. "Blow" and "Rocket" talk about female pleasure (and not in an overly-sexualized/male-fantasy kind of way but by placing the woman in a position of power.) "Heaven" talks about the loss of a loved one." "Blue" is about motherhood. "Flawless" is about feminism and inverting societal expectations of women. "Partition" and "Drunk in Love" talk about sex and marriage. "Grown Woman" talks about how far she's come and how proud she is to be in charge of herself and her own life. 
When discussing her different pseudonyms over the years, she says, "Yoncé is Beyoncé. Sasha Fierce is Beyoncé. Miss Carter is Beyoncé and I'm finally at a place where I don't have to kind of separate the two any more. We're all one. It's all pieces of me, just different elements of a personality of a woman because we are complicated." and i
n watching/listening to the album you get to see different sides of Beyoncé, and what it means to her to be a woman, mother, wife, sister, manager, singer, dancer, person.

Beyoncé put out an amazing series of videos on youtube discussing the album. In this one she says, "just because you become a mother doesn't mean you lose who you are." She talks about writing "Partition" shortly after the birth of her daughter as a way to act out a fantasy of being intimate with her husband again. This song and video have been criticized as being anti-feminist because of lyrics like "Take all of me, I just wanna be the girl you like" and images of Beyoncé dancing burlesque for her husband in the video, but those people are obviously missing the point. Feminism is about equality and women being whoever they want. Beyoncé took her husband to a burlesque show for his birthday and she said, "I remember thinking, 'damn, these girls are fly.' I just thought it was the ultimate sexy show I've ever seen and I was like, 'I wish I was up there, I wish I could perform that for my man,' so that's what I did for the video." How empowered is that?
Bey also said, "I know finding my sensuality, getting back into my body, being proud of growing up, it was important to me that I expressed that in this music because I know that there are so many women that feel the same thing after they give birth. You can have your child and you can still have fun and still be sexy and still have dreams and still live for yourself."

In "***Flawless" Beyoncé samples the amazing TEDtalk "We Should All be Feminists" by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This song is also criticized sometimes because of the lyric "Bow down, bitches." The three stars at the beginning of the title represent the three stars Girls Tyme (before they were Destiny's Child) received on Star Search when Beyoncé was a star short of a full score and a record deal. In this video Beyoncé talks about what a defining moment that was for realize that you can work hard and still lose. The song expresses confidence, and anger, and basically calls out haters, telling them to bow down, and referring to them as bitches not to be sexist but to show the pure emotion. The song also encourages women to accept themselves the way they are (even if they wake up in a bad mood) "Ladies, tell 'em 'I woke up like this, I woke up like this.' We flawless. Ladies, tell 'em. Say 'I look so good tonight.'" It is a very empowering song, and has helped promote Adichie's amazing TEDtalk to spread the word on what feminism really is and help clear up misconceptions. 

Earlier this year Beyoncé wrote an essay about gender equality which you can read here.

Beyoncé is an icon because she is extremely talented, but she is an inspiration because she shows not that it is possible to "have it all" but that it is alright to be more than one thing. It's okay if you don't fit into a box, or conform to anybody else's ideas about you. It's okay to be a mother, a wife, a career woman, an artist. It's okay to feel sexy, jealous, in love, grief-stricken, angry, excited, loved. It's okay to be a celebrity and a person, it's okay to be a woman and a person

This is the last post of this series, I hope you've enjoyed it.

Check back next week because I might post some pictures from the On The Run Tour!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Feminist Friday: Tavi Gevinson

Tavi Gevinson is an 18-year-old American writer, and the creator and editor-in-chief of Rookie magazine.
Tavi became famous at age 11 because of her fashion blog Style Rookie. When she was 15 she became more interested in feminist writings and decided to create Rookie. 

In our society teenage girls as a group are generally not taken seriously. Media marketed towards that demographic is not considered real art (Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus), and young girls' opinions are not generally valued.
Tavi and her blog received a lot of criticism due to her young age and gender. A 2008 NYmag article said, "We're not sure if a 12-year-old is actually doing all this or if she's getting some help from a mom or older sister" implying that someone Tavi's age could not do what she did alone.
In 2010, an article in the New Yorker quoted a woman in the fashion industry who said Tavi's blog "would be unremarkable if she were not thirteen years old. If she were twenty-three, we’d say, ‘Yeah. Who cares?’" implying that her blog was only popular because of her age. So she had critics suggesting she couldn't do it all herself and critics suggesting that people only cared about her work because she was young, and not because of any talent she had.

In this awesome TED Talk that Tavi gave in 2012, she said that as she was finished middle school and entering high school she became really confused.
She said, "I was trying to reconcile all these differences that you're told you can't be when you're growing up as a girl. You can't be smart and pretty, you can't be a feminist who's also interested in fashion, you can't care about clothes if it's not for the sake of what other people (usually men) will think of you...
I wanted to start a website for teenage girls that was not kind of this one-dimensional strong character empowerment thing, because I think one thing that can be very alienating about a misconception of feminism is that girls then think that to be a feminist they have to live up to being perfectly consistent in your beliefs, never being insecure, never having doubts, having all of the answers. And this is not true and actually reconciling all the contradictions I was feeling became easier once I understood that feminism was not a rulebook but a discussion, a conversation, a process."

illustration by Tavi Gevinson launched in September 2011. The magazine is for teenage girls and many of the contributors are teenage girls. The magazine features articles, interviews, comics, photography, visual art, and music playlists created by regular staff, readers of the magazine, and guest contributors.

Tavi is a defender of other young famous women and girls. She wrote an essay proclaiming her love of Taylor Swift's music and defending Taylor against the haters. She has interviewed Lorde and Miley Cyrus and spoken to both about feminism, spreading the word that feminism does not have to be a rigid, specific set of ideas but can be something very personal.

 In that same TEDtalk, Tavi talked about the lack of strong female characters represented in the media. She said, "The problem with [over-simplifying female characters] is that then people expect women to be that easy to understand and women are mad at themselves for not being that simple when in actuality women are complicated, women are multi-faceted, not because women are crazy but because people are crazy and women happen to be people."

Tavi created a space on the internet that gives young girls a voice and lets them know that it's okay to not have it all figured out, to be more than one thing, to be confused about your identity and growing up, and to be whoever you are unapologetically.

Highlights from the first two years of Rookie have been compiled into two books:

Rookie Yearbook One

and Rookie Yearbook Two

Friday, July 11, 2014

Feminist Friday: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an actor, screenwriter, and film director. He also runs an open collaborative production company called HitRecord. He is a self-proclaimed feminist and uses his position in the cultural spotlight to draw attention to some of the problematic areas in our culture including the role the media plays in sexism.

One of Gordon-Levitt's most famous recent roles was in 2009's (500) Days of Summer. He played the main character, Tom, who falls in love with Zooey Deschanel's character, Summer. Her character is a manic pixie dream girl and Tom sort of thinks she will change his life and places a lot of pressure on their relationship. I think the general response to the movie was a lot of people sympathizing with and romanticizing the character of Tom, and vilifying the character of Summer.

Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer
In this 2012 interview with Playboy, Gordon-Levitt said, "The (500) Days of Summer attitude of “He wants you so bad” seems attractive to some women and men, especially younger ones, but I would encourage anyone who has a crush on my character to watch it again and examine how selfish he is. He develops a mildly delusional obsession over a girl onto whom he projects all these fantasies. He thinks she’ll give his life meaning because he doesn't care about much else going on in his life. A lot of boys and girls think their lives will have meaning if they find a partner who wants nothing else in life but them. That’s not healthy. That’s falling in love with the idea of a person, not the actual person."

With that quotation he basically dismantles the concept of the manic pixie dream girl and explains to his fans that it's not a healthy way to view other people or relationships. Good job, Jo!

Gordon-Levitt made his directorial debut with the 2013 film Don Jon, which he wrote and starred in. In the film the character of Don Jon places a lot of value on his physical appearance, his car, his apartment, and the appearances of the men and women he surrounds himself with. He is a product of a patriarchal society that has taught him to objectify people and place importance on material things and surface-level perceptions. He is also addicted to pornography. He falls for a woman named Barbara (played by Scarlett Johannson) who is very similar to him in that she strongly believes in stereotypical gender roles (she gets upset when Don wants to vaccum his own apartment), values appearances and material possessions. She is addicted to romantic comedies.
The film is a satire and attempts to use humour and exaggeration to illustrate the problems in the ways these characters view the world and each other, and the way the media (whether it's porn, rom coms, commercials, ads, etc.) influences how we view gender roles and relationships.

Earlier this year on Ellen, Gordon-Levitt said of the film, "it's about a guy who really sees the whole world, and especially women, as just things, more than know, objects for his consumption. And that was something that my mom would always point out to my brother and me: that our culture does often portray women objects. For example we would always watch Laker games as a family...and my mom would always point out every time the cheerleaders would come on: okay, so look, here's the story that gets told. The men get to be these heroic, skilled athletes, and the women just get to be pretty...She wanted my brother and I to be aware of it because we see these images on TV and in movies and in magazines all the time and if we don't stop and think about it, it just sort of seeps into your brain and that becomes the way we perceive reality."

It's true that the media affects people's subconscious and determines the way we think. When people are not taught to question the messages they are seeing and think critically, and those messages place certain groups of people in power or only portray certain groups of people while excluding others, it leads to a culture that accepts inequality as the norm.

Gordon-Levitt and Johansson in Don Jon
On casting Scarlett Johansson for the role of Barbara, in this interview he said, "I think it was really appealing to her that this was a movie that was making fun of how we as a culture objectify people, especially women, because she's obviously a woman that is severely objectified all the time. Here's a person who is really smart, she's really talented, she's done all sorts of great things, and yet, what do most people talk about? Her outer appearance. But there's so much more to her than that - why is that what we always talk about? But, it is. I think it was really appealing to her to sort of make fun of that and play a character who's actually buying into that and sort of leveraging her conventional beauty for her own agenda and sort of getting to poke fun at a character like that."

Joseph Gordon-Levitt uses his celebrity voice and his job as a story-teller in a positive way to promote equality, to cause people to question their own beliefs and ways of thinking, and to point out the problems in our society in a thought-provoking and entertaining way. In promoting his art he spreads the word about feminism and what it's really about, taking away some of the stigma attached to the word.

In that same interview with Ellen, he told her, "I do call myself a feminist. Absolutely! It's worth paying attention to the roles that are sort of dictated to us and that we don't have to fit into those roles. We can be anybody we wanna be."