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Beyonce, feminism and sexualisation

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    Next month marks the 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan's hugely influential study that helped to spark that pervasive second wave of feminism that – for all its faults and stuttering incompleteness – shaped the western world as most of us know it today.

    As a book it was – as Friedan was herself – a flawed advocate of women's rights: Friedan had little apparent interest in women who were anything other than white and upper middle-class. Her homophobia became an embarrassment to the women's movement. Her egotistical paranoia about being ousted as the face of the women's movement was captured with wince-inducing brilliance by Nora Ephron in her 1972 essay, Miami.

    The feminist movement never did and never will run smoothly. But Friedan's book, as Stephanie Coontz writes in her recent book, A Strange Stirring, rescued "a generation of intelligent women, sidelined from the world". Whatever its flaws, the publication of The Feminine Mystique remains as much of a landmark in the history of feminism as Emily Davison's death 50 years earlier at the 1913 Epsom Derby.

    And so, 50 years on from Friedan, it pleases me to announce that we have a new face to the modern-day feminist movement. That face belongs to none other than Beyoncé Knowles.

    Last week the new issue of American GQ came out and it neatly encapsulated where western feminism is today. Inside, Knowles gives an interview that will probably be studied by future generations for lessons in both the loopiness of the 21st-century celebrity world and how hilariously far American magazine interviews have fallen since the days of, say, Gay Talese and Lillian Ross. In this typical piece of puffery, Knowles shows off her "temperature-controlled digital storage facility that contains virtually every photo of her", including one video diary entry in which she informs herself that she is going to listen to one of her own songs before having sex with her husband, which is one way to get in the mood, I guess.

    But there is, the GQ journalist assures the reader, more to Knowles than raging narcissism – she is a powerful woman with a defiant feminist streak. "Equality is a myth, and for some reason everyone accepts that women don't make as much money as men do," she rails. "I truly believe that women should be financially independent from their men. And let's face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what's sexy. And men define what's feminine. It's ridiculous."

    Knowles is right: it is ridiculous that American women earn 77 cents to every dollar earned by men. This is almost as ridiculous as, say, a self-professedly powerful female celebrity ("I'm more powerful than my mind can even digest," announces Knowles) complaining about men defining sexiness in a men's magazine in which she poses nearly naked in seven photos, including one on the cover in which she is wearing a pair of tiny knickers and a man's shirt so cropped that her breasts are visible. These photos, incidentally, were taken by the bafflingly successful American photographer, Terry Richardson, a man with a penchant for highly sexualised photos of women and who has been repeatedly accused of sexual exploitation and misconduct by young female models, which Richardson has denied.

    To complain about the sexualisation of women in men's magazines may seem like complaining about the weather. But as Knowles rightly says in relation to the pay gap, the status quo should not just be shruggingly accepted if it is wrong. I never fail to be amazed at the high profile, often A-list women who celebrate their professional success by posing near naked on the covers of allegedly classy men's magazines, such as Esquire and GQ, and these covers are, to my eyes, becoming increasingly close to porn. In the past four months alone we've had Cameron Diaz bending over in a pair of mesh pants; topless Mila Kunis in leather trousers (while inside she writhes naked on a bed); Rihanna naked save for a mini leather jacket; Lana Del Rey also naked except for some jewellery (that was on GQ's October issue, which had four alternative covers that all featured men. All of these men, funnily enough, were clothed).

    It's one thing to submit to this attention-seeking nonsense if you're a C-list reality TV desperado trying to get on the cover of Nuts; it's another if you are professedly one of the most powerful women in the entertainment business who has no need of such tactics. Knowles rightly hates the fact that women are humiliated by being paid less than their male counterparts. But they are similarly humiliated by being fed the message that it doesn't matter how successful, powerful or smart you are – all that matters is how sexually available you are willing to make yourself look.

    I should feel happy, I guess, that Knowles is even willing to speak up about equality considering how notoriously few young women in the public eye are willing to identify themselves as feminists. That her Dworkin-ish call to arms comes served up with photos of Knowles jumping on a bed in a bikini, well, that's the deal these days, apparently, in which famous women can sing about "independence" and "girl power", as long as they're wearing next to nothing. As I said, the feminist movement never did run smoothly. But half a century on from Friedan, it should be running better than this.
    ARTICLE - http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisf...rwear-feminism

    I agree with this and it's not only Beyonce that does this. I am all for equality but when women use their sexuality for their gain and then bang on about 'feminism'...surely there is something wrong about that?

    I just want to know what the people of TSR think about this.
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    (Original post by MancBoy)
    ARTICLE - http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisf...rwear-feminism

    I agree with this and it's not only Beyonce that does this. I am all for equality but when women use their sexuality for their gain and then bang on about 'feminism'...surely there is something wrong about that?

    I just want to know what the people of TSR think about this.
    The whole point of feminism is that women have the choice to do what they want with their bodies.

    If Beyonce wants to feature in a magazine not wearing very much, why not? It's her choice :cool:
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    I don't see anything wrong with it; surely Beyonce should be able to do as she wants. However, I'm unsure what she really has to do with feminism, I think things like this are merely PR/publicity stunts and the whole female empowerment thing is part of her brand, just as sex is part of the brand and it will be sold in any way possible.
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    Well having Susan Boyle on the cover of GQ magazine wouldn't work...why not have arguably the biggest and most famous female in the world instead?
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    Ignoring the actual post,I have no idea what this 'new' Beyonce is doing.I saw the pictures in GQ and this is an all time low for her.It's like one minute she says something and doing the next.I mean she is trying to be Rhianna with all this skin showing,not that I'm against it but,Beyonce has never had to anything like this.Feel like I'm losing the artist that I admired when growing up.Really hope stuff like this dosen't become a habit....
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    Yeah, I have to admit that I was a bit shocked when I came across those GQ photos of Beyonce, as I honestly thought she was too classy to be posing like that. I know she's done some quite sexy photoshoots before, but that one was justa bit "woah!" to me. Then again, she is gorgeous, I guess part of feminism is women being able to do what they want, and like she sings in Check On It, if you've got it flaunt it.
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    It's her right to act/be a slut. The problem comes when she demands people respect her for it.
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    I'm not convinced she's a feminist.

    I think she gets here power from being famous/rich/beyonce not from being a woman.
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    And yet if a man wanted to feature scantilly clad in magazines that would be classed as gay porn, and there would be moral outrage.
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    Yeah, I'd consider this kind of ridiculous. Until I see men on the covers of mgazines posing like these scantily clad women, wearing what they wear, I'd class the covers as sexist.
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    (Original post by Goody2Shoes-x)
    Yeah, I'd consider this kind of ridiculous. Until I see men on the covers of mgazines posing like these scantily clad women, wearing what they wear, I'd class the covers as sexist.
    Ever heard of Playgirl? Hell, countless men's fitness magazines feature "scantily clad" men in sexual poses.
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    I think that both Beyonce and the writer of the article are talking out of their arses.
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    Stay classy Beyonce

    Well seems like she didn't heed the lesson.
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    Oh, please. After the first time I heard Cater 2 U I refused to take anything this overrated prat says about "feminism" and "power to the women" seriously. "Men define sexiness" she says... as she poses half-naked on the cover.

    I always figured she was conceited, and this article does little to prove me wrong.
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    I do think women are entitled to do what they want. And that they should be encouraged to play up their femininity - which is really lacking in today's society (not talking about hair extensions and spray tans, but natural femininity - a feminine body language, attitude, letting your submissive nature shine through etc.)
    Beyonce is a musician. She sings, dances - a lot of what she does is tied up to feminine qualities and portraying herself as a sensual woman. I could do without the "all the single ladies" and "put a ring on it", but in total - it is not damaging to her career to play up sexiness, nor is it to society.
    I DO think that if a woman chooses a career that is focused on male attributes (law, finance..), she will have to play down her feminine assets and play up the masculine ones. Success, ambition, drive, independence - skills required for jobs like that are all masculine. She cannot expect to be seen as a feminine woman and a potential romantic partner in a climate like that. But that's fine. The 10% of women worldwide with more masculine than feminine personality traits are more likely to choose careers like that. To me, the most important thing is that people act true to their nature. Most women will want to develop their feminine skills and act on those. Feminism - if it's about equality - is about valuing feminine skills (being nurturing, caring, emotional, socially skilled) just as much as masculine ones. NOT pushing women into male-dominated fields.

    Beyonce can do as she pleases. She's hot, she's good and she is comfortable with her sexuality. I do wish she'd stop the "strong women" meme though. Women are submissive by nature, men are dominant. That doesn't put women to shame, it just means that men and women are different. We both have great and less great qualities.
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    I don't think the point is about women being able doing what they want, which they are, I think the issue is that the whole act of posing semi-nude especially in a male magazine is influenced a lot by the male perception of femininity and sexuality ('male gaze' if you will).

    So Beyonce talking about woman power and feminism is ironic because at the same time she is subjecting herself to a male defined image of female sexuality.
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    It might be empowering or a statement in favour of equality if she was posing in Saudi Arabian GQ, but it's just her taking her clothes for immediate and longer term material gain and the material gain of others. She is as empowered as a stripper. Not that I'm complaining. I'd gladly renounce my drunken anti-black rants for just a drop of her gash.
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    (Original post by Goody2Shoes-x)
    Yeah, I'd consider this kind of ridiculous. Until I see men on the covers of mgazines posing like these scantily clad women, wearing what they wear, I'd class the covers as sexist.
    Don't 99% of female magazines contain buttloads of half-naked men? One of my flatmates had one the other day and each page was guy after guy with ridiculous abs walking through the sea in swim shorts.
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    GQ (gentlemen's quarterly or something similar) may not be the best judge of feminism.
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    (Original post by CJKay)
    Don't 99% of female magazines contain buttloads of half-naked men? One of my flatmates had one the other day and each page was guy after guy with ridiculous abs walking through the sea in swim shorts.
    Yes, but 99% of female magazines are also the ones with females on the cover in those photo shoots, with skimpy outfits and sexy poses with the quote "I'M A STRONG INDEPENDANT WOMAN!"

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Updated: January 21, 2013
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