Beyoncé's Southern, Hip-Hop Feminism

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Beyoncé's Southern, Hip-Hop Feminism by Mind Map: Beyoncé's Southern, Hip-Hop Feminism

1. Beyoncé primarily presents an image of strength as a feminist, from "Run The World" to "***Flawless." But she also finds space to be vulnerably in love — for better and for worse — as an empowered woman. Her relationship with husband Jay Z is also a primary theme in her work, which goes against more traditional notions (or at least stereotypes) of feminists as unfocused on men and heterosexual love. Beyoncé's representation of womanhood as a nuanced and multifaceted combination of strength and vulnerability brings to mind Joan Morgan's hip-hop feminism, a strain of Black feminism that is "brave enough to fuck with the grays." To women like Morgan, traditional feminism's moral righteousness is unattainable and unrelatable. Hip-Hop Feminism keeps it real by acknowledging that some women enjoy and embrace some aspects of traditionalism, like being submissive in sex or being financially supported by men — two themes we've seen in Beyoncé's music. Hip-Hop feminists are unbothered if their lifestyles and preferences disqualify them from the title of "perfect feminists." Beyoncé has been heavily criticized for things like posing sexually as a role model and remaining with her cheating husband, but she continues to do as she pleases — in line with Hip-Hop Feminism. While this carefree, nuanced strain of feminism is named after hip-hop, its origins are seen in the "fearless, unadorned realism" of the blues (Davis). As Angela Davis notes, "no authentic blues woman could, in good faith, sing with conviction about a dashing prince whisking her away into the 'happily-ever-after ... The classic blues women sang of female aspirations for happiness and frequently associated these aspirations with sexual desire, but they rarely ignored the attendant ambiguities and contradictions."

2. Diasporic Connections: The American South

2.1. Beyoncé has always proudly represented H-Town, but since Lemonade, she's really leaned into her Southern roots. From imagery of a flooded New Orleans in the "Formation" music video to her HBCU-inspired 2018 Coachella performance, the singer's aesthetics have become more blatantly tied to a Black, Southern experience — one rife with both beauty and pain. This 'turning lemons into lemonade' philosophy, Terryn Hall says, is emblematic of Black culture, and particularly Black womanhood — "communing and lamenting together in the wake of destruction, how to care for ourselves and feed our families often without the resources our communities so desperately need"(Hall).

3. Legacy Connections: TLC

3.1. The women of TLC offered an unpolished representation of romance. Their music touched on everything from sex ("Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg") to infidelity ("Creep") to courtship ("No Scrubs"). In each case, even in instances of vulnerability, TLC projected a sense of empowerment that Beyoncé has reflected in her own work.

3.1.1. "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" offers an unapologetic portrayal of female sexual desire. With imagery like "screamin' loud and holdin' sheets" and "2 inches or a yard, rock hard or if it's saggin'," "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" is a rare example of a song about sex in which the woman is a willing participant — even an initiator — instead of a passive object of desire. While outspoken sexual desire is radical for any woman in a patriarchal society, it is especially so for Black women. As Angela Davis notes, frank discussions of sex in the blues soundtracked the sexual liberation of emancipation. When women like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey sang about their relationships, they gave voice to a generation of Black Americans who, for once, could choose their own sexual partners. As an R&B girl group, TLC's music is an evolution of Smith and Rainey's blues. TLC's healthy relationship with sex didn't stop at one song. Performing during the AIDS epidemic, the women were vocal advocates of safe sex, going so far as wearing condoms as accessories. Over 20 years after "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg," Beyoncé released one of her most sexual songs yet, "Partition."

3.1.2. TLC's 1994 single "Creep" tells the tale of a woman who cheats back on her boyfriend after he cheats on her to fulfill her need for affection. T-Boz offers a vulnerable look at a woman who is so in love with her cheating partner that instead of leaving him in the face of infidelity, stays in the relationship, only entertaining other men because her partner's heart is no longer really in it. "I'll keep giving loving till the day he pushes me away" reveals a hopeless, lovestruck loyalty that serves as just one of many facets of womanhood. The narrator's decision to cheat back on her husband brings to mind the music of blues pioneer Ma Rainey, "in which women explicitly celebrate their right to conduct themselves as expansively and even as undesirably as men" (Davis). Beyoncé's groundbreaking 2016 album Lemonade is famously about Jay Z's infidelity. While the album oscillates between the many emotions the singer experienced during this time, from denial to sadness to anger to forgiveness, songs like "Pray You Catch Me," "Sorry," and "Hold Up" (the latter with its famous Yeah Yeah Yeahs refrain of "they don't love you like I love you") show a vulnerable, heartbroken Beyoncé that contrasts with the empowered image she usually projects. Here, both acts show that vulnerability can actually be a sign of strength by shining light on an experience a multitude of women can relate to, but usually hide in shame.

3.1.3. In "No Scrubs," TLC make clear that they have no interest in deadbeat men — the ones with no job who catcall women. Their sassy disregard for men unable to be equal partners led the song to become a feminist anthem. Destiny's Child's "Bills, Bills, Bills," released the same year as "No Scrubs," similarly emphasizes a woman's unabashed interest in money and a partnership in which the man can both dazzle, stimulate, and support the woman. For this reason, the song simultaneously leans into conventional gender roles ("You're slowly making me pay for things your money should be handling") while also showing a woman empowered enough to be outspoken about what she wants. Together, "No Scrubs" and "Bills, Bills, Bills" represent a more realistic side of Black womanhood — the presence of bills, a common desire for men to be providers — and therefore are reminiscent of notions of Womanism. Ma Rainey captured this duality decades earlier with "Lawd, Send Me A Man Blues," in which she wonders "who gonna pay my board bill now."

4. Theory Connections: Hip-Hop Feminism