Chances are, if you’re:
- living in the United States
- have an internet connection
you’ll have seen two things.
One is the Superbowl performance of Beyonce’s new song, Formation, and the other is Hilary Clinton’s bid for the presidential nomination, with backup from Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem.
I was thinking about everyone’s reactions to both things, but mainly to the second event. I can’t, obviously, relate to much of the day-to-day experiences of being a black female in the US, but I can relate to being female (especially in an industry dominated by men).
It all started with this article.
In it, Sady Doyle talks about being an angry woman, someone who has to take shit while getting shit done. She talks about how Hilary Clinton has to smile during a job interview for the world’s most powerful job while answering idiotic questions:
She smiles while she assures the moderator that she won’t make her husband do stupid lady things like – ick! – decorating. She smiles while assuring the world she won’t forsake her duty as a woman, that she will still “pick the flowers and the china for state dinners and stuff like that.” She smiles while answering the question of whether female Presidents are fundamentally unnatural, whether she is fundamentally unnatural, whether electing her will emasculate not only Bill Clinton but the nation itself.
The post, however, is primarily about why women are sometimes condescended to for voting for Hilary Clinton — because feminism isn’t a “real” progressive issue, because, as Madeleine Kunin said of Sanders:
When Sanders was my opponent he focused like a laser beam on “class analysis,” in which “women’s issues” were essentially a distraction from more important issues. He urged voters not to vote for me just because I was a woman. That would be a “sexist position,” he declared.
… Feminism didn’t matter. Her record of fighting for women’s equality, and of working to secure women both legal protection from discrimination and representation in their own government — well, that was all “women’s issues,” not real progressivism.
As was to be expected, this got me fired up enough to write a post about it in Facebook, which led to a friend pointing out quite reasonably that both Albright’s and Steinem’s behavior recently hadn’t been exemplary:
Albright: There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!
Steinem: When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’
I was disappointed, of course, and nearly as enraged as Doyle’s article had made me. And then another friend linked me to this insightful post.
A revolution? I don’t think that word means what you think it means. What does Hillary plan to overthrow? Or do you assume to say that simply electing a women would be a revolution in and of itself? And I have to ask … how?
…What good is success for some women if the cost is leaving other women behind? I understand the value of systems to protect the vulnerable, I am not anti Liberal, but the feminist liberal notion that we simply need to add women and stir needs to go. The liberal feminist notion that electing extra white women and putting white women in charge is the solution needs to go.
Here, the point is that what Hilary Clinton’s campaign stands for is a certain kind of power, a symbol of hope for all the women who’ve been shouted down in meetings and had to stick an emoticon at the end of emails to not be seen as bitchy. But as an agent of real change, she’s falling short.
During the Superbowl halftime, Beyonce performed Formation. To me, it’s a song about the gap between the perceptions of blackness and the reality — both the good and the bad realities, the cultural pride and the grimness of Katrina. She and her backup sported natural curls and costumes that borrowed from the Black Panther uniforms. Her video included a segment of white police officers.
I read a breakdown of the song because I don’t understand much of the cultural significance of what goes on in it. But here’s a hint, from Dr. Zandria Robinson:
…the visuals for “Formation” offer up New Orleans as convergence place for a blackness that slays through dreams, work, ownership, legacy, and the audacity of bodies that dare move and live in the face of death.
…Beyoncé places her own reckless, country blackness–one of afros, cornrows, and negro noses, brown liquor and brown girls, hot sauce, and of brown boys and cheddar bay biscuits–in conversation with and as descended from a broader southern blackness that is frequently obscured and unseen in national discourses, save for as (dying, lynched, grotesque, excessive) spectacle.
And then — of course — someone else linked to another article through Facebook, this time a blistering critique of everything surrounding Formation and Beyonce’s commercial success.
Misogyny and racism are real. Beyoncé faces these things. She’ll be okay. She has private security, personal transportation and a ton of money. She doesn’t need us to defend her. But we need to defend each other.
…Beyoncé is a logo. Beyoncé is a commodity. Beyoncé is a production. Beyoncé is a distraction. Beyoncé is a ruse. Beyoncé does not actually exist.
That article is worth reading several times over; it moves through a whole spectrum of topics, including queer identity, activism and politics, and international politics.
The (meta) meta commentary
I can’t think of a week of events that illustrates something so fundamental about us so explicitly.
We see what we want to.
Of course, these articles actually do point out some realities. We’ll never know what was going through Steinem’s mind when she made that ludicrous remark about today’s women. We’ll never know what Beyonce actually meant to say, speaking as she was through a series of highly coordinated events (and I count the song as one of those too). But we’re aware that there are complex socio-political problems surrounding all of these things.
The connection here is, I think, yearning. Women in this country — in the United States! In the 21st century! — are yearning to see a woman in charge. “Obama did it!” we say. “It’s time for the next change!” Of course we know as well as anyone else that one of the most significant domestic issues that’s come up recently is the vast chasm that is race relations, and how they’ve simply stagnated since the fifties in some communities. What good did it really do to put Obama in charge?
Women in minority communities, black women, are (I can make an educated guess) yearning to be taken seriously. Beyonce is practically revered, she’s not shy of her black background, and she’s both gorgeous and talented. But she’s a performer primarily, and there don’t seem to be many reports about how much she’s speaking up for the Black Lives Matter movement. In fact, most articles about Formation were about how this was the first politicized move she’s made in a while.
But I’m going to make a radical proposition here.
We know that Clinton and Beyonce aren’t going to do a damn thing for us.
Even the most obsessed Bey fan probably gets this. But does that matter, when for a few brief moments, these women show us what we can be?
Politics is performance too. Obama’s campaign explicitly ran on hope and change, but any other campaign has the same implicit message. No one runs to keep things exactly as they are; certainly not Clinton.
radfag puts it best:
If I learned one thing this week, it is that we are starving to see ourselves in power. We yearn to celebrate the vision of it–even when we know it is a ploy, a hologram.
The very nature of hope is intangible. Like politics and pop music, it isn’t going to do a damn thing for us. But it might make us think more, fight harder. Which is really the whole point.