My Critique of bell hooks’ Critique of Beyonce’s “Lemonade”

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bell hooks wants Beyonce’s Lemonade to bring male domination and the exploitation of the Black woman to an end.

She wants Beyonce, (and her Lemonade) to unilaterally liberate Black women and ALL women, for that matter from a looming patriarchal society that just won’t seem to cut us loose. If anyone can do it, it’s Beyonce. Right?

Wrong.

bell hooks has always had a “thing” against Beyonce. I call it a “thing” because I don’t quite have a name for it, and I don’t quite know what it is. For those of you who don’t know who bell hooks is, let me explain briefly. bell hooks is a scholar, an activist, a teacher, a writer, a feminist.

She was born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.  She doesn’t capitalize her pen name because she wants readers to focus more on her work and her thoughts than her name. Her theory is, she isn’t as important, or more important, rather, than her art.

And oh yea, she called Beyonce a “terrorist.”

It all started with this 2014 TIME magazine cover.

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To make a painfully long story short-hooks asserted that the media assaults the younger generation, girls in particular, and that Beyonce is part of the problem.

“The major assault on feminism in our society has come from visual media and from television and videos.” -bell hooks

She then went on to talk at length about the T-shirt of herself that she was wearing. That was the beginning of the Beyonce/bell hooks beef that I’m fairly certain Bey never even signed up for. And now we’re here-again, with bell hooks’ latest charge against Beyonce, claiming that Lemonade isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be.

“My first response to Beyoncé’s visual album, Lemonade, was WOW—this is the business of capitalist money making at its best.”-bell hooks

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hooks, I just don’t believe you. THAT WAS YOUR FIRST THOUGHT? THAT’S what you got out of this? Does blood even run through your veins?!

While I respect hooks for what she’s done, and the path she’s carved out, I think she, like many older Black activists and scholars are simply too caught up in themselves, and too stuck in their ways to allow for the productive and necessary change that is bound to come in the next few years.

“Lemonade offers viewers a visual extravaganza—a display of black female bodies that transgresses all boundaries. It’s all about the body, and the body as commodity. This is certainly not radical or revolutionary.”bell hooks

rad·i·cal
ˈradək(ə)l/
adjective
adjective: radical
1.
(especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough
2.
advocating or based on thorough or complete political or social reform; representing or supporting an extreme section of a political party.
rev·o·lu·tion·ar·y
ˌrevəˈlo͞oSHəˌnerē/
adjective
adjective: revolutionary
1.
engaged in or promoting political revolution. rebellious.

Aside from showing up to the Super Bowl dressed like a Black Panther, along with her dancers, Beyonce has done a lot of things that would be considered rebellious and politically/socially motivated over the last few years. In my opinion, Lemonade was one of them. Beyonce purposely centered Black women, highlighting their experiences, their beauty, their humanity, regardless of class, skin tone, or hair texture. With Lemonade, she declared that we all were beautiful, that we all mattered.

But it appears that hook knows that, because just a few lines down, she acknowledges the powerful imagery and completely contradicts herself.

“It is the broad scope of Lemonade’s visual landscape that makes it so distinctive—the construction of a powerfully symbolic black female sisterhood that resists invisibility, that refuses to be silent. This in and of itself is no small feat—it shifts the gaze of white mainstream culture. It challenges us all to look anew, to radically revision how we see the black female body. However, this radical repositioning of black female images does not truly overshadow or change conventional sexist constructions of black female identity.”

So are we now agreeing that the work is in fact, radical? That it does serve the purpose of repositioning Black female images?

hooks goes on to criticize Beyonce (again) for being “too sexy.” This is an argument that doesn’t hold its weight when we talk about feminism. Too often, we see feminists and womanists discrediting women who present as “femme,” who present as “sexy,” accusing them of distracting from the real message. That’s not fair, and that’s not feminism.

“She dons a magnificently designed golden yellow gown, boldly struts through the street with baseball bat in hand, randomly smashing cars. In this scene, the goddess-like character of Beyoncé is sexualized along with her acts of emotional violence..”

Sexualized? Beyonce is SEXY. Women are sexy. It bothers me that hooks, like many other self-proclaimed feminists equate feminism with being un-sexy. Steering clear of the male gaze is a must, if you want to be a REAL feminist. hooks, I’m just not buying it.

“Even though Beyoncé and her creative collaborators make use of the powerful voice and words of Malcolm X to emphasize the lack of respect for black womanhood, simply showcasing beautiful black bodies does not create a just culture of optimal well being where black females can become fully self-actualized and be truly respected.”

Oh, but it does, bell. As we have learned time and time again, representation matters.

Via adiosbarbie.com-A study by Monika Gosin and Joanna Schug of the College of William and Mary suggests that when Black people are depicted in magazines, they’re more likely to be male. Black women are often erased. Media representation is often a reflection of how society views people of different identities. White people are often portrayed as the “normal” and “healthy” and the default measuring stick used to categorize people of color.

So isn’t seeing yourself, in a Beyonce video, how YOU want to be seen, freeing in itself? Isn’t that liberating? Aren’t Black women and girls the ones we want to feel free? By empowering them in that way, you are creating a culture of Black women who are unwilling to accept invisibility.

“Even though Beyoncé and her creative collaborators daringly offer multidimensional images of black female life, much of the album stays within a conventional stereotypical framework, where the black woman is always a victim. Although based on the real-life experience of Beyoncé, Lemonade is a fantasy fictional narrative with Beyoncé starring as the lead character.”

It appears that hooks didn’t watch the video all the way through. Beyonce was more than just a victim throughout the film. She was a victim, a victor, vulnerable, tough, happy, sad, raging, serene. She was all of those things. Aren’t we all ALL of those things?

hooks also had a problem with the violence portrayed in the film. The bats to car windows, the monster truck crushing vintage cars like soda cans. She thought it was unnecessary.

“Images of female violence undercut a central message embedded in Lemonade that violence in all its forms, especially the violence of lies and betrayal, hurts.”

Agreed, bell. Violence is never OK. Does violence happen? Yes. Was the violence symbolic? I think so. In no way do I think Beyonce is advocating knocking your lover’s windows out. But what I do think she’s advocating is the freedom to feel things, the freedom to feel anger, when you’ve been betrayed. hooks herself acknowledges that lies and betrayal “hurt.”

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hooks irresponsibly leads her readers to believe that Beyonce only felt anger. That she only dealt with her pain violently. That’s not true. Throughout the film, she talks about fasting, abstaining from sex, family. She can be seen spending time with her girls. She talks about throwing herself into her work. She talks about forgiveness.

And finally, in her last dig at Beyonce, hooks suggests that she and Jay Z cannot be trusted.

“No matter how hard women in relationships with patriarchal men work for change, forgive, and reconcile, men must do the work of inner and outer transformation if emotional violence against black females is to end. We see no hint of this in Lemonade. If change is not mutual then black female emotional hurt can be voiced, but the reality of men inflicting emotional pain will still continue (can we really trust the caring images of Jay Z which conclude this narrative).”

Oh for God’s sake, what are they, Lucifer reincarnated? I mean, what did these people do to hooks to have her so bent out of shape?

Towards the end of the film, Jay Z can be seen laying at Beyonce’s feet, like so:

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That means something. That shot didn’t happen on accident. That placement wasn’t by chance. It symbolizes humility. It IS humility. There is NOTHING patriarchal about that. (If you have your Bible handy, see Ruth and Boaz). I’m unsure why hooks is so intent on suggesting that this reconciliation isn’t real. It’s almost as if she WANTS Jay and Bey to go down to the courthouse and file for irreconcilable differences. It’s strange.

There also seemed to be some indication from hooks that Jay Z didn’t have to do any real “work” to get Beyonce back. I happen to think that is a ridiculous assumption. In Bey’s song Sandcastles (one of my faves by the way), she explicitly states that she wants to see Jay struggle:

“Show me your scars, and I won’t walk away.”

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In a nutshell, she’s saying, do the work, let me see, and I’ll think about staying. It’s all there for us to hear and see.

After reading bell hooks’ critique, I didn’t leave feeling more enlightened, (as I thought I would), I left feeling yucky. Disappointed. Sad. Here was yet another case of one of our greats holding up her brand of feminism to compare to someone else’s. I’ve grown tired of the “I’m the better feminist, I’m the better activist, I’m the better doer” arguments. I’ve grown tired of elders, AND millennials thinking that they have the authority to police a person’s form of activism, whatever that may be.

hooks’ argument is that Beyonce isn’t “revolutionary” enough. She isn’t “radical” enough. I disagree. As THE most visible Black woman celebrity in the world, to take the stances she’s taken in the recent years, to speak out against police brutality, to pay tribute to the Black Panthers during a Super Bowl performance, to wear cornrows, and braids, to use her art to speak about things that MATTER…that’s pretty damn revolutionary if you ask me, especially considering her conservative image only three years ago. But to say she’s going to free us from oppression in one fell swoop, I think is a bit extreme, and definitely unfair. I’m not sure why hooks wants to put that weight on her shoulders. Beyonce is not responsible for dismantling white supremacy/patriarchy.

No, Beyonce doesn’t write essays, she doesn’t dress in “gender neutral” clothing, and she doesn’t say things like “patriarchal,” but who are we to question her authenticity? Who are we to question how “woke” she is?

Here’s my critique of bell hooks: Maybe, just maybe, she’s a little TOO WOKE. Perhaps she should consider a nap from time to time. Lack of sleep can have some very negative consequences.

For hooks’ full essay, click here.

#KarmaJonezKnows

 

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