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The Politics of Beyoncé

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Brittany Banks

on 25 October 2015

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Transcript of The Politics of Beyoncé

The Politics of Beyoncé
Understanding Pop Culture
Gender Expression
Gender expression is how one presents oneself and on'es gender to the world via dress, manerisms, hairstyle, facal hair etc. (MSU LBGT Resource Center 2014).
Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter was born on September 4, 1981 in Houston, Texas. She rose to stardom in the group Destiny's Child, which became one of the biggest women groups of all time. Throughout her career, she has won 17 Grammy Awards, sold an estimated 60 million records with Destiny's Child, 75 million as a solo artist, and has an estimated net worth of $400 million. In 2012,
magazine declared her 'World's Most Beautiful Woman', and in 2013 and 2014
magazine included her on its list of the 100 most influential people in the world. She is one of pop culture's favorite obsessions and 'Bey' is literally everywhere these days. She is the topic of college courses and is even the focal point of a religious organization. When one reflects upon her power and influence, one must question: where does it all come from? This project assesses how her sex, gender, and gender performance attribute to her beauty, and thus her power; and in what ways are standards of beauty shaped by upholding the gender binary.
Bey's Heterosexual Marriage to Jay-Z
Beyonce´ and her now husband, rapper Jay-Z, met when she was 19 years old. The year was 1999.
The heterosexual couple were rumored to began dating in 2002, when they released the song "03 Bonnie and Clyde" together.
The couple wed on April 4, 2008.
Magazine's 'Most Beautiful Woman in the World'
Beyoncé was named 'World's Most Beautiful Woman' in 2012. The issue was to declare that she was "back" after giving birth to her first child, Blue Ivy Carter.
In the magazine she stated, "I feel more beautiful than I've ever felt because I've given birth. I have never felt so connected, never felt like I had such a purpose on this earth."

As previously mentioned, the key aspect of femininity is its channeling of two opposite aspects - the women you marry and women with whom you have sex. These opposites often create tension as women work to maintain both. Unlike her musical predecessors, Bey has not been forced to choose between these two aspects. She comfortably occupies both spaces, having selected the alter ego Sasha Fierce to express her sexy side. However, because she has chosen two public personas to convey her respectable and sexual selves suggests that black women have yet to be granted the full privilege of expressing their sexual agency without paying a price (Griffin, p 138). These two opposites also create contradictions that work to prevent women from openly engaging and expressing sexuality, as well as shaming women if one appears to be prude.
Bey criticizes H&M for their propose "retouching" of her body
Beyoncé has taken great pride when it comes to photo shoots over the years, and her body became a hot topic with the release of H&M's Summer 2013 collection.
Bey ordered H&M executives to remove the photos from the advertising campaign after she claimed that the company altered her curves to appear smaller.
Allegedly after several discussions, the company released the original photos.

What is incredible here is that Bey was actually able to get the company to take back the old images, and release the unedited ones, which is just one example of how powerful she really is. As with other moments (L'Oreal ad) in her career, due to the influence she has, society often tries to use her to push forth its ideal about beauty. While she has attempted to push forth embracing fuller body types and an atypical image of femininity (empowering women to express their sexuality in ways that is not traditionally thought of for women to do), society simultaneously attempts to push forth its ideals of femininity and thus beauty.

Bootylicious is song by Destiny's Child that was released May of 2001.
In February 2013, Bey told GQ magazine: "Even the silliest little thing that you hear on the radio, it comes from something deeper. 'Bootylicious' was funny, but it came from people saying that I had gained weight and me being like, 'I'm a southern woman, and this is how southern women are.' My motivation is always to express or to heal from something or to laugh and rejoice about something." (She named and helped write the song)
Due to the popularity of the song, 'Bootylicious' was added to the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary Online in 2004.
While Bey has embraced her curves, it is critical to keep in mind the contradictory relationship that Western society has had with the black female buttocks. Since slavery, the buttocks of African women have come to represent exotic beauty and primitive sexuality. The backwards gaze of the Black woman reworks an old racial fantasy of miscegenation, which is exploited by both men and women in the hip hop dreamworld. It is legitimated and given value through organized capital in cultural industries, such as MTV (Durham, p 38). So while there are typically universal beauty "ideals", there are aspects of exoticism and tokenism within society that create special infatuation with Beyoncé’s look due to its ability to abide by these "ideals", while also creating contradictory emphasis on features like her buttocks that contribute to "exoticness". In relation to course concepts and ideas, emphasizing Bey's curves speaks to the way that women are often the targets of sexual desire. This was evident throughout Club Dead, where Sookie was often sought after sexually by Bill.
The "Uh-Oh"
"Crazy in Love" is Beyoncé's debut solo single and was released in 2003. The song revealed her now infamous "Uh-Oh" dance. The video clip features Bey doing the "Uh-Oh" at a concert in New York.
'Bey's' Memorable Moments: Sex, Gender, and Gender Expression Contribute to her Image, Beauty, and Power
Bodies like Lopez, Latifah, Beyonce´ prompted the commercial marketing of "real women with curves" in film and in fashion, which has influenced policy changes for runway models who must meet a healthy weight according to the Body Mass Index (BMI). In this moment, a particular brand of whiteness is disrupted. Both ideal beauty and sexual desirability are mapped into the curvaceous, ethnically marked female body (Durham, p 36-37). Over the years, it has been typical of Beyoncé to embrace her curvaceous body. The dance can be interpreted as another way that she does just that. For example, when she performs this dance her behind is usually facing the audience and cameras, which could be symbolic of her saying, "Here i am, curves and all." Dance is an important element of Beyonce´'s gender performance. It can be viewed as a way of her expressing her identity, which is woman. The performance highlights her own appreciation for her body and is often done in high-heeled shoes and leotards or dresses. These notions become associated with femininity, so it is possible that her overall performance can be considered consistent with femininity. Perhaps, this is an acceptable gesture or mannerism because her gender is associated with such a feminine gender performance.
Specifically in the novel Fun Home, we see many of the societal implications for those who are not heterosexual. In the beginning of the novel, in order to keep his own sexuality hidden, Bruce (Alison's father) seeks to restores Alison’s gender violations (not wearing barrettes in her hair for example). He does this through forcing her to express gender in a feminine manner, or a way that is stereotypical of her gender. He also does this by displaying obsessive cleaning and restoration habits, “treated his furniture like children, and his children like furniture,” (Fun Home, p 14). His obsessive behavior occurs because the rigid gender binary creates pressure for individuals to express gender and sexuality in ways that are consistent with heteronormativity as the norm. Throughout the story, we see both Alison and her father struggle with their sexuality in relation to their gender performance. However, as the story goes on Alison is able to express herself in the way she wants to while her father is not. Again, this speaks to an idea that has come up in the course. Lesbians are much more acceptable than gay men, and men who express themselves femininely. We saw this with the drag balls in ‘Paris is Burning’. There were categories for the men to portray “masculine” identities because of the importance of passing or being able to “fit in” with their counterparts in order to compete especially for jobs in the workplace and also social acceptance. As for Beyonce´, she is in a heterosexual marriage, which affords her certain privileges. She does not face many of the struggles that Bruce or any of the characters from 'Paris is Burning' to "fit it" because she does not break this rule. Heteronormativity is necessary to uphold the gender binary. Although Bey defies various stereotypes associated with marriage such as being a working wife, part of her social acceptance and popularity are related to her dedication to her heterosexual marriage.

Pop Culture
Pop culture provides stories and narratives that shape our lives and identities. Some scholars have suggested that pop culture regulates society by "soothing the masses," meaning that energy and opposition to the status quo is redirected in pursuit of the latest material item. This regulation is possible due to its connections to huge multi-million-dollar industries that in turn continue these notions by providing markets for consumption, and consolidating power and status among certain groups and individuals (Shaw and Lee, p 498).

Additionally, it is important to address how technology has played a role in changing pop culture - or made it more readily accessible. For example, social media/networking apps such as Twitter are available on our cell phones so that we are constantly connected and allow us to communicate with and follow our favorite celebrities. Entertainment news and celebrity gossip has also experienced increased popularity due to the infamous TMZ.
Contemporary Music
Music functions to help youth shape notions of identity. The various musical forms offer different kinds of identities from which young people can pick and choose to mold their own sense of self. In this way, music has played, continues to play, and will always play a key role in the forming of youth cultures in society. There is a huge music industry in the United States, and it works in tandem with television, film, video, radio, and of course, advertising (Shaw and Lee, p 506).

Beyoncé has used music to express her sexuality, embrace her own body/promote body acceptance, marriage, motherhood, female empowerment, and many more themes that have propelled her to super-stardom as well as be included in conversations regarding feminism. These themes have resonated with youth all over the world to create what is known has the "BeyHive". The BeyHive is a collective of Bey fans who have been touched by her career and that support her through buying her music, attending her concerts, keeping up with her personal and professional life, and even defending her when she is criticized.
Music Videos
About 30 years after the advent of rock music, the combination of music with visual images gave rise to the music video genre, which gained immense popularity with the prominence of MTV, a music video station that has now branched into specialized programming.
We could also argue that the music video industry has allowed women performers to find their voice (literally) and to script music videos from their perspective (Shaw and Lee, p 506-507).

Beyoncé's been known to have visually stunning and groundbreaking music videos over the years (i.e., Crazy in Love, Partition, Bootylicious, Run the World (Girls) just to name a few). Her latest album even included a video album, or a video to accompany every song on the album. Through her videos, we have watched her evolution has an artist, gained insight on her personal beliefs, and can visualize her talent. Other important elements of her videos include dancing (something she has become known for), and her "look" which includes her trademark blond hair, curvaceous body, and her mother-designed costumes and outfits. Her videos can be viewed as advertisements to sell herself and her music, as a way to visualize her and the themes she addresses in her music.
1. Contemporary images of female beauty are changeable (In most contemporary Western societies, thin is closer to standards of ideal beauty, although there are differences within specific ethnic communities within the United States).
2. The ideal reflects various relations of power in society (Culture is constructed in complex ways, and groups with more power and influence tend to set the trends, create options, and enforce the standards).
3. Standards are enforced in complex ways (We adopt various standards, integrate them as "choices" we make for ourselves, and sometimes "police" one another in a general sense).
4. While it shapes women's bodies and lives, beauty is a huge aspect of corporate capitalism and U.S. consumerism (Enormous profits accrue to the fashion, cosmetics, beauty, and entertainment industries yearly) (Shaw and Lee, 229-236).
It is important to note that mainstream Western media imagery tends to homogenize female beauty, removing racial, ethnic, and sexual differences that "disturb Anglo-Saxon, heterosexual expectations and identifications". Additionally, African American girls defined beauty through attitude, style, personality, and presence rather than the perfect look (Rubin, Fitts, & Becker, p 256-257). For Bey, it is safe to say that she mostly fits into these Western standards, while also remaining consistent with findings regarding African American girls defining beauty through attitude. Thus, making Bey admirable (for the most part) across racial lines in regards to beauty.
Resisting "Beauty" Ideals
Works Cited
Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.

Becker, Anne E. "Body Ethic and Aesthetics Among African American and Latina Women."
Women's Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings
. By Lisa R. Rubin and Mako L. Fitts. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009. N. pag. Print.

Crawley, Sara L., Lara J. Foley, and Constance L. Shehan. Gendering Bodies. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Print.

Durham, Aisha. "“Check On It” Beyoncé, Southern booty, and Black femininities in music video."
Feminist media studies
12.1 (2012): 35-49.

"Glossary of LGBTQI Terms." LBGT Resource Center -. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

Griffin, Farah Jasmine. "At Last …?: Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, Race & History."
140.1 (2011): 131-41. Web.

Shaw, Susan M., and Janet Lee. "Chapter 3: Learning Gender in a Diverse Society."
Women's Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings
. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009. N. pag. Print.

Shaw, Susan M., and Janet Lee. "Chapter 5: Inscribing Gender on the Body."
Women's Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings
. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012. N. pag. Print.

Shaw, Susan M., and Janet Lee. "Chapter 9: Women Confronting and Creating Culture."
Women's Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings
. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009. N. pag. Print.

"The Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty."
The Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty
. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 November 2014.

. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 16 November 2014.

While many women strive to attain these ideal of "beauty", many resist them and work to change them. For some, this may mean choosing not to participate in various practices or refusing to support industries that produce these distorted
images. For others, this may mean shedding light on current standards, or even creating their own notions of beauty. While some standards and practices are criticized, others are accepted which creates various contradictions. However, feminists suggest the key is that all practices regarding beauty be conscious. For women, this means that when taking part in various parts of femininity, it is important to understand that "beauty" ideals work to limit and objectify women, encourage competitiveness, and lower women's self-worth (Shaw and Lee, 241-243).
The "Beauty Ideal"
4 points associated with the "beauty ideal":
Based on course concepts and additional research, I have arrived at 3 points that address the original research question: how much of Beyoncé’s influence depends not on just her talent as a performer, but her sex, gender, and gender performance? The first point is being a cis-gendered individual (someone who feels comfortable with the gender identity assigned to them based on their physical sex, MSU LBGT Resource Center 2014) creates social acceptance and does not require one to break any rules associated with the gender binary. Although Beyoncé’ gender performance seeks to

Sex: Are Male and Female Enough?
According to the MSU LBGT Resource Center, sex is a medical term designating a certain combination of gonads, chromosome, external sex organs, secondary sex characteristics, and hormonal balances. Because 'sex' is usually subdivided into 'male' and 'female', this category often does not recognize the existence of intersex or transsexual bodies. Additionally, in this course we were introduced to the idea that there is an interest in maintaining a two-party sexual system, even though it defies nature. Biologically speaking, there are many gradations running from female to male; and depending on how one calls the shots, one can argue that along that spectrum lie at least five sexes - and perhaps even more (Fausto-Sterling, p 1). Furthermore, individuals that are born intersexed are entered into a program of hormonal and surgical management so that they can quietly slip into society as "normal" heterosexual males or females. The motive is in no way conspiratorial, but rather the aims of the policy are genuinely humanitarian, reflecting the wish that people be able to "fit in" both physically and psychologically. However in the medical community, the assumptions behind that wish - that there are only two sexes, that heterosexuality alone is normal, that there is one true model of psychological heatlh - have gone unexamined (Fausto, Sterling, p 2).
Sex and Beyoncé
While it is uncertain if Bey has ever spoken of her sex (usually speaks of her gender, but in this course we have learned that these identities do not always align), there are instances that lead one to concluding that she is female. For example, in her song ***Flawless, the second part features an exert from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Tedx Talk, "We Should All Be Feminists". The piece of the talk that Bey strategically uses in the song speaks to the gender dichotomy that infuses sex and gender, and thus the associated gender roles with being female/woman that this system perpetuates. Because Beyoncé has publicly expressed her feminist views on multiple occasions via interviews and through her songs, it is likely that she is somewhat familiar with the societal gender system (or else she probably wouldn't have included that particular speech within her song). Thus, it can be assumed for the purpose of this analysis that Bey is most likely female.
challenge many of these norms, there is societal approval and disapproval. Although she is "punished" for challenging aspects of femininity, for instance, she is simultaneously "rewarded" for overall being consistent with the gender rules. The second point is identity is complex and should be evaluated from an intersectionality approach - meaning that each aspect connects to/influences the other. What this means for beauty, is that all aspects that I have researched (sex, gender, and gender expression) all contribute to who is considered beautiful and this is true of Beyoncé. In other words, standards of beauty become connected to and even shaped by the gender binary. Those considered beautiful are likely to be cisgendered individuals or those who are able to "pass" as such. Lastly, in regards to Beyoncé’s gender performance, it is evident that sex and gender may contribute to it, but they are not definitive. Expressly, Bey represents many complexities associated with the gender binary. Her own identity and associated performance is not reflective of all women who perform femininely, nor is it indicitive of her sex. It is literally a performance. Through her lyrics, we see that the woman identity is complex because there is not one woman identity, but rather a spectrum. But that sense of woman is often decided for us, rather than it being a choice.
Overall, it seems as though Bey's sex, gender, and gender performance contributes to her influence in society, which becomes connected with standards of beauty. Because she is a cisgendered individual it is possible that she is accepted and thus more beautiful. However, I believe that her image and body of work is important in terms of challenging the gender binary and standards of beauty.
"Gender is a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, social constructionism suggest that the differences between women and men that we identify as significant (i.e., femininity and masculinity) are products of the social world, not nature. ...gender is a system of organizing that Western cultures have devised to organize and make sense of our lives" (Crawley, Foley & Shean, p 4). In many of the singer's interviews and lyrics, she has expressed her identity as a woman. Throughout this course, we have learned how womanhood or sense of woman is marked by femininity (it is the expectation). In regards to femininity, the key is to be able to abide by two contradictory aspects. Women are supposed to be the domestic, caring woman you marry while also appearing as sexy.These opposites often create tension as women work to maintain both (Shaw & Lee, p 134). However, Bey has not been forced to choose. She has maintained her domestic persona (Beyoncé), while simultaneously being able to be sexy by creating her stage persona Sasha Fierce. The fact that she has the choice speaks to the level of power she holds in society due to her wealth and status. Or perhaps she does not have a choice at all, and she is "forced" to create the personas to abide by the rules. As you see, gender plays a role in shaping Beyoncé's career and life. It is possible that she is considered "ground-breaking" and garners so much attention because she has found a way to capture both elements of femininity all while making it "her own". Additionally, she is able to make decisions in her career (such as dismissing her father as her manager) that reflect masculinity. Overall, we are able to see the complexities of gender through Bey's career.
Based on our coursework and seeing examples in the novel Fun Home or the show 'Toddler's and Tiaras', Beyoncé's gender performance can be considered feminine. In 'Toddler's and Tiaras', we are able to see how gender roles and norms that become associated with femininity are taught and reinforced within children. These things include emphasizing the importance of looks through having perfect hair, beautiful clothing, and having flawless makeup. Part of the controversy with Beyoncé's gender expression is that it reinforces traditional standards of beauty. It is also arguable that her performance challenges these norms because she expresses her sexuality and embraces her curvaceous body (which is something that is not considered a part of the Western ideal of beauty).
The picture is from a Beyoncé performance. For the purpose of this analysis, Bey's performances and performance style will be considered. During performances, she usually wears bedazzled leotards or dresses, has golden blond or brown hair that is long, and wears makeup. She is also known to have extensive dance numbers during her shows while wearing stiletto-type heels. Gender expression or performance can be thought of as being feminine, masculine, or reflective of some other gender. However, expression or performance can embody a combination of femininity, masculinity, or another gender.
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