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A Feminist Weighs In On Debate Over Beyoncé

Note: This interview contains language that may be offensive to some listeners.

Beyonce is pictured in Australia, November 2013. (Rob Hoffman)

Beyonce is the subject of much criticism and praise. Heidi Lewis, an assistant professor of feminist and gender studies, weighs in. (Rob Hoffman)

Beyonce on the cover of Time.

Beyoncé is everywhere, most recently on the cover of Time as one of the 100 most influential people. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg of “Lean In” fame writes for Time, “She raises her voice both on- and offstage to urge women to be independent and lead.”

But Beyoncé is often scantily clad, and her lyrics sexually suggestive. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News said last month that for young girls, especially those without parental supervision, what Beyoncé does could have a negative impact.

“This woman knows that young girls getting pregnant in the African-American community,” O’Reilly said on his show. “She knows and doesn’t seem to care.”

Heidi Lewis, an assistant professor of feminist and gender studies at Colorado College, discusses this debate over Beyoncé with Here & Now’s Robin Young.

Guest

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

So have you heard the phrase yet don't go all elevator on me? It's a reference to that security camera video that showed Beyonce's sister Solange attacking Beyonce's husband Jay-Z in an elevator. Today all three issued a statement saying at the end of the day, families have problems, and we're no different.

It's a reminder of how much the spotlight is on all things Beyonce even in an elevator. Sheryl Samberg brought her into her ban bossy campaign, that's based on research that shows girls worry that being a leader will make them look bossy. Look at Beyonce, the campaign says. She's a leader. And indeed she was on the cover of Time magazine, one of the 100 most influential people.

But in the picture she's wearing hardly anything: bikini shorts and a see-through shirt. And her detractors ask, who is she influencing? Here's Fox News's Bill O'Reilly, who said recently that for young girls, especially those without parental supervision, what Beyonce does is having a negative impact.

BILL O'REILLY: She knows that young girls getting pregnant in the African-American community now, it's about 70 percent out of wedlock. She knows and doesn't seem to care.

YOUNG: Well, today we want to spend a few minutes on the question what to make of Beyonce, feminist or sex object. And a language alert, this conversation might mean some language offensive to some. Heidi Lewis is assistant professor of feminist and gender studies at Colorado College. She joins us from KRCC in Colorado Springs. Heidi, welcome.

HEIDI LEWIS: Hi, thanks for having me.

YOUNG: And this is not a new conversation. As you well know, and with Beyonce there was a 2012 Ms. magazine cover. She was put on the cover with the headline Beyonce's fierce feminism. There was a backlash against that from those who don't see her as a feminist. How would you characterize this debate over Beyonce?

LEWIS: Well, one of the things that I would say is that I'm not really all that interested in labeling somebody else a feminist or not because black women have had a long history of being misnamed and mischaracterized by so many people outside of our communities. Toni Morrison has this great quote from her book "Beloved," her novel "Beloved," and it's that definitions belong to the definers and not the defined.

And so I always think about that every time a conversation like this comes up. Now, I do appreciate having conversations about Beyonce and contemporary feminism. I just wouldn't engage in a debate that asks whether she is or is not a feminist. Feminism is so complex and so nuanced, and I think that's something that she's claiming for herself now, that we're - I'm the same age as her - in our early 30s, and I support that, just as I would any other woman making that decision.

YOUNG: Well, in fact she told British Vogue - I guess I'm a modern-day feminist. I believe in equality, but why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Julia Sonenshein, contributing editor at thegloss.com, wrote about the Ms. magazine flare-up (unintelligible) flare-up, and she said she thought that the problem was that a lot of white women were not understanding that there might be a different African-American version of feminism in which a woman might want to use her body as a tool, not someone else use it but she use it as a tool, and it's just that they could not recognize that.

LEWIS: Well, I think they recognized it really well when they were embracing Madonna's feminism in the '80s and the '90s. So as a woman who had control of her sexuality, this is what was being argued at the time, who was empowered vis-a-vis her sexuality. And so I do think it's an interesting conversation to have, you know, what makes Beyonce not a feminist because of her sexuality and the way she expresses it and what makes Madonna a feminist, particularly because of her sexuality and the way she expresses it.

I wouldn't dare compare them in a way that suggests that they're the exact same, but white feminists are no stranger to sexuality as a mechanism of empowerment. So that's why I bring up the Madonna example.

YOUNG: It's a great example of, you know, maybe a hypocrisy there. Do you think that's what it is, that this is about race?

LEWIS: Well, I do think that you have to understand the long history of black women's gender and sexuality politics in the United States in order to understand a lot of the complexities of the Beyonce conversation. A lot of black women, young and of an older generation, are averse to Beyonce's way of expressing her sex and sexuality because of the long history black women have with what we've come to call the Jezebel controlling image.

So we don't use the word stereotype because we use controlling image to express the ways in which certain people are being controlled by a stereotype so that Beyonce is expressing her sex and sexuality in a way that makes people recall the Jezebel image of the sort of hyper-sexual, hyper-sexed black woman. That is triggering for a lot of even black women.

So there's even tensions in our communities about Beyonce and what she's doing.

YOUNG: Well, I'm going to jump in to say that Jezebel stereotype was used to blame black women for their own rape, for instance.

LEWIS: Exactly, right.

YOUNG: Well, if she weren't so sexy, then the white men wouldn't have to assault them.

LEWIS: Right, and that's why we call it a controlling image because it was a way to control black women. Be rapable, right? So you have this sex and this sexuality that I just can't resist. So, you know, I'm going to rape you, and it's going to be OK because you're less than human.

YOUNG: But are you saying that, conversely, Beyonce might be doing what many young black men are doing with the N-word, sort of seizing the thing that was used against her and controlling it?

LEWIS: And I think that there are similarities there. I do think that Beyonce imagines herself as being in control of her sexuality. I would add I think she is in control of her sexuality as much as a megastar can possibly be. You know, there is a record label. There are, you know, people who control the media on which, you know, through which we access her music.

So I'm not arguing that she's a complete agent. No one is. But this reclaiming is also, you know, we see this across feminisms. You know, there's a feminist publication entitled Jezebel. There's a feminist publication entitled Bitch. So lots of us have found ourselves reclaiming derogatory themes like bitch, like nigger, like jezebel, in order to sort of claim to be reclaiming something.

YOUNG: To take the sting out of it. I mean, this is a debate as old as the hills.

LEWIS: The day is long, right. And I sort of reject that take the sting off of it. I think it doesn't - just because black people say nigger amongst ourselves doesn't mean it takes the sting off of it when white people say it. It means that we get to decide when you can say it and when you can't say it. And that is something - that's where that control comes in.

But I think for her, I mean did you see the clip of her, a young man on one of her shows, reached up onstage and touched her, and she had a fit and had him removed. So it's like I'm presenting my sex and sexuality to you, but that does not give you complete access to me. So I think there's a way in which she's trying to have some control over her sex and sexuality, but I think that's difficult to do in a society that tells women that their bodies aren't their own.

YOUNG: That's Colorado College assistant professor Heidi Lewis. We're talking Beyonce. This is HERE AND NOW.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YOUNG: It's HERE AND NOW, and if you've just joined us, we're talking about Beyonce. She was on the cover of Time magazine, one of the most influential people in the country. But there are questions. Are her lyrics and outfits, sometimes just sort of a bathing suit with heels, too sexually suggestive? Is she a feminist or a sex object? We're talking with Heidi Lewis, assistant professor of feminist and gender studies at Colorado College, and we're talking about questions that young women are asking.

And Heidi, you know, the difference seems to be, for some women, that when a woman has something done to her, for instance when she's told wear this sexy outfit in your waitressing job, that's demeaning. But when a woman chooses to wear something, that's empowering.

Now we just heard about how Beyonce had a man removed from her concert, you know, for touching her. But the Bill O'Reillys of the world - we mentioned the conservative commentator - would say you can't have it both ways. Beyonce can't send the message, one message with sexual clothing and not expect a certain response.

LEWIS: And I think that a lot of contemporary black feminist thinking, and I'm thinking about myself, Treva Lindsey at Ohio State, Brittney Cooper at Rutgers University, a lot of us are trying to re-theorize pleasure politics so that it isn't having it both ways. If I don't want you to touch me, you can't, and if you do, there are consequences.

YOUNG: No matter how I dress, yeah.

LEWIS: Right, so we're trying to carve out a space for our own pleasures and desires to be respected, and I think that's where it is extremely racialized because if you think back, black women haven't had a lot of space to do that. Like, you know, slavery ended technically on paper just 150 years ago. So all that time, black women have sort of been told that we belong to whomever decides to have us, consume us.

So I think what we're trying to do, and I think Beyonce is struggling with that, she's trying to negotiate that and navigate that, is to say how much of myself can I find in who I am and how I present myself because for so long we haven't sort of had the luxury of being able to do that.

But to the Bill O'Reilly thing, because I just wanted to comment on that. So his argument is that, you know, Beyonce is irresponsible because 70 percent of black women, according to him and whatever, you know, statistic he found, are pregnant before marriage, right? Beyonce and I are the same age, around - I'm 32 years old. There's no way in the world I can be held responsible for what happens in the entire black community.

And I think it's really irresponsible of him to ignore the problematic sexual politics that black women have had to resist and reject that you and I have talked about. I think he is also irresponsible not to talk about the ways in which black women in particular communities don't have access to safe and health reproductive choices.

You know, you put a black woman in a community that's 300 miles away from the nearest Planned Parenthood, what do you think is going to happen? So I think we need to talk about housing, education, access to higher education, access to safe hospitals. I think all those things play a role and that Beyonce is just an easy scapegoat for an ill-informed so-called journalist.

YOUNG: Well, take it out of the realm of Bill O'Reilly. This conversation was sparked in our office when the Time magazine came in, and there she was gorgeous on the cover. But it was a very young, very hip co-worker of ours who was the one who said what I am supposed to make of this? She promotes women's empowerment, but she looks like a sex object.

You know, there are women who even want very much to embrace her, and they're not quite sure what to make of it.

LEWIS: I think what we have to do is ask - you know, and I affirm in some ways everybody's right to interpret her cover on the Time magazine. What I would be interested in doing as a media scholar is looking at all the people who have been on the cover of Time magazine, and I could say what that person just said about probably all of them. I don't relate, you know, to that. That's not the way that I would ever, you know, empower myself.

How many people on the Time magazine speak to black women's ways of doing anything? So I think we - you know, but as far as her object status, to call Beyonce a sex object I think is simplistic and lazy because it assumes that simply what you wear defines who you are, and I just don't think that to be true.

I mean, it sort of sounds like this whole idea that if you wear a certain thing and get raped, well, then don't wear that. You know what I mean? It's not the same thing. I don't want to make that mistake, but I think it's similar to reduce her, a businesswoman who has amassed a fortune due to her ability to navigate the entertainment industry, a woman who is a mother, a woman who is a wife, a woman who is a friend, down to her shorts.

YOUNG: Yeah, well, she seemed to be - some people speculated that she was responding to some of this with the remix on her latest album, in which she samples the words of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS")

CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE: Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. And marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage, and we don't teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.

YOUNG: This is "We Should All Be Feminists," and in the portion that's sampled for the song, Adichie defines a feminist broadly as a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. Nothing in there about shorts.

(LAUGHTER)

LEWIS: Nothing in there about shorts. I'm glad that you brought that up, the featuring of Adichie on her latest album because there are a lot of feminists I know, self-proclaimed professional and personal, who didn't even know who Adichie was. And were it not for 32-year-old so-called vapid Beyonce, a lot of people still wouldn't.

And I think that it's - I hesitate to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I've been studying feminist theory for over 10 years. Beyonce is new to this. So I kind of look at her as some of my undergraduate students. She's learning. She's making her way. She's reading. You know, she's trying to figure out what feminism has meant for a lot of people, and now it seems, at least to me, that she's trying to figure it out for herself.

So I think it's really fallacious that she's even occupying this much space in conversations about a theory that's been in existence for over 200 years. You know, if I'm talking black feminism, I'm talking Patricia Hill Collins, Bell Hooks, Audrey Lorde, Barbara Smith, Barbara Christian. But I think if Bill O'Reilly wants to talk about black feminism and black women, he should call, you know, Brittney Cooper, tune in to Melissa Harris-Perry.

If you're looking to Beyonce for your feminism, that would be - that's irresponsible. You know, she's young. She's learning. And, you know, Bell Hooks wrote a - I read a transcript, I think it was a conversation that she had with Kevin Powell. And she had a scathing critique of Beyonce, and Bell Hooks is one of our black feminist foremothers that will ever remain so.

So I think even within our communities as black feminists, there is some tension. You know, there is debate.

YOUNG: What was her critique?

LEWIS: What she was doing was commenting on the problematics of Beyonce's sexuality, So exactly what - not exactly at all but in the same conversation that your co-worker was having about what Beyonce's cover of Time meant, you know, what is the message.

YOUNG: What am I suppose to make of this? Right.

LEWIS: Right, what are we supposed - you know, and people had the same reaction - a similar reaction when Michelle Obama said if she could be any woman in the world, it would be Beyonce. People thought that was really irresponsible. And I think there's something to be said about that. I just want to try to keep it messy and keep it complex because that's what it is.

You know, Beyonce is neither, you know, totally right or totally wrong, and neither is Bell Hooks, and I love her to death.

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG: Well, there you go. Heidi Lewis, assistant professor of feminist and gender studies at Colorado College, thank you so much.

LEWIS: You, too. Thank you so much, Robin.

YOUNG: You are listening to HERE AND NOW.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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  • anon

    I loved this discussion and learned so much from listening to Dr. Lewis. Thank you!

  • wendelynboo

    I very much appreciated this discussion but was dismayed, as I always am, with discussions about women’s dress in society, by the lack of emphasis on the responsibility of men to behave with respect towards women no matter what they are wearing. Its as if women not only have to be responsible for their own expressions of their bodies and their sexuality of also that of men as well.

  • @Holly_PDX

    Thanks for this smart and engaging conversation about race, sexuality and feminism. I don’t generally fist pump while listening to interviews, but Prof Lewis got more than one. I am psyched to know she’s out there, as I think about the next generation of girls coming up.

  • donny_t

    Beyonce is a sex object, and the guest just didn’t want to say it. Sex sells, Beyonce knows this and she’s teaching all the little girls and boys who go to her shows that strutting around half naked in front of thousands of people is sexy.

    • Lynn Lee

      No, she writes, produces most of her songs, works hard to put on a good show and leads an excellent private life. Her being sexual is just icing on the cake and makes her a complete woman.

  • harperlee

    To say that Beyoncé is “empowering woman” as a “modern day jezebel” is a sham. She is selling sex and moving product,
    plain and simple, just like so many before her. Unfortunately she is also alienating a
    generation of young girls eager to like her but confused by her message. Since her shift away from “girl
    power” and “putting a ring on it” to “‘Yonce on her knees”, my my daughters and I can no longer sing along to her lyrics in the car. How is this a good thing? Am I supposed to explain to them that she is “in control” and “leading” because she’s dressed like a ho and crawling around on her knees begging for sex? They will look for role model elsewhere, thank you. From her her sleazy performance on the MTV awards, to her ridiculous “backseat” video, and narcissistic and tedious “rockumentary”, I am disappointed and frankly sick and tired of her. She and Jay-Z are master marketers of a very unclassy and uncool brand and anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool. The Obamas should think twice before inviting her back to perform at their next State Dinner.

    • Isernia

      Why has Beyonce` dyed her black hair blond ?…is she trying to pass as a White woman ? Save us all from this women’s body claptrap as discussed by Prof. Lewis. In a not totally unrelated comment – Did the Blessed Virgin Mary have control of her body when the Archangel informed her of the Incarnation. None of us, female or male mortals have total control of our bodies …heredity and culture pretty much set the parameters for that….as does disease and environment. Presentation and body imaging are merely self-deceiving illusions.

      • Lynn Lee

        why do white women dye their hair blond or tan?

      • Charles

        I’m not sure if it’s worth taking the time to answer this, but African Americans often ask why white women tan, get lip injections, butt implants, dreadlocks, etc. Are they truing to be black? You would be better equipped to answer this than I.

        Having said that, even thoughI don’t know Beyonce, I don’t think marrying a man with definite and prominent African American features with your statement and supposition.

        All things being equal, we have as much control over our bodies as possible. We decide how we dress (even though we may be influenced by advertising), we decide what to eat (even when it isn’t the best), we decide whether or not we want to adorn it with tattoos, piercings, and other tribal augmentations (see the first paragraph about passing, as I usual see white people with the earlobe stretchers), when we sleep, who we sleep with, who we have sex with, etc.

        • Isernia

          When white women do those body altering measures you highlight, it is not because they are trying to look Black, but rather more sexy, or they wish to correct a self-perceived body image that they do not like….also, they are following current fashion, fad….culture is the thing that CONTROLS a woman’s body, but it feels satisfying to accept the illusion that you are in fact in control….when clearly you are not. Genetics and environment ( including mass media) pretty much (pardon the pun) COLOR one’s decision on body imaging.

          • Charles

            I can’t speak for all black women, as I’m sure you can’t speak for all white women. However, the ones I’ve spoken to who change their hair color do it for fun. Some others do it because they want to look sexier. It’s not because they want to be white. Changing you hair color doesn’t make you more white. If that’s what they wanted, it would make more sense effective to lighten their skin, get plastic surgery to narrow their noses etc. You proceed on a very interesting assumption. You somehow think that white women do this because they want to look sexier or improve their body image, but it doesn’t seem to occur to you that black women might be doing it for the same reason. By all indications, you are not black, but you claim to know why black women do what they do to their bodies. Are some women (black and white) unhappy with who they are? Absolutely. To assume that they all do certain things for the same reasons is dangerous and simplistic.

            I agree with some of what you say about outside influences. However, tattoos, ear lobe stretching, and other things were being practiced by women before they really became fads. They were definitely not attractive to the mainstream and served to ostracized a lot of the people who made these augmentations. Many women were seizing control of their bodies by doing something completely opposite of what the mainstream was telling them to do with their bodies. Many women take lesser stances by wearing sensible shoes instead of high heels etc. Women can also wear high heels because it makes them feel sexier. However, that doesn’t mean they are being controlled by anything. It may just be that based on what they want, high heel may do the job. If something better comes along, they might take that as well.

          • Isernia

            Hair changes ( color and straightening ) for black women in the past, when racial discrimination was even more obvious than today, was viewed as a way either to “pass” as White or to gain more respect especially in the workplace or the bedroom,. It is this sociological reason that many Black feminists ( since the ’6o’s ) decry the physical modifications of their Sisters whom they consider as traitors to the Black is Beautiful movement. Beyonce` is supposed to be a spokeswoman for Black feminism …hence my comment about her blond hair. Surely, both approaches to “beauty” are making statements through the BODY, as are those you mention as having modified their bodies in ways not popular or even acceptable. Such women, no matter their race, making such modifications may be expressing their individuality, seeking attention, or want to defy accepted norms of society, but remember these are small in number compared to the vast majority who follow mass marketing fashion to promote an image which reads “I’m with it !”

      • SSin

        Isernia,
        It’s not about race, it’s about burlesque as main stream entertainment. Kids do not understand and should not be subjected to Beys humping lest they think they should be like their heroine and hump everything around.

    • MizzReyRey .

      so i guess because YOU CHOSE to pay attention to her sexuality your are going to act like songs like Irreplaceable, Single Ladies, Independent Women, Survivor and all those songs that EMPOWER women and have absolutely nothing to do with sexuality doesn’t exists right? She’s not selling sex, she’s selling her work and her talent. Its not Beyonces fault how these young girls are raised. she’s not an entertainer to raise children, she’s an entertainer to be an entertainer and she is a damn good one. One in a Million. There is no SHIFT, she is going to have sexual songs along with empowering ones like “Pretty Hurts” and “Flawless” because she has the right to express every side of herself. we are not one dimensional human beings. We have many different sides to ourselves. You sound like a bitter hater who is generalizing a woman’s career based off of your own attention span. Her documentary was really good honestly. I like her “partitions backseat” video BECAUSE ITS A FANTASY! I’m pretty sure WE ALL have sex. Frankly i love her and i believe she deserves everything she has. The Obamas should do whatever they want. As long as they are not inviting judgmental internet cyberbullies such as yourself to the White House I’m good. Theres nothing for him to think about, she’s an amazing influence and is an empowering figure regardless if you like it or not, you are irrelevant. she isn’t

      • HumorMe81

        Oh please. Even in her “empowering” songs, she manages to inject plenty of sexual stuff. She’s obsessed w herself, and that is a huge turn off….Her objective is to sell records and make money, which is perfectly fine. But to pretend that she’s moving mankind forward somehow, especially the females, sounds very ridiculous. She is an entertainer….let’s leave it at that.

        • Lynn Lee

          an entertainer with alot of influence and postive influence at that. Just check out the way she’s lead her private life since she was a young girl and tell me if you have a daughter you wouldnt want her to emulate that. Beyonce is a wonderful, talented young woman.

          • Charles

            Lynn,

            I hear what you are saying. However, a lot of young girls don’t look that deep. Most people usually see her in performance gear, not doing other more “positive” things.

            Here is the thing, I have come across in both young and older women (from 18 up to 35 personally, however, there are also older women I haven’t met personally) who emulate and idolize Kim Kardassian. They think she’s is a great business woman and don’t have a problem with how she got what she got. Many women view her as role model. Is she? I don’t know. Would I want my daughter to follow that path? I think not. Would you?

            Here is the thing, eventually it all leads to that same path: Beyonce, Kim, or Ms. Whoever are successful business women. Is that it? Does that trump everything else? Many young men in our communities idolize gangster like Frank Lucas etc. The argument is that he did something no other African American did in the drug business, but is that a good thing?

            Please understand that I am in no way comparing any of the women I mentioned to drug dealers. And I am in no way attacking you. If it sounds like that, then I apologize. My point is simply, do the ends justify the means as long as the people in question are successful and at the top of their game? The other thing is this, just because some other race of people have done the same things, does that make it a good thing. I’ve met women who sleep around as much as guys are supposed to sleep around. Their argument is that guys do the same things. Again, just because some other gender or race does something questionable, is that a reason for another group to do the same thing? I say, let the other group continue with questionable behavior and make better decisions for yourself.

  • Lauren

    Anytime you dress with an objective in mind, whether that be trying to look pretty, sexy, professional, whatever…you ARE trying to say something about yourself. Ms. Lewis claims that it’s “simplistic and lazy” to categorize someone based on how they dress because that assumes “…that what you wear can define who you are.” While I agree that people’s character shouldn’t be judged solely on outward appearances, how you choose to dress is a big part of how you define yourself to others, in addition to your actions, and what you say. If all of those things are working together to portray an individual in a certain way, it doesn’t seem simplistic and lazy to make a conclusion based on those things, it just makes sense.

    • Tracheal

      What women wear or don’t wear forms the foundation for female sexual superiority. While feminist gender bigots hope to have us ignore female sexual power said power is the primary form of female control…given that women tend to be hopelessly incompetent (witness feminist ‘scholarship’) in male power realms. By denying women’s exploitation of men through sexual aggression, feminists get away with ignoring the core female evil…and are able to double-blind blame men en mass for all sex-related aggression. It’s a neat trick as long as we let em get away with it.

    • MizzReyRey .

      yeah but you know whats funny, y’all act like Beyonce is walking the streets in lingerie which she doesn’t, the ONLY time you have ever seen her dressed sexually has to do with her WORK, music videos performances, magazine spreads etc.. So if your gonna judge a woman based on how she carries herself, stop only paying attention to what ur own personal attention span grabs and using that generalize the woman. Ive seen beyonce in suits and beautiful dresses and outfits that are completely fine yet ppl don’t complain about that. it isn’t her fault what WE as a society choose to pay attention. She’s a gorgeous woman in the business of entertainment, she works hard for her body and if women can dress in bikinis at the pool and beach, then beyonce can dress however she wants when it comes to her work

      • Tracheal

        She can indeed dress or undress however she wants when it comes to work or anything else BUT when she intentionally plays the sex card for power she is totally responsible for the consequences. To blame us as a society for HER blatantly sexual behavior is wrong. If she puts it out publicly then she deserves to be ogled and defined as the Honey Money hottie SHE chooses to be.

  • NativeTN

    Oh Lord, May Bill O’Reilly hear this!

  • Pleiades

    This segment is another example of how being a 2-hour presentation has created problems for Here & Now. The producers donate 40 seconds to journalism icon in Barbara Walters, and we are forced to listen to a Beyonce Apologist.

  • Newbie1

    I think we should ban all bossy leaders. You can only be bossy out of necessity. Reluctantly.

    If you want everyone to take 5 minutes off of the break time so we can get back in here to hear you speak, that’s bossy.

    People will hate you for being a bossy leader. That’s why being a leader is the most difficult title. Beware, all newbies.

  • Moore-Al

    Professor Lewis’ comments, responses, and control of the discussion could not have been more spot-on perfect. Like an academic sharpshooter, she hit every target dead center. As an almost 60-year old former teacher of feminist theory (25 years ago), I have never heard a more nimble, artful, or brilliant defense of feminism from both fallacious reasoning and from the nearsighted perspectives of privilege. I was fist-pumping through the whole thing. Bravo, Professor Lewis! Well done. I hope that future generations of young women will have many wise and thoughtful role models like her to help them navigate the treacherous waters of gender politics. No matter what any of them wear.

    • Tracheal

      ‘Brilliant defense’ of an evil and very idiotic hate movement?

    • HumorMe81

      In this day and age, we don’t need feminism. I think it divides people… Men, women. We need better role models in our homes. Daughters as well as sons need their parents guidance to become strong and confident individuals. Fight for what’s right for all of us, not just women. Men also fall victims to abuse from women, which society is slow to recognize…,so think about that.

      • Tracheal

        Feminism also destroys people. That’s the nature of totalitarian tyranny based on fascist ideology. We need to fight for little things like democracy, free speech, and objective scholarship so we can toss these bigoted male bashers back onto the trash heap of history from whence their evil ideologies come.

  • Gloria

    Separate from the discussion of her clothing, Beyonce has done much for women musicians, as her band’s been composed of all women for years; not many other performers have that record.

    • HumorMe81

      I wish she would TALK about that….like when she did that vapid documentary. What was like to earn your place in a male-dominated music industry, Beyonce? Inspire us…for heaven’s sake, with something substantial!!

      • Lynn Lee

        She does inspire us.

  • Paula

    I was amused by Professor Lewis’s assertion that “vapid Beyonce” is attempting to figure out how to sell feminism (or something along those lines); Beyonce is trying to sell records, and Professor Lewis is trying to sell a particular line of thinking. I also found it very entertaining to hear how young Beyonce’ is and how obviously Professor Lewis is miles ahead of her (delivered rather smugly, I thought), though Professor Lewis reported that she is approximately the same age as Beyonce–a whopping thirty-two years old.

  • sue

    First of all, I am a 48 year old white woman who is very much a feminist and I think Beyonce is an amazing example of a modern feminist who embraces her sexuality while conquering the music world. and those who focus on what she wears are completely missing the point. Feminism isn’t a rejection of being a sexy woman. Having said that, this entire topic was just, …pointless and vapid and a total reach. I don’t listen to this program usually but was in my car this afternoon, and if you had asked for callers, I would absolutely have called in. I think the guest did a good job of articulating how Beyonce is a feminist, but I thought it was an insulting premise.

  • Laurie Gracie

    How is Beyonce any different from Miley Cyrus, or Britney Spears, or any of the other legions of young women marketed and objectified in pop culture? In these cases mentioned, all girls who were foisted into the spotlight by overeager parents and then later handed over to more aggressive PR teams. All with little to no education and often little sense of self after the public image and attention falls away. Beyonce’s marketing team has simply (and cleverly) started tying the term “Feminist” onto her tired and industry-old act of selling sex and appealingly non-threatening female objectification. Unfortunately it’s leaving a wake of confused young women who see the same old disempowering game, but are being told that it’s tied to a concept and word that should mean the very antithesis of what’s being presented and sold.

    • Lynn Lee

      The difference is Beyonce is very talented and is the creator of the music she makes. She also produces, directs, etc. She can do whatever she wants cuz she has the ‘brains’ to back her up.

  • Tracheal

    Feminists are female-supremacist bigots. Why does NPR worry so much about the differences between bigot and sex object? Why DOESN”T NPR cover the tyrannical nature of feminism rather than babble about contrived controversies?

  • CrummyVerses

    Heidi Lewis made a passing comment that bothered me, along the lines of “slavery has ended, technically.” Is this the predominant belief among African-Americans? I know a lot of white folks who feel like they are slaves to their jobs, maybe this is what she means? Still, the word “slavery” seems to connote black slaves. I hope that one day she, & others like her, can come to see that all of us, regardless of color, are slaves, technically, to the realities of a system and/or systems that we don’t like. Maybe in the 21st century we take the end of legal slavery for granted?

  • I’ve got 3 daughters

    To me feminism is about equality. A while back I came across an article on celebrities who are enemies of the NRA who also happened to be on the cover of Rolling Stone. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/pictures/nra-enemies-rolling-stone-friends-20130219/beyonce-0296008. Look at the difference between the male covers and the female covers. Males–mostly headshots and fully clothed, Females–lots of legs, shoulders, belly buttons. Headshots, too, but bare shoulders. Now, if Beyonce would do a cover that is a headshot and she’s wearing a sweater, we’ll have equality. Or, when a female artist headlines the SuperBowl because of her talent not because she is sexy and half naked. Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, U2, The Who, Prince–all fully clothed, headlining because they are talented. For Beyonce to be a feminist, she would have to work towards this type of equality. Being in charge of her what she wears? Prove it–by not wearing what every other female performer is wearing. Right now, she is doing what is expected of her. She needs to hang out with Henry Rollins to find some true feminism. http://www.underthegunreview.net/2013/03/18/henry-rollins-comments-on-steubenville-rape-verdict/. And I’ll stop there before I start my rant on Blurred Lines, Miley Cyrus, except to say that the fact the Ellen, Jimmy Fallon, Steven Colbert had this song on their shows proves that it is acceptable to denigrate women, and that’s what needs to change.

    • Tracheal

      But in reality, feminism is about bigotry, reverse-sexism, and female supremacism. Rant less and research more please. The coddled Indispensable ‘Gender’ (Sex) never calls for genuine equality with the Disposable Sex.

      • HumorMe81

        ‘Ive got 3 daughters’ made a good point. S/he is asking for equality, and maybe changing our attitude and not giving into gender role playing could bring about positive change. Why do women dress in tight clothes and men don’t? Why does a woman have to look a certain way and highlight her assets to look pleasing/attractive? Why do we have to label anyone a feminist? Why can’t we just fight for what’s right and leave it at that?

        • Tracheal

          Women CHOOSE to dress in tight clothes because women hope to sell sex for status rather than to risk the dangerous, dirty, and difficult work men do to earn status directly. No offense, but equality between the opposite and very unequal sexes is fascist feminist idiocy. We might shoot for equity but men and women will never be equal unless men become indispensably sexy and women become disposable. Before we fight for what’s right we need to understand the biological and social drivers which underpin the distinctly different preferences and abilities particular to each sex/ (genuine) gender.

  • Kenny Exseven

    This is a discussion of something idiotic, feminist can’t even get there own lingo correctly.

  • Emmy

    Well, here’s what I’ll say. Feminists… white feminists always forget about the intersectionality. In the USA, black girls are constantly belittled and told that we aren’t beautiful, and maybe not told outright, but we’re constantly made caricatures of. We were never delicate dainty little things that wanted to leave the confines of the home. We were NEVER seen that way. So there you have it, feminism will be quite different. As a feminist, I believe in supporting other women. Men already pit us against each other and trash us enough, so, why do it to each other? Come on, girls. Beyonce only wears “sexy” things when she’s working, when she’s entertaining. Otherwise, I’ve noticed she wears regular clothes. Honestly, what is all the criticism going to do? We can keep yapping about her, but why should she give a darn? Beyonce’s image has always been sexy. Stop acting like it just fell out of the sky yesterday. This has been common knowledge since Destiny’s Child.

    • HumorMe81

      The problem is, Beyonce is contradicting herself. She wants to be a symbol of female empowerment while churning out sex-driven music. If she just kept her face shut, and produced whatever music she wanted and sold whatever image she wanted, no one would care. She’s an entertainer…that’s all.

      • Emmy

        Well, I never took her feminism that seriously, as if she were political symbol. That’s the thing. Why do people expect so much from entertainers? They get paid to entertain. They even criticized her for being anti-feminist before she did the female empowerment thing. Trust me, people still care anyway. I hate how the social media age just makes people far more annoying.

  • Karen Miller

    Heidi, loved your interview! Expect to continue to

  • Karen Miller

    Forgive the previous error. Heidi loved your interview and thanks for keeping the big picture in sight. Reading many of the post was like an education in how many people feel their opinion is correct. Dave Chappelle, much love but example of the uniform is a legal issue, Beyonce’s clothes are not, Just saying. When Bey performs, I suppose she is using her dress to exert power, when she is managing her empire, I imagine she uses other skills. While i don’t use the terms “simplistic & lazy” I do try to give a little more attention to the many aspect of a person, situation, etc before i dare to form an opinion of them. and lastly, it is sad that we are still fighting the battle about about a woman’s clothing and how it is viewed.

  • KellyK

    I’m glad you covered this story. Beyonce’s role in the media – as well as the role of other women – is important to discuss and debate, and I don’t think it should just be left in the realm of perfunctory comments by O’Reilly, nor should it be discussed as solely a racial thing. Good that Lewis brought up Madonna, as I’m in my mid-40s and I remember when she came on the scene. Why does she seem different from the pop stars of today, most of whom I personally find shallow and tasteless, much like eating junk food? Madonna stood for something different – not only was she a woman okay with her sexuality and comfortable with her body, but maybe more important, she was a woman who was demanding and commanding. Men felt uncomfortable not with her sexuality but her downright “bitchiness”. For women at that time, I think her aggression was embraced as she ripped apart any nice girl imagery. Many women feel they are trained to be nice at a young age and that somehow being confrontational is wrong. Now Beyonce, she’s not confrontational. She seems a woman, nice enough, but also entrenched in our sappy society of hyper-commercialism – and with that hyper-commercialism comes the unleashing of our pornographic culture. So yes, it is confusing to celebrate Beyonce. Is she being sold to us as a new kind of feminist – because she is one – or because the industry wants us think so. I think it is the latter. And I refuse to buy into their definition of sexuality or equality, just as I won’t buy their Pepsi or SmartWater. And for middle-aged Madonna, wouldn’t it be great if she embrace her earlier rebelliousness and just got stubbornly beautiful with deep wrinkles and glorious grey?

    • Tracheal

      Before women will ever be powerful (as opposed to controlling) they will have to deal with female biological preferences and filthy feminine forms of covert social aggression.

  • Lynn Lee

    Oh and dont forget ‘Mick Jagger’, “Rod Stewart’, ‘Prince’, etc!! I’ve never heard complaints about them being overly sexual. Hmmmm…..

  • Jackson

    Beyoncé is a professional performer. Her look is part of the package. It would be an uproar if a man spanks a ballerina’s behind on stage. Dancers and performers wear revealing clothes. It’s part of the performing. None of us know what Beyoncé is like in her day to day life. I imagine she’s no better or worse than the rest of us. But why speculate on her thoughts? She’s not responsible for the entire female population.

  • PioneerRider

    What sort of nonsense is this? Is there any wonder why American femininity has become so irrelevant everywhere except campuses with a service to sell? Beyoncé is a product, nothing more. For the professor to pretend that Beyoncé is just a regular working woman who happens to be on stage is one of the most disingenuous remarks I’ve heard all year. All Beyoncé does is market and sell her sexuality. Please don’t insult us by confusing the product, a successful rich African American young sexy woman’s lifestyle, with any artistic ability or talent, because she has none. She is in that same group with Britney Spears and Taylor whoever. This segment is a ridiculous waste of time. Thanks!

  • Jo

    This conversation feels completely detached from history and the reality of black women in America. The fight for liberation (feminist struggle) for African American women has a lot more to do with equal pay for equal work, rights to education, rights for personal safety, and safety for our sons and daughters who are dying senselessly from homicide, than the superficial themes this article encourages readers to focus on. She’s a fine entertainer. Until she stands forcefully and acts to address these substantive issues, her contribution to black feminist struggle is trivial and hardy worth discussion.

  • twells

    You obviously and completely missed my point, which I tried to get through humor. So I will lay it out in a less nuanced form:

    If a woman dresses in a way which enhances or focuses their primary and secondary sex characteristics, they will be judged, at the very minimum, on a sub-conscious level, as advertizing their readiness for sexual congress. This is a basic, evolutionary, human instinct. It is in the eye of the on-looker – not in the dressed woman. Denying this fact is to deny the foundation of evolution, whose primarily purpose is the propagation of the species.

    I am not justifying, nor did my original post justify, a rapist, a perpetrator of sexual assault, or any other criminal behavior. We have civilized some of our basal carnal instincts, and their should be criminal sanctions for those who breach these social conventions.

    But to think that one is not judged by their appearance, especially when enhancing sexual triggers, is wishful thinking.

  • LaBelleBretonne

    “Put a ring on it” … closed me right down right away as the image is of a cow ring, of chattel …. this is NOT feminism and it is NOT what I have fought my whole life for. Empowerment is not telling a man that I am ready to be “roped in”. Sorry … Beyonce is the LAST thing I would want any your girl to look up to … Malala Yousafzai is a real role model for young girls.

  • SSin

    Instead of the mentioned solution of offering planned parenthood to everyone, how about offering a role model for young girls who does not use sex to get what she wants…because that is certainly what Bey is doing. If you think a 15 year old girl is going to understand the nuance of sexual politics and the feminist voice then you are sadly mistaken.

  • SSin

    Beyonce purports to be a singer but her fame is not based on her singing but on her blatant sexuality. She is using the great and singular gift that women have for her fame and fortune. She is prostituting her femininity.

  • SSin

    I have a big problem with MJ grabbing his crotch and simulating masturbation. Burlesque should be labeled as such and limited to an adults only audience. Kids do not understand the whole of sexual politics and heroes like Bey and MJ distort their worldview.

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