This past week I accompanied an intimate group of women and young girls, including my 12 year old daughter, to a local screening of a prolific documentary chronicling the story of 9 remarkable girls from Cambodia, India, Nepal, Egypt, Peru, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Haiti and Sierra Leone. “Girls Rising” spotlights the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change a girl – and the world. Facing arranged marriages, child slavery, and other heartbreaking injustices, this film takes us on a journey with each girl as they triumph over adversity. This groundbreaking film, directed by Academy Award nominee Richard Robbins, written by 9 celebrated writers and narrated by 9 renowned actresses including Alicia Keys, Kerry Washington, Meryl Streep, Selena Gomez and Anne Hathaway, successfully persuades its audience on the significance of educating girls and women around the world.
Simultaneously as a huge Beyonce admirer; I begin to read more about her controversial track
“Bow Down/ I Been On.”
Akoto Ofori-Atta; assistant editor at “TheRoot.com” recalls singer Keyshia Cole jumping into fray by launching a Twitter missive, ending the barrage of tweets with the comment, “First ‘Women need to Stick together’ now bitches better Bow. Smh.”
Writer and feminist activist Rahiel Tesfamariam expounded on Cole’s sentiments writing, “The release of ‘Bow Down’ suggests that the pop icon only adorns the feminist label when it suits her — dangerously straddling the line between female empowerment and subjugation. ”
Cole might be stirring up division of her own but songs like “Bow Down” only add fuel to the fire. Tesfamariam suggests with her article that Beyonce sabotages her female empowerment efforts with ‘Bow Down.’ On her last album, Beyonce sparked an international debate about whether or not girls “run the world.” Feminists critiqued the hit song for not being an accurate reflection of women’s limited decision-making power globally and doing a disservice to the socioeconomic reality of women living in the global south with minimal access to quality education and job opportunities.
Tesfariam discusses Beyonce’s return two years later with a self-glorifying anthem amidst Women’s History Month that is anything but empowering and that it promotes female subordination and division. “I know when you were little girls/ You dreamt of being in my world/ Don’t forget it, don’t forget it/ Respect that, Bow down b—ches.” She’s “clapping back” at nay-sayers who think she’s just Jay Z’s “little wife” and declaring that their hate for her is only an extension of their jealousy. While many of her fans are celebrating the song as playful and innovative, the lyrics and bravado, according to fans and critics, are in direct opposition to past statements she has made about wanting to inspire other women.
As a mother and sister, how does she not see a problem in referring to women as “b–ches” and “tricks”? There are times when Beyonce boldly lives up to her long-touted, feel-good, girl-power message; this is done when she makes arguments for women having financial autonomy, appreciating their unique body type, participating in healthy relationships and relishing in the joys of motherhood. However, there are also times when the pride that Beyonce takes in being “Queen B” and “Mrs. Carter” overshadows her efforts to affirm other women.
“Yes, she goes in
on other women,
but it doesn’t make
the song anti-feminist.
says Ofori-Atta. Bravado is also at the core of it all — in-your-face self-celebration, regardless of whether anyone asked for it. To isolate the song from the genre in which it is rooted leads to messy mischaracterization. Playing with that pomposity as an artist — within the hip-hop framework — is not enough to negate her commitment to feminism. Beyoncé asserts, “I took some time to live my life/but don’t think I’m just his little wife/don’t get it twisted.” If we can agree that bravado is central to hip-hop, women should be able to use it as a creative tool as well. Also, here’s what is central to her brand of feminism: the option to play like the boys play. If men can boast about their accolades on a track, so can Bey and any other woman who chooses to. In that sense, isn’t “Bow Down” pro-women?
Furthermore, Ofori-Atta continues that if we understand that this is a hip-hop song, then we have to pay attention to how a lot of fans really interact with the music. When we listen to hip-hop records in which our favorite rapper is denouncing haters and claiming to be the best, don’t we adopt those songs as anthems of our own? Aren’t we more like the artists and less like the nameless detractors? It’s a mischaracterization to say that “Bow Down” only subjugates Beyoncé’s female fans. It might also empower them. Finally Ofori-Atta concludes “I don’t write this to say that what governs hip-hop should supersede all that governs feminism. But we should view Beyoncé’s feminism as complex — because it is, just as it is for most feminists. She shouldn’t be reduced to “you either are or you’re not” dichotomy because of her lyrics. And most importantly, we shouldn’t label her efforts disingenuous because her feminism doesn’t conform to our own.
As one who empathizes with the plight of women and girls around the world both experiences; spending 100 minutes exploring the complex lives of 9 extraordinary girls around the world and hearing the controversial lyrics of an empowered young woman who I celebrate, I’ve birthed a new clarity as it relates to my purpose and mission during this lifetime. “What I know for sure” is that once we awaken to the divine power within and “limit” the worldly distractions we encounter daily ,we can focus inwardly on healing ourselves, our family, our communities, the nation and ultimately the world. Celebrating women who empower the masses is great; but each and every one of us has the power to transform and take this world by storm!!! If you think one person can’t make a change…try sleeping in a room with a mosquito. Sahkia, Ruksana, Suma, Yasmin, Senna, Azmera, Amina, Wadley and Mariama and the millions of girls and women they represent around the world are waiting for us to rise… restore the balance and teach the world how to “Bow Down to Love. It’s time to Rise!!! Let’s Go…
by Nadirah Goldsmith
Before I go, I leave you with this