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Is Beyonce's New Video Feminist?

How the new clip from the world's biggest pop star plays out female empowerment, stilettos and all.

What’s the quickest way to pick a fight?

Wear stiletto heels to a conference on Feminism.

And if you want it to really get ugly…pair said heels with skinny jeans, nail polish and copious amounts of lip gloss.

This is exactly what I did a few years ago.  As I waded through a sea of buzzcuts and flannel shirts, I could feel the eyes on me. Eyes of contempt. Eyes of lust. Eyes of confusion. I smiled and waited for the hammer to drop. I didn’t have to wait long.

About an hour into the conference, the conversation turned to the “male gaze.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with feminist lingo, male gaze is a term that was first used by feminist scholars to describe how the film industry typically adopts the point of view of heterosexual men by using camera angles and filming techniques that objectify women. Although it was a term initially applied to sexist film practices, the term now has a wider application – as it is used  to describe the focalization of women as objects on a socio-cultural level. Today, much of the female representation and imagery that we see in the media is shaped to please the male gaze.

So at this conference, one sister kept talking about how we, as women, too often defined ourselves by the standards set by men. As she spoke, she pointedly looked at me… and my shoes. Following her cue, a few other women glared at me, openly hostile. Many of the women at this particular conference were lesbian and mixed in with their hostility about my questionable feminism -was definitely a certain amount of sexual interest in my appearance. Hate and lust in equal measure. Maybe they thought I would be intimidated or would start to doubt my decision to unabashedly be myself in this space that they had carved out. I chuckled silently as a Beyonce line ran through my head. They must not know about me.

First of all, let me be clear. I am a feminist. A staunch one. I am a woman who firmly believes that women should have access to all of the rights and opportunities that are afforded to men. I do not hate men. Or anything for that matter. I love men and women. I want to see a society where all of us can be free and whole. I take my feminism seriously. So seriously in fact, that I have taken time to critically think about it. I  have not allowed anyone to impose their brand of feminism on me. Whether it’s white women who have made feminism all about the white, middle-class experience or sistas who have rejected feminism for some reactionary and equally debilitating form of   womanism that still denies full range of expression and being, I reject anything that tells me that I’m not allowed to be my whole self. I like stiletto heels and make up. I like men. I like attractive men. When I was a single woman, I liked to look at attractive men and I liked them to look at me. Does being a feminist mean that I cannot love and embrace these parts of myself?

I used to feel a deep internal conflict between who I was and what I thought my feminism should look like. But like Joan Morgan said in W hen Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, I’ve learned to embrace a feminism that’s not afraid to “f*&k with the gray areas.”  A feminism that lets me find peace in the understanding that my job as a feminist  human being is to constantly work on checking the “isms” within myself, while also loving the parts of me that are healthy and conducive to my growth—even if they don’t fit into someone’s pre-conceived notion of who I should be.

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