Ms. magazine is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, feminist magazines in America. The mag has occasionally featured celebrities on the cover; Wonder Woman was its very first cover girl, while other cover stars include Meryl Streep, Cher, Cecily Tyson, Ani DiFranco and Pam Grier.
But the mag’s latest cover girl, Beyoncé, is causing controversy for all kinds of reasons.
A quote about author Janell Hobson’s piece posted on Ms.’s Facebook page garnered nearly 100 comments:
“Hobson sparks a discussion among other pop culture critics about female empowerment, combining feminism and ‘traditional’ roles, and the ‘politics of respectability’ for black women. At the end of the piece, it’s up to the reader to decide: Has Beyoncé ‘earned’ her feminist credentials? Why do we even question her feminism at all?”
In the use of the term “respectability politics,” Hobson is referring to the concept that to be taken seriously in a white supremacist society, black people — in this case, black women — need to adopt the behaviors and values of the dominant culture. You can read a comprehensive piece about respectability politics by Tamara Winfrey Harris in Bitch Magazine here.
Chief amongst the critiques about Beyonce on the cover of Ms. are, one, whether Bey qualifies as a feminist and two, whether a black woman who dresses/performs in a sexually suggestive manner is an ideal representation of black women. A lot of comments seemed to conflate the two ideas: that Beyonce can’t be feminist because she’s setting a bad example for young (black) girls by dressing provocatively. Still, others objected to Ms.‘s cover line questioning whether Beyonce had “earned her feminist credentials.”
A heck of a lot of slut-shaming was thrown at Beyoncé for the costumes she wears onstage and in her music videos. One commenter under the handle Green Consciousness wrote, “This fur-wearing stripper — you dare say is an example for young girls??? This woman who got rich being a whore for the entertainment of men???” Another commenter, Krista Julienne, added, “I will never think that parading around on stage in an outfit with nipples coloured on it looks like something someone who wants to be taken seriously should wear.” Still another, Davina Anne Gabriel, wrote, “If she’s wearing stripper outfits, dancing like a stripper for men, and calling women bitches,’ she’s not a feminist. Despite what the so-called ‘third wave feminists’ are claiming, feminism is NOT whatever the hell you want it to be.”
Quite rightly, many of these comments were called out for slut-shaming while at the same time claiming to be feminists. One commenter bopped others for policing Bey’s respectability seemingly on the basis of her outfit choices alone. Yvonne Metiche wrote, “So is the issue of her ‘feminism cred’ an issue of respectability in clothing? If so, that’s bullshit. It’s just clothes. I see a lot of ranting and raving on this thread about what Beyonce wears in her videos and such. Is that where feminism ends and begins? I find that pretty comical.”
Of course, there were less vitriolic critiques of Beyoncé’s packaged image in the music industry, too, plenty of which did not stoop to calling her a “stripper.” Wrote commenter Tzynya Pinback, “[I'm] a little disappointed that a woman whose entire persona is manufactured and controlled by her father, and now her husband, and scores of handlers, is a consideration.” Added Michelle Amatulle-Martine, “I really don’t see her as a feminist either. She works within the patriarchal pop music industry. She’s not trying to change the way things r done from what I’ve seen. She does what she’s told because it sells-not feminist, sorry!!” Wrote commenter Christine Celise, “[L]abeling her a feminist, and her embracing the title, is dangerous. there is an historical context missing from her dialogue. She doesn’t really rep feminism and now her fans will have incorrect notion/definition of what feminist is. … I am a Bey fan but she should not stand tall next to ["The Vagina Monologues" playwright] Eve Ensler or the like.”
Not all the readers bashed Beyoncé. Plenty said a Top 40 pop star who vocally espouses feminist beliefs is a good thing. After all, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry refuse to call themselves feminists, as does Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. With that in mind, the fact that Beyonce has proudly called herself a feminist in interviews should be celebrated. Wrote commenter Jessica Van Liere, “Beyonce owns and controls her image and speaks about sexism and pay inequality in her industry. You couldn’t ask for a greater gift to feminism than to have one of the most powerful and successful female performers of the last decade say she is a feminist.” Added commenter Derrick Mac, who said Destiny’s Child songs like “Independent Woman” helped develop him develop a feminist consciousness, wrote, “I’m looking forward to healthy conversations that expose new audiences to feminist theory and feminist activism.” And commenter Adwoa Osei-Tutu Asante said, “It’s about time feminism walked outside of academic jargon and into the hearts and minds of people everywhere.”
But perhaps one of the best observations was this one about Ms. itself, for seemingly manufacturing a publicity stunt: Wrote commenter Mary Drummer:
The fact that Ms. Magazine is using (some might say exploiting) the image and “controversy” of a successful WOC and questioning how she chooses to self-identify, in order to sell magazine subscriptions is shameful and makes me want to revoke my support of this publication.