Mommie Dearest: On Beyoncé, Motherhood & Feminism

I’m not sure if you heard, but Beyoncé recently dropped a new album, causing everyone to question what they thought they knew about music, videos, and even feminism. Nothing highlights the latter better than both the video for “Pretty Hurts,” about airbrushed beauty culture, and her song “Flawless,” where Beyoncé samples parts of writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous TEDx talk, “We Should All Be Feminists.”

Google “Beyoncé, New Album, Feminism” and a laundry list of articles pop up, each one promising to explain to you why Bey is (or isn’t!) a bonafide feminist. Many dissect her new songs and videos; others refer to past albums, quotes, or performances. And one even purports that it was motherhood that made Beyoncé come out as a feminist. From Bee Rowlatt’s piece in the UK’s Telegraph:

“It’s no coincidence that Beyoncé’s first album since the birth of her daughter is a towering blast of female empowerment – it is becoming a mother that has brought new and daring sensitivity to her work.”

Now, I’m not one to make assumptions and I have no idea just when Beyoncé first declared herself a feminist. Perhaps she thought of herself that way before having Blue Ivy, or maybe it truly was the birth of her daughter that pushed her to get all of this out there. But I can relate to the idea of motherhood strengthening a sense of feminism because it happened to me.

I’ve written before about how becoming a mom only made me more of a pro-choice advocate. Once I had my son, I truly understood the gravity of being able to consciously make the decision to have a child and didn’t want anyone to have to make the choice because there were no other options. Only months after having my son, I would take him along as I volunteered for Planned Parenthood — conducting exit polls with my son strapped to my back or handing out condoms and information about safe sex while my son quietly nursed in a sling.

Now, as the mother of a young boy, I also find myself more invested than ever before in everything from issues surrounding gender stereotypes, rape/sexual assault, and maternal health. Becoming a mother caused my feminism to become more intersectional and inclusive, and for that I am grateful. And I’m not the only one.

It should be noted, however, that there have been historical tensions between motherhood and feminism, especially within the second wave of feminism when certain classes of women fought hard to actively separate themselves from the constraints of motherhood. It still sometimes feels like motherhood and the issues surrounding it — paid maternal/parental leavebirth control/family planning, the “sticky floor,” the “glass ceiling, “work/life balance“— get left to the fringe of the feminist debate. This is even more of a reason to be vocal and active.

Only a few weeks ago, the organization MomsRising started the hashtag #FeminismIsForMothersToo and Executive Director Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner wrote a piece for laying out just why motherhood and feminism are so intrinsically linked. Mothers need feminism to ensure political and social support, and feminism needs mothers, as they make up a very powerful base of the movement. Also of note: Natasha Vianna started #FeminismIsForTeenMoms, too, reminding everyone that mothers, like feminists, are not a monolith.

One thing I’ve noticed in the wake of Beyoncé’s new album is the discussion over feminism and points of access, meaning, how does one find her or his way into feminism? There is certainly no one or right way. For many it’s academic, for others their families or friends provided points of entry. And for others still, it was motherhood that gave them the nudge to explore it further. So if motherhood truly was the catalyst for Beyoncé “coming out” as a proud feminist? That’s awesome. She is certainly not alone.

Avital Norman Nathman blogs for The Mamafesto. She is the author of the anthology The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood To Fit Reality (preorder now!).