Who run the world? If entertainment domination is the litmus test, then all hail Queen Bey. Beyoncé. She who, in the last few months alone, whipped her golden lace-front and shook her booty fiercely enough to zap the power in the Superdome (electrical relay device, bah!); produced, directed, and starred in Life Is But a Dream, HBO's most-watched documentary in nearly a decade; and launched the Mrs. Carter Show—the must-see concert of the summer.
Beyoncé's success would seem to offer many reasons for feminists to cheer. The performer has enjoyed record-breaking career success and has taken control of a multimillion-dollar empire in a male-run industry, while being frank about gender inequities and the sacrifices required of women. She employs an all-woman band of ace musicians—the Sugar Mamas—that she formed to give girls more musical role models. And she speaks passionately about the power of female relationships.
But some pundits are hesitant to award the singer feminist laurels.
On April 25, the online edition of the Journal of Sexual Medicine ran an article by cosmetic gynecologist Adam Ostrzenski, MD, who reported that he had teased a “blue grape-like” sac out of a dead woman’s vagina. This was proof, he claimed, of the “anatomic existence” of the G-spot, the elusive (but much-heralded) erotogenic area that can be stimulated through the vaginal wall.
When Jess came to the University of Washington as a freshman, she was a feminist economics major whose postcollege goal was to land a position at an organization dedicated to social entrepreneurship. Now in her early 20s and just a few years out of college, she is married, looking forward to a life as a homemaker, and involved full-time at the Seattle-based Mars Hill Church, one of the hippest, fastest-growing, and most conservative evangelical churches in the nation.
Little serious thought has been devoted to the trophy wife, that caricature permanently relegated to being an adornment on the arm of a spouse defined by his wealth and power, the May to her husband’s December.
In February 2012, PBS host Tavis Smiley interviewed Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer about their Oscar nominations for their roles as Aibileen and Minny, Jim Crow–era domestic workers in The Help. "I'm pulling for both of you to win on Academy Award night," Smiley ventured. "But there's something that sticks in my craw about celebrating Hattie McDaniel so many years ago for playing a maid"—a reference to the actor who won for her role as Mammy in 1939's Gone with the Wind. "I want you to win," Smiley concluded, "but I'm ambivalent about what you're winning for."
Davis countered that it is hard for black actresses to find multifaceted roles in Hollywood, and that pressure from the black community to eschew portrayals that are not heroic makes it even harder: "That very mind-set that you have, and that a lot of African-Americans have, is absolutely destroying the black artist…. If your criticism is that you just don't want to see the maid...then I have an issue with that. Do I always have to be noble?"
Laurie Penny is an British journalist and blogger who came to prominence with her riveting frontline coverage of the student protests in London in 2010 in The New Statesman, The Guardian, and other outlets. After releasing her first book, Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism (Zero Books) in April 2011, the prolific Penny recently followed up with a collection of her journalistic work, Penny Red: Notes from the New Age of Dissent(Pluto Press). Her third book will be published by Bloomsbury in 2013.