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.
A few weeks ago, I attended a friend’s bachelorette party. In the days preceding, my kitchen morphed into a workshop dedicated to constructing penis-shaped objects to eat and to hit. Resting atop my kitchen table like a prize pig at a state fair was a large pink papier-mâché penis piñata stuffed with condoms, chocolates, and individually wrapped packets of lube. Meanwhile, a large, thickly frosted phallic cake occupied the lower half of my refrigerator.
Shortly after Barack Obama took office in 2009, first lady Michelle Obama kicked off the national slimming program “Let’s Move” and inaugurated an escalation of America’s already deeply entrenched “war on obesity,” seeming to interpret her husband’s campaign messages of “Hope” and “Change” in a manner fortuitous to our country’s $60-billion-per-year weight-loss industry.
At the 2012 Sundance Awards, writer-director Ava DuVernay won the prestigious Directing Award for Middle of Nowhere, a feature film about Ruby, a quietly bold nurse who, after her husband is incarcerated, undergoes a personal transformation that forces her to make difficult choices about her life and marriage.
During the fever pitch of the 1970s sexual revolution, Margo St. James, the flamboyant matriarch of the national prostitutes’-rights movement, burst out of San Francisco’s bohemian scene with an infectious enthusiasm for her cause: to make prostitution “palatable for the public.”
This article went to press in January 2013. A February 2013 update is at the bottom.
2012 marked the year that violence against women became a partisan issue. The Violence Against Women Act, passed in 1994, was the first comprehensive federal effort to combat such violence. The landmark law strengthened the legal response to domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, as well as directed critical funding toward services for survivors. Over the years, it’s provided more than $4 billion to local governments and nonprofits to support programs like rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, and legal assistance for survivors.
The VAWA has always enjoyed bipartisan support, but the law was allowed to expire for the first time ever when the 112th Congress wrapped up last January without reauthorizing it.
When I saw images of artist Favianna Rodriguez’s “Slut Power” seriescirculating on Facebook, I was already familiar with her bold silkscreened posters, which often feature people of color tackling subjects as varied as immigration and sustainability. The Slut Power posters, however, were something different. Their power and pull felt immediate.
In Rodriguez’s work—faces of brown women, graphic colors, curving lines—the women are front and center, but the text packs the punch: “It’s my body. It’s my pussy. Get over it you patriarchal fuck head woman hater.”
Film noir used to be personified by the lone detective in a trench coat, chain smoking in rain-dotted lamplight. But 70 years after The Maltese Falcon ﬂew into Tinseltown, that hero has been replaced. Now, standing in that same lamplight, smacking gum in the same misty glow, is a lone detective in a Faroese sweater. And she’s a woman.