Tuesday, February 16, 2010

False Dichotomies.

Along with my love/hate/confused relationship with hip hop (many argue that hip hop hates women), I'm gonna go ahead and confess to having the same relationship with contemporary R&B with both men and women performers. Between the Dream saying "she said 'take it if you want it'.." (I don't think I've ever uttered the words "go ahead, take it if you want it", but maybe someone somewhere said it to him and that was his motivation? sigh) and R. Kelly, even back in his R-uh days, perpetuating and promoting unhealthy relationships (you never meant to hit her? And now you're begging for forgiveness? What kind of message are you actually trying to send to the masses?). Female artists aren't exempt from any judgment though.

I will say, though, that a major problem I have with belief boxes is the fact that they allow people little room to be who they be. For example, I have major problems with the Pro-Life movement and not because I've ever had an abortion or intend to, or because I hate kids, or because I think that people shouldn't exercise proper usage of birth control. My problem is that it doesn't allow women a choice in matters concerning her own body. As a mostly nontheist, I sometimes have problems with atheism because of the effort to open the eyes of those with religious convictions. This effort doesn't make you any better than religious fanatics that wish to bring people to "the light"...and, personally, I don't see a purpose in ruining someone's devotion to anything. There's nothing closeted about it, either. I believe what I believe. Do I find mockeries of religiosity hilarious? Yes. Admittedly. But, I think that I am equipped to know the difference between what's appropriate and not, and what is entertainment and what is not. I think that people should just do what they do and not worry about fitting in anyone's box (which is my entire argument both for and against religion).

My digression from the major point of this post is to illustrate the false dichotomies created by many people with certain convictions. I often say to people that being a Womanist can be confusing because on one hand, you want to extinguish all of the stereotypes that have been historically used to define Black women - who we are, how we act, how we're supposed to act, what we're good at, what we fail at - but on the other hand, you also want to allow women the option to do what they want and be who they want to be. However, it's difficult to know what someone wants if they appear less than informed about their options and opportunities.

I will admit that I have never been a fan of fitting in boxes at all. Junior high, however, was as confusing a time for me as for any other awkward adolescent. I think it was a lot different for me, though, because having began my schooling in private schools, I never had a concept of what was really popular (but my parents always pushed the nerd in me). Having always been in advanced courses, I gained a different concept of what "Black" was supposed to look like in middle school. I was often the only non-Asian colored face in my advanced courses. I had teachers try to intimidate me. When I transferred to public school in the middle of sixth grade, the first friends I made were a white girl and an Indian girl. I sat with them at lunch one day, and the people I knew from my neighborhood laughed at me, and asked me why I wasn't sitting with the other Black people. It was all very silly and confusing, especially in that hyper-hormonal era when everyone is trying to understand where they belong without being equipped enough to navigate away from the status quo. It was just like the clickish lunchroom scene in "Mean Girls"..and very, very exhausting.

My problems with the entertainment industry are along the same lines. I have a really good friend who refuses to listen to radio or any bullshit passed as music; he's intelligent and he knows all about music in its high quality, artistic form. I also have a best friend that loves her some of what's on the radio, and that's fine. I'm totally okay with that many times. I will admit that there are some things that I just can't stomach as far as the industry goes; for example, a good friend of mine tried to convince me one day that The Dream is an incredible writer. I wanted to vomit, and if anyone has any arguments as to why, I highly urge you to scroll up and read the aforelinked set of lyrics to "She Rockin' That Thang". As a 20-something who didn't actually begin clubbing regularly until she was almost 22, I will say that there are things that are entertaining but not high quality art, and my major problem with the entertainment industry besides the nature of the business is the fact that there are too many people who aren't fully equipped with the ability to decipher messages and understand the difference between what's real and what's entertaining. That is not to say that there isn't a line that shouldn't be crossed; just recently, I was discussing my recent lack of amusement at Family Guy because of the repeated rape jokes in one episode.

I've always had strong opinions about messages that are illustrated, whether or not they were the perceived intention of the creator. I don't make excuses for anyone because I think that part of the human experience is contradictions. A big part of the reason the way things are how they are is that there aren't enough people equipped with the proper ability to decipher certain messages and take things for what they are. I mean, have you ever seen a Nicki Minaj look-alike contest? Everybody wants to be a Barbie doll and kiss girls because of the image; you know what? If that's what you like, fine. I'm amused by Nicki. I don't hate her, but I also don't want to be her look alike because it's an image that, unfortunately, only pushes a certain standard of beauty that lacks both authenticity and Africentricity while trying to establish success among the mainstream. Growing up, though, I enjoyed listening to Queen Latifah shout "Who you callin a BITCH?" and sneaking to hear Lil Kim claiming to be the Queen Bitch. It never once confused me that they were both using the same word and meaning very different things, and I think that people expect so many things to be either/or when life, itself, is not.

This morning, I came across No, I am NOT a BEYONCE Fan-”Sasha Fierce for me, but not for thee!” about Beyonce versus Sasha Fierce, and the dangerous false dichotomy that they are creating for women and young girls about what it means to be classy versus being comfortable with sexuality; I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it largely inspired this post.

Aside from the dichotomy created by established convictions, entertainers who send certain messages to their audience about what it is okay to be makes the progression of women and femininity all the more difficult. Why does Beyonce (classy and reeled in) feel the need to have an alter-ego, Sasha Fierce (the performer, hyper-sexual and wild)? Is it not okay that she be a performer and perform as herself? Why isn't it okay for women to be comfortably sexual? Is there something wrong with women enjoying sex? Why does Beyonce, a seemingly powerful Black woman feel the need to distinguish this difference, and do her fans also understand the whys and hows?

You know what? I like to wear make-up and get my hair done (I'm a weave-free, natural texture kind of gal, though). I enjoy wearing heels sometimes, and I love to shop. I'm sometimes afraid of spiders, and sometimes make silly mistakes where cars and mechanics are concerned. But I will still drop some serious knowledge on you, and I've been known to have a little bit of a temper. As noted in my profile, a friend of mine called me a post-modern hippie; I can sit back and plot out where I want the revolution to go while getting excited about the latest 12-inch Alexander McQueen masterpiece (smile). I'm just me!

Now, I will be the first to admit that I woke up doing the "Single Ladies" dance on Valentine's Day (smile). I have Beyonce in my ipod (along with Sarah McLachlan, Common, Jill Scott, MC Hammer...need I go on?) and I'm certainly not afraid to admit it. I don't think that the qualities that she majorly tends to illustrate as a performer are (or should be) what make a successful woman; I have respect for her drive and the girl(/her alter ego) is a performer. But, I think that there should be a yearning for more from a female "leader" by Black women because as long as adult women don't identify and understand these messages, the children will not, and the inability to understand and know how to be successful in the real, and not entertainment, world will continue to be recycled.

In actuality, though, Beyonce/Sasha Fierce may think they have created and controlled this image, and I am not going to say that she/they should be absolved of any responsibility in this, but somebody besides her fans signs her paychecks. I do suppose that somehow, this relates to my all time favorite speech about the image of Black people in America and our lack of desire to identify with Africa. X said, "You can't hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree itself"...it's a good speech. Check it out:

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