I've done quite a bit of writing this year. The one good thing about working from home is that it makes it a lot easier to churn out essays during procrastination breaks. I've had to deal with a lot of changes over the past 12 months, but the biggest personal change for me has been my feminism, and subsequently the direction of this blog. My politics matter to me, and they reflect my personal beliefs. It's no surprise then that I used the resources I had to make my voice heard. I'm a writer, so I wrote. Here, in descending order, are the ten essays I wrote this year that I consider to be my best.
10. Solidarity Is For Miley Cyrus: The Racial Implications of Her VMA Performance
"[...]what Miley has done here is indicate that 1. and 2. By doing this, she in inexplicably intertwining the idea of sexuality as part and parcel of black womanhood; that is, that black women cannot exist without sexuality and vice versa, and that the only acceptable way to be sexual, is to "be black". That idea plays into deeply racist ideas about black womanhood, the idea being that black women are wanton and lascivious, and cannot control their expressions of sexuality."I'm not as happy stylistically with this piece of writing as I was when I first published it, but I stand by it. Writing this piece was the turning point of my feminism this year, and I'm both proud of the discussion that it generated, and grateful for the experience of having to defend it from the internet at large! I learned a lot about myself in dealing with the fallout from this piece and doing so both helped solidify my personal politics, and gave me the encouragement I needed to keep writing.
9. Hermione Granger Was Not Intersectional OR What S.P.E.W. Teaches Us About Feminism
"The problem isn't that Hermione wants to help. She has an amazing heart, and she is only trying to correct what she sees as a terrible injustice. But being Muggle born, there is an enormous cultural chasm that she hadn't yet figured out how to navigate. By trying to apply Muggle values of right and wrong to a magical perspective, she misses the nuances that makes certain values different or irrelevant in a magical context. Never once does she extend her knowledge of house elf's desires beyond the elves she interacts with directly, and she makes the fatal mistake of extrapolating their individual desires as the desires of the entire group."As much as I love Hermione and the Harry Potter franchise, once the idea of S.P.E.W. as a feminist metaphor, I couldn't get it out of my head. The condemnation of Hermione is in jest mostly, but I was serious about the point being made. Hermione is a great feminist literary icon, but as with real life feminists, we can't afford to sweep her missteps under the rug just so we can laud her achievements without guilt. Hermione eventually adjusted her thinking, and we should too.
8. #Scandal: I Know That Olivia Pope Isn't Perfect; It's Part Of The Reason I Love Her
2013 was a big year for Scandal, and predictably the backlash came. As much as Scandal can easily be seen as just an English-language primetime telenovela, it is unique in that it presents a very human portrait of a black woman. That's something that doesn't happen as often as it should. I was sick of reading tone deaf think-pieces that accused the Scandal fandom of excusing Olivia for her bad behavior, when for the most part, that isn't the case. Olivia's flaws are part of what make her so compelling as a character."And that is why Olivia is such a spectacular characterization. She does not fit into one box. She is not a stereotype. She is a complex person who routinely accesses the full spectrum of human emotion; she is strong when she needs to be, but also allows herself to be vulnerable when she is weak. She is a black woman presented as a person first, which is a frighteningly rare occurrence in 2013."
7. Rape Culture, Male Privilege and the Miseducation of Men OR My Rape-Fatigue Magnum Opus
Living in a very misogynistic country means coming up against misogyny even from people I might otherwise consider to be reasonable. Unfortunately for me, it's hard to have conversations about feminism with people who consider it to be a dirty word and are fully committed to the idea of bra-burning lesbians. But every now and again something will happen that ticks me off enough to provoke a response. This was that thing."The problem isn't in telling women to be careful. Everyone needs to be careful and take responsibility for their personal safety; men AND women. The problem is in placing the onus on women to not "put themselves in dangerous positions" rather than on men to understand that they are not entitled to sex no matter what, and to not create situations that remove bodily agency from a woman. This is where male privilege comes into play. As a man, this friend of a friend does not have to worry that any strange woman he meets is a potential threat. As a man, he does not have to worry that a woman who may approach him in a club is bigger and stronger than him, and will likely demonstrate that fact. As a man, he does not have to worry that the outfit he chose to wear because it makes him feel confident will be seen as an invitation to continually harass him."
6. Why Miley Matters OR Our Relationship To Pop Culture Does Not Exist In a Vacuum
"It's gross, and insidious, and the kind of racism that's especially hard to call out if you don't happen to have the words to frame the situation correctly. Pop culture does not exist in a vacuum. It is a feedback loop that is both sustained by and contributes to the way that we see ourselves as a culture, and in relation to each other. To say that pop culture doesn't matter is to say that society doesn't matter, because it's our attitudes and preferences that determine what is and isn't allowed to flourish on the entertainment market. "I wrote this as a catch-all response to some of the most frequent criticisms that I received about the VMA essay. People are... hilariously adept at missing the point when they want to. But the point I really wanted to address was the idea that Miley's actions had no impact on the way we perceive the larger culture around us. That idea is demonstrably false and it continue to irk me that people do not recognize pop-culture as what it is: a reflection of a society's prevailing ideals.
5. ***Flawless: On "BEYONCÉ"; The Album, The Woman, The Feminist
“Much has been made about how explicitly sexual this album is, but to me, it's one of its shining points. Dealing with the Jezebel stereotype is a daily struggle for black women. So much so, that people have difficulty even with the idea that a black woman being sexual could be doing so for her own satisfaction, rather than with the intent of gaining male attention. Here, Beyoncé throws all that away; she sheds the burden of stereotype threat entirely, deciding to do what she wants, when she wants, and to hell with those who refuse to understand. This album is sex-positive in a very powerful way, and that's an important message for black women to receive. It's incredibly important that black women know that they do not have to shrink themselves or deny themselves access to pleasure in pursuit of respectability.”Beyoncé's album really means a lot to me on a personal level. It is significant not because of it's social message but also because of the economic power she was able to wield (as a black woman) in order to produce it. There a many lessons to be learned here, and I wanted to make sure that I articulated why they mattered to me. This album is sexual in a way that is important. Black women and sexuality is a conversation fraught with stereotypes and misinformation. It was a big deal to me to see a mainstream pop star tackle those issues head on.
4. I'm Not Okay With Lily Allen's Racist New Video: When Satire Crosses The Line
“Elevating her own status as an enlightened feminist while demonizing black women's sexuality is as non-intersectional as it gets. Frankly, as far as I'm concerned, this video is a brilliant example of everything wrong with the current climate of white feminism; white women asserting their power and dominance as women while ignoring the ways in which those actions negatively affect the WoC with whom they claim to be in solidarity.”I wrote this essay because I was confused and concerned. While I had watch Allen's video and immediately spotted the myriad of issues, the early coverage was that it was "brilliant satire" of the misogyny in the music industry. Except... it looked just like the misogyny of the music industry. But this time with a white lady as the enlightened saviour. If other women couldn't recognize the intersectional fail in something so obvious, what hope does feminism have, in the long run?
3. Sexualization, Exploitation, And Black Female Celebrities: On The Subtle Womanism of Rihanna and Nicki Minaj
“This expectation is so ingrained, that many black women are left to self police their actions or deny themselves access to their own sexuality as a means to be seen as human first, and have their sexuality be seen as a function of that humanity. For a black women, reclaiming her sexuality is often a luxury she cannot afford; there will always be consequences, both personal and professional.”
“[…]Conversely, to say that a black woman being sexual or expressing sexuality in public is automatically equal to "exploiting themselves" is to deny them agency. White women reclaiming their sexuality has always been accepted as revolutionary (see: Madonna, Lady Gaga). People (and white feminists) hail that act as progressive. But for a black woman (and all WoC) to do the same, it is treated as dirty and crass. There is a very distinct racialized reaction to the two scenarios.”I wrote this essay out of frustration with the way the sexual double standard is used against WoC in the music industry within the feminist movement. For some reason there seems to be this prevailing assumption that WW who use their sexuality are empowered, while BW who do the same are pandering to the male gaze. That so many self-identified feminists fall into that kind of thinking bothered me, so I wrote about two of my favourite artists who have continually subverted the male gaze in their music and imagery. Contrary to popular belief, black women are capable of sexual agency.
2. Est-Ce Que Tu Aimes Le Sexe?: Yoncé Brings Feminism To Its Knees
“As I've talked about before, the conversation surrounding black women and sexuality is always coloured by the historical context in which black women's bodies were used against their will; a direct result of their perceived lack of humanity due to their blackness. Because of these ideas, we're stuck with the Jezebel stereotype of inherent and uncontrollable black female sexuality. With this song, Beyoncé has done two things: reclaim her sexuality on her own terms and directly negate the misconception that feminism and sex are incompatible.”In this essay, I zeroed in one of the more explicit songs on Beyoncé's album and tried to deconstruct the way in which it was also a powerful political statement of sexual agency. As with the essay I wrote on Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, too many people seem to think that black women are disallowed to be sexual lest they confirm negative stereotypes. It was important to me to talk about the way that Beyoncé dismantled that line of thinking.
1. #Womanifesto: Embracing Womanism; Rejecting The Status Quo
“I reject the notion that my sexuality does not exist on my own terms. My pleasure exists for me and I use it and claim it however and how often I see fit. I will not be judged for exercising the sexual freedom that follows inherently from bodily autonomy.”
My Womanifesto is easily the most important essay I've ever written. It is a culmination of all the learning I've done this year, and it's a firm statement that I recognize and reject ideals that exist for the sole purpose of dehumanizing me. It's my reminder to myself that I am important, I am valid, I am intelligent, and I matter; no matter what society might try to teach me about where black women are "supposed" to fit in. I'm proud of it, and I feel strengthened and renewed when I re-read it. It is my love letter to myself.
Even though 2013 kind of sucked personally for me, it was an amazing year for me in terms of feminist discovery. I loved being to able to combine my politics with my writing my obsession with pop-culture. And I especially loved that so many new people were willing to read what I had to say! I can't wait to see what 2014 is going to bring for me personally and professionally and I'm looking forward to writing more about politics, music, television and feminism in the new year.