Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Best of BattyMamzelle: Top 10 Essays of 2013

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. She wants to be sexual and 2. She needs to associate herself with black bodies to do it. 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.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Lusty, Busty & Fine: Jill Scott in "Baggage Claim" Shows That Big Girls Can Get Sexy Too

Today, I finally saw the Paula Patton led movie, Baggage Claim, and it was.... a predictably mediocre romantic comedy. Girl meets guy, girl wants ring, guy cheats, girl shame spirals and tries to get any one of several ex-boyfriend to propose, girl's plan fails, girl realizes the right guy was (literally) next door the whole time. And, fin. So, terrible. I did like the man-candy though.

But what stuck out to me in this film was Jill Scott's character Gail, best friend to Patton's Montgomery. Gail, a fellow flight attendant, is like Scott, plus-sized and busty. But she's also blatantly sexual. From the first few scenes of the movie, we establish that Gail is "that girl"; the one who has no shame and chases after her men the way she chases her drinks.

Normally, the idea of yet another hypersexualized black female character would irritate me, but this was different. We have very specific narratives for how we interact with black women in the media. We get the Jezebels, and we get the Mammies. The Jezebels are sleek, sexy and can't keep their legs closed. The Mammies are overweight and asexual; never the twain shall meet. But with Gail, we have a voluptuous woman, who is very sexual, and not even a little bit ashamed of it. It was refreshing for me to see a plus-sized black woman engage with men sexually onscreen, and not be the subject of derision.

The contrast that immediately comes to mind is the way in which sexual plus-sized women are so often played for laughs in comedies. Take Melissa McCarthy's character, Megan Price in Bridesmaids. In that infamous scene with the Air Marshall, Megan comes on strong and makes her sexual interest very well known. We laugh, not because there's anything particularly funny about her being so forthcoming, (if anything, it borders on sexual harassment and really isn't funny) but because "Ha, ha! The fat girl thinks he'd want to have sex with her!" Her fatness nullifies her sexual attractiveness, making the scene funny because of the audience's incredulity at the situation.

It also makes me think of other plus-sized black female characters like Retta's Donna Meagle on Parks & Recreation's. Donna's active sex life is a running gag on the show that is often referenced, but we've never actually seen any of the many men she claims to bed. We see the expensive cars they gift her, and we hear tales of the different ways in which she doesn't tolerate their nonsense, but we have yet to see Donna actually have a romantic storyline. It's fine for the big black woman to have lots of sex, as long as we're only made to laugh at it.

What really made me love Gail's portrayal in Baggage Claim was that fact that all the men she came onto over the course of the film were totally into it. Her sexuality wasn't played for laughs in a cruel way. The scenes are entirely believable, and rather than thinking of Jill Scott's weight, we're thinking that we all have that friend who behaves exactly like her. Here, the situation is funny because of the "this woman has no shame, oh my god, I could never" element. We're not ashamed of her. We're rooting for her.

In the scene that the picture above is taken from, Gail spills peanuts on the passenger's lap in order to have an excuse to dust his pants, and shove her cleavage into his face. As you can tell from the picture, the man is... rather enjoying the display. There's no disgust, there's no incredulity. This man is depicted as being just as sexually interested in Gail as we the audience might expect him to be in Montgomery; read, skinny women. I think that's the a huge deal, no pun intended. Too often, plus-seized women are excised from the pool of sexuality for no other reason than the fact that they aren't thin, when the fact remains that being overweight doesn't mean that your libido evaporates, or that you're no longer desirable.

All in all, I think that this character is great. If I'm honest, Jill Scott is just about the only bright spot in this movie, but that's an issue for another time. I really enjoyed seeing a plus-sized black woman be sexy onscreen without it being seen as problematic in some way. No one slut-shames her, no one condemns her behaviour. Gail is left to her own lusty devices, and it's not an issue. She gets to express and explore her sexuality without being told that her desire to do so is ridiculous because of her weight. That's in stark contrast to another of Jill Scott's characters: Sheila in Why Did I Get Married, whose husband laughs at her for trying to be sexy for him.

Moral of the story? Jill Scott is a gem, I love her and it's refreshing to see the big girls get sexy onscreen. More please!

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

***Flawless: On "BEYONCÉ"; The Album, The Woman, The Feminist

There's been a lot written online about Beyoncé in the last week and a half. Between the initial frenzy of the release of her new album, the delight over her overtly feminist messages and the almost instantaneous backlash that Beyoncé the woman (and the body of work) was both anti-feminist, or simply not feminist enough, we've all had Beyoncé on the brain. While I did write a essay about her song Partition and had plans to write another piece examining the album as a whole, I've realized that many other writers have already done a much better job than I ever could have. There is already an amazing canon of work that critically analyzes this new album. Here are a few of my favourite pieces in approximate publication order:

  1. That Time Beyoncé's Album Invalidated Every Criticism of Feminism Ever by Christina Coleman
  2. Beyoncé's New Self-Titled LP Is The Feminist's Album Of 2013 by Hayden Manders
  3. Beyoncé's New Self-Titled Album Is A Manifesto of Black Womanhood And Freedom from Gradient Lair
  4. Beyoncé Drops Her Feminist Manifesto from The Melissa Harris Perry Show
  5. 5 Reasons I'm Here For Beyoncé, The Feminist from Crunk Feminist Collective
  6. Beyoncé's New Album Should Silence Her Feminist Critics by Mikki Kendall
  7. Beyoncé Samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TEDx Message On Surprise Album by Kate Torgovnick May
  8. On Defending Beyoncé: Black Feminists, White Feminists, And The Line In The Sand by Mia McKenzie
  9. Flawless: 5 Lessons in Modern Feminism From Beyoncé by Eliana Dockterman
  10. Why Beyoncé's Feminism Is The Same AsYours: Unconventional And Flawed by Mikki Kendall
  11. All Hail The Queen? from BitchMagazine
  12. Beyoncé's New Album Is A Feminist Manifesto by Sarah Ditum

What I love about this album is that the feminist themes run throughout; they are not just limited to the one song in which she explicitly invokes it. The album deals almost directly with the many criticisms that Beyoncé has fielded this year, and tackles them head on. 

BEYONCÉ the album is also amazing because it approaches feminism, through music, from an intersectional perspective. The songs and the visuals deal explicitly with the experience of black womanhood. The tracks on this album allow Beyoncé to cycle through every emotion imaginable; which is a big deal when we consider that black women are often not permitted access to the full spectrum of emotion. From struggling with body image in Pretty Hurts, to being madly in love with her husband in Drunk In Love, to openly exploring her sexual desires in Blow and Partition, to revealing her vulnerabilities in Jealous, to embracing her feminism and politics in ****Flawless, to mourning a friend in Heaven; this album presents Beyoncé, a black woman, as a full and complete person who fully explores and embraces the many facets of her personality. Not once does Beyoncé shy away from her true self in order to adhere to commonly understood rules of propriety.

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.

The general public has this impenetrable image of Beyoncé as a flawless, immaculate being who never missteps or makes a mistake. It's not a hard theory to support after all; we're talking about Beyoncé. But with this body of work, she goes a long way to knowingly and willingly shatter that image and show that she has a lot of the same identity struggles as we do. Being famous and rich changes her specific perspective on her intersection as a black woman, but with this album Beyoncé invites us to see how she's figured out how to deal with them.

This album is like a love letter to black women everywhere. It's a call to arms; it is musical permission to embrace ourselves and each other unconditionally. It is a manifesto of self love, self-assurance and self care. It is a statement of joy that she has invited us to be a part of.

For me, it's the best album of the year.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Est-Ce Que Tu Aimes Le Sexe?: Yoncé Brings Feminism To Its Knees

There is a longer more fleshed out essay on  BEYONCÉ in the works, (which probably won't be published until next week at this rate) but in rewatching King Bey's magnum opus, I have been uncovering gem after gem of naked feminist ideology, and I can't get enough.

The latest little gem I found is this subversive little quote cleverly inserted in French into Partition, a song about Bey getting it on with Jay Z in the back of a limo on the way to the club:
"Est-ce que tu aimes le sexe? Le sexe, je veux dire l'activité physique, le coït, tu aimes ça? Tu ne t'intéresses pas au sexe? Les hommes pensent que les féministes déstestent le sexe mais c'est une activité très stimulante et naturelle que les femmes adorent."

According to friends who are much smarter than me, the above translates to:
"Don't you like sex? Sex. I mean sex, the physical activity. Fucking. You like that? You're not interested in sex? Men think feminists don't like sex, but it's a very fun and natural activity that women love."

So... can we please talk about this? I'm not sure of the origins of this quote (so please tell me if you know) (according to other friends much smarter than me, the quote is from The Big Lebowski). Beyoncé is revealing some truths here.

This year, there was a lot of discussion of Beyoncé's feminism; or more precisely whether or not mainstream (read: white) feminism deemed her feminist enough. Short answer? They didn't, and a lot of that criticism, was directly related to the fact that Beyoncé's image is consistently and deliberately very sexy and sexual. (White) Feminism claimed that Beyoncé was not an adequate role model because "[...] variations of Beyonce's body suit can be found in brothels, strip clubs, and red light districts across the world - where sex is for sale and it happens to be dispensed through a woman's body.

You read that right. Beyoncé's costumes are the equivalent to those that sex workers wear. Clearly their proximity to the sex work of women (who are disproportionately of colour, mind you) makes them inherently bad. Because reasons. Or something.

In any case, the reason I wanted to highlight this quote is because of the way she consciously intermingles her feminism with her sexuality. Partition has references to Jay Z... *ahem*...Monica Lewinsky-ing, on Beyoncé's gown, and to her going down on him in the backseat of a car. And then she drops this quote. In other words, she can be both sexual and a feminist. They are not mutually exclusive.

And we haven't even touched on the very racialized nature of the criticisms that Beyoncé received in the first place. Because while Bey was being reprimanded for posing in her underwear, Miley "Black-Women-Are-Props-For-My-Comeback-Album" Cyrus, was being hailed as a feminist icon. You're deluding yourself if you don't acknowledge that the difference in coverage is directly related to their difference in race.

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.

By embracing her sexuality; explicitly detailing her kinks and fantasies, she demonstrates that there is nothing uncontrollable about it. Her sexuality is deliberate and fully within her command, and she has every intent to use it as she sees fit; in this case, to pleasure her man (and by extension, herself).

As a black woman myself, this message is powerful to me. This is Beyoncé explicitly saying that there is nothing wrong with exploring your sexuality or your pleasure as a black woman. There's nothing shameful about it, and we should refuse to be ashamed of it. I have had people tell me directly that to consciously embrace my sexuality as a black woman is to reinforce the stereotype of hypersexuality. Which... is unfortunately exactly what less savvy minds will take away from this incredibly powerful political statement. Sex and feminism are not on opposite ends of a spectrum. They are related concepts that inform and influence each other in a myriad of ways.

Sexy Feminist King Beyoncé gets it.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Discussions Of Sexuality Are Not The Same For WoC: Let's Stop Pretending They Are

Back again. This time to share this comment thread (and specifically the comment below) where I talk about Rashida Jones' comments about "women being whores" and how it relates to Rihanna (because Rihanna is the devil incarnate/Illuminati Queen/Bringer of all that is Evil in the world. Naturally), and the way in which the conversations about "pop stars being whores" always manages to find a black woman to scapegoat:
I also think that it's imperative that we talk about racial disparities when we talk about this stuff because sexual expectations are just different for WoC. For WW, virginal is the assumed natural state, and expressions of sexuality are seen as liberating (Madonna). For WoC, crass and oversexed is the assumed natural state, and any self motivated expressions of sexuality are seen as a reinforcement of that stereotype (Rihanna). If we push against that assumption we're prudes, and how dare we refuse a sexual advance with our ugly black ass selves? We can't win. And I know because it's something that I personally struggle with daily. 
That is what so many WW fail to recognize and acknowledge. The rules are different for WoC, especially BW who have been the subject of specific, pervasive, racialized myths that have devalued our sexuality. You cannot judge a black woman's sexuality by the rules of white femininity. You just can't do it. The historical context that exists distorts the conversation from the get-go. It is useless to have a discussion about "women's sexuality" without the intersection of race. To do so is to consciously and bullheadedly ignore the fact that there is a stratification of worth when it comes to women and their "inherent value" with WW on the very top and BW on the very bottom. 
I don't remember who said it first but essentially, a lot of the sexism that WW face is misguided benevolence. You can't do X because you're dainty/fragile/precious/must be protected. The misogynoir that BW face is sexism couched in racism and disregard. "I know you're a woman because I see breasts and a vagina, but you're dark and ugly and therefore exist only as a receptacle for my penis, whenever I feel like it." Yo. There's a reason that BW were considered "unrapeable."
I  talked about this at length in the piece I wrote about her Pour It Up video, and the way in which the sexual double standard doesn't just play out across genders, but across races. We really need to get past the idea that all issues affect all women equally. THEY DON'T. They never did. And whether you not you want to acknowledge it, WW have always had it better off than WoC. This is simply fact. It is no one's fault (well.... nope, not touching it) but it is the way the world works. To ignore that it so condense the conversation down into unrecognizable territory and to do a complete disservice to the millions of women who have a dog in this race too. 

That is why Hood Feminism's discussion of 
#FastTailedGirls was a noticeably and intentionally all black space (that very quickly shut down cries of "me too" from WW). That label is used almost exclusively to police BW's sexuality from childhood. It's why the Onion calling Quevanzhané Wallis was not satire or a joke, it was misogynoir. We really need people to listen when we say that a specific act affects us differently because of our current place in the social landscape.


Just a morning PSA.