Beyoncé, Misogyny and God

I sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker. "What's the big deal about Beyonce, other than her butt?" my mother asked yesterday via face-time.

"Are you kidding? She's amazing!"

"I couldn't name one of her songs."

"Yes you could. You know... all the single ladies, all the single ladies." I flipped my left hand back and forth at the screen, showing the signature move for the 2009 smash hit that just so happened to drop during my senior year in college, when I was a single lady and he definitely should have put a ring on it.

"And that song inspires you?" my mom said with a smirk.

"Absolutely," I laughed.

The truth is that her most recent album, Lemonade, is even more of an inspiration (though I wouldn't dare recommend my mom watch it from start to finish, unless I were there to help her translate things like Becky with the good hair, etc.). There's enough on the internet about the anger, redemption and artistry of that album, so I won't wax poetic about it here. But suffice it to say, it's an album that makes me uncomfortable. It's an album that made me feel what she must have felt like during one of the roughest parts of her life. It's an album that puts words to some of the ups and downs in my own marriage.

What's worse looking jealous or crazy, jealous or crazy?

img_8214I've never been one for big arena shows because tickets are expensive, and even if you bite the bullet and shell out, chances are it won't be enough to really see the person you've paid to see. From the "J" section seat on the floor of the Titans Football Stadium (that seats 70,000 during a sold-out game), the best view I got of Beyoncé  was through a sea of cell phones held up by other spectators zooming in to prove that they, too, were here.

And yet, the show was incredible. I won't downplay it. Beyoncé sampled everything in her repertoire from Crazy in Love, Drunk in Love, and Halo to Partition, Charlies Angels, Survivor... the list goes on and on. She played portions of most of her songs on Lemonade, augmented by a massive three-dimensional rotating screen that alternated from projecting large images of her (so people could see) and video clips from the opus. Decrepit buildings, swinging lights, stills of strong African-American women; the ultimate survivors. Halfway through the show, two cannons shot off confetti into the air. There were fireworks, huge flames, a pool where her back-up dancers kicked up water as they moved to the beat. Countless costume changes. Acrobatics. The production was epic—a picture of what happens when you have millions to spend on every  possible theatric to make people feel.

Here are a few things I felt:

One:  I felt a desire to live with more passion and confidenceBeyoncé is a powerhouse. I've heard that she taps into an inner diva before getting on stage, and even has her alter-ego Sasha Fierce to combat any feelings of insecurity. To see that kind of confidence in another woman is contagious. How would my experience of the world change if I could wake up in the morning with that kind of confidence? To walk with the kind of chin-up assuredness of a person living out their dream, their calling—with all of their God-given talent on display?

Two: I felt a desire to be more freeThe booty is real. I mean. I don't know if she was wearing leggings or some sort of industrial spray-paint to keep it looking flawless all night, but the girl can move it. Again, there's something jaw-droppingly incredible about a woman embracing her body and dancing and allowing herself to be free. Even the way she moved her hair—head-banging with the best of the 90s grunge kids—speaks to a kind of reckless freedom. I want more of that in my life.

Three: I felt convinced that I'm a different kind of feminist than mostFeminists walk a fine line between embracing femininity, sexuality and pleasure and reinforcing misogyny and sexual objectification. There were times that I felt uncomfortable last night at the overtness of it all. At one point, the singer climbed across a large three-dimensional phallic sculpture and most video clips included snapshots of an orchid in bloom—a clear reference to the female anatomy. Some of the costumes and dance moves, veered from making me feel free to making me feel like I was watching a person in bondage—something that didn't make me feel empowered, but isolated.

Last night, I felt convinced that true feminist authors, writers, musicians... must work to show that sexuality isn't the only weapon in a woman's arsenal of power.

Four: I felt surprised by my desire for God Even an over-the-top, crazy experience like a Beyoncé concert leaves you wanting more. She could only sing a verse and a chorus of most songs. For example, Beyonce's song Freedom from the album Lemonade is my absolute favorite. It's an incredible anthem, and despite the fact that she and her dancers gave a jaw-dropping performance using a similar water-stage to this year's Grammy Awards—she didn't have time to sing the whole song, and even if she did, it just isn't complete without Kendrick Lamar. All the theatrics in the world still come up short from what we really want.

And what we really want, we'll never get out of Beyoncé. Standing there, looking at a woman on the stage that is just as human as every woman in the crowd, it reminded me that all of our efforts on this side of heaven—even when we are  confident, passionate and free—pale in comparison to the glory we desire. We were made to see God in his splendor, not humans.

And for that reason, I am even more thankful for Beyoncé. A great artist points viewers to a greater creator. She did.

When you love me, you love yourself. Love God herself.



Neo-feminism, Steubenville and Jesus.

treeThis week I read a well-written cover story in New York Magazine by Lisa Miller called "The Retro Wife." I also have read tons of news stories and blog posts and rants about the tragic Steubenville rape case. And I've come to realize that these two seemingly separate issues are inexorably linked. It started with New York Magazine, and a deck that read: "The Retro Wife: Feminists who say they're having it all—by choosing to stay at home." 

Four years ago, I was already that woman.

It went something like this.

I'm sitting in Dr. Benjamin's office, surrounded by a crowd of linen bound philosophers: Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, de Tocqueville, Machiavelli. Then there's me, a hopeful and anxious senior in college, ready and terrified of the stage that beckons me onward. It's calling my name, and so is he.

"So what comes next?" he asks dutifully, straightening a stack of papers and spinning in his swivel chair back toward a buzzing computer. He clicks away my transcript, and scrolls through his e-mail inbox. "Grad school?"

The suggestion is an old one. After all, the job market is hardly friendly, and I've already registered for the GRE, a command that came down from Colonel Carlton early on this year. But more school? Grad school?

"I don't know," I say slowly. "I don't want to apply just because there's nothing else to do. It seems like it could be a huge waste of money."

"Sure," Dr. Benjamin agrees. "It could be a huge waste of money if you're only going because there's nothing else to do."

"But," I continue, "if I don't go now, I'm not sure when I would. I hope to get married and have a family, some day too..."

Dr. Benjamin rotates back toward me, leaving his e-mail behind. "Would getting married and having a family keep you from going back to school?" he asks quizzically.

I freeze up for a moment, and wonder if I should say what I'm really thinking. I don't want Dr. Benjamin to believeI'm some bimbo who just came to college to find a husband, which clearly, from the light feeling on my left-handed ring finger, did not happen. I don't want him to lose respect for me. After all, I'm an intelligent student with a great GPA. I ought to have career ambitions. It's 2009. I ought to at least act like a feminist.

"No, no... you're right," I say. "If I figure out what I'd want to study, I'd definitely go back."

He looks a little relieved, and spins back toward his e-mail. But the words felt disingenuous coming out of my mouth. I know I probably won't go to graduate school. I know I probably won't want to. Because deep in my heart, I know what I really want. So I say it.

"I guess I always imagined myself staying home if I have kids," I say. His head juts backward and he raises his eyebrows in surprise, and immediately I regret what I've said. Great, now he thinks I'm an idiot. A disappointment to women who've worked to pave a way for me to do whatever I set my mind to. Surely now, he's looking at me and thinking I'm just a bimbo on the hunt for a man. But his words surprise me as much as mine surprised him.

"Good for you," he says sincerely. I'm shocked.

"Really?" I say, and laugh. "I've never said that to a professor, because I always feel like I ought to have these huge ambitions..."

"You know, I have to be careful when I talk to female students," he interjects. "I want to ask how they see family and relationships fitting into their plans, but I can't really go there unless you bring it up," he pauses. "I'm glad you did."

I sigh in relief. I just admitted the truth about the woman I want to be, and the man in front of me wasn't condescending. Now this is feminism.

IMG_1478In the New York Magazine story, Lisa interviews a neo-traditionalist stay at home mom, Kelly Makino, and opens a new can of worms in the old world of feminism. The point? Maybe a woman can choose to stay at home with her children, care for her house and husband, and not be disregarded as a disappointing remnant of patriarchal oppression.

But the part that really sets Kelly Makino apart isn't that she's staying at home. It's that she's not a conservative, right-wing Christian—and she's staying at home. Lisa writes:

"Far from the Bible Belt's conservative territories, in blue-state cities and suburbs, young, educated, married mothers find themselves not uninterested in the metaconversation about "having it all" but untouched by it. They are too busy mining their grandmothers' old-fashioned lives for values they can appropriate like heirlooms, then wear proudly as their own."

As I read Miller's article, I remembered the conversation I had with my professor back at Furman, and in a way, I felt vindicated. I'm a young, educated, married woman (who hopes to be a mother), and New York Magazine finally confirmed that the fact that I want my family to be my top priority doesn't make me uneducated or "backwards." Even if I live in the Bible Belt. Even though I believe the Bible.

Thankfully, I didn't wait on New York Magazine's confirmation that I wasn't alone. I wasn't ashamed to say it four years ago, and now, there are other women who are are saying it too. Miller writes, "For some women, the solution to resolving the long-running tensions between work and life is not more parent-friendly offices or savvier career moves but the full embrace of domesticity."

But as I was reading, I realized that a woman can't just decide to stay at home without taking on some serious risk. There is a lot at stake when you choose to quit your job and chart a path that can eventually include raising children and caring for the domestic sphere. After all, when you leave the "working world," you become financially dependent—on someone else. On a man.

But dependence doesn't undo feminism. It simply requires integrity from men.

Neo-feminism requires integrity from men. It requires men to honor women. It requires a man to be faithful to his wife. It requires a man not to divorce his wife. It requires men that don't look at women as objects to be used, raped, and thrown away as objects of pleasure rather than creations of God's glory. It requires a culture of boys who don't treat girls like garbage.

It requires a new kind of man. A radical, counter-cultural man. It requires a man who is a feminist. It requires someone like Jesus.

In her response to Steubenville tragedy, Ann Voskamp wrote, "In a culture of boys will be boys, girls will be garbage." She pointed to Jesus as the Father of Feminism—the one who made women heroes in his stories, and came through the womb of a woman, and regarded women as treasures not trash.

Until we change the "boys will be boys" culture, girls will have to fend for themselves, fight to break the glass ceiling, and build their own wealth and empire so that if, no when, a man walks away to pursue some new conquest, we will survive, because we didn't depend on them in the first place.

It's this exact point that Lisa Miller makes to end her article and "press" Kelly Makino about her new way of life. She writes, in the last paragraph, "What if Alvin dies or leaves her? What if, as her children grow up, she finds herself resenting the fact that all the public accolades accrue to her husband?"

Neo-feminism requires more of women too.

It requires women who trust men. It requires women who respect men. It requires a woman to be faithful to her husband. It requires a woman not to divorce her husband.It requires a woman who believes that she is created by God, and valued beyond her resume.

It requires a new kind of woman. A radical, counter-cultural woman. It requires a woman who is a feminist and raises boys who are feminists.

It requires a woman like Jesus.