Moving Forward

It seemed that as soon as I left New York City the social justice thoughts that had churned in my brain throughout Moxie began to slip my mind. I instantly became focused on my end of summer plans and the upcoming fall semester. I’ve met some turbulence juxtaposing my everyday life with the ideas and theories I learned during Moxie. It has sometimes seemed unrealistic to totally address and stay in tune with my life and society through a feminist lens at all times. Perhaps during this time I have even lost my critical understanding of Beyoncé – or I have just altered it.

This week Beyoncé released a remix of her song Flawless featuring the Queen of Rap herself, Nicki Minaj. Without thinking too hard about it, I listened to the song and almost immediately understood it to be feminist in my mind. I viewed the two leading music artist’s collaboration emblematic of the girl power/female unity themes of feminism. Next, I felt that their ultimate message of self acceptance and confidence were clear and palpable. And although in its communication this message was laced with sexual references it occurred to me that the two female artists were not necessarily sexually objectifying themselves. Normally I have viewed many pop songs with a clear-cut knowledge of what sexual objectification looks like. However, now it seems to me that Beyoncé and Minaj actively and purposefully skew and utilize their sexuality in order to explain exactly what they mean. Does that make their message any less valuable or relevant or feminist? Nope. When Beyoncé says “you wish I was your poundcake” is she sexually objectifying her body or subjectively expressing her own sexuality with stylish arrogance?


I’m starting to realize and appreciate that the work of feminism cannot be done in a vacuum and will almost never be neatly accomplished to everyone’s liking. As TIME contributor Sarah Miller argued, I think that feminism should recognize the chaos and ambiguity present in our world. Feminism, like all other forms of thought, must consider the world holistically and appreciate peoples intersecting perspectives. We must realize that taking the good with the bad is not giving up, but that it is at least moving forward.

Beyoncé: Terrorist or Visionary?

Thanks to Girls for Gender Equity, my fellow Moxies and I had the chance to see Beyoncé in perform live on her On the Run Tour!

Ironically, Beyoncé and her self-proclaimed feminism have actively been on my mind for a solid 6 months. In the April 2013 edition of British Vogue magazine, Beyoncé admitted, “I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything? I’m just a woman and I love being a woman”. Subsequently 8 months later, Queen Bey released her fifth album, self-titled Beyoncé, and popularly referred to as the Visual Album due to its complete suite of accompanying music videos.

As tensions arose around the sexual content of her new album, Beyoncé’s self-proclaimed feminism came into question. I would contend that Beyoncé is merely another subject in an image, and although she may gain individual empowerment from her sexual expression, she alone is not able to reconstruct feminism for modern times. Instead, her audience, made up of both fans and critics, has the agency to determine what the album symbolizes and how it reflects the perspectives of women, particularly those traditionally left within the margins of “white” feminism. The BeyHive, feminists, and all of society have developed a viral discussion about Beyoncé which may be shaping the reconfiguration of modern, intersectional feminism. So although her image and recent album invite critical analysis of feminism, Beyonce, solely the subject of her work, is not responsible for the sense of empowerment that women may or may not interpret from her music. Beyoncé does not possess the agency to decide how her sexually-loaded music and images will be understood by you, by me, by society.

Immediately before the concert, I believed that Beyoncé had been co-opted by the interests of the patriarchal-capitalist system. Then and now I wonder how long we will continue to confuse her exploitation of female sexuality with empowerment? I have found particular lines and songs irreconcilable with my own emerging feminist framework. Her song “Run the World (Girls)” is incredibly inaccurate and misleading for women and young girls across the globe because we still live in a world in which women are abused, exploited and disempowered by systems of oppression. Similarly yet perhaps a bit extreme, belle hooks has even gone so far to argue that Beyoncé “is in fact anti-feminist — that is a terrorist, especially in terms of the impact on young girls”.










I think many women’s idea of patriarchy and capitalism involves rich white men. We do not have amental schema for corruption coming from wealthy women of color (and men – just look at her husband’s lyrics, “Eat the cake Anna Mae”/lol domestic violence). Look at “Pretty Hurts” – a line goes “Blonder hair, flat chest, TV says bigger is better, South beach, sugar free, Vogue says thinner is better” – does Beyoncé really think her own blonde weaves and wigs do not contribute to the self-esteem issues she is highlighting. Or when was the last time Beyoncé protested Vogue and other magazines for airbrushing and editing women’s bodies?

Nonetheless, despite her controversial image, Beyonce’s performance felt empowering. In that moment, her sexuality, provocative lyrics and powerful choreography created the illusion of a world in which sexism, racism and the patriarchy do not exist. As I danced along to her performance of “Run the World (Girls)” I could actually imagine a world in which women were on top and winning! Even as she sang “Partition” and fully embraced her sexuality I briefly felt as though I could do the same at Duke and feel both empowered within myself and praised by my fellow students. However, these illusions were always smashed when the performance transitioned to Jay Z. I found many of his lyrics and song themes to be derogatory to women. The juxtaposition of their performances sharply re-centered me back to reality and back to an awareness of all the work that still must happen if we wish to achieve true gender equity.

Ultimately, I think that Beyoncé has carefully crafted her music and image to provide women, particularly black women, an escape from a reality in which both their confidence and sexuality are too often not considered positive. So within this world she has invented, yes, women are empowered and perhaps girls do run the world. However I think it can become rather dangerous for young women when they are not able to recognize the difference between Beyoncé-world and the real-world, the BeyHive and the patriarchy.

With this double takeaway, I am left still wondering what the best way is for me and other women and girls to embrace Beyoncé. Is it possible for the women’s movement to leverage her empowerment capabilities in order to advance equality efforts?




Through the Lens of a Black Woman

This past Wednesday was my grandmother’s 78th birthday. As a called her I slowly took in the magnitude of that number, of all the decades she witnessed, of all the changes she felt in her country. Because of Moxie, feminism was, of course, casually on my mind and I started to ask Aaron Coulter about her experiences as a woman from the 1950s to today. She responded a bit puzzled and explained how the color of her skin was always the dominant issue in her experiences navigating society. Many of the social advances for women were specifically aimed at white women, while black women like herself were often left still oppressed. For example, when my grandma applied to a fashion school in New York City she was quickly disappointed to learn that it did not accept Negro women. Furthermore, Aaron had felt that the women’s movement during the 1960s was out of touch with her reality as a black woman. How could The Feminine Mystique address her experiences as one of the first black female supervisors at General Motors in Middle America?


Although her personal life recounting does not clearly speak to her “womanhood”, my grandma certainly possesses strong opinions on female education and empowerment. Aaron’s graduation from Lincoln University signified the fulfillment of a legacy of educational excellence, which she would maintain in the generation to follow her. She recalled her own mother instilling the value of education in her mind from an early age. As she raised my mom, she continued to stress the importance of education, and additionally self-confidence. During my mom’s 6th grade year, my grandma spearheaded the school’s first trip to the nation’s capital.


In later years, my grandma would be both an ally and source of encouragement for my mom as she navigated a recently integrated high school that recurrently attempted to stymie the ambitious spirits of black students. After a month of having her raised hand ignored in the classroom, the moxie my mom inherited from Aaron naturally kicked in and she got into an argument with her teacher and principal. When my mom told my grandma about the incident, Aaron swiftly had a meeting with the school administration. The following day, the school principal chastised my mother and told her to not tell her parents what happened in school. Upon learning this, my grandmother became extremely heated – how could the school tell her daughter what to do? How dare they try to rob her of her personal agency? And furthermore, what right did they have to impede on her daughter’s education?

This story, among many others, sticks out in my understanding of my grandma’s unconscious feminism. Whether historically viewed as “pushiness” or “bossiness”, my grandma’s self-assertion and ambition have been integral forces in the development of my identity. She has passed her moxie on to my mom, my aunt, my sister and myself.

Despite this, my mom (along with many other black women her age) still reluctantly, if at all, claims to be a feminist. After our many conversations about modern-day female oppression, my mom usually wraps up by disconnecting herself from feminism, choosing to separate her opinions from “all that feminism stuff”. It is clear that she is hesitant to claim being a feminist, despite her obvious accordance with feminist values. Although I have repeatedly explained to her the rising importance of intersectional feminism, my mom still finds it necessary to qualify my feminist rants with a quick, “, but make sure you’re viewing all these things through the lens of a black woman”.


Although not as much as my grandma, my mom still seems to consider race a heavier factor than gender in society – and I don’t blame her. I shared a rather similar race-focused outlook on social issues before I attended Common Ground, a diversity-immersion retreat held by Duke’s Center for Race Relations. It took serious reflection and contemplation for me to realize the importance of BOTH gender and race in my life. I felt so naïve! As the white girls explained their gendered life perspectives, I felt so far behind and unaware. However, I soon recognized that my dual identity as a black woman was unique from that of the white women of Common Ground. How could I have ever fully recognized my gender identity when I was taught by my family that the color of my skin would always matter the most?

No matter its current trendiness, my feminism must always be intersectional. The experiences of black women cannot be reduced to the theories of academic feminism or the politically-correct musings of a feministing blogger. Although society has definitely progressed, from my grandma’s 1950s-1960s experiences, through my mom’s 1980s-1990s reality, to my own 21st century life, I will never be able to view my gender in the absence of my race. This intersectional twist is real life for me, Aaron, Leah, Erin, Nia and countless other reluctant/active black feministas.

Radicalizing the Beauty Industry


This week made me especially reflect on the role of women of color in the women’s movement, the responsibility of individuals within the movement, and my personal role in the movement. From various feminist texts and discussions I have found that “women of color” is a dynamic term: in one discourse this term may include one type of woman and then in another discourse the term may exclude that same woman. I have been confused about where I stand in the women’s movement as an upper middle class black woman.

From an intersectional approach, I believe my personal brand of feminism should incorporate my race and class, in addition to my gender. The idea of tackling gender oppression, racism and the US class structure all at once has been rather daunting. Although I appreciate that intersectionality aims at respecting all perspectives at once, I don’t think that it is always practical for making real change. Respect is one thing, but focus is another. Intersectional awareness is necessary but I think specific discussions and specific activism is more effective for creating real change.

Our first session at the Summer School of Activism helped me better acknowledge my position as a “woman of color” in certain contexts and appreciate my position of privilege in others. This week I’ve also realized that being a woman of color while also having certain privileges is legitimate. Just because I can’t fully relate to the experiences of all women of color does not mean my perspective is any less valid.

I believe the Moxie Project is helping me determine what I want my role in the movement to look like. Our visit with Merle Hoffman of Choices Women’s Medical Center has inspired me to make social change outside of the traditional non-profit structure. I found Merle’s choice of entrepreneurship to incite change especially motivating.

When she asked us all what we saw our careers looking like in the future, I explained that I wanted a career in beauty advertising and/or product development. Upon voicing that vision, within the context of our discussion of the women’s movement, I was able to connect the dots between my social consciousness and my career-oriented brain. Advertising within the beauty industry is affected by both racism and gender oppression. I realized that by pursuing a career in this field I could simultaneously elicit social change. Having a say in what beauty advertisements say and whom they include, how beauty products are designed and how they are marketed – this can be a viable force within the greater women’s movement.


I want black and brown girls, teens and women to see themselves represented in a more inclusive media. As a black woman, I know how important issues of self-confidence and social inclusion are to all women – but particularly women of color. And although I recognize that an abundance of other, possibly more pressing issues negatively impact women of color across the globe, I still think that self-confidence is important. Each activist must start somewhere and can only efficiently make a difference in individual aspects of the movement. I believe that with my passion for beauty and women’s empowerment, in combination with my business-oriented career goals, I can help to make a concrete difference within the women’s movement.

Is the Femme Fatale Really So Fatal?

Amari is a rising junior interning at Sanctuary for Families this summer.


Throughout my life I have been fascinated by mythology and science fiction. My favorite  literary and television heroines have run the gamut from Aphrodite to Buffy the Vampire  Slayer. Despite their years of separation, both the goddess and the slayer have been  characterized as “femme fatales” due to the extraordinary powers they possess and  cunning they exhibit. As my own sorority line name is Femme Fatale, I have developed a  keen interest in the origins of this archetype and its presence in contemporary society.  Why must a female stock character who possesses any variety of agency or power over  men be branded as fatal?


In Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation, Ruby Blondell discusses the origins of modern society’s relationship to female beauty. Through a review of Greek mythology, Blondell explains how beauty and other forms of female agency, like intelligence, have been tied to negative attributes, such as deceit and devastation. Today, I believe that our society ascribes these same negative characteristics to female beauty, intelligence and sexuality.

Diane Kruger as Helen in Troy(2004).3

Perhaps this is why today we see terrorist groups, like the Boko Haram militants, targeting educated girls, such as the students of Nigeria’s Government Girls Secondary School. Or perhaps this is why most sex workers and sex slaves are treated as criminals. Or maybe this explains the phenomenon of slut-shaming.

This summer I hope to learn more about the cultural mechanisms behind the censure and criminalization of women in all spheres of society. Be it in the corporate workplace or the high school hallway, many women find their ideas ignored, their skills suppressed and their confidence stymied. The cultural expectations that discourage female leadership and empowerment may also be tied to those that encourage slut-shaming and female circumcision. I am excited to work with Sanctuary for Families, an organization that empowers women to move forward from the problems that society’s expectations have cast upon them.