So last night, just before dinner, I took a moment to check in on twitter & found this hilarious hashtag #gendercard, had been trending all day.
Apparently, it started after a journalist asked Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis if she plans on playing the “gender card” in the race.
I jumped in with a quick tweet:
So many great double standards and discrepancies had already been pointed out, I wondered what I would have to add. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about novels, films, and generally who are the subjects of the stories we tell in our culture. So I fired off these two:
But, lately, I’ve been settling into the idea of commercial women’s fiction. It is a serious symptom of male domination that men—as a group—have a tendency to consume images of women as sexual objects, ingenues, supportive girlfriends, secretaries, and evil women to be killed and taken down. Again, generalizing about the media consumption patterns of men in the US, as a group—there are definitely exceptions—they don’t tend to buy and watch stories with women in the center as subjects, leaders, thinkers, and heroes.
But if that means that women are my audience, then I embrace it. Women of the world, welcome! Come be my audience!! If men want to join, you’re welcome, too. I’ve written some fabulous, complex, wonderful male characters for you to enjoy, but women are definitely in the center of most of my books.
Recent conversations about “women’s fiction” have sometimes featured women who reject the labels. As I prepare a book for the industry that features women and women’s issues in the center, has a strong romantic arc, and offers the kind of fun, action, sexiness that could have people calling it a “beach read,” I have decided to embrace all the girly categories. I’m not upset about being labeled “chick” or “women’s,” I’m upset that those labels, by virtue of being female, are considered less valuable, due to sexism, than books that are just called “fiction” which implies male. I’m upset at the overall devaluation of all things female, and the mistreatment of women & girls in a sexist society.
To that end, I couldn’t resist one global dig on the #gendercard hashtag last night:
But as far as being a female novelist goes, women are the biggest buyers and readers of novels. Attention all women, ladies, females, chicks and girls, I’m definitely writing for y’all!! Who knows? Maybe I’ll finally be able to take my #gendercard and cash it in.
As a West Coast writer, I’ve been slogging along for nine years now, trying to get a literary agent, and break into the industry. Since the beginning of that time, the industry has changed considerably, and it’s more difficult than ever to debut as a novelist in traditional publishing. However, the internet has completely transformed the face of publishing. The internet is full of information about publishing, but much of it is subjective or genre-specific, so it’s difficult to figure out what is applicable for any given writer or book. This is why writers’ conferences are so helpful. It gives writers a chance to interact with industry professionals to get a range of relevant information.
Writers conferences are expensive. The San Francisco Writers Conference (SFWC) costs about $750, and there are smaller fees (around $50-60) for goodies like speed dating with agents or consulting with a freelance editor or publicist. For some of us, this is completely out of the question, given our resources. In that case, I would encourage interested folks to consider volunteering for SFWC. For others of us, it’s a stretch, or we’d rather do something else with our disposable income. I think it’s worth it, if you’re really committed to writing and selling your books. But in order to make it really worth your while, you need to make sure you’re far enough along with your project(s) that you can benefit from access to professionals. This may not be the case if you’ve “always wanted to write” or “have been working on a couple of short stories for the last few years.” These industry-type conferences are most useful for people who have at least one book-length work-in-progress, and ideally have a full first draft done. If you haven’t gotten that far yet, you would do better to invest in a local class or join a writers group to get you going.
I have admired SFWC from afar, and last year, I attended the conference in a dual role. As an accomplished poet and teacher of poetry, I served on the faculty of the SFWC poetry track. However, as an aspiring novelist, I also attended as a participant. I attended panels, did speed dating with agents, consulting with the “ask-a-pro,” and networked my butt off.
I expected it to be a local conference, but I was surprised to meet people from Minneapolis, New Jersey, Southern California, and even other countries.
Here’s what I took away from the experience:
Poetry connections. I had a fantastic time with my poetry community, in particular meeting and reading with Mary Mackey (feminist kindred spirit and practically my neighbor!), Andy Jones, Brian Felsen, Richard Loranger, Michael Zapruder. Also, reconnecting with Cave Canem poetry fam Arisa White, and Indigo Moor, as well as meeting Joan Gelfand. Not surprisingly, this was the part of the conference that delved most deeply into craft. While the prose writers were asking about agents, trends, marketing and social media, the poets were talking about language and meaning. On the business side, I got some great advice from the dazzling and savvy romance writer Lisa Marie Rice when we served together on a hybrid writers panel. With so many panels, I got practical advice on word counts, genres, romance, women’s fiction, young adult, new adult, and other genre labels from agents, editors, publishers, writers, and publicists. Early in the conference, they have workshops on how to pitch your work. All the panels had Q&A, and some even had quick pitches on the spot.
But the biggest advantage is the opportunity to have one-on-one time with agents, editors, and other professionals. I pitched my book to several agents during speed dating. It’s always amazing to see their faces light up and get their card. It was also a great opportunity to follow up with agents I’d had contact with at previous conferences. If you’re just interested in pitching and you live in the SF Bay Area, the WNBA has a Pitch-O-Rama event in March that is just a half-day and very affordable.
The other thing that I did at SFWC that I’d never done before, was their fabulous 90-minute “Ask-A-Pro” session, where they put publishing professionals at tables in a big banquet room, and you could sit at anyone’s table you wanted. Then each person got two minutes to pitch, ask questions, get advice, etc. These folks were editors, publishers, publicists, attorneys, creativity coaches, web gurus, writers, etc. Most of them had some kind of consulting business for which they were seeking clients, but those two minutes were free. Of course, if the table wasn’t full of other people, you could talk for much more than two minutes. I approached David Henry Sterry, author of Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys. Sterry is the husband of husband and wife team The Book Doctors. I caught up with him very late in the session and got a long consult on my pitch, and a referral to his agent. I also spoke with the other Book Doctors member Arielle Eckstut, who gave me great advice about a book I had queried to one of her colleagues at the Levine Greenberg Agency.
Finally, I got some great advice from Oakland-based publicist Karma Bennett, the media and publishing strategist Anne Hill. Plus I picked up a card from Linda Lee of Smart Women, Stupid Computers for my friend who’s struggling with WordPress.
Above all, I left feeling grounded, hopeful, informed, connected, and supported. If you missed SFWC, and can’t wait til Feb 2015, there are other conferences in other parts of the country throughout the year that fill some of the same needs. You can look for them in Writers Digest, Poets & Writers, and other publications. However, for this working mom who can’t just pick up and travel easily, SFWC was a godsend.
So I’m sending encouragement to all the writers out there, wishing you joy in the writing process, and the support to make your publication dreams come true.
My novel–a suspenseful, gritty, political, erotic, urban romance–takes place in NYC with a Puerto Rican protagonist. I am looking for a Puerto Rican woman, preferably between 25 and 45, who would be willing to read it and make sure I got the Nuyorican details right.
My family is two generations of California Boricuas, and we’ve never lived in NY. Same with most of my Puerto Rican friends. I’ve spent enough time in NYC to make the details seem real to New Yorkers outside the Latino community, but I want to make sure it’s authentic down to the smallest detail. Please let me know if you or someone you know might be able to help me.
Best way to contact me is via twitter, by tweeting to @ayadeleon.
In my senior year at Harvard, I was sick of being broke, of getting paid $4.35/hour at workstudy jobs, and I wondered if I could make more money if I took my clothes off. So I contacted local art schools in the Boston area to see if they needed nude models. I was comfortable with my body, and wouldn’t have minded taking my clothes off. It turned out that you could get paid the same ($15/hour!) if you got naked or just did portrait modeling where they sketched or sculpted your head. I only did one portrait class, because I found it made me crazy to sit still for that long.
In my conversations with women from poor and working class backgrounds who have gotten involved in sex work, one young woman of color said that it’s always there in the background, this option, this possibility, this fallback position. As I say in my poem, “Eulogy for My Ass:”the loss of my youthful ass haunted me a secret stash I could always fall back on if this writing thing didn’t work out this college professor gig fell through i would always have my ass
Recently, there has been a great deal of conversation about the young woman with the alias “Lauren” who’s an adult film actress in the freshman class at Duke. As she explains in an piece in xojane, “I couldn’t afford $60,000 in tuition, my family has undergone significant financial burden, and I saw away to graduate from my dream school free of debt, doing something I absolutely love.” However, I think it’s important to point out that the oddity isn’t that there’s a sex worker in college, rather that she got outed. There has always been a relationship between higher education and the sex industries. The reason that *Lauren got outed was because one of her male peers, a fraternity member, was a consumer of the porn she acted in, and he recognized her. But I have argued in a previous post that even though colleges are co-ed, they are still organized around male students as normative, and female students having a set of needs they can’t seem to fully understand and address. So there’s an expectation that porn consumers will be part of a college community, but not the sex workers who provide the labor to create the products they consume. So there’s a disconnect between academic discussions of sex work and the expectation that sex workers are part of the academic community, or our extended network of friends and family.
Melissa Gira Grant, author of Playing The Whore: The Work of Sex Work was well-received when she spoke at Duke last year about sex work. Unfortunately, the wider campus isn’t on board. According to Grant, “The harassment and abuse this student experienced when outed for porn should be a scandal. But instead the porn is.”
Now that I’m on the faculty member at UC Berkeley, I certainly expect that there are some sex workers among the 30,000-member student body. In my novel-in-progress, the secondary protagonist, Tyesha, is an escort and a graduate student at Columbia University’s school of public health. Tyesha, like *Lauren, face the choice that confronts many poor or working class young women who are considered attractive but don’t have other marketable skills. They can either be mistreated as low-wage workers outside the sex industries or have a different work/life balance by turning to sex work. According to *Lauren, “To be perfectly honest, I felt more degraded in a minimum wage, blue-collar, low paying, service job than I ever did doing porn.” Tyesha has the same experience. She says, “I could be a waitress, but I’d make a lot less and have to work a lot harder. I could be a topless waitress, and I’d still make less, and deal with half the shit I do now. As it is, I work one night a week, and I’ve got an IRA and savings for vacation.”
And it’s complicated. Would just as many young women choose sex work if the society valued them as much for their intellectual contributions as for their sexual services? Probably not. My character Tyesha, for example, says “sex work is just to pay the bills,” and plans to quit once she gets her degree. However, some sex workers report enjoying their work. *Lauren says, “For me, shooting pornography brings me unimaginable joy…It is my artistic outlet: my love, my happiness, my home.” This is a far cry from Lovelace, the recent film documenting some of the horrible abuses in the industry from the 70s. *Lauren acknowledges that there are still abuses.
It’s also complicated. On the one hand, she felt respected and honored during her experiences with the professionals filming the porn. On the other hand, she had her privacy violated and was harassed and bullied on the internet by the community of young men who are the consumers of the porn. The values of boundaries, respect and consent aren’t being transmitted to the end user.
And yet *Lauren stays loyal to her Pornland community, saying “I have no current plans to quit porn.” In a recent conversation with a San Francisco Bay Area sex work activist, she said that sex workers are on a spectrum. On one end are those who love the work and are committed to sex work activism and advocacy. On the other end are those who hate it, and do it out of sheer desperation or due to deep childhood trauma. The majority of folks are in the middle. It’s a job that pays the bills, and they’re glad to be paid well, to have a mutually supportive community that helps them achieve the best working conditions possible.
What a shame that the worst part of *Lauren’s sex work experience wasn’t the sex work itself, but the stigma she faced when she brought all parts of herself to an elite university, the environment that was supposed to be such a privilege to attend.
Happy Valentine’s Day to me! After having produced the Love Fest, an alternative Valentine’s Day event at La Pena in Berkeley for nearly 20 years, I am delighted to be reading tonight at an event produced by someone else. Tonight I’m doing a poetry set at the SF Writer’s conference, FREE at 8pm at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in SF.
As I headed to the conference this morning, I found myself reflecting on all the reasons why, as a parent, this is such a rare and precious occasion, but also how being a parent has helped me thrive at writers conferences.
Becoming a mom is a little like moving from a big city to a small suburb. Your old life is still there, going along without you. You can read about it on the internet, but you can’t actually inhabit it anymore.
As a writer, you can still manage to write. You scribble notes on a napkin, get that uber productive 45 minutes on the computer while the baby is asleep (I used to write with my daughter on my chest in a sea of dirty dishes). But the thing most parents can’t have for their children’s early years is that writer’s nightlife. The readings, the panel discussions, the critique groups, and the conferences. Writers conferences are magical, because they bring tons of people into one spot for a weekend or more to focus on writing. Editors, publishers, agents, publicists, writers, teachers, fans, and others come together to create a magical world where all everybody cares about is books.
When you become a parent, conferences become scarce either because you don’t have the time (childcare) or you don’t have the money. I used to attend writers conferences all the time, but in the four years since my daughter was born, I’ve managed to attend three locally and one out of town.
In 2010, when I still thought I was writing a thriller, I went to Bouchercon which happened to be local for me in San Francisco that year. I patched together a zany childcare schedule which had my baby daughter on site with me breastfeeding at times, and determined to inhabit my old writers life.
It was hard to focus, impossible to sink fully into the experience, and a logistical nightmare. But I found it incredibly rewarding. This was, in part, because two things had changed for the better. First of all, I was grateful for every bit of information and each conversation with another adult writer. This is easily predictable. But the second change was totally unexpected: as a mom, I was more outgoing and optimistic about making connections. As I reflected on my change in attitude, this was directly related to having a baby. For nearly a year, I had walked around the world with a little adorable person on my chest. Everywhere I went, people lit up, walked toward me with a huge smile on their face, stopped to talk to me, paid me compliments about my child’s cuteness. Let’s be clear—they weren’t actually complimenting me or happy about me. Even all the positive attention I had received during the nine months of my pregnancy was never about me; I was merely the vessel or the pedestal conveying the object of their interest. But having all that delighted energy coming in my direction had accustomed me to talking to strangers, and expecting a positive response. At Bouchercon, I was more gregarious and bold about interacting with people than ever before. At the end, I asked two women I’d never met before to form a writers group with me because we seemed to have a good connection. It worked out well, and we’re still meeting.
My daughter is four now. People still have sweet things to say about her, but I don’t have the same vantage point on all the eyes lighting up because she’s not living on my chest these days. But I appreciate the lessons I learned that first year of motherhood. I’m thrilled to be taking an optimistic perspective and an expectation of making good connections into the SF Writers Conference this weekend.
Reflecting on Soraya Chemaly’s “6 Reasons Female Nudity Can Be Powerful,” and How I Got Nearly Naked to Get Real About Sexism in Hip HopPosted: February 8, 2014
I loved Soraya Chemaly’s article “6 Reasons Female Nudity Can Be Powerful.” The moment I started reading, I began to reflect on my own experiences of semi-nudity as a plus-sized woman of color performer.
In March 2004, I debuted the full-length version of my one-woman show, “Thieves in the Temple: The Reclaiming of Hip Hop.” The show was a spoken word and hip hop theater battle cry against sexism and commercialism in hip hop. One character in particular, Lady XXX-Rated, explored the sexualized female emcee, and presented the most emotionally charged moment of the show.
Unfortunately, the audio cuts out on the 2nd half of the video (below), but you’ll get the idea. As I said, I wasn’t expecting to write about this today, so I haven’t figured out how to fix the clip. But I was so moved to write about the subject, even if my video isn’t perfect.
The show grew out of several spoken word and hip hop pieces criticizing misogynist emcees in hip hop, but at some point, I realized I would need to include an analysis of the women involved. It became immediately clear that I could easily offer a critique of the women, but it was a cop out. It’s one thing to talk about what’s problematic about women sexualizing themselves to sell records. It’s quite another thing to walk a mile in that woman’s platform boots and daisy dukes. I developed the character’s monologue and prepared to perform the piece in a blonde wig, skimpy top and skintight leggings. My original director, Roger Bonair-Agard shook his head. He explained that I would need to perform in “booty shorts,” or as they call them in the West Indies, “batty riders.” Initially, I was uncomfortable about it. I am a plus-sized woman, at the time a size 12, and while I am comfortable in form-fitting clothes, it was different to have my flesh out onstage. However, I knew he was right, and I did the first version of the piece onstage at a slam, in a strappy turquoise cleavage showing top, and some floral boy-short bikini bottoms.
Eventually, the costume evolved into black boy-shorts and a tube top, and then had a strappy black one-piece custom made for the full-length show. After a while, I became very comfortable, even though I had gone up the scale to about a size 16. In fact, part of what worked about the scene was the juxtaposition of my plus-sized body with the fetishized gear of a blonde wig, platform boots, and skimpy clothes that showed my cleavage and the bottoms of my butt cheeks. The combination of the conditioned sexy cues of the clothes and the conditioned aversion cues of the larger body had people already feeling uncomfortable even before I opened my mouth.
But if they were uneasy with the visuals, they had even more reason to be so when the song began. I developed the lyrics to the song “Shaking My Ass” after reading the work of bell hooks, Joan Morgan, and other African American feminist scholars on Lil Kim and Foxy Brown. In the late 90s, there was a great deal of controversy about these two sexualized female emcees in rap, and as to whether or not they were feminist. I tended to believe they were not. And not because they were sexualized and thwarted the politics of respectability, but rather because, through interviews, and feminist analysis of their lives and their work, they seemed not to have integrated their sexual power into in a holistic way. In looking at different aspects of their lives, the different traumas in their early lives, their personal relationships, how they moved in the world offstage, and how their home lives were organized, each woman seemed to have a more vulnerable self that didn’t quite know how to handle all the sexual attention, even as the lyrics of the rap insisted that she was in charge and knew exactly what she was doing. I identified with this disconnect. As a young adult woman, I knew what to do to get men sexually interested and it felt powerful, but I would sometimes get into situations where I felt vulnerable and didn’t know how to find and enforce my sexual limits or to get a more sustained connection that I also craved.
With the two emcees, I read stories about Foxy Brown being shocked that her body was grabbed by a male fan in an airport, or Lil Kim, who at the time, apparently lived with a number of men whom she was supporting but not in a romantic or sexual relationship with any of them. I worried about their apparent lack of integration, when their music proclaimed all sex all good all the time. Ultimately, Kim and Foxy were functioning very much on a continuum of sex work, and it was the sexual content that that many critics objected to. But I was more concerned about the ways that their sexualization made them vulnerable without an adequate support system. Because I write about sex work, I’m in real-time and virtual conversations with sex workers much of the time. Stigma, lack of support, and the inability to integrate one’s life is considered a very big hazard of the trade, and these two artists seemed to be struggling with it. In portraying a sexy emcee character, I decided to focus on the lack of integration between trauma, vulnerability, and the need to be loved on the one hand, and the urgency to demonstrate one’s sexual power in a cool and detached persona on the other.
I be shaking my ass
do you think I’m hot
I be shaking my ass
like what? nigga what?
My mama started early & my daddy left quick
I was twelve years old when I sucked my first dick
It made me sick (cough!) but I learned fast
I could climb out of the ghetto on my tits and ass
& I be shaking my ass
do you think I’m hot
I don’t always use a condom or birth control
I had my first abortion at thirteen years old
I’m not sure who’s the daddy of my daughter Ashley
all I know is she wants to be just like me
I be shaking my ass
I get paid a lot
I’m the gangsta bitch
the video hoe
the freaky deaky chick who’s always ready to go
I’m the centerfold
I’m the porno star
& twenty years from now I might be wasted in the bar
I talk big shit
I know you want it
I be servicing the brothers
ain’t discovered my clit
I make big money
Bought a phat ass home
I can have any nigga
I ain’t neva alone
& I be shaking my ass
do you think I’m hot
I be shaking my ass
like what? nigga what?
I be shaking my ass
I get paid a lot
I be shaking my ass
cause it’s all I got
In effect, the performance took the single narrative of all sex all good all the time, and interjected the parallel narrative of trauma and vulnerability. So if audiences weren’t already uncomfortable with the plus-size body and the sexy clothing, they now also had to contend with a dual narrative of sexual posing, and sexual trauma. So after the rap, at the end of the scene when the character eventually breaks down under the weight of the contradictions, it makes sense.
The piece wouldn’t have worked if I had been more clothed. Only by engaging in the semi-nudity of the character could I embody all the contradictions of sexual objectification, sexual trauma. And then I held them all in character, but in my own body. That was the final ingredient—my size 16 body. I had the body of a woman who had gotten comfortable in her own skin, who had worked through sexual trauma and vulnerability. I stood on the stage not needing the audience to like my body, but using my body in solidarity with other women whom I didn’t perceive as having yet had the space or support to explore their body’s power beyond the power of objectification. Self-care tips for sex workers suggest that they need to take a vacation from sex work, sometimes to avoid burnout. But top-selling female emcees never get a vacation from performing their brand in public until they’re dead, in jail, or no longer marketable.
I was completely presumptuous in the development of the piece that I knew how either of these women felt or any woman in their position would feel. With the help of Ellen Sebastian-Chang, the brilliant director who shaped the final full-length version of the show, part of the piece was the character talking back to feminists like me, and cussing us out. Before she even begins her rap, the character says:
Bitches wanna picket me? Shit, you don’t like the concert bee-yotch, then stay ya ugly ass at home. These intellectual hoes talking about some bullshit that don’t have nothing to do with reality. These feminists is really just a bunch of fat ugly bitches playa hatin, cuz they don’t look half as good as me.
And they seem to have a lot of fucking free time on they hands if they spend it worrying about me and wanna fucking “critique the image I’m portraying.” Yeah, a bitch can read. Surprise! So this is for all you “image critic bitches.” When yall are ready to pay my bills, I’ll wear whatever the fuck you want me to wear, and I’ll say whatever you btiches want me to say. But until you trying to get up off some cash, shut the fuck up and stay yo stank ass in the ivory tower cuz you can’t do shit for me. Niggas got the money, and I got something niggas want.
So before you write your next dissertation saying what bitches like me are about, let me tell you exactly what I’m all about.
I still have my booty shorts, my costume, my blonde wig, and my platform boots. I haven’t worn them in years, and some of them might not even fit anymore since I had a baby. But I keep them. As Soraya Chemaly said, there’s great power in female nudity, and they are souveneirs of a time when I put on next to nothing to say something about women’s bodies utilizing my own skin.
2013 witnessed the coming of age of two former child stars in very different ways. Lst year’s zeitgeist moments of Miley Cyrus and Beyonce have a lot to teach us about the dynamics of women, feminism, and the entertainment industry.
Childhood stardom frequently means bad news later in life. From the 70s to the 80s, we watched the entire cast of Diff’rent Strokes meltdown. from the 90s to the new millennium, we watched Britney Spears skyrocket to superstardom as she was rebranded from Mouseketeer into a not-quite-legal sexualized ingenue sensation. She was worth her weight in diamonds, when she came of age and already had name and face recognition. But that moment is fleeting. A sexualized but ostensibly virginal seventeen-year-old is bankable to all: tween and teen girls, heterosexual men of all ages who go for a hot young blonde. But once she could no longer straddle the virgin/whore line, and once she was a messy divorcee, a neglectful mom, and a hot mess, we saw how the transition from child to adult star was far more brutal to her than to her male counterpart, Justin Timberlake. The third member of the Mouseketeer crossovers, Christina Aguilera never quite had the white girl moment of media domination, but she’s proven to have more staying power.
Beyonce, born the same year as Britney Spears, began performing publicly at age seven, and her group Destiny’s Child had their first record deal in her early teens. With the support of her family, she transitioned from a girl group to a solo career in her twenties. In 2013, at the age of 32, she stealth released the album that exceeded all expectations of what would be possible for feminism in the R&B mainstream. Meanwhile, Miley Cyrus was a center of feminist controversy with regard to her public feud with Sinead O’Connor about Cyrus’ sexualized image. She was also criticized for her racial appropriation of hip hop and African American culture, as well as her public dance reenactment of sexually dominant behavior toward black women’s bodies. She also drew fire for engaging with Robin Thicke and his rape culture anthem that was arguably stolen from Marvin Gaye.
Like Spears, Cyrus’ Disney childhood stardom gives her face and name recognition, and a cute Disney image to rebrand from. But coming of age a decade later than Spears, in today’s even more sexualized culture, there’s far less demand for the ingénue. Cyrus went straight to bad girl, and swings nude on a wrecking ball for all to see. It will be interesting to see where Cyrus goes from here. It would be difficult for her to continue trading on shock value, because sex and shock has a limited appeal before she gets pushed aside by the next sexy shock-value new girl. Since we have yet to see much in the way of creativity from her, she hasn’t positioned herself to pursue some new artistic exploration. But I wonder where her early thirties will find her. She may become the next media self-destruction sideshow, or she may evolve into a more mature artist with some staying power. While I can’t say evolution looks very likely right now, change is inevitable, and it could go either way.
I would argue that Beyonce, by virtue of her child stardom, has done something else previously impossible. She has bloomed into feminism in the height of her pop stardom, and is shifting the cultural conversation about women artists, feminism, and pop culture. The mainstream entertainment industry doesn’t sign debut artists whose work has strong feminist analysis, but instead offers up pre-fabricated feminism lite. In the 80s, the breakthrough rap duo Salt n Pepa were a perfect example. They were heralded as powerful female voices in hip hop, but they didn’t own their own names or have creative control over their work. “Salt” and “Pepa” were their manager’s trademarks, and he had developed the vision for the group before he recruited the two nursing students to be rappers. The Spice Girls’ 90s “Girl Power” was another perfect example of a girl group created and assembled by men who continued to control it. The work of these and other mainstream female artists’ speaks to women’s desire for more equality and respect, but male producers are careful not to cross the ropes into the feminist deep end, where stronger critiques of patriarchy and industry can be found.
Beyonce, on the other hand, entered the industry as a teenage ingénue. When Destiny’s Child broke up, she became a bankable solo artist in her early 20s, and began the process of navigating her adult acting and music career with leverage and star power. If Beyonce entered the industry today in her early thirties with an unpromoted album quoting a Nigerian feminist writer and talking about women’s lib themes would she go platinum? Absolutely not. Even if she’d entered the industry with this album as a twenty-year old, she’d likely be tracked into an indie music circuit as opposed to pop stardom. But it is precisely because Beyonce entered as a young teen, she had a chance to learn the industry, build her team, and ripen into a total feminist badass, while she still has the highly prized youthfulness that the industry demands in order to put the full weight of the machine behind her.
So not all female child stars are on a path to self-destruction or mediocrity. Some have the unparalleled opportunity to come of age and into their power and be forces of transformation. So while Miley Cyrus swings naked on the wrecking ball, Beyonce is the wrecking ball, crashing through glass ceilings in pop music, and tearing open a door for more mainstreaming of feminist artists of color.