“I will not be your perception of a female with a mic
‘cause I do not choose to stimulate erections when I write
I am Nina with a loaded Smith & Wesson when I write
Sayin’ Mississippi Goddamn, I’m exceptional on the mic.”
–Sa-Roc, “Black God Theory”
And then there’s the other female with a microphone — the one who unabashedly writes, sings, and sways in the direction of that erection.
Her sexuality and overall out-loud exploration of her body and her feminine being-ness are how she practices radical self-expression. To this woman, that form of expression aligns her with what she finds empowering, freeing, and – yes –feminist.
That other female, in this case, is pop icon Beyoncé Knowles-Carter.
She decided to risk expression with her surprise fifth album, a project that garnered plenty of attention, and a whole subset of new fans — the woman in her late thirties who is expressive, outspoken, curious, in love, and in celebration of how she feels and what her life represents.
With this album, Beyoncé in some ways, spoke for me.
I quoted Sa-Roc above because both she and Beyoncé represent two pillars of a powerful tower; let’s call that tower Feminist Expression — the resulting impact of exposure to feminist theory in each person’s everyday choices and actions.
Though the formal definitions may vary, feminism at its core is about “defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.”
That definition speaks to me, and this post speaks to the first part of that process — defining those rights.
Defining takes understanding, and processing, and questioning, and trying on and taking off. It’s about a fit, not a phraseology, and that’s why I believe Feminist Expression is a concept we must explore as we continue to bring feminism out of the libraries and off the syllabi and into our everyday conversations.
My connection to feminism needed to apply directly to me, as much as it applies to my gender and my society as a whole.
Some may read that as self-absorbed, but it is my truth.
If I cannot define and apply feminist principles to my own daily choices, then I am simply a cheerleader of an outward cause, and not an example of the embodiment of the thing I claim to believe.
There was a bridge I crossed when I first experienced a connection to feminist theory.
When I grabbed my ovaries and finally stopped allowing media and society to skew my view of feminism as a movement of irrationally pissed off lesbians (not that there’s anything wrong with a movement that looks like that – feminism just can’t be confined to that connotation), I still didn’t immediately identify with the term feminist. And I am not alone in that perspective.
Many of us did not become feminists in the way that a young woman or man on a college campus or in an activist environment becomes feminist. And since we did not cut our feminist teeth in those contexts, there needs to be dialogue that represents and facilitates the experience of feminism in more individualized, more personal contexts.
That personal context is exactly what I see and hear when I listen to Beyoncé’s controversial album and watch its accompanying videos.
She spoke up on my behalf as a woman who didn’t read all the recommended feminist books and essays, and is often afraid to speak up as a feminist because she may not be “researched” enough or because she can’t recite each of Virginia Woolf’s sentiments.
Though the oppression of women is a global issue, it shows up in different ways for women, and those differences should be respected.
I discovered, and began to define myself through a feminist lens as a result of my questioning things in society and in my own beliefs, and then recognizing my own voice and my own struggles and hopes within the feminist movement.
At first, I devoured as much as I could about established feminine theory, reading all things Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Betty Friedan, Patricia Hill-Collins, and the many others.
But then, I began happening to feminism instead of it just happening to me.
I backed away from the studying of feminist theory and swam instead in the waters of Feminist Expression. And all that means is that I began to listen out for myself in the stories, and became aware of the places and people who tended to omit me and all that I represent from their stories.
I stopped studying and started relating because I didn’t care about being well-read; I wanted to feel understood.
I didn’t want to focus on the research; I wanted to be able to define and express feminism through my own soul. I wanted my personal struggles and revolutions to be echoed in the sentiments of the feminist outcries instead of my just amplifying the collective existing voices.
Feminism today must be more personal and more accepting of new additions to the work.
Certainly, the work being created and explored among academics is vital – sacred, even. But if we are going to take feminism and self-expression off the Ph.D. lists, and into the journal entries of my 22-year-old cousin who needs this work just as much as the woman who writes the books, then we must leave room for feminist expression in a variety of forms that include the uncomfortable stuff like sexuality.
We must also consider being less cagey and more curious about how the term feminism shows up in the real lives of the women and men who didn’t grow up celebrating or even knowing about the feminist movement and the need for its continuation.
Beyoncé using the term feminist is a good thing!
It means more young people will look into it, and perhaps cross their own bridges and own the term for themselves. It means that a new audience gets to think about what it means to be a woman in an incredibly oppressive society.
When I listen to Radical Self-Expressionists like Sa-Roc, I get proof of women who create their own category of artistic expression through sound, and do so without playing into the patriarchal standard of women’s value being tied to their sexuality, gender, and physical presentation. Sa-Roc’s feminist expression speaks to my inner Nanny of the Maroons, and I need that “Fuck yo’ system” energy like I need air.
Beyoncé’s album, with all its focus on sexuality, sensuality, lust, and self-expression speaks directly to my feminist beliefs as well. It does not feel dichotomous to me in the least; more so, it is complimentary.
Where Sa-Roc kicks in the door and stands firm, ready for battle and without regard to anyone’s opinion of how she should look or how she makes them feel, Beyoncé sends a message that she’ll be outside the door, and it is opened, not by her, but by whomever’s company she’s looking to keep.
She beckons them to her, and they come because they want to. Because they want her. How is that not juicy, and empowering, if that’s exactly what she wants to experience?
Should feminists not desire to be desired? Is that the deal with feminism today? Should women lust and fuck in silence and pretend to only connect with Harriet Tubman, and not with Josephine Baker? Is that the message embedded in feminism today?
Feminist Expression says that the application of knowledge of feminist theory has to go through its organic course, and be allowed to show up in each person’s actions, so that they may see it through their own lens and connect authentically with what it means for them.
Feminism is not just about addressing the social, political, physical, and emotional suppression of women’s voices. It is also about the subtle nuances that keep us boxed in and ball-gagged.
It’s about rejecting the idea that I either need to be quiet or that my opinion needs to fit into the category that most closely connects with what someone else believes.
I think that Beyoncé’s album has some pretty radical, beautifully feminist sentiments, and the fact that another feminist disagrees with that does not make me wrong, nor does it make that other woman right.
I think her track “Flawless,” for instance, is warrior woman music. I think that “Drunk in Love” is some grown-ass, sexy, get-the-drawers type work. And I think that “Super Power” is on some next-level, ethereal, hold–my-shoes-while-I-jump-in-this-water-and-feel-how-I-feel type of flow.
I’m feelin’ it.
And it feels like feminism to me.
Akilah S. Richards is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is a six-time author, digital content writer, and lifestyle coach who writes passionately about self-expression, womanhood, modern feminism, location independence and the unschooling lifestyle. Connect with Akilah on Instagram, Tumblr, or her #radicalselfie e-home, radicalselfie.com. Read her articles.