“SHE THINK SHE CUTE!”
It’s 1991. I’m on the bus and I am getting it from a neighborhood girl and her friend. From name calling to ugly looks and sneers. Finally, ol’ girl decides to step. She was about 2 years older, with a woman’s body and at least 10 pounds on me. I didn’t know her name or where she lived, all I knew is that I was outnumbered and terrified.
I got off the bus and began walking home. She and her sidekick followed me and continued their harassment. I remember turning around and screaming “why can’t you leave me alone, I don’t even know you!” and then speed walking and trying to figure out how this all happened. I didn’t know this girl and I hadn’t done anything to her. She wasn’t even in my grade! All I knew was that since I had started at that middle school she had it out for me.
My mother, who was miraculously home, must’ve heard the noise and was at the door of my building when I reached the steps. She quickly took hold of the situation and demanded that we ALL come upstairs to our apartment and sit down or parents would be called. Then the grilling began. “What happened…who started this…did my daughter do something to you?” For this, the girl had no answers. I remember her smirking and glancing at her friend who just laughed. Once she caught a look at my mother’s face, her own disposition changed from defiance to defeat. Finally, she just blurted out “She…she think she CUTE!” with a sick eye-roll.
I remember the look of confusion and then pity that came across my mother’s face. She got it. But at my age, I just broke down in tears. I knew that whatever that meant, that it wasn’t good and at eleven years old my life was ruined. Because in Prince George’s County, girls who thought they were cute were the worst. You could be good in school, go to church, have the freshest Reebok Classics and Parasuco jeans…but in no way could you ever, ever think you were cute if you didn’t want to be a target.
As I’ve become older I’ve heard that phrase used too many times by frustrated women and girls who can’t articulate their views about another woman. And when you do get to the root of it, their feelings tend to have nothing to do with “that woman” and more with personal issues and conflicts within themselves. Whether she says “she think she cute” or in some instances, masks it with it’s grown-woman-academic-politically-correct counterpart “she’s insecure,” that projection is real and raw.
It’s a byproduct of raising women to see each other as competitors and not comrades. It’s what’s left when you give women a set of unattainable standards to live, look and love by. It’s divisive, dangerous and sad.
It’s easy to tell a person what the textbook definition of feminism is, but admittedly hard to describe it. That’s because it is subjective, personal. The power of feminism is not only solidarity, support and work around the rights and lives of women and girls, but the opportunity it allows for self-evaluation, growth and learning and acceptance. It’s sounds all flowery and shit, but there is also a tremendous amount of work in that last sentence.
So when Beyonce decided to release an album where in which between an catchy ode to cunnilingus, a fantasy fueled romp in the backseat with her husband and a lullaby to her daughter, inserted a (re-edited) clip from Chimamanda Adichie’s brilliant “We Should All Be Feminists“ TED Talk in the track "Flawless/Bow Down,” some of the most surprising and harshest critiques came from women, especially Black women, who also identify themselves as pro-woman, womanist, feminist, etc. As if “how dare she use that word to describe herself!”
Mid-way through the psuedo-academic posturing, pontification and posting, I wondered aloud if what I was reading was, rather than a feminist critique, was “she think she cute” but with more syllables and twitter followers.
I don’t know Beyonce.** I don’t know how she defines her feminism. I know that it certainly looks hella fun. So I won’t attempt to define or discuss Bey’s feminism, nor give anyone a lecture on what feminism is—I leave that to the voices on this website. But I can tell you what feminism isn’t:
Feminism isn’t a club, nor does it have a charter, governing body or membership fee.
Feminism isn’t a strict set of rules, looks/uniforms or doctrines.
Feminism isn’t (just) academia, protest songs, bra burning, long blogs and speeches.
Feminism isn’t angry white women. Or angry Black women. Or angry women. Or lesbian women. Or only women for that matter.
Feminism doesn’t hate men, women, hetero-marriage, stilettos, exposed butt cheeks, permed hair, housewives, sex, etc.
Feminism is not the use of the same respectability politics that are used to shame black women, against women who aren’t prescribing to the above “stereotypes” of feminism. [Joan summed this up best.]
I am a feminist, but I’m also a woman who is evolving. As I evolve, so will my feminism. This is also true, I suspect, for countless women including Mrs Knowles-Carter. Within that process is no room for unnecessary policing of another woman’s display of feminism. We can all get down and have plenty of open seats at this table.
Sure, Beyonce thinks she’s cute. And she’s getting her fierce, feminist LIFE. Her confidence is inspiring. And that is quite alright with me.
Shannon. Founder, I’m Feminist Enough
**I don’t know her, but we’ve met before and it was hilarious.