Hip Hop Feminist Professor Treva Lindsey: Beyoncé’s Feminism Backlash and Outkasted Conversation

treva beyOn December 17th, 2013, HuffPost Live invited me to serve as a co-panelist for a segment entitled, “Beyoncé’s Feminism Backlash.” The panel also featured feminist scholars, activists, journalists and cultural workers and critics, Imani Uzuri, Dr. Kaila Story, Joan Morgan, Rosa Clemente, and Rahiel Tesfamariam. Each panelist discussed Beyoncé self-identifying as a feminist on her latest self-titled visual album as well as how black feminists/womanists/gender-progressives responded to Beyoncé claiming a space within feminism. Initially titled the “Beyoncé Wars,” the segment highlighted a range of black feminist standpoints and provided a rich dialogue about the tensions, fissures, complexities, and intra-politics of black feminism, and more specifically, black feminist cultural criticism.

As a black feminist cultural critic, I often grapple with popular culture and mass media as sites of inquiry. More specifically as a cultural historian, I explore popular culture texts with a critical lens situated within histories of representations of black women and black womanhood. Contextualizing contemporary representations of black women and womanhood requires understanding complicated histories in which racism and sexism thrive(d). Without question, systemic exploitation, disenfranchisement, misrepresentation, dispossession, and marginalization play important roles in the historical and lived experiences of black women in the United States. While my work critically considers and engages with histories of the exploitation of black women, I also use the archive to uncover histories of black women’s pleasure and joy. Consequently, a central part of my current research agenda is the excavation of pleasure in contemporary black women-authored narratives/projects.

The release of Beyoncé’s self-titled visual album in December 2013 offered a unique opportunity to pose questions about black women, performance, erotics, (hyper)sexuality, and feminism. Her album provoked a range of responses from feminists/womanists/gender-progressives. Because of my scholarship around pleasure, erotics, and African American women’s expressive culture, HuffPost Live invited me as a panelist who could shed light upon the sexual politics extant on Beyoncé’s latest project. I attempted to offer commentary that encapsulated both the possibilities and the limitations in the feminist politics espoused on the visual album. As one of the most visible and popular artists of the twenty-first century, I affirmed the importance of Beyoncé self-identifying as a feminist. Without question, her album and larger body of work include notable “anti-feminist” moments such as word-play by her husband and frequent collaborator, rapper and mogul Jay-Z that alludes to intimate partner violence. These moments must be considered alongside the pleasure politics and women’s/girls’ empowerment narratives she espouses.

The HuffPost Live discussion about Beyoncé mirrors many difficult dialogues occurring in feminist media, black feminist thought, and popular culture classes. It is important that we approach popular culture and mass media with critical lenses. Representation matters and can have material consequences. Our engagement with media must also allow for space to account for our affective and emotional responses as well. Understanding the emotional and affective investments we have in popular culture strengthens our scholarship and teaching. I am a feminist who enjoys Beyoncé, but that enjoyment cannot and will not deter me from being an incisive and thoughtful feminist cultural critic and historian. – Professor Treva Lindsey

Watch the video here!

In addition, Professor Treva Lindsey was also recently featured in a series created by Dr. Regina Bradley (Kennesaw State University) entitled Outkasted Conversations. This series of conversations with a range of popular culture scholars focuses on the hip hop group, Outkast. As it is the 20th anniversary year of their first, ground-breaking album, this conversation is very timely and necessary. Dr. Lindsey was interviewed about embodiement, pleasure politics, and gender politics as they pertain to Outkast and their body of work. I have included the link here in case it may be something the department wants to highlight. Listen to it here!


WGSS Graduate Student/Activist Haley Swenson Fights Rape Culture

JANEDOEAbout this time last year, two major stories had put the concept of rape culture front and center in news media around the world. A rape culture is not simply a culture in which rape occurs, but where it has become normalized, and the sexist relations surrounding it have been made to seem unproblematic. The recognition that rape is not a natural or unavoidable occurrence, but one which societies encourage by not taking it on directly, or by even apologizing for it (victim blaming), is one of the most important insights of feminist and particularly women of color organizing over the past few decades.

The two stories that brought rape culture into the public conversation in unprecedented ways last winter were first, a horrific, public rape that occurred in New Delhi, India, leading to the death of a young woman. This incident caused mass demonstrations in India and nearby countries that lasted for weeks.

The other event was closer to Ohio State. The Steubenville rape trial, a trial which never would have occurred had it not been for the diligence of some online activists who brought light to the huge amount of evidence to support Jane Doe’s allegations on twitter and other websites and the evidence of the flip ways in which teens and public officials had discussed the actions of the two men involved.

On the one hand, it was easy to look at Steubenville and see all the evidence one needs that rape culture is real and powerful. In addition to the online culture surrounding the night of the attack, Jane Doe was receiving hundreds of pieces of hate mail, including death threats, during the trial.

But it was also true that there was a parallel story that we as activists could not overlook. Though there were rape apologists, there were also many who refused to look the other way, who were willing to declare enough was enough, and in the case of some of the hackers who brought attention to the story, to risk jail time to expose the injustices surrounding the case.  As feminist activists, we needed to find ways to magnify that culture – to show the presence of people in our society who recognize rape culture for what it is and want to end it.

I was involved in two campaigns last winter to do exactly that.  First, with others in the International Socialist Organization, I helped to coordinate a “Solidarity with Jane Doe” campaign. We set up tables on campus (and others did this in other states), and we printed up postcards that we invited people to come and sign, to share messages of support with her. In the end we delivered about 300 of these postcards to the Attorney General’s office, so he could give them to Jane Doe (so that we did not violate her privacy in any way). These postcards countered the hate mail she received, and they also became a flashpoint to mobilize all those who were feeling disheartened by the case. The messages people wrote on those postcards were incredible, from “I stand with you. You are not alone,” to  “You inspire me.”

Then, inspired by the widespread support this postcard campaign had received, and the countless people who came to us and thanked us for what we were doing, we wanted to broaden the campaign and to remember that Steubenville was not an anomaly. With allies in Women and Allies Rising in Resistance, a fantastic student organization on campus that organizes Take Back the Night each year, we started a tumblr campaign. We took our lead from the very successful tumblr campaign started by feminists at Oxford called “I need feminism because…”

We invited people to tell us why they fight rape culture, and to submit a photograph of them holding up their reason. The campaign gave a human face to the many people fighting for a different kind of world. Some of these submissions have included absolutely damning critiques of rape culture, while others take a more personal tack, including stories about how rape culture has affected them and their friends and families.

We didn’t just get our entries through online submissions, but we set up a table on the Oval for weeks, and encouraged people just walking by to stop and check out the campaign. In addition to finding so many people who were thrilled to see a campaign like this, and to have the chance to voice their experiences, we also had serious conversations with people who hadn’t yet come to understand what rape culture was. “What is rape culture?” many would ask as they stopped at our table and saw others proudly posing for their tumblr pictures.  Soon many would tell us, they too knew someone who had been blamed for their own assault, and they just hadn’t known the word for it.  Many of them would eventually decide to take part in the tumblr as well.

The fight against rape culture has a rich history, and last winter’s surge of interest in this topic in the mainstream media was but one chapter in that long history. Ending rape culture requires nothing less than the fundamental transformation of our society, but big tasks start with small ones. And sometimes, the tasks don’t seem so big when we realize how many people out there are with us in this struggle. – Haley Swenson


Transnational Feminisms Summer Institute/Feminist Summer Camp at OSU

TFSIoption2This summer, OSU will be hosting a weekly-long Transnationalism Feminisms Summer Institute (TFSI) from July 7-11.  This idea is inspired by a Summer Seminar that the Radcliffe Institute/Schlesinger Library hosted on “Sequels to the 1960s.”  I was only there for a day to give a talk, but the experience felt like a summer camp for feminist scholars.  This past summer, I reconnected with Laura Briggs, chair of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst;  along with Karen Leong at Arizona State University (who is co-editing a special issue of Frontiers:  A Journal of Women’s Studies on transnational feminism), we decided to organize the TFSI.

Since that initial inspiration, the TFSI organizing team has expanded to include a number of faculty, students, and staff at OSU who are volunteering their time to plan the institute.  We have received cosponsorships from a number of other institutions, including Emory University, Indiana University, Rutgers University, University of California, Santa Barbara, University of Minnesota.  Our hope is that we can collectively sponsor future summer institutes on other feminist topics and that the host institution will rotate among campuses.

At the TFSI at OSU, we plan to begin each day of the institute with a roundtable that engages with important issues in the field of transnational feminism.  The roundtable topics include:  “A State of the Field,” “Indigenous Transnational Feminism,” “Body Politics,” Locating Transnational Feminisms and Activism” and “The Transnational Turn and Borderland Epistemologies.”  We have invited over twenty roundtable speakers who come from academic institutions in Canada, Mexico, Russia, and the U.S. to speak on these topics.  To complement the theme of “Indigenous Transnational Feminism,” the TFSI will sponsor a tour of the Newark Earthworks.

Following these roundtables, institute attendees will attend paper workshop sessions.  These panels are designed to provide feedback to authors so that they might strengthen and revise their work for publication.  We received 142 applications for our initial call for papers.  Most of these applicants were interested in workshopping their papers.  To keep the institute to a manageable size, we selected 27 workshop participants.  Their topics encompass examinations of international organizations, labor, media representations, social movements,  as well as translating and transnationalizing feminism.  Their studies analyze these developments in various parts of the world, including Argentina, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, China, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Haiti, Japan, Liberia, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Patagonia, the Philippines,  Rwanda, and Syria.  The scholars themselves will be coming from Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North America.

We hope that feminist scholars and students at OSU will take advantage of this opportunity to engage with establish and emerging scholars of transnational feminisms.  We ask that attendees commit to attending the entire week.  That way, we can talk, eat, and fully immerse ourselves in this feminist summer camp experience.  – Professor Judy Tzu-Chun Wu

Check out the Registration Site here!