Women’s studies has for many decades centered itself around the study of popular culture and this trend continues as it was announced last week that there will be a class called “Politicizing Beyonce” offered by the Women’s Studies Departement at Rutgers.
Most people groan in dismay when I rigorously analyze pop culture through a gender studies lens (especially at dinner parties, my apparent super power)–but I think that shit is hot. I have two degrees in women’s studies and for both my MA and BA work, I was deeply fascinated by what popular culture tells us about the representation of women, race, class and sexuality. And the conclusions from feminists weren’t as negative, critical and narrow-minded as one might assume.
It was the women’s studies academics of the 80′s that tagged Madonna with the language of empowerment (even if that empowerment was within a system of power–as any materialist feminist would tell you) and it was gender studies that helped place women from Aretha to Gaga within the lexicon of feminism, finding moments of feminist resistance in their work.
As a strong proponent of women’s studies education, I think it is a no brainer to have a class about Beyonce. She is both an amazing icon of strength and independence and leaves us plenty to critique with regard to normative visual representations of women’s bodies. I have been critical of casting Beyonce as a feminist in the past. But I have wondered this many times–is Beyonce the Madonna of this generation? And if that is so, does Beyonce show us that we have made progress in women’s studies curriculum and thereby feminism to more effectively recognize the complexity of women of colors lives?