Idolatry, Beyoncé and feminism

Dear Dad,

I think a lot about my Sunday school lessons, and particularly the commandment not to have “false idols.” As a kid, I learned that this was in response to the Israelites, led by Moses’ brother, Aaron, creating a calf out of gold to worship. As I grew up, you and Mom taught me that idols are more than just statues of gods; they’re anything you put on a pedestal for worship, like money, a relationship, or a pop star.

This lesson came to mind when I saw the latest Beyoncé trend sweeping the Internet: #Beyoncealwaysonbeat. If you’re not familiar, footage of Beyoncé dancing is matched up to almost any song you please, be it rap, pop, gospel, or the Ducktales theme. The results are glorious.

But, as anyone who reads music would know, and as Slate points out, it’s not hard to match up music and dancing when most songs are written in the same time signature.

I love Beyoncé. I think her music is fun and inspiring, her dance moves are ridiculously awesome, and her feminism is empowering in its unabashed visibility. But, scrolling through #Beyoncealwaysonbeat videos at 11:05 last night, I thought again about those Sunday School lessons on idols, Dad.

Beyoncé is not perfect. She does make mistakes. And putting her on a pedestal is dangerous for me and her, as I risk disappointment, and she gets held to impossibly high standards.

I’m learning to respect people I admire as humans, instead of believing they, and their dance moves, can never slip. I’ve written before about Anita Sarkeesian. I think her work is hugely important and I love her videos. Recently she tweeted about how Mad Max: Fury Road is not a feminist film. My heart sank. Obviously, I didn’t feel the same. And then I realized that it was perfectly okay for us to disagree. Feminism is not a monolith and Anita is not my idol. I can respect her opinions and work but I don’t need to be on the same page as her about everything.

In the end, Dad, learning not to have idols helped me be a better feminist, and helped me relax and enjoy things more.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see if there are any new #Beyoncealwaysonbeat videos.




Trading places isn’t just for the bedroom

Dear Dad,

I have a confession to make: I love R&B. Like, LOVE. Something about the relaxed beats, the men’s soulful voices, the incredible high notes they can hit… Right now, R&B is my jam.

Mostly I’ve been listening Frank Ocean radio on Pandora, which hits me with a perfect mix of Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and other mellow, sexy songs. One song in particular has got my attention, and that’s Usher’s “Trading Places.”

On its face, the song is a simple reversal of gender roles for sexual reasons. The chorus says, “You get on top, tonight I’m on the bottom, cause we trading places.”

But the verses delve more into the gender roles of the day-to-day lives of heterosexual couples. Usher makes his partner breakfast in bed, cleans up after her, does the laundry, and she puts the moves on him sexually, as well as takes him shopping and buys him what he wants.

What I like about this song, even though on its surface it reinforces stereotypical gender roles, Dad, is that it raises the question of why we need to adhere to them. Usher is obviously happy at the thought of his partner buying him things, and he takes pleasure from pressing her shirts. In an egalitarian relationship, partners do what they can and what they enjoy for the partnership, and these actions don’t have to be rooted in gender roles.

My hope is that couples who hear this song might have the same realization. “Trading places” can be fun, and more importantly, beneficial to the relationship when we allow ourselves to break free from traditional roles and create our own role in the relationship.


Let’s stop romanticizing the predator/prey relationship

Dear Dad,

I’ve been thinking a lot about violence in relationships, and specifically stalking. I can’t escape the impression that everywhere I look, there’s another romantic depiction of a predator/prey relationship. Our culture has a terrible tendency to glorify “the hunt,” and it has dire consequences.

A drawing of a bobcat chasing a bunny. The bunny is diving into a hole between two rocks and looking behind it with fear.

Not a depiction of the dating world.

I’ve dated men before that I wasn’t attracted to. After a date or two, I decided that we didn’t jive, and I respectfully made clear that I was not interested in a relationship with them. Some of these men express disappointment, try to convince me otherwise or understand my motives, but eventually agree that I have a right to date whom I want.

Others, on the other hand, don’t let go so easily.

The scariest example I can think of was a man who, when I told him I didn’t want to see him anymore, started sending me angry text messages. He accused me of being rude to him when I ran into him in public, though he ignored me when I said hello. He later texted me to ask why I was so bitter, why I hated him. He started calling me in the middle of the night. I remember waking up at 2 a.m., terrified, my phone vibrating and lighting up my whole room. I remember staring at it until it went to voicemail. I remember thinking how grateful I was that I’d moved out to the country and that he didn’t know where I lived.

We had only dated for a week before I realized that we didn’t really relate. I told him I wasn’t interested and so I was harassed for months. I never knew when I’d receive a midnight phone call. I never answered.

It seems so obvious that this is wrong. It should be obvious that this man was an aggressor and that I was lucky to get out with only psychological trauma. And yet these predators think of themselves as the romantic hero in some movie. Just look at people like this creep, who writes about how he is a “benevolent stalker” because his harassment is “purely an expression of affection.” Again, it seems obvious that this is not love but sexual violence, but our society is full of examples of this same type of sexual violence glorified as romance.

Just look at Maroon 5’s creepy “Animals” song. When I heard it on SNL, with lyrics like “Baby I’m preying on you tonight” and “Maybe you think that you can hide/Hunt you down, eat you alive,” I was already repulsed. Then the band released a video where Adam Levine stalks his real-life wife, complete with graphic blood rain. Given Levine’s sexy image, this video was particularly terrifying, a sex symbol portraying a stalker.

Of course, this isn’t the first time sexual violence has been glamorized in pop music. The hunter/prey dichotomy has been glorified in too many songs to count, including Pharrell’s recent “Hunter,” off of an album that is supposedly a tribute to women’s power following the critique of his creepy Robin Thicke collaboration “Blurred Lines.”

“Just because it’s the middle of the night/That don’t mean I won’t hunt you down,” Pharrell sings in “Hunter.” And in case you have any doubts that the “hunter” in this song thinks he’s being romantic, that’s immediately followed by, “‘Cause up, in, deep inside/It’s pulling me and I want your love.”

And then there are books and movies like “Twilight,” in which Edward standing in Bella’s room watching her sleep every night for months is romantic because he JUST LOVES HER SO MUCH. And girls read this and believe it!

Then, when a man “loves” a woman so much he can’t resist her, he stalks her, harasses her or assaults her, we say he’s a creep. We say these people are scary anomalies. What’s scary to me, though, is how much our society tells them that they’re good and romantic, right up until they cross some unspoken line. This includes female stalkers, though they make up only about 15 to 20 percent of all stalking cases.

It’s time to say enough is enough. I don’t support artists who create work glorifying stalking. It’s harmful and perpetuates this belief that if you love someone enough, stalking can be “benevolent.” Let’s call if what it is: sexual violence.

And I’m not standing for it anymore.