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On Beyonce, Being “Cute” and Feminism



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!”

Read the rest of Shannon’s piece over at I’m Feminist Enough.

Last 5 posts by Shannon Washington