The Black Feminist Movement — as we know it today — grew and was founded upon black women’s criticisms of popularized movements such as The Black Power/Liberation Movement and the Women’s Suffrage Movement. The criticisms of these ‘revolutions’ were that black women were being racially repressed in the Women’s Suffrage Movement while also feeling a complete lack of sexual representation in the Black Power Movement. Too often women was used as a euphemism for white women and black was a euphemism for black men.
The Black Feminist Movement argues that feminism cannot exit properly without intersectionality, or the belief that racism, sexism, and class oppression are forcibly bound together. Any issue that is discussed thus becomes shaped simultaneously by these three characteristics.
Through the years, women of color have had the distinct ability to combine the ever-evolving black culture and feminism to convey feministic ideals to the masses. It is important to note that feminism can be attributed to everything from Sojourner Truth’s 1851 “Ain’t I A Woman” speech to Beyonce’s 2013 self-titled album. Whether through books, speeches, or music, black women have skilfully gotten their message across in any way they could while staying hip to the times, oppressions, and the setbacks for women.
That is why today we are gathering some of the top feminist icons in the music industry:
This jazz songstress, often remembered as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, helped shaped feminist consciousness throughout that time with her power to ‘overcome adversity’ and her social consciousness. Her hits such as “You Let Me Down” brought to prominence how masculinity and objectification of women affect male-female relationships coupled with her version of “Strange Fruit” which shed light on the gruesome effect on the lynchings in The South. Her songs helped shape political and social ideology at the time and continue to inspire artists and women of today.
Eartha Kitt, a woman who is often called the most exciting woman in the world, also deserves recognition for her revolutionary thinking and self-awareness. In her 1982 bio-documentary “All By Myself: The Eartha Kitt Story”; Kitt is quoted in saying: “A man comes into my life and I have to compromise? For what?… I fall in love with myself, and I want someone to share it with me. I want someone to share me, with me.” This documentary has been commended time and time again for Eartha’s forward thinking and true portrayal of herself. Kitt’s outspokenness on love and life has been commented on even before the ‘82 documentary. In the late 60s, Kitt spoke out at a White House luncheon after Lady Bird Johnson asked Kitt her sentiments on the Vietnam war, her answer which included anti-war statements, reportedly left the First Lady in tears. The extreme reaction to her sentiments derailed her career in the U.S. but she continued her activism, outspokenness, and singing career overseas. Her legacy and sentiments continue to ring on even long after her ‘08 death.
Nina Simone’s “Four Women” is considered one of the most influential black feminist anthems of all time. In this 1966 song, Simone steps outside of herself and portrays four different women of color and illustrates the struggle of black identity amongst black women. This song, along with many others such as “Young, Gifted, and Black”, partnered with Simone’s tireless efforts for equality among blacks and social/political awareness makes Nina Simone a true feminist icon.
Following the release of her self-titled U.S. album, Miriam Makeba rose into prominence in the late sixties for her soulful sound and outspoken opposition to the apartheid movement. Carrying her message through her music and repertoire, Makeba’s international success was garnered after a small role in “Come Back Africa” that made a big impact. After entering the U.S., Makeba was exiled from South Africa for almost thirty years, but didn’t allow her exile from home to dampen her mission for justice. Makeba’s mission spread beyond apartheid and impacted the likes of the civil rights movement patterned with her later marriage to Kwame Toure. Her fight and impact upon the many aspects of black social consciousness continues to live on even after her ‘08 death.
“It’s Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty.”
As an early voice for feminism in hip-hop, Queen Latifah perfected early in her career the use of socially conscious, feminist lyrics. Her first mainstream success single “Ladies First” in 1989 incorporated lyrics such as “Cause they see a woman standing up on her own two / Sloppy slouching is something I won’t do / Some think that we can’t flow / Stereotypes, they got to go.” “Ladies First” was followed by other feminist anthems such as “U.N.I.T.Y”. Since the heyday of her rap career, Latifah has ventured into everything from makeup to movies, snagging a Covergirl line to promote black beauty and an Oscar nom along the way. Through her various ventures, Queen Latifah continues to fight for equality today.
Lauryn Hill’s 1998 critically acclaimed and five-time Grammy Award winning album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” was a true persona of post-modern feminism. She redefined femininity and it’s tie with social consciousness and empowerment throughout this debut album. But beyond the scope of her music, Hill has captivated a wide scope of criticism and attention for her relationship with the music industry. The intertwining of her stardom, controversy, and pro-women attitudes has propelled her and her only studio-album into multi-generational success and fame.
Hailed as the female rap spokesperson for gender-based rage and a 90s revolutionary for her sexual personal, Lil’ Kim has made a name for herself for never being afraid of speaking her mind. Lil Kim’s freedom and passion to express her thoughts on sexual objectification along with her steady challenge of male dominance and what African-American womanhood means through various lyrics makes Lil’ Kim noting short of a feminist icon.
This 28-year-old singer/songwriter released “Q.U.E.E.N.” in 2013, a song featuring Erykah Badu, is often hailed as the modern-day feminist anthem. This pro-women tune encompases lines such as: “She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel / So why ain’t the stealing of my rights made illegal? / They keep us underground working hard for the greedy, But when it’s time pay they turn around and call us needy / My crown too heavy like the Queen Nefertiti / Gimme back my pyramid, I’m trying to free Kansas City.” Outside of this powerhouse pro-women anthem (and many others), Monae also stands out for speaking against sexim, injustice, and flawed perceptions of femininity in the music industry.
After her self-titled album was released last December, the conversation surrounding Black Feminism and Feminism through music has been surrounding ‘Queen B.’ But is she who wears the crown of third-wave feminism? Her self-titled album, after it’s initial release, was called by many as a display of ‘sexual frustration’. But that criticism can only come about if we place Beyonce’s display of her sexual identity in a lesser arena than the likes of males in the music industry. Beyonce’s album encompasses intersectionality, female empowerment, and a modern re-definition of black womanhood. Though many news outlets and individuals have challenged Beyonce’s “feminist identity” as flawed, the question remains ‘who is doing this better right now?’
Even beyond her 2013 album, Beyonce’ has gone on further to express feminist ideals when she released an essay entitled “Gender Equality is a Myth!”. But whether or not individuals agree on Beyonce’s current identity as the “new feminist icon”, we must recant former pro-women anthems such as “Bills, Bills, Bills”, “Independent Women”, “If I Were A Boy”, “Run the World (Girls)”, and “Me, Myself, and I.”