While looking through my blog roll and scrolling news sites in search of some pop culture relief, I came across an article penned by Naomi Schaefer Riley entitled ‘Jay-Z a poor excuse for a husband’. Despite my ambivalence toward the Knowles-Carter relationship, the sexy headline piqued my interest so I decided take a look. What I found was the author’s unsettling discomfort concerning Beyoncé’s sexy performance of “Drunk in Love” with her husband Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter at the opening of the 2014 Grammys. More so, the author found it “icky” that Jay-Z would look approvingly upon his wife Beyoncé while she danced and gyrated around a chair stimulating what most would call a lap dance. Riley seemed very disgusted with the performance quoting what others labeled “foreplay” and an open display of the couples bedroom dealings. Ultimately, the author went on to suggest the Knowles-Carter relationship is not a true example of a “loving, modern marriage.”
Respectfully considering Riley’s views, I find the blatant policing of Beyoncé’s body, sexuality, and marriage very problematic to say the least. And the suggestion that Jay-Z is a worthless husband because of his supposed objectification of his wife is unfounded. Let’s be real, the open expression of sexuality in the media is not a novel idea. For years female and male artists have pushed boundaries, using their music and bodies as performance spaces that shape and embody their public, and sometimes private, personas. When we begin to police how a woman should, or should not, display or use her body in public or private spaces we run the risk of perpetuating old images and stereotypes of the black female body—ie. The Jezebel.
For decades the controlling image of the Jezebel unjustly defined women of color as hypersexual and lascivious natured beings who were alluring, seductive, and insatiable. This depiction often provided the rationalization needed for the exploitation of these black and brown bodies in the media. Fear of the "Jezebel" has made it quite difficult for black women to freely use their bodies for the sexual and erotic in public and private spaces. However, Performers like Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Nicki Minaj are often afforded the space, opportunity, and freedom to explore various aspects of their sexuality while holding the public gaze. Often time these women performers are controlling, in many aspects, the image they choose to portray.
Are these women depicting hypersexuality? Some would say they are. Are their performances and lyrics often lewd and somewhat vulgar? To some, yes. But to tell Jay-Z to check his wife’s sexuality is basically to ignore Beyoncé’s artistic expression and role in controlling her own image. Furthermore, it implies that she is “acting out of line” in public and needs to reprimanded for her blatant disrespect of their marriage. In this sense, we are attempting to define for the couple what a respectable marriage looks like. In our culture, it is hard to accept a marriage which falls outside the societal and gendered norms we have subscribed to; thus we can’t fathom the possibility of a husband enjoying and appreciating his wife’s sexuality in a public space without it being an attack on the definition of marriage. Is is not ok for a married woman to musically express open sexual trust with her husband and the pleasure and gratification that brings them? Sex and physical intimacy are two of many aspects that can sustain a happy marriage. However, society, in general, has become accustomed to viewing sexuality through a lens of negativity and deficiency; so much so that the positive aspects of healthy sexuality are often ignored.
In my opinion, this discussion is less about Jay-Z and Beyonce's actual marriage and more about respectability politics and the attempt to put and keep black bodies in their place. But until Riley decides to tackle that issue, I'll decide to let Beyonce stay peacefully "Drunk in Love".
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