Is Sussex failing feminism?

Is the goal of feminism really to put women beyond criticism?



Many of us sympathise with the feminists who took offence at the publicity for the “I Heart Consent vs Mrs Carter” debate that was due to be held by the Sussex Students’ Union on 16 March. The title may be witty but it’s also pretty lazy and insulting.

The Union probably didn’t intend to suggest that Beyoncé is anti-consent, but the way the title is phrased places her on the wrong side of an inflammatory ‘vs.’ This undermines the thoughtful if still controversial description: “Is Beyoncé a feminist? Does her ownership of sexuality and her body promote equality, or does it perpetuate the objectification of women and thus enforce rape culture in society?”


Of course, the feminists (and indeed, any other group or individual) have a right to express their views – I disapprove of what you say but will defend to death your right to say it… you know the drill… – but it’s for this same reason it’s outrageous these protests have led to the debate being cancelled. The question of women’s sexual identity is at the heart of this fourth wave of feminism. It is exactly the sort of relevant, complex and contentious question we should be debating as students. If on a university campus – especially one as politically savvy as Sussex – we can’t engage in the difficult debates, where can we?


So we can debate serious politics, but not feminism? 

The feminists’ cries of racism seem a bit uncalled for. She was not picked for this debate due to her African-American heritage but instead because she is the most powerful and poignant choice, which has been verified by the I Heart Consent Team themselves. This is Queen B we are talking about. No female pop star is as glorified, as raised to saint-like level, as Beyoncé. It’s reasonable for us to ask whether she deserves this status and analyze the effect she could potentially have on the public, regardless of gender.

Beyoncé is also an interesting example for this debate because she is arguably more talented and famous than many of her white pop star peers. Beyoncé does not sexualize herself for the same reasons as the others. She does not need to twerk her way to enough shock value for a Grammy nomination like Miley. Or use her sex appeal to distract her fans from – let’s be honest here – her lack of talent like KP.


Beyoncé is a sick dancer with a sick voice. Yet, her music videos are still centered around sex. This raises the question of whether talent sells without sex, whether any sort of entertainment can sell without sex anymore.

One of the protesting comments asked, “I don’t think it’s up to any of us to decide for another woman if she is a feminist.” Now repeat the sentence but replace the word feminist with racist. Try paedophile. Try criminal.

The question of feminist identity is an increasingly complicated one. We need to feel free to define ourselves as feminists without being worried about being labeled as hypocrites.

As a society, we have to find the balance between allowing people to create their own identities and holding them accountable for their behavior. It’s not Beyoncé’s principles the debate is holding accountable but her actions. Are girls protected from anti-feminist criticism simply because they are girls?

This debate is not only about Beyoncé – it is using Beyoncé as a figurehead to explore this necessary argument. The question of whether women can empower themselves through the sexualization of their bodies has been a hot topic in literature since the sexual revolution. This is a sociological question – asked of prostitutes, of porn stars and more recently singers such as Beyoncé – but is also a personal one that many of you may have asked yourself in relation to your own sex lives. It’s a pretty damn important question in 2015.

So, do Beyoncé and women in general help or hinder feminism through publicly flaunting their sexuality? Sussex may never know. But we most definitely deserve the chance to try and find out.