Intersectionality in Third-Wave Popular Music: Sexuality, Race, and Class
Abstract and Keywords
This essay traces popular music’s relationship to third-wave feminism through the concept of intersectionality and situates the development of popular music and feminism in the larger political context of the 1990s and 2000s. Intersectionality forms a key discourse through which the members of the movement located themselves generationally, politically, and intellectually. At the same time, the third wave’s emphasis on intersectionality has not always translated into holistically intersectional practices. Despite the commitment to understanding that aspects of identity offer greater or lesser positions of power and influence, third-wave feminists have most often foregrounded the activities of white, middle-class musicians and sometimes ignored the contributions of women of color, from hip-hop feminists to pop musicians. This essay focuses on popular music’s relationship to the third wave in sexuality, race, and, class as they play out across mainstream pop, hip-hop, and alternative/indie rock music from the 1990s to the 2000s.
In 1992 Rebecca Walker used the pages of Ms. magazine to declare “I am the Third Wave” as a reaction to the Senate confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas (who eventually became a Supreme Court justice), a galvanizing moment for her and others of her generation.1 Walker, the biracial daughter of second-wave feminist Alice Walker, noted that both race and gender played into the Senate committee’s questions for both Clarence and Anita Hill, who had accused him of sexual harassment. Walker cited her difficulty talking about the incident with men, who only saw Thomas in terms of his conservative politics. The incident spurred her, she wrote, to think about feminism’s future. She would later describe the third wave as “a generation that has grown up transgender, bisexual, interracial …. We have trouble formulating and perpetuating theories that compartmentalize and divide according to race and genders and all of the other signifiers. For us the lines between Us and Them are often blurred, and as a result we find ourselves seeking to create identities that accommodate ambiguity and our multiple personalities.”2
In the summer of 1991 Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna scribbled her outline for feminism in a notebook titled “Riot Grrrl Test Patterns.” She wrote: “THESE ISSUES MUST BE INCORPORATED FROM THE BEGINNING: anti-racist, … [anti]-heterosexist, [anti]-classist work cannot be ‘written in’ the margin, they MUST BE CENTRAL” to the movement.3 Her outline went on to acknowledge that both punk and feminism had failed to see these bullet points put into action.
Walker’s declaration and Hanna’s handwritten notes foreground an issue central to third-wave feminism, whether in music or direct political activism, and central to this essay: the idea of intersectionality. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw developed the theory of intersectionality to reframe identity politics in a way that accounted for the distribution of power along different axes; that is, the experiences of women of color are shaped by both racism and sexism, the experiences of queer women of color are shaped by sexism and homophobia and racism, and so forth.4 Since Crenshaw developed the idea of intersectionality, it has moved quickly from academic contexts to more popular ones, both as a goal and as a means of critique of feminism.5
In this essay I use the term “third-wave feminism” to describe a number of musicians associated with feminism since 1990, all of whom employ empowerment discourses in their music and have been cited as influential by feminist activists and writers. Included in the third wave are the so-called girlie feminists of the early 2000s featured in Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards’s Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future (2000); young feminists of color like Rebecca Walker, mentioned above, who also edited the influential third-wave volume To Be Real (1995), and Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman, whose edited volume Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism (2002) provides first-person narratives about issues affecting women of color in the third wave; hip-hop feminists such as Joan Morgan, Gwendolyn Pough, and the online Crunk Feminist Collective6; academic feminists who have come of age since the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s7; queer feminists influenced by both queer theory and second-wave feminism; and, far less frequently, transnational feminists.8 Not all of these women would self-identify as “third-wave feminists” specifically, just as many second-wave feminists would likely just call themselves “feminists.” In this article I use the term “third-wave feminism” to describe a historical time frame from roughly 1990 through the present, with the understanding that we are, at the time of this writing in 2015, in the midst of a shift toward new forms of activism.9
As the third wave developed in the 1990s, intersectionality became a key discourse through which the members of the movement located themselves generationally, politically, and intellectually. In fact, the discourse of intersectionality is what holds the third wave together; without that idea, the disparate threads of the movement would unravel, and the only way to define the movement would be through a generational perspective.10 At the same time, the third wave’s emphasis on intersectionality has not always translated into holistically intersectional practices. The disconnect between discourse and practice of intersectionality becomes especially apparent in the ways that third-wave feminists have approached popular music in particular: despite the commitment to understanding that aspects of identity offer greater or lesser positions of power and influence, third-wave feminists have most often foregrounded the activities of white, middle-class musicians and at times ignored the contributions of women of color, from hip-hop feminists to pop musicians. This disconnect has become especially true as music has shifted toward niche marketing strategies. Thus, popular music offers both a productive and contested terrain for exploring how third-wave feminism represents itself as a movement through popular culture.
This essay traces popular music’s relationship to the third wave through three key aspects of intersectionality: sexuality, race, and, class. Obviously these are not the only aspects of intersectionality; for example, “gender” itself is absent from this list, although it is an important category within recent feminist and queer theory.11 However, in the history of popular music, these three issues have been especially prominent in terms of how musicians have shaped their careers, developed their performance styles, and confronted gender issues. Before exploring intersectionality and popular music in the third wave, I first situate the development of feminism in terms of the larger political context of the late 1980s and early 1990s. From there, I outline the third wave’s relationship to popular music, noting its early connections to the Riot Grrrl movement and hip-hop. Finally, I discuss how intersectionality plays out in three genres that third-wave feminism has embraced: mainstream pop music since 1990, Riot Grrrl and alternative music of the early 1990s, and hip-hop feminism of the 1990s and 2000s. Each of these genres demonstrates both the limits and the potential of the third wave’s relationship to popular music, as well as the restricted ways that the discourse of intersectionality is put into practice.
Understanding the Third Wave
Despite critiques that argue against dividing feminism into waves,12 the moment in which third-wave feminism arose was, in fact, a moment of rupture in which the movement was reshaped, and out of which a new generational perspective emerged.13 Third-wave feminism arose in the early 1990s, a time of crisis for feminism. As mentioned above, the 1991 Senate questioning of Anita Hill, who had accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, galvanized many women toward political action. The following year, in “The Year of the Woman,” four women were elected to the Senate for the first time—something even the Senate’s own website attributes to a reaction against the Thomas hearings.14 Reproductive rights also faced challenges in the early 1990s, with the rise of Operation Rescue protests at clinics in Kansas and Louisiana and demonstrations in Washington, D.C. Stoking the fires of feminism, Susan Faludi published Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (1991), which outlined the ways that the rise of popular conservatism affected the women’s movement. At the same time, postfeminists, such as Katie Roiphe and Camille Paglia, argued that feminism created a “victim culture” around rape, which had been a significant issue for the second wave.15 Paglia also promoted a kind of sexual liberation, which she claimed was rooted in the 1960s counterculture,16 that was later cast as “Do-Me Feminism” in an article by Tad Friend in Esquire.17 In addition, conservative responses to feminism—such as Rush Limbaugh’s popularizing of the term “feminize” in his 1992 book The Way Things Ought to Be—further demonized views of the second wave and dismissed its accomplishments (Limbaugh 1992). Other conservative responses, such as Christina Hoff Summers’s Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women (1994) critiqued feminism as a product of the white middle class while drawing on a white, middle-class perspective.18 It was, in short, a time of highly conflicting views about what feminism should be, whether it should exist at all, and for whom it was still relevant.19 Third-wave feminism demonstrates the effects of that backlash as well as the greater effects of the neoliberal political sphere, relying less on legislative politics than on cultural intervention, less on collective movement than on individual action.
The generation of feminists who grew up in this space of backlash attempted to formulate a type of feminism that responded to them effectively; at the same time, they often absorbed some of the assumptions about the second wave.20 Much of the discourse about differences between the second- and third-wave generational aspects is drawn from the landscape of US culture, most prominently the dichotomies set up between baby boomers and generation X.21 Among the most salient issues dividing the generations, third-wave feminists have criticized the second wave for lack of inclusion, whether by race or class,22 and for a restricted view of women’s sexuality.23 In contrast, second-wave feminists’ critiques of the third wave have often reduced that movement to merely a practice of consumption, reducing the kinds of politics that its various participants embrace and often taking up a mode of criticism that reinscribes notions about young women and consumer culture.24 However, I would like to reframe the differences between the second and third waves as similar responses to ongoing concerns about gender equality, but within very different historical contexts. Third-wave feminists, for example, grew up in a post–Title IX, post–Roe v. Wade time, but faced a culture increasingly inimical toward feminism.
Popular musicians of the early 1990s responded to the backlash against feminism in highly visible and audible ways. In 1991, for example, alternative rock musicians L7 founded Rock for Choice in response to antichoice activism; over the next decade, concerts and benefit albums from the organization would include musicians such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Hole, Bikini Kill, Salt-n-Pepa, No Doubt, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sarah MacLachlan, and Melissa Etheridge.25 The wide range of musicians at the concerts, from alternative rock to hip-hop to singer-songwriters, illustrates how the issue crossed both musical and social boundaries from its inception in alternative rock.26 At Riot Grrrl shows, girls passed out zines about sexual harassment, access to abortion, and feminist activism, while bands on stage handed out the lyrics to songs about sexual abuse, rape as a tool of war, and inequality in the punk scene.27 Rapper Queen Latifah’s “U.N.I.T.Y.,” which won a Grammy in 1995, addressed street harassers, domestic violence, and misogyny in hip-hop. As the decade of the 1990s went on, “girlie” feminists reclaimed femininity, often through a punk-rock/DIY lens in magazines such as Bust, but also in performance contexts that drew on queer sexuality.28 In more mainstream, heterosexual contexts, the Spice Girls encouraged “Girl Power!” and Destiny’s Child became “Independent Women,” while using their sexuality in performance in ways that conformed to traditional expectations of femininity despite their empowerment claims. Ten years after the Senate questioned Anita Hill, one of the musicians in my master’s thesis ethnography regularly wore an “I Believe Anita Hill” T-shirt on stage, a sign that the issues of the early 1990s echoed throughout the development of the third wave, even as they were largely forgotten in the rest of popular culture.
From the array of musicians mentioned above, it is clear that the third wave is diverse in its beliefs about and approaches toward activism, some of which read as “feminism” and others of which read as more general “empowerment.” Historians of the third wave have faced the problem of distilling a coherent narrative from a diffuse collection of often-contradictory political orientations.29 The term “third-wave feminism” is extremely flexible, applied to a variety of feminist ideologies, mostly oriented around generation X and Y feminists. Popular culture forms one potent form for third-wave feminism, and within that, popular music especially has been central for the third wave, from Riot Grrrl to the Spice Girls to hip-hop feminism.30 In addition, many of the texts of third-wave feminism focus on sexuality, both queer and straight, though heterosexuality is more often represented when third-wave feminist texts intersect with popular culture.31 Finally, and most importantly for this essay, the third wave emphasizes an intersectional view of identity that stresses difference.32
During the time that the third wave became a pop cultural movement, academic feminism also began to undergo a shift away from identity politics–based theorizing toward a number of theories drawing on poststructuralist thought (Fraser 1997; Butler and Scott 1992), from studies of the body (Grosz 1994; Bordo 1993) to work on the performative nature of gender (Butler 1990).33 This shift, especially in the trickle-down form that reaches undergraduates, has most certainly influenced the politics of third-wave feminists, as well as their conceptions of gender and sexuality, discussed in the final section of this essay. The Riot Grrrls’ tactic of writing things like “SLUT” and “RAPE” on their bodies in magic marker no doubt embraces a corporeal feminism. The trickle-down theory has also appeared in the debates around transgender inclusion, especially at feminist music festivals.34 But poststructuralist thought about gender and sexuality is yet another aspect that can be thought of in terms of intersectionality, as gender and sexuality offer further axes of identity for understanding one’s position in the world.
Third-Wave Musical Production: Talking Intersectionality, Doing Something Else
Music has been one of the most visible aspects of third-wave feminism within US popular culture, whether signaled by the highly commercialized “Girl Power” slogans of the Spice Girls, the heavily sponsored Lilith Fair tours of the late 1990s, or the genre-killing media boycott of the punk Riot Grrrls of the early 1990s. In 1997 Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake, the authors of Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism, wrote that “activism in the third wave takes diverse and compelling forms, but one—music production (and consumption)—is particularly important, because of the ways that it has spawned so many forms of youth culture.”35
Unlike second-wave feminism, which had strong ties to both the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s and, later, the academic institutions that brought forth feminist theory, third-wave feminism has almost exclusively taken place in the realm of cultural production. As noted above, music has played a dominant role in the formation of third-wave popular culture, but the wave’s ideas have also been put forth in magazines such as BUST, Bitch, and, to a lesser extent, Jane36; influenced television shows as disparate as Sex and the City and 30 Rock; and generated dialogue on the nature of feminism on blogs such as www.feministing.com, jezebel.com, and racialicious.com. As the third wave moved from the 1990s into the 2000s, it was also part of an important shift into digital culture that has made the issue of intersectionality more visible: while traditional print media have generally favored feminism framed in a white, middle-class outlook, Internet feminism, through both blogs and social media, has offered a space where women apply intersectional frameworks to popular culture.37
In the sections below I address three genres in which intersectionality comes into play, especially in defining who is or is not considered a feminist. In each of these genres, I emphasize one aspect of identity, but I nonetheless consider identity in a holistic way: after all, the foundation of intersectionality is the understanding that aspects of identity should not be viewed in isolation. First, I focus on the presentation of sexuality in the third wave, which reads differently across different genres and for different types of women performers. Second, I explore the intersection of whiteness and middle-class positionalities in the alternative music genre of the early 1990s, which has been the most visible site of third-wave activism. Finally, I examine the relationship of feminism to race in R&B and hip-hop and address where third-wave feminism and hip-hop feminism converge with and diverge from each other. Each of these musical spaces offers a context in which the third wave’s discourse of intersectionality succeeds to a greater or lesser extent.
Pop: Whose Sexuality?
Within the third wave—especially in popular music—the representation and performance of sexuality forms a core departure from earlier interactions between feminism and popular culture. The third wave’s representation of sexuality, particularly as it plays out in popular music, offers an important site for understanding how the discourses and practices of intersectionality can diverge along lines of race, class, and sexual orientation. The role of sexuality in shaping women’s identities was at the center of the early 1990s crisis in feminism, and it has influenced all areas of third-wave cultural production.
The emphasis on sexuality in the third wave has some tendencies in common with the “postfeminism” of the early 1990s. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Camille Paglia’s writing on Madonna provided a public-facing, though often controversial, view of women’s sexual potential; Paglia conveniently set Madonna’s presentation of sexuality against the supposed standard feminist position to argue in favor of creating new subject positions for women through sexual expression.38 This idea of sexual power took hold as part of a larger shift from focusing on women’s rights toward women’s empowerment. Naomi Wolf argued in Fire with Fire that women needed to embrace “power feminism,” a kind of feminism that “encourages a woman to claim her individual voice rather than merging her voice in a collective identity” and “is tolerant of other women’s choices about sexuality and appearance; believes that what every woman does with her own body and in her own bed is her own business.”39 These two emphases of empowerment—individuality and sexuality—would form the core of how the third wave developed within pop music, but also illustrate its potential failures. Wolf’s position was very much one of the white, heterosexual middle class, offering a kind of feminist power that was not necessarily available to all types of women.40 “Empowered” sexuality reads differently across lines of race, class, and sexual orientation; it is also an ethos that depends primarily on individual expression, rather than collective action. Thus, “empowered” sexuality runs up against theories of intersectionality, which reveal that the stakes of empowered sexuality are very different for different women. As popular musicians of all kinds have continued to build on Madonna’s empowered sexuality, they frequently replicate problems of representation in race, class, and sexual orientation.
Since the early 1990s, female musicians across musical genres who identify as feminists have explored a particular type of empowered female sexuality in their stage performance, song lyrics, and musical styles. For example, Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill would perform in a bra, with the word “SLUT” written across her stomach in marker; at other times, she wore an oversized T-shirt with an image of a muscle-bound man printed on it. Both actions called attention to her sexuality and offered a moment of disjuncture with the band’s aggressive music and lyrics. Journalists—especially men—called attention to indie rock singer-songwriter Liz Phair’s open presentation of sexuality in songs like “Fuck and Run” and “Flower,”41 and academic feminists analyzed alternative rocker P. J. Harvey’s performance of gender and sexuality.42 In R&B-flavored pop and crossover hip-hop, groups like TLC encouraged women to ask for sex with songs like “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” whose video prominently featured the words “SAFE SEX” and a condom in rapper Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes’s sunglasses. In country, Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” positioned her as acting wild/“not politically correct.” That song’s video parodied Robert Palmer’s 1985 “Addicted to Love,” which featured heavily made-up models passively miming playing guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard; Twain’s video flips the script by positioning her in front of a group of male models.
Although the theme of empowered female sexuality runs across popular music styles, it is consistently and most prominently found in the pop genre and has its roots in the ways that Madonna “performed” her sexuality in the 1980s. The scholarship on Madonna is vast, running the gamut from feminist theory to new musicology and poststructuralist breakdowns of her music videos. However, two writers bring out the most salient issues of Madonna’s empowered sexuality as it has informed feminism since 1990: Susan McClary and bell hooks.43 McClary stresses Madonna’s agency as a creator of texts while acknowledging that the singer is part of a collaborative process in pop music; she argues that Madonna’s music and videos “articulate a whole new set of possible feminine subject positions.”44 McClary writes:
I am stressing Madonna’s agency in her own self-representation in part because there is such a powerful tendency for her agency to be erased completely—for her to be seen as just a mindless doll fulfilling male fantasies of anonymous puppeteers. This particular strategy for dismissing Madonna has always seemed odd to me because the fantasies she enacts are not very successful at being male fantasies, if that is their objective: they often inspire discomfort and anxiety among men who wish to read her as a genuine “Boy Toy.”45
McClary’s argument that Madonna’s discomfiting sexuality—one in which she expresses her own agency, as well as a variety of subject positions—resonates with the emphasis on empowered sexuality in the third wave.
Madonna’s agency and her departure from “traditional” female presentations of sexuality receive further analysis from bell hooks, who places the singer’s actions within the context of race. She writes:
Since we [black women] are coded always as “fallen” women in racist cultural iconography we can never, as Madonna can, publicly “work” the image of ourselves as innocent female daring to be bad. Mainstream culture always reads the black female body as a sign of sexual experience.46
Hooks brings up something that comes into play with many women musicians who have embraced empowered sexuality in their images and in performance: the standards of who can play against type and those who are playing into a type are moveable, depending on boundaries of race, class, and sexual orientation. These standards also affect the perception of which musicians can be considered feminists, something that has implications along lines of race and class.
A standard approach to sexuality in third-wave popular music is to trace Riot Grrrl to the “Girl Power” of the Spice Girls and to the “girlie” feminists of the early 2000s, a trajectory that leaves out the contributions of women in R&B and hip-hop and fails to see sexuality in relation to race or class. For example, Rebecca Munford argues that Riot Grrrl developed an aesthetics of girlhood, while the Spice Girls represent a “postfeminist” empowerment that relies on “the paraphernalia of sexualized femininity.”47 However, this common scholarly trajectory, ostensibly about critiquing the dilution of feminism from subcultural sources to more popular ones, fails to take into account discourses of sexual empowerment across genres in the third wave that have been visible since its beginning. It also tends to tacitly construct sexuality as heterosexuality, wrapped within an uncomplicated femininity.48
Focusing on a subculturally oriented, white, middle-class music in terms of sexualized femininity replicates femininity’s association with whiteness and the middle class. Gayle Wald points out how the focus on gender transgression can obscure issues of racial appropriation in her discussion of No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani:
For Stefani, in particular, playing with the signifiers of girlhood is tacitly a strategy of bolstering white racial authority-indeed, of bracing precisely that cultural power that authorizes her to engage in the parodic mimicry of gender norms without social penalty. In such a way, “I’m Just a Girl” accentuates Stefani’s gender transgression—her position as a girl lead singer—while minimizing the visibility of another, more salient aspect of her performance—her negotiation of ska, Jamaica’s first urban pop style and No Doubt’s primary musical influence (by way of English “Rude Boys” and 2-Toners). Indeed, Stefani’s pogo-inspired dance style and her display of raw, raucous energy are themselves hallmarks of ska performance reframed within the context of outrageous, uninhibited, and confident white female alternative rock performance. In this scenario, Stefani’s self-conscious “innocence,” “helplessness,” and “charm” are not only crucial to her critical disarticulation of girlhood from its meaning within patriarchal discourse, they also enable her to naturalize national and racial identity.49
Wald ties Stefani’s transgressions of femininity specifically to her whiteness, a point that echoes throughout discussions of women’s empowered sexuality in popular music, but they are also specifically markers of the middle class: “innocence” and “helplessness” are afforded only to those who can afford them.50
Despite the discussion of sexuality in the third wave emphasizing alternative music of the 1990s, much of its empowered feminism has taken place in the realm of pop, not rock, music. Even some of the musicians initially discussed as “alternative,” such as Liz Phair and Gwen Stefani, who both initially positioned themselves as transgressing the rules of femininity within rock, would later position themselves as pop artists.51 A discussion of sexual empowerment discourses in pop music, rather than in subcultural styles, almost automatically introduces questions of generic expectations: Is pop music a space in which truly feminist sexualities can emerge, or is it a likely place for them to devolve into mere replication of the status quo? The answer to this question almost always devolves into debates on authenticity and gender that have long been acknowledged in pop music studies.52 Instead, I would like to examine how, even within pop music, black and white performers are held to different standards as feminists, especially when they use sexuality as a means of empowerment.
The contrast between the treatment of black and white artists in pop music as feminists appears in the discussion of two recent artists who have worked together, who emphasize their sexuality through performance, and who have both claimed the identity of “feminist”: Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. The former has made her connections to feminism clear—for example, including the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk on feminism in her song “***Flawless,” or writing a piece titled “Gender Equality Is a Myth!” for the Shriver Report, but the latter has received far more attention from scholars for her work as a feminist and queer activist. The scholarship on Lady Gaga so far includes J. Jack Halberstam’s Gaga Feminism (2012) and a volume of essays edited by Martin Iddon and Melanie Marshall (2014).53 At a talk at the New School, J. Jack Halberstam provocatively endorsed “Gaga feminism” as a new mode of queer, liberatory feminism54; in contrast, also at a talk at the New School, bell hooks called Beyoncé a “terrorist,” a term that goes beyond critique into hyperbole, and described her as using the image of a “super rich, very powerful Black female … in the service of imperialist, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”55 The differing reactions to Gaga and Beyoncé, despite their shared position as feminists and pop musicians, require more attention.
In her critique of Halberstam’s Gaga feminism, Juliet Williams offers an example of the contrast between Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, one that erases cultural history:
In Sander Gilman’s well-known article “The Hottentot and the Prostitute,” Gilman describes the “ubiquitous” reliance in 18th and 19th century European art on the figure of the black servant to “mark the presence of illicit sexual activity” (79). But in the “Video Phone” video, we see a striking reversal of the dynamic Gilman identifies, whereby Beyoncé’s supreme command of racialized heterosexiness becomes the staging ground for the appearance of Lady Gaga as a queer figure. In an interview, Lady Gaga explained that when she agreed to do the video, she told Beyoncé: “I don’t want to show up in some frickin’ hair bow and be fashion Gaga in your video.’” Instead, Lady Gaga told Beyoncé: “I want to do ‘you’” (Vena, 2009). Lady Gaga’s almost comically absurd attempt to “do” Beyoncé in the video has the effect of aligning Beyoncé with the natural and Gaga with the performative. In contrast, Beyoncé’s racialized body appears as a sign of the decidedly un-queer, functioning as the backdrop against which a feminist politics of self-fashioning struts to the fore. If, as Halberstam suggests, Lady Gaga represents “the end of normal,” then Beyoncé in the video gets cast as its lingering presence.56
As Williams points out, the association of blackness with normative heterosexuality is presumed to be less feminist—or at least not feminist in a way that registers as transgressive and new. This new alignment is no less troubling than the old, Hottentot Venus-association, which doesn’t quite disappear under the new rubric of self-fashioned feminism. Williams’s argument recalls bell hooks’s position that Madonna is only transgressive because of her whiteness, but Gaga’s whiteness is something that Halberstam’s Gaga feminism itself doesn’t acknowledge—instead, Halberstam offers it as potentially liberatory to queer people of color, without clarifying why. Again, this points to troublesome issues of intersectionality: by positioning Gaga as “new” and encouraging a rejection of feminism’s past, Halberstam is potentially erasing the contributions of black women to feminism.
Finally, a major critique of “empowerment sexuality” lies in the third wave’s tacit heterosexual orientation, despite its occasional flirtations with queer culture. Especially within pop music itself, a number of female musicians have used similar moments of queer performance to further their careers, despite identifying in their personal lives as heterosexual. Again, this tendency goes back to Madonna, who flirted with comedian Sandra Bernhard on David Letterman’s show in 1988; kissed Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards; and, in her video for “Justify My Love,” explored numerous different sexualities. More recently, Lady Gaga has used her music as a platform for LGBT rights, most notably with the song “Born This Way,” which itself took melodic and rhythmic cues from Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” but also in her song “Poker Face,” which she stated was about her bisexuality.57 At the same time, declaring a queer sexuality does not always benefit women performers. Nicki Minaj, for example, reinforced her “black Barbie” image after she received backlash for declaring her bisexuality.58 The differences in reception of women’s sexuality, particularly queer sexuality, again play out differently across genres and across race and class boundaries.
Riot Grrrl and Alternative: Foregrounding the White Middle Class in the Third Wave
Like many feminists before them, writers of the third wave have often foregrounded the activities of the white middle class, especially in terms of popular music.59 As the third wave enters scholarly archives, feminist academics and popular historians have singled out the Riot Grrrl movement as the germinal moment of the third wave, a move that has numerous implications in terms of its musical and political positioning. For one, the movement was quite small in relation to the larger alternative music scene of the 1990s, which was itself more oriented toward political activism than typical histories suggest. Locating third-wave feminism in only Riot Grrrl obscures the range of political opinions, activist activities, and musical styles of even the “alternative” scene from which the third wave emerged.60 Further, to many feminists of color, Riot Grrrl has come to stand in for the absence of intersectionality and a type of feminism that reinforced white, middle-class issues even as it declared “every girl is a riot grrrl.”61 Each of these issues has greater implications for scholars of the third wave.
The Riot Grrrl movement itself was initially somewhat circumscribed. Founded in Olympia, Washington, in early 1991, the movement centered on bands such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Excuse 17, Heavens to Betsy, and later, English band Huggy Bear. None of these bands was on a major label; the movement developed in a pre-Internet network of zines, penpals, record label subscriptions, and sometimes-unwanted publicity in teen magazines such as Sassy and Seventeen. Because Riot Grrrl depended on local, often intimidating punk scenes, it had relatively few participants at the time. Media coverage at the time, however, was outsized in comparison with the movement’s actual scope. Journalists either presented it as a possible “next big thing” after grunge or, alternately, sensationalized the movement as “angry young women” who were dangerously sexy in performance.
In many ways, scholarship followed the trend of overdocumenting Riot Grrrl. Pop music studies has given Riot Grrrl attention from its inception, more than likely because it was so subculturally oriented and provided an opportunity for researchers to study a subculture based in girls’ activities and break down the metaphorical bedroom wall.62 In 1994 Joanne Gottlieb and Gayle Wald addressed the connections among the reclamation of “girl” identities, commodity culture, and youth subcultures in Riot Grrrl.63 In 1997, a watershed year for Riot Grrrl scholarship, Neil Nehring’s Popular Music, Gender and Postmodernism: Anger Is an Energy examined the dismissive tone of musical critics toward Riot Grrrl64; Mary Celeste Kearney connected the movement to 1970s lesbian separatist feminism65; Marion Leonard addressed feminism and “girl culture” in zines66; and Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake included two chapters related to Riot Grrrl in their edited volume Third Wave Agenda.67 In 1999–2000, academic endeavors intersected with popular history in the Experience Music Project’s Riot Grrrl Retrospective, the first institutionally sponsored recollection of the movement. The EMP’s project brought together women from the movement for a series of oral history interviews, collected zines from its participants, and combined them with sound clips for the museum’s very first exhibit, which premiered online. Finally, in a series of articles, Kristin Schilt brought the first sense of class awareness to scholarship on the movement.68 Schilt’s work represents the last Riot Grrrl scholarship before the movement became “history”—that is, before Riot Grrrl became the site of nostalgia and archival collection.
Despite the small population involved in Riot Grrrl, its impact on the relationship of the third wave to pop culture has been immeasurable. In part, this impact arose from the notorious media coverage it received in the early 1990s, which presented the movement as having a much larger scope than it did, and from its ongoing presence in feminist pop music studies and critical circles. In recent years, nostalgic remembrances of the movement have appeared within academic spaces as well as popular ones, often with the purpose of cementing its place in the historiography of the third wave.69 Although earlier academic texts presented a variety of issues and highlighted class, recent histories, especially popular ones, obscure race and class factors that shaped participation in Riot Grrrl by treating them as individual failures rather than as part of an ongoing critique of feminism.70 For example, Sara Marcus’s Girls to the Front (2010), a well-researched and beautifully written popular history, ends its narrative of Riot Grrrl in July 1994, which unfortunately excludes Riot Grrrl’s development in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco, which drew in a more diverse population in terms of race and class.71 Similarly, Sini Anderson’s The Punk Singer (2013), a film about the life of Kathleen Hanna, places a focus on individuality within the movement, as opposed to the collective; this, too, obscures the overall picture.
Finally, when scholars have described the movement for popular audiences, they have frequently flattened out both internal and external problems and critiques. Susan Douglas’s Enlightened Feminism (2010) sets up Riot Grrrl as a parallel to second-wave feminism and in opposition to the rest of the third wave, which has more visible connections to consumer culture.72 When Douglas addresses Riot Grrrl, she draws a direct comparison with the second wave, her own locus of nostalgia (e.g., her account of the Shirelles in her earlier book, Where the Girls Are). She writes:
The media responded to [Riot Grrrl] much as it had when radical feminism emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s: attack, ignore, trivialize the political substance of the movement, decapitate the look or style of the movement from its substance, and use this new style to marginalize the movement and create new stuff to sell. While the immediate press response to Riot Grrrl was hostile, the movement’s energy and its members’ insistence on a new empowerment for girls was not ignored: within a few years we had “girl power” lipstick and an entire federal initiative, headed by Donna Shalala, labeled “girl power.”73
Douglas’s trajectory confirms Riot Grrrl’s relationship to the second wave, legitimizing it as feminism, while at the same time separating it from the supposedly problematic consumerism of the third wave, which Douglas refers to as “enlightened sexism.”74 In treating Riot Grrrl like an ideal space of radical feminism, Douglas ignores the real issues of race and class in the movement, many of which arose from its brash and often alienating musical style.75
Examining Riot Grrrl’s faults offers an opportunity to investigate where intersectional critique can be put into practice. Riot Grrrl appealed to a certain type of girl—namely, a white, middle-class girl, often with access to punk networks. As Marisa Meltzer, author of Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Rock (2010), pointed out, girls needed certain kinds of cultural capital to participate in Riot Grrrl:
I think Riot Grrrl was at its heart pretty elitist. You had to have a lot of access. You had to find out about that music, somehow. And even though they got a lot of mainstream publicity, you had to figure out how to find the zines. You had to get the courage to go to these intimidating, all-ages punk clubs, especially if you were a girl who hadn’t been part of the punk scene and it was your first show, or something like that. You know, if you wanted to make a zine or start a band, there’s a certain barrier to entry in terms of skill set, and organization, and money, and the kinds of peers and family that recognize those as important uses of your time.76
As Meltzer noted, the kinds of resources and participation that Riot Grrrl required were those mostly afforded to the middle class; they presume leisure time, as well as the financial ability to go to shows, produce zines, and maybe even start a band. As well, they require access to social networks that not every girl would be able to cultivate, whether due to geography or class.
Although both Kristin Schilt and Mary Celeste Kearney have discussed the ways that class and race are factors in the production of zines,77 a more trenchant critique of Riot Grrrl’s relationship to class and race comes from Mimi Thi Nguyen, who is both a gender scholar and a former teen punk zine-maker.78 In her 2012 article, “Riot Grrrl, Race, and Revival,” Nguyen critiques the movement’s rhetoric of “public intimacy,” which cultivated “aesthetics of access.”79 Through an examination of Riot Grrrl zines, a medium that straddles the line between public and private, Nguyen argues that the focus on intimacy often enacted a kind of verbal violence on girls of color (when it did not erase them altogether). She writes that the kind of “consciousness-raising” that Riot Grrrls performed through their zines had limits based on the girls’ personal experiences:
However moving, it often appeared to me that the reification of structural determinations in the unreliable minutiae of personal experience about girlhood, or class convention, often failed to confront the conditions that enabled such assumptions to stand in the first place. The raising of consciousness did not aim to end structural determinations, and instead ossified its categories of class or gender as an absolute reality to predict social expression (such as the commonplace claim that working-classness manifested loud, straightforward, and therefore truer speech). But how then could experience yield revolutionary knowledge about race, where the dominant experience was whiteness?80
Nguyen’s critique of Riot Grrrl itself, whose participants were, after all, teenage girls and not gender scholars, may be less important than her critique of Riot Grrrl historiography, which centers the experience of white, middle-class women. The question of how Riot Grrrl is remembered, and what place it has in the narrative of the third wave, is one of how intersectional practices can make room for different voices.
Reframing Riot Grrrl within the context of a larger space of musical activism in the third wave would allow for a more accurate perspective on the movement’s contributions. By placing feminist authenticity in one early 1990s movement, scholars also divorce the third wave from its many other contributions, including, perhaps most important, its emphasis on intersectionality, that could perhaps be better investigated through hip-hop feminism (addressed in the final section of this essay), which is almost always more commercially oriented. Incorporating hip-hop feminism, discussed below, is one part of that project, but even within the alternative space of the 1990s, the emphasis on Riot Grrrl obscures class and flattens out the variety of activist activities that women musicians undertook. Not every girl was a Riot Grrrl, and not every feminist of the early 1990s was involved in the project of reclaiming girlhood. For example, numerous scholars have addressed Tori Amos’s “Me and a Gun” in terms of trauma and sexual politics81; however, few scholars have examined her song in relationship to her work with RAINN or placed the song within a larger context of antirape activism in popular music in the 1990s. In addition, the emphasis on Riot Grrrl obscures reproductive rights activism that included efforts between second- and third-wave feminists. In 1991 the band L7 joined with the Feminist Majority Foundation to organize a series of pro-choice benefit concerts and compilation CDs. The band’s collaboration with the Feminist Majority Foundation offers a potential site for exploring the intersections between younger and older feminists, rather than the fixed generational standpoints of second- and third-wave feminism.
Erasing Race: Hip-Hop Feminism’s Disconnect from the Third Wave
In 1999 music critic Ann Powers wrote of the “New Conscience in Pop Music,” reflected in music by women of hip-hop-inflected soul, who brought a “boldly feminine” take on personal relationships. In the 1990s, Powers noted, “most discussions of women’s increased power in pop have focused on alternative-rock transgressors like Tori Amos and Courtney Love or the songbirds of Sarah McLachlan’s Lilith Fair. Rhythm-and-blues artists sold albums but were rarely viewed as culture shapers.”82 Powers discussed how the women of hip-hop-flavored soul, including Mary J. Blige, TLC, Destiny’s Child, and Missy Elliott, had begun to endorse a new personal, often body-centric, politics:
The new soul queens are taking on the often vicious representations of women in hip-hop, assessing what real strength those images may offer and when they need to be defused. They are speaking to female hip-hop fans about the contradictions facing young women in a culture that craves female power but remains deeply suspicious of it. And they are confronting the men who, in rap and in contemporary rhythm-and-blues, so often describe seduction as a theft and love as a game.83
In her article, Powers pointed to a few issues of representation in genres associated with women. First, the women of alternative rock are “transgressors,” while the women of R&B “sold albums.” This dichotomy—which Powers herself does not make in her own writing—brings out once again the long-standing idea that white women are the transgressors in popular music, while black women are merely conformists. It also ignores the parallel empowerment discourse that developed in R&B in the 1990s, with girl groups such as En Vogue and TLC. Second, the “new soul queens” are “confronting” the men of hip-hop and R&B. Although at first this sentence sounds similar to what the women of alternative rock were doing, it presumes that the men of hip-hop are in need of more confrontation than men in other genres.84
Both the erasure of contributions of women of color and the association of hip-hop with misogyny have affected the ways that third-wave feminist popular music can be viewed as intersectional. Similarly, hip-hop feminism often disappears when scholars and popular writers describe the third wave. Hip-hop feminism’s relationship to the third wave—as both part of and separate from the larger movement—is as complex as its relationship with hip-hop itself. In 1999 writer Joan Morgan brought the term to popularity in her memoir, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: My Life as a Hip-Hop Feminist. In that book, Morgan addressed many of the same issues that faced the third wave more broadly, such as constructing a feminism that was relevant to her generation. Morgan, however, incorporated an understanding of the history of feminism and its relationship to race:
When I told older heads that I was writing a book which explored, among other things, my generation of black women’s precarious relationship with feminism, they looked at me like I was trying to reinvent the wheel. I got lectured ad nauseam about “the racism of the White Feminist Movement,” “the sixties and the seventies,” and “feminism’s historic irrelevance to black folks.” I was reminded of how feminism’s ivory tower elitism excludes the masses. And I was told that black women simply “didn’t have time for that shit.”
… White women’s racism and the Feminist Movement may explain the justifiable bad taste the f-word leaves in the mouths of women who are over thirty-five, but for my generation they are abstractions drawn from someone else’s history. And without the power of memories, these phrases mean little to nothing.85
Morgan juxtaposed generations with the acknowledgment that she was speaking of women who may not have identified with the feminist movement at any time, as well as those who may have abandoned it after experiencing racism from white women.86 This distinction separates her from white third-wave feminists, many of whom used generational stances to distance themselves from other white feminists.
Hip-hop feminism, in Morgan’s construction, makes feminism relevant for the “hip-hop generation,” that is, the generation who grew up in the post–civil rights movement era. While hip-hop feminism incorporates a critique and affection for hip-hop as a musical genre, it is equally focused on hip-hop as a framework for African American culture.87 In 2013, reflecting on the directions that hip-hop feminism had taken since Morgan’s publication, Aisha Durham, Brittney C. Cooper, and Susana M. Morris described hip-hop feminism as “a generationally specific articulation of feminist consciousness, epistemology, and politics rooted in the pioneering work of multiple generations of black feminists based in the United States and elsewhere in the diaspora but focused on questions and issues that grow out of the aesthetic and political prerogatives of hip-hop culture.”88 Durham, Cooper, and Morris situated the formation of hip-hop feminism in the same time as third wave, but with specific attributes that disproportionately affected African Americans, such as the conservative backlash against affirmative action, the increasing racial wealth gap, and the hypersexualization of black women and men. Finally, they distinguished hip-hop feminism from the third wave: “Hip-hop feminism rejects the staunch politics of generational disavowal so prevalent in most third-wave work and is much more measured in its critique of second-wave black feminists.”89
Although hip-hop feminism—like third-wave feminism—extends beyond the scope of the “music itself,” it nonetheless provides a framework for viewing the music and musicians in an intersectional way. In particular, Durham, Cooper, and Morris stressed hip-hop feminism’s emphasis on sexual politics: “misogynoir,” or the “hatred of black women and girls;”90 respectability politics, a range of strategies incorporating propriety that promote racial progress91; and compulsory heterosexuality. Sexual politics, rather than direct political statements or affiliations, allows black women to craft critiques and promote empowerment narratives; they also sidestep many of the thornier implications, outlined by Joan Morgan above, of using the term “feminist.”92
The “new soul” that Ann Powers outlined above uses the kind of sexual politics identified with hip-hop feminism, but its history dates back further than 1999, when she cited it as “new.” En Vogue, an all-female pop/R&B group, trod into sexual politics in 1992 with their song “My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It),” in which the protagonist refuses to take back a man who didn’t show her “respect.” The group also confronted racial prejudice in “Free Your Mind,” which borrowed its title from the Funkadelic song. Although En Vogue operated in a mainstream, commercial pop/R&B space, their music was at least as connected with politics as the white women of alternative rock, but neither third-wave feminists nor pop music scholars have paid much attention to them.
Throughout the 1990s, sexual politics shaped women’s contributions to hip-hop and R&B, though few of those women performers would embrace the term “feminist” (even hip-hop feminist). TLC, a group that crossed the boundaries from soul to R&B to hip-hop, engaged with sexual politics and other social issues over their decade-long career. The group’s 1992 song “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” took an exuberant approach to women’s sexual agency, while its video promoted safe sex; its 1994 song “Waterfalls” featured lyrics about sexual promiscuity and drug use; and its 1999 songs “No Scrubs” and “Unpretty” addressed unsupportive men and unrealistic beauty standards, respectively. That third-wave feminism embraces alternative rock musicians, who were often more metaphorical in their presentation of empowerment discourses, but does not acknowledge the contributions of women like TLC, speaks to the failure of intersectionality on the part of white feminists.
Finally, third-wave feminists and hip-hop feminists generally agree on the importance of one hip-hop artist: Queen Latifah.93 She illustrates the gulf between the portrayal of white and black artists as “feminists” in third-wave feminism and in broader popular culture. Latifah’s Black Reign (1993) received comparable critical approval, and the album’s single “U.N.I.T.Y.” won a Grammy for best solo rap performance in 1994. Latifah constructed an agential sexuality, through songs such as “Coochie Bang,” which demanded condom use from men, and confronted sexism in “U.N.I.T.Y.” Both her construction of sexuality and confrontation of sexism put Latifah in a transgressive category. Tricia Rose has noted that black women face problematic stereotypes in developing a sexual subjectivity through rap music, but suggests that it is necessary given the “history of silence that has surrounded black women’s sexuality” (Rose 1994, 168). Gwendolyn Pough points out that Queen Latifah, despite her aggressive attitude toward men who violated women in “U.N.I.T.Y.,” never identified herself as a feminist. Pough writes: “She has definite goals that do not include the label ‘feminist,’ but her agenda, because she is a Black woman, certainly overlaps with feminist causes such as harassment and domestic violence. However, the vindication of Black womanhood is a trait she shares most strongly with the Black women who went before her” (2004a, 89). Within the context of early 1990s feminism and of the historical exclusion of African American women from feminism, however, Latifah’s reluctance to identify as a feminist makes a great deal of sense; she has far more to lose than many white women artists if she identifies as a feminist.
Recognizing that women of color do and do not (and can and cannot, if they are to find an audience in popular music) engage with feminist ideas, if not the word itself, would be a large step toward a more intersectional third-wave feminism within popular music. In addition, for pop music scholars, this move would open up the study of African American women’s contributions in popular music in times closer to the present. For third-wave feminism, this project is especially important as the movement shifts from contemporary times to recent history: instead of reclaiming the contributions of women of color as an intervention, as Mimi Nguyen argues about Riot Grrrl, recognizing women of color’s activities in more mainstream contexts such as R&B is about acknowledging how empowerment discourses arise in US culture at large.
Although intersectionality forms the dominant discourse of the third wave, scholars of popular music have nonetheless frequently emphasized the activities of white, middle-class women as feminists and viewed the contributions of women of color as either marginal or inadequate as feminism. While genre plays into this overemphasis—alternative rock, in particular, is both a site of self-declared feminists and a genre associated with the white middle class—it is not the only explanation. The overemphasis on white, middle-class women’s cultural production has historically been a problem for women’s and gender studies, and music scholars have too frequently replicated this tendency. For a holistic view of how intersectionality operates within the third wave, scholars must address a wider variety of genres of popular music.
Intersectionality provides a deeper avenue for understanding how popular music and feminism interact differently in popular music, depending on facets of identity. In this essay I have explored some of the broader strokes of where the concept comes into play in popular music since 1990. However, I would like to end this essay with a call for popular music studies to pay more attention to intersectionality outside the context of feminist cultural production. Although the idea is tied to feminism, intersectionality is not just about feminism; rather, the concept is essential for understanding the interlocking nature of oppression and identity. In a field such as popular music studies, intersectionality can offer a means to explore more deeply the lives and music of both historically marginalized artists and commercially successful ones and to provide nuance to discussions of race, class, sexuality, and gender.
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Pough, Gwendolyn. 2002. “Love Feminism, But Where’s My Hip-Hop: Shaping a Black Feminist Identity.” In Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism, edited by Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman. Seattle, WA: Seal Press, 85–95.Find this resource:
Pough, Gwendolyn. 2004a. Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere. Boston: Northeastern Press.Find this resource:
Pough, Gwendolyn. 2004b. “Do the Ladies Run This … ? Some Thoughts on Hip-Hop Feminism.” In Catching a Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century, edited by Rory Dicker and Alison Piepmeier. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 232–243.Find this resource:
Purvis, Jennifer. “Grrrls and Women Together in the Third Wave: Embracing the Challenges of Intergenerational Feminism(s).” NWSA Journal 16, no. 3 (2004): 93–123.Find this resource:
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Schilt, Kristin. 2003. “‘A Little Too Ironic’: The Appropriation and Packaging of Riot Grrrl Politics by Mainstream Female Musicians.” Popular Music and Society 26, no. 1: 5–16.Find this resource:
Schilt, Kristin. 2004. “‘Riot Grrrl Is …’: Contestation over Meaning in a Music Scene.” In Music Scenes: Local, Translocal, and Virtual, edited by Andy Bennett and Richard A. Peterson. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 115–130.Find this resource:
Schilt, Kristin. 2005. “‘The Punk White Privilege Scene’: Riot Grrrl, White Privilege, and Zines.” In Different Wavelengths: Studies of the Contemporary Women’s Movement, edited by Jo Reger. New York: Routledge, 39–56.Find this resource:
Siegel, Deborah. 2006. Sisterhood Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Find this resource:
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Sorisio, Carolyn. 1997. “A Tale of Two Feminisms: Power and Victimization in Contemporary Feminist Debate.” In Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism, edited by Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 134–154.Find this resource:
Stoller, Debbie, and Marcelle Karp. 1999. The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order. New York: Penguin Books.Find this resource:
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Walker, Rebecca. 1995. “Being Real: An Introduction.” In To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism, edited by Rebecca Walker. New York: Routledge, xxix–xl.Find this resource:
Whiteley, Sheila. 2000. Women and Popular Music: Sexuality, Identity, and Subjectivity. New York: Routledge.Find this resource:
Williams, Juliet. 2014. “‘Same DNA, but Born This Way’: Lady Gaga and the Possibilities of Postessentialist Feminisms.” Journal of Popular Music Studies 26, no. 1: 28–46.Find this resource:
Waters, Melanie. “Sexing It Up? Women, Pornography, and Third Wave Feminism.” In Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploration, edited by Stacy Gillis, Gillian Howie, and Rebecca Munford. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 250–265.Find this resource:
Wolf, Naomi. 1994. Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How It Will Change the 21st Century. New York: Vintage Books.Find this resource:
Woodhull, Winnie. 2004. “Global Feminisms, Transnational Political Economies, Third World Cultural Production.” In Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploration, edited by Stacy Gillis, Gillian Howie, and Rebecca Munford. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 156–167.Find this resource:
(2) Rebecca Walker, “Being Real: An Introduction,” in To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism, ed. Rebecca Walker (New York: Routledge, 1995), xxix–xl.
(3) Fales Library Riot Grrrl Collection, Kathleen Hanna Papers.
(4) See Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Anti-Racist Practices,” University of Chicago Legal Forum (1989): 139–167;, and “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women,” Stanford Law Review 43, no. 6 (July 1991): 1241–1299. Crenshaw’s 1991 article highlighted the issue of domestic violence as an illustration of the erasure that black women often face in culture: by looking at either race or gender, the way these intersect in black women’s lives often disappears. In her 1989 article, in which she introduced the term, she discussed the impact on black women’s employment experiences. In both of these works, Crenshaw emphasized intersectionality as an expression of structural power (or lack thereof), not just another means for expressing identity politics. Crenshaw’s work builds on a long history of black feminist thought, including but not limited to Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, 2nd Edition (2000); Angela Davis, Women, Race & Class (1981), and bell hooks, Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism (1981).
(5) The influence of intersectionality has been especially apparent in online feminist communities. For analyses of intersectionality in discussions of popular music online, see Elizabeth K. Keenan, “If Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville Made You a Feminist, What Kind of Feminist Are You? Heterosexuality, Race, and Class in the Third Wave,” Women & Music 14 (2010): 45–71; and Alexandra Apolloni, “‘The Biggest Feminist in the World’: On Miley Cyrus, Feminism, and Intersectionality,” American Music Review 43, no. 2 (2014): 1–5.
(7) Hokulani K. Aikau, Karla A. Erickson, and Jennifer L. Pierce, “Introduction: Feminist Waves, Feminist Generations.” In Feminist Waves, Feminist Generations: Life Stories from the Academy, edited by Hokulani K. Aikau, Karla A. Erickson, and Jennifer L. Pierce (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007); Jo Reger, ed., Different Wavelengths: Studies of the Contemporary Women’s Movement (New York: Routledge, 2005); Devoney Looser, “Gen X Feminists? Youthism, Careerism, and the Third Wave,” in Generations: Academic Feminists in Dialogue, ed. Devoney Looser and E. Ann Kaplan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 31–54.
(8) Winnie Woodhull, “Global Feminisms, Transnational Political Economies, Third World Cultural Production,” in Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploration, ed. Stacy Gillis, Gillian Howie, and Rebecca Munford (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 156–167.
(9) Since completing my dissertation in 2008, I have moved away from discussing present-day feminism as “third-wave feminism”; instead, I have used the term as a historical one to describe feminism from 1990 to roughly 2010. I believe that we are currently in a shift in feminism again, as political activism—especially around reproductive rights, as well as marriage equality—has once again shifted from the cultural to the legislative realm. This shift has also featured markedly less political activism by musicians, who have continued a feminism based on individuality (see, e.g., Apolloni 2014). I have been using the term “feminism since 1990,” which historicizes the moment of rupture in feminism that relates to my current work. However, the term “third-wave feminism” was what my interlocutors used; as an ethnographer, I used the words to describe them that they used to describe themselves.
(10) Many scholars have written against the generational framework. In Why Stories Matter: The Political Grammar of Feminist Theory, Clare Hemmings examines the literature that constructs feminism along generational lines: “Generational narratives are heteronormative and homosocial, as they assume women’s cross-generational relationships with one another can only be hostile” (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 129.
(11) Since the publication of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble in 1990, scholars have increasingly interrogated the category of “gender” along lines of performativity. In the public sphere, the growing visibility of the transgender community has also called into question simple gender binaries. For more, see Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990); and Judith Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York: New York University Press, 2005).
(13) For more on the overlap between Generation X and the beginnings of third-wave feminism, see Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism, ed. Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1997).
(14) http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/year_of_the_woman.htm (accessed August 1, 2014).
(15) See Camille Paglia, Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays (New York: Vintage Books, 1992); and Katie Roiphe, The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus (Boston: Little, Brown, 1994).
(17) Tad Friend, “Yes,” Esquire, February 1994, 50.
(18) Carolyn Sorisio, “A Tale of Two Feminisms: Power and Victimization in Contemporary Feminist Debate,” in Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism, ed. Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1997), 134–154.
(19) In the introduction to her history of the women’s movement, Alice Echols makes note of the struggle to keep feminism relevant for younger women. Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967–1975 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).
(20) For more on how third-wave feminism has absorbed the critiques of postfeminism, see Astrid Henry, Not My Mother’s Sister: Generational Conflict and Third-Wave Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004); R. Clare Snyder, “What Is Third-Wave Feminism? A New Directions Essay,” Signs 32, no. 1 (Autumn 2008): 175–196.
(21) See Aikau, Erickson, and Pierce (2007); Henry (2004); Astrid Henry, “Enviously Grateful, Gratefully Envious: The Dynamics of Generational Relationships in U.S. Feminism,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 34, nos. 3–4 (2006): 140–153; Stacy Gillis and Rebecca Munford, “Harvesting Our Strengths: Third Wave Feminism and Women’s Studies,” Journal of International Women’s Studies 4, no. 2 (2003): 1–6; Hogeland (2001); and Jennifer Purvis, “Grrrls and Women Together in the Third Wave: Embracing the Challenges of Intergenerational Feminism(s),” NWSA Journal 16, no. 3 (2004): 93–123.
(22) See Walker (1995); Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future (New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2000); and Barbara Findlen, Introduction, to Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation (Seattle, WA: Seal Press, 1995), xii–xvii.
(24) For examples of these criticisms, both in academic and popular feminism, see Natalie Fixmer and Julia T. Wood, “The Personal Is Still Political: Embodied Politics in Third Wave Feminism,” Women’s Studies in Communication 28, no. 2 (2005): 235–257; Gillis and Munford (2003); and Hogeland (2001).
(26) Rock for Choice was not the only record collection to highlight the issue of abortion rights. In 1994 Sire Records’ annual Just Say Yes sampler album featuring artists from the label was titled Just Say Yes Volume VII: Just Say Roe (1994). While the album featured mostly alternative acts, it also contained a song by Madonna.
(27) Materials from the Riot Grrrl Collection at Fales Library at New York University indicate just how connected the movement was with political activism. For examples of these materials, see Lisa Darms, The Riot Grrrl Collection (New York: Feminist Press, 2013); for a thorough discussion of them, see Elizabeth K. Keenan and Lisa Darms, “Safe Space: The Riot Grrrl Collection.” Archivaria 76 (Fall 2013): 55–74.
(28) For discussions of queer sexuality, see Rachel Devitt, “Girl on Girl: Fat Femmes, Bio-Queens, and Redefining Drag,” in Queering the Popular Pitch, ed. Sheila Whiteley and Jennifer Rycenga (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), 27–48; and Elizabeth K. Keenan, “‘Who Are You Calling “Lady”?’ Femininity, Sexuality, and Third-Wave Feminism,” Journal of Popular Music Studies 20, no. 4 (2008b): 378–401.
(29) This, of course, was a problem with historians of the second wave, as well. Differences within the “waves” of feminism are often as stark as the differences between them.
(30) See Jessica K. Taft, “Girl Power Politics: Pop-Culture Barriers and Organizational Resistance,” in All About The Girl: Culture, Power, and Identity, ed. Anita Harris (New York: Routledge, 2004), 69–78; Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake, eds., Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997); Kristin Schilt, “‘The Punk White Privilege Scene’: Riot Grrrl, White Privilege, and Zines,” in Different Wavelengths: Studies of the Contemporary Women’s Movement, ed. Jo Reger (New York: Routledge, 2005), 39–56; Mary Celeste Kearney, Girls Make Media (New York: Routledge, 2006); Nicola Dibben, “Representations of Femininity in Popular Music,” Popular Music 18, no. 3 (1999): 331–355; Bettina Fritzsche, “Spicy Strategies: Pop Feminist and Other Empowerments in Girl Culture,” In All About the Girl: Culture, Power, and Identity, ed. Anita Harris (New York: Routledge, 2004), 155–162; Whitney A. Peoples, “‘Under Construction’: Identifying Foundations of Hip-Hop Feminism and Exploring Bridges between Black Second-Wave and Hip-Hop Feminisms,” Meridians 8, no. 1 (2008): 19–52.
(31) See Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, “Feminism and Femininity: Or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Thong,” in All About the Girl: Culture, Power, and Identity, ed. Anita Harris (New York: Routledge, 2004), 59–68; Nina K. Martin, “Porn Empowerment: Negotiating Sex Work and Third Wave Feminism,” Atlantis 31, no. 2 (2007), 31–46; and Melanie Waters, “Sexing It Up? Women, Pornography, and Third Wave Feminism,” in Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploration, ed. Stacy Gillis, Gillian Howie, and Rebecca Munford (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 250–265.
(33) For more, see Nancy Fraser, “Heterosexism, Misrecognition, and Capitalism: A Response to Judith Butler,” Social Text, nos. 52/53 (1997): 279–289; Judith Butler and Joan Wallach Scott, “Introduction” to Feminists Theorize the Political, ed. J. Butler and J. W. Scott (New York: Routledge, 1992); Susan Bordo, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993); and Elizabeth A. Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism (St. Leonards, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 1994).
(34) See Elizabeth K. Keenan, “Acting Like a ‘Lady’: Third Wave Feminism, Popular Music, and the White Middle Class” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 2008a).
(36) Jane, like Sassy before it, has a contested reputation among my interlocutors. Founded by former Sassy editor Jane Pratt, the magazine was initially marketed to that magazine’s same audience, who were then in their early twenties.
(38) See Camille Paglia, “Madonna II: Venus of the Radio Waves,” in Sex, Art and American Culture (New York: Vintage, 1992), 6–13. Although Paglia accuses feminists of condemning Madonna, she is largely incorrect. In fact, numerous feminists lauded Madonna as presenting sexual agency formerly unavailable to female performers. A whole body of literature addresses Madonna’s influence on images of female sexuality in the popular media. Among the earliest and most influential is Susan McClary’s “Living to Tell: Madonna’s Resurrection of the Fleshly,” in Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality (Minneapolis and Oxford: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 148–168. Since then, entire collected volumes have addressed Madonna’s presentation of sexuality, including Santiago Fouz-Hernandez and Freya Jarman-Ivens’s Madonna’s Drowned Worlds: New Approaches to Her Cultural Transformations, 1983–2003 (Surrey, UK: Ashgate 2004).
(40) Similarly, the “girlie feminism” of the late 1990s and early 2000s, which sought to reclaim traditional femininity as a potentially powerful space of rebellion, also emphasized individuality as well as sexuality. “Girlie feminism,” which encouraged makeup as a radical act, frequently failed to take into account the ways that African American women had been excluded from traditional femininity, especially through their exclusion from the traditional cosmetics industry.
(42) Harvey herself does not identify as a feminist. At the same time, her use of sexuality in performance, as well as her at-times androgynous appearance, have been the subject of feminist analysis. See Melissa LaFrance, “Terrains of Trouble: P. J. Harvey and the Topography of Desire,” in Disruptive Divas: Feminism, Identity and Popular Music (New York: Routledge, 2002), 169–186; and Sheila Whiteley, Women and Popular Music: Sexuality, Identity, and Subjectivity (New York: Routledge, 2000).
(43) See bell hooks, “Madonna: Plantation Mistress or Soul Sister?,” In Black Looks: Race and Representation (Toronto: Between the Lines Press, 1992), 157–64; and Susan McClary, “Living to Tell: Madonna’s Resurrection of the Fleshly,” in Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality (Minneapolis and Oxford: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 148–168.
(47) Rebecca Munford, “‘Wake Up and Smell the Lipgloss’: Gender Generation and the (A)politics of Girl Power,” in Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploration, ed. Gillis et al. (New York; Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 142, emphasis in original.
(48) For more on femininity in heterosexual and queer contexts, see Keenan, “Who Are You Calling a ‘Lady’?: Femininity, Sexuality, and Third-Wave Feminism,” Journal of Popular Music Studies, Volume 20, Issue 4 (2008b: 378–401); and Devitt (2006).
(49) Gayle Wald, “Just a Girl? Rock Music, Feminism, and the Cultural Construction of Female Youth,” Signs 23, no. 3 (Spring 1998): 585–610.
(50) Similarly, Wald cites Stefani encouraging her audience to chant, “Fuck you, I’m a girl!” This chant crosses as many boundaries of class as it does race.
(51) Liz Phair started her own independent label, Matador, which was partially purchased by mainstream pop label Capitol Records in 1996; when the label’s original owner bought it back in 1999, Liz Phair stayed with Capitol, which marketed her music. By the time “Don’t Speak,” No Doubt’s third single from Tragic Kingdom (1995), was released in 1996, the song was positioned solidly as pop and was even nominated for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group at the 1998 Grammy Awards.
(52) The first to raise these issues in a significant way were Simon Frith and Angela McRobbie, whose 1978 essay “Rock and Sexuality” argues that rock is a male form. Reprinted in On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word, ed. Simon Frith (London: Routledge, 1990). Since that time, pop music studies have largely framed questions of gender and authenticity in terms of generic expectations. For a more in-depth exploration of the connection between gender and rock music, see Marion Leonard’s Gender in the Music Industry: Rock, Discourse, and Girl Power (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007).
(53) J. Jack Halberstam, Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012); Martin Iddon and Melanie Marshall, eds., Lady Gaga and Popular Music: Performing Gender, Fashion, and Culture (New York: Routledge, 2014).
(55) The video of this event is available at the New School’s website, http://new.livestream.com/TheNewSchool/Slave?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=thenewschool&utm_campaign=AreYou (accessed August 1, 2014).
(56) Juliet Williams, “‘Same DNA, but Born This Way’: Lady Gaga and the Possibilities of Postessentialist Feminisms,” Journal of Popular Music Studies 26, no. 1 (2014): 28–46.
(57) Eric Ditzian, “Lady Gaga Opens Up about Her Sexuality,” MTV News, 28 May 28, 2009, http://www.mtv.com/news/1612329/lady-gaga-opens-up-about-her-sexuality/ (accessed August 1, 2014).
(58) For a discussion of the policing of women’s sexuality in hip-hop, see Aisha Durham, Brittney C. Cooper, and Susana M. Morris, “The Stage Hip-Hop Feminism Built: A New Directions Essay,” Signs 38, no. 3 (Spring 2013): 721–737.
(60) This nostalgia affects how journalists treat women in indie rock today. For an analysis of how journalists frequently apply the label to more recent musicians, see Lindsay Zoladz, “Not Every Girl Is a Riot Grrrl,” Pitchfork, November 15, 2011, http://pitchfork.com/features/articles/8710-not-every-girl-is-a-riot-grrrl/ (accessed August 1, 2014).
(61) This slogan was common in Riot Grrrl and has been the subject of much critique. See Mimi Thi Nguyen, “Riot Grrrl, Race, and Revival,” Women & Performance: a Journal of Feminist Theory 22, nos. 2–3 (2012): 173–196.
(62) In popular music studies, the perception of gender divisions in subcultures is long-standing. See Angela McRobbie and Jenny Garber, “Girls and Subcultures,” in Resistance Through Rituals, ed. Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson (London: Routledge, 1975) 209–222.
(63) Joanne Gottlieb and Gayle Wald, “Smells Like Teen Spirit: Revolution and Women in Independent Rock,” in Microphone Fiends: Youth Music and Youth Culture, ed. Andrew Ross and Tricia Rose (New York: Routledge, 1994), 250–274.
(64) Neil Nehring, Popular Music, Gender, and Postmodernism: Anger Is an Energy (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1997).
(65) Mary Celeste Kearney, “The Missing Links: Riot Grrrl—Feminism—Lesbian Culture,” In Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender, ed. Sheila Whiteley (London: Routledge, 1997), 207–229.
(66) Marion Leonard, “‘Rebel Girl, You Are the Queen of My World’: Feminism, ‘Subculture,’ and Grrrrl Power,” in Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender, ed. Sheila Whiteley (London: Routledge, 1997), 230–256.
(68) Kristin Schilt, “‘A Little Too Ironic’: The Appropriation and Packaging of Riot Grrrl Politics by Mainstream Female Musicians,” Popular Music and Society 26, no. 1 (2003): 5–16; Krisin Schilt, “‘Riot Grrrl Is …’: Contestation over Meaning in a Music Scene,” in Music Scenes: Local, Translocal, and Virtual, ed. Andy Bennett and Richard A. Peterson (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2004),115–130; Kristin Schilt, “‘The Punk White Privilege Scene’: Riot Grrrl, White Privilege, and Zines,” In Different Wavelengths: Studies of the Contemporary Women’s Movement, ed. Jo Reger (New York: Routledge, 2005) 39–56.
(71) In an interview with me in 2010, Marcus noted that, due to her publisher’s word limit, she was forced to end the narrative at that point.
(72) Although it is outside the scope of this essay, one major issue for historians of feminism since 1990 is the way that politics have consistently emerged in commerce-oriented spaces. This is not a problem exclusive to feminism, however, and is a symptom of the neoliberal political sphere.
(73) Susan Douglas, Enlightened Feminism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work Is Done (New York: Times Books, 2010), 45.
(74) Further examples of this reductive view of Riot Grrrl as a lost moment of the third wave have appeared in Deborah Siegel’s Sisterhood Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild (New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2006), as well as the writings of Rachel Fudge, who in the third wave magazine Bitch argues: “Girl power sounds like it elevates the ladies, but in fact it does the exact opposite of what riot grrrl tried to do: it turns the struggle inward, depoliticizes and decontextualizes the cultural messages about gender and behavior. Like the misguided idea that feminism is really only about giving women choices, it turns a collective struggle into a personal decision” (“Girl, Unreconstructed: Why Girl Power Is Bad for Feminism,” reprinted in Bitch Fest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine, edited by Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler, New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 160). Like Douglas and Meltzer, Fudge’s assessment of Riot Grrrl serves in part to establish it as not quite of the third wave as it developed, but rather a road not taken, a loss of a potential feminist path.
(75) In fact, neither scholars nor popular writers focus on the music of Riot Grrrl. The musical style, which relied on an aesthetics of amateurism, appeals to a certain type of audience: it is often loud and unpolished, with challenging lyrics. Its musicians frequently exchanged instruments on stage to demonstrate that being in a band was not a daunting or impossible task for girls and deliberately eschewed professional-sounding techniques. At the same time, these techniques often alienate listeners not familiar with the punk style.
(76) Interview with the author, May 28, 2010.
(78) In conjunction with the People of Color Zine Project, Nguyen donated her zine collection to the Riot Grrrl Collection in 2012. Her donor statement is available online at http://poczineproject.tumblr.com/post/40517982011/poczp-news-mimi-collection-donation-statement-fales (accessed August 1, 2014).
(81) See Mary Greitzer, “Queer Responses to Sexual Trauma: The Voices of Tori Amos’s ‘Me and a Gun’ and Lydia Lunch’s Daddy Dearest,” Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 17 (2013): 1–26; Deborah Finding, “Unlocking the Silence: Tori Amos, Sexual Violence, and Affect,” Popular music and human rights. I: British and American Music (2011): 39–50; Bonnie Gordon, “Tori Amos’s Inner Voices,” in Women’s Voices Across Musical Worlds, ed. Jane A. Bernstein (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1993), 187–208.
(82) Ann Powers, “The New Conscience in Pop Music,” New York Times, September 9, 1999.
(84) The misogyny in hip-hop is well documented. See, for example, Tricia Rose, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1994). On the other hand, the misogyny in genres associated with white artists has received less attention, particularly in contemporary contexts such as indie rock.
(85) Joan Morgan, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: My Life as a Hip-Hop Feminist (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999), 52–53.
(87) Black feminists have a long history of connecting popular culture with empowerment narratives. See Angela Y. Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998). For more on hip-hop feminism, see Aisha Durham, “Using [Living Hip-Hop] Feminism: Redefining an Answer (to) Rap,” in Home Girls Make Some Noise: Hip Hop Feminism Anthology, ed. Aisha Durham, Gwendolyn D. Pough, Rachel Raimist, and Elaine Richardson (Mira Loma, CA: Parker Publishing 2007), 304–312; Gwendolyn Pough, Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere (Boston: Northeastern Press, 2004); Gwendolyn Pough, “Do the Ladies Run This …? Some Thoughts on Hip-Hop Feminism,” in Catching a Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century, ed. Rory Dicker and Alison Piepmeier (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2003), 232–243; Gwendolyn Pough, “Love Feminism, But Where’s My Hip-Hop: Shaping a Black Feminist Identity,” in Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism, ed. Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman (Seattle, WA: Seal Press, 2002), 85–95.
(88) Aisha Durham, Brittney C. Cooper, and Susana Morris, “The Stage Hip-Hop Feminism Built: A New Directions Essay,” Signs 38, no. 3 (Spring 2013): 721–737.
(91) For more on respectability politics, see Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).
(92) This is not to say that some black female performers do not identify with the term. After initially dismissing the term, Beyoncé in 2010 claimed to be “feminist in a way” in an interview with the Daily Mail. Jane Gordon, “Beyoncé: The Multitalented Star Reveals What She Is Planning Next,” The Daily Mail, August 15, 2010, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-1301838/Beyonc--The-multi-talented-star-reveals-planning-next.html (accessed August 1, 2014).