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Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): How were you introduced to the feminist movement? Who are some women that you were influenced by that were feminists before it was popular and what was it about them that stood out to you?
Niedria D. Kenny (NK): I became aware of the term feminist by its definition, as a child. For what it’s worth, at that time, I only had a general and age appropriate idea. As I entered High School and became more aware of social studies, I identified with the term on more of a personal level. For instance, I did not connect the ideas I had about equal political, social, economic equality and social rights for women with a ‘feminist movement’ that already existed. Yet, after being called a “feminist” by other people, I familiarized myself with the term and I could certainly relate. It was clearly by nature, second and third wave feminism.
It was not until late high school though and early college years (undergraduate studies) that I was introduced to the movement and purpose, where I found a footing for my interest in gender equality. It was after meeting and becoming acquainted with a graduate student who passionately promoted the empowerment of women, perspectives on race, class, and gender in education, art, history and sexuality. She was doing missionary work overseas, in which she was perpetuating the movement by way of a gender equality platform. She and I became close friends in an economics and literature study group, which quickly developed into a long-term friendship; where I was front and center along with her pursuing and supporting the movement. I was never intrigued from a fad standpoint, but more from the purpose of women’s liberation, as well as celebrating women.
As far as influences I would have to give credit, first to The Suffragettes, part of the first wave feminist who fought primarily for women’s rights to vote. While it was oriented around the station of middle or upper class white women.
Gloria Steinem, who lead women’s liberation movements through the 60’s and 70’s.
And as an author myself, I would be remiss not to mention my shero, Bell Hooks, notable for ‘Ain’t I woman?’ Black Women and Feminism – known for her social activism, writing of oppression, women’s rights and race.
Christine de Pizan, a French poet, became one of the first female artists to make a living through writing.
From an entertainer perspective, Helen Reddy; second wave feminist is on that list, just for “I am Woman”
Others include: Mya Angelou and Coretta Scott King.
Most recently, I learned of a new movie coming to theatres, that I’ve been drawn to learn more about: MALALA YOUSAFZAI (The courageous 17-year-old rose to fame with her memoir I Am Malala documenting her fearless journey as a young student in Pakistan. Since, Malala has been traveling the world advocating for education rights for women and children.)
EM: Do you believe that today’s demonstration or interpretation of feminism is accurate? Has it been repackaged by those in the media to take on a different agenda and narrative?
NK: I cannot speak for the overall of today’s perspective. I personally think that portions of the media, in the way that it demonstrates feminism, through their ‘packaging’ is not totally accurate. But it’s in the neighborhood.
I do believe media has played a part in the repackaging of the ‘idea’ of feminism to fit into what society has begun to consider socially acceptable. Media is in charge of mass amounts of information getting out. They are the key influences when it comes to radio, magazine, television, via talk shows, news columns, etc. Everything they distribute has to be packaged. In fact, it’s referred to as a package. Their job is to make something appealing. They glamourize it if they have to. Even news stories about fatalities are ‘sold’ to you, through usage of ‘catchy titles’, and somber voices. It’s all packaging.
If you have a movement or you support a movement and you still practice the core values, I believe it’s your responsibility to pull those back who are taking your movement into a non-productive stage by misrepresentation. To even it out, for every one person I see who’s taking the word and movement [feminist] to the wrong house on the street, I see one person re-directing them.
I see several artist who, in spite of what other artist promote about feminism, always come back standing on the core values to show a more accurate representation. It’s great to have examples and leaders, but I feel that it’s ultimately the responsibility of the student to do the reading/research on any topic or social issue and especially a movement that they become associated with or involved in, Beit voluntarily or involuntarily.
Interpretations are a separate thing. Interpretations are based on perceptions and perspectives. I can write a poem about love and if someone has a different perspective of what love is, they may draw a different interpretation of the poem about love. I could write a poem in which I describe love as a tree with deep seated roots, because that is how ‘I’ interpret love with regards to perspective on the growing branches of the tree.
But then, here’s the good part…there’s a definition of love that already exist according to when the term was coined. Your interpretation can’t steer clear of that definition. When I interpret feminism, no matter how deep or surface I want to go with it, I would be creating another term if I removed ideas of the entire definition from my interpretation.
EM: Do you believe that those who are now taking a hold to feminism truly grasped the full concept, or are they following a watered down or microwave version provided by those who control the media especially music and entertainment?
NK: I do not personally believe that the new aged, self-titled feminists whole-heartedly understand the movement in its entirety, with regards to historical value. However, I will say that sometimes there is a necessity to re-package things. Just as you would when you re-brand to cater to an evolving society. I do think the idea is there, as it is etched in stone. It’s like adding an ingredient to your grandmother’s pecan pie. A small change here or there in presentation for value, is not going to change the taste of the pie, if the core ingredients are the same. However, if you take away the core ingredients, such as the pecan or maybe the hand battered crust that makes the pie what it is, then yes all is lost.
My mother always told me: “We don’t go running away from our values. We go drifting away, and one day wake up in a place we never meant to be, drifting in a direction we would have never chosen.” ~John G. Blumberg
With that, I do believe that if we continue to ‘water it down,’ via media and entertainment, we will change the core ingredients, instead of simply repackaging for the appeal. We will soon steer clear away from the entire movement.
EM: The media has pushed artists such as Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Nikki Minaj to the forefront as representatives of feminism whether they accepted that position or not. If one is not given the full scope of feminism at its core in terms of beliefs and principles, how might surface dwelling on the above public figures misguide and misdirect ones outlook on the movement and what it truly stands for?
NK: What if someone was visiting a college that is known by characteristics of its rich history? The college came to be, because of those characteristics. The college represents one basic principle, which the rich history stands on. But this person is visiting for first time and they know nothing about it except what they are about to learn from the ushers. If the principals are never covered, all they see is a college. A nice college that looks really cute or really ugly. Somewhere that they will decide if they want to go, based on how it “looks.” That’s a fad. Not a movement.
If they only see the product of something… and not only that, but an expired or no good product that falsely represents it, the idea of the college with the rich history is no longer that. It doesn’t live anymore. It is whatever they see.
Their perception and understanding can be warped if we did not include the principles, which exist from the principles and characteristics. There aren’t many things that will survive without its heartbeat. You must always keep the core of beliefs and principles of anything absolute, where it was first defined with regards to a movement. You cannot lose that, or it will lose its definition and becomes something else. That’s called a spin –off.
Maybe they should call it “Women who like to call themselves B****** because they have freedom of speech”, instead of a feminist. That was my lame attempt at a joke. But then again, so is the implication that Nikki Minaj is a feminist, by my definition. Sure, she empowers women. I hear her uplift them all the time and tell them that they can do and be anything they want to be. But that’s not how I define feminism. Is she fighting for equality and showing girls they can achieve it without a fake butt? Or is she saying you have the right to have a fake butt if that’s what you want? Not to discredit her talent, because she has certainly staked her claim. Not to demonize her for her choices, but on the subject, I would just say that she’s a talented artist who inspires some girls (barbs) and that she always makes sure to tell them that they can do anything they want. It stops there.
You can always add value, but cannot deplete the core. If those things that are done by these new aged entertainers add value to the initial core, that’s wonderful.
So, let me back up and look at the word feminist/feminism.
Feminism is defined as the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.
It’s a range of ideologies BUT they share common goal (i.e.: core ingredients) which is to define, establish and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal and social rights of women.
A feminist is a person who supports that.
For those artist to be representatives of feminism, they would have to advocate women’s rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men.
The feminist movement (also known as the women’s liberation movement, the women’s movement, or feminism) refers to a series of campaigns for reforms on issues such as reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, women’s suffrage, sexual harassment, and sexual violence, all of which fall under the label of feminism. The movement’s priorities vary among nations and communities and range from opposition to female genital mutilation in one country to opposition to the glass ceiling in another. (Wikipedia)
With that being said, I just don’t see too many of these artist standing on these principles. Unless liberation in their eyes is being able to stand naked in a crowded concert and have people cheer them on. Sounds like a high priced strip club to me….something far from liberation.
EM: Wow, thank you for the clarity and analysis!
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan was recently interviewed on a Philadelphia based media outlet, Hip Hop Since 1987, by Tahirah X who asked him the following question regarding the role of women in hip hop. She asked:
“We’ve seen you with rappers but what is the specific role as the female artists, the Beyoncé’s the Rihanna’s? Nikki Minaj was in the city. And for those in my age bracket, the youth, what is our specific role and what is their specific role as female artists?”
Minister Farrakhan responded with the following:
“The woman is everything in the way of building civilization. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said where there are no decent women, there are no decent men, for the woman is the mother of civilization. When you have a woman who is ignorant, she doesn’t know, but yet she’s the first teacher of her child. She’s the first nurse of her child. Before the child learns to say God, they say, ‘momma.’ And momma is the agent of God in the rearing of the children. The question is what does she know and who is teaching her? Look at Rhianna, look at Nicki Minaj, look at Beyoncé, these are some of the most beautiful well-formed women you could find. Well in the way of the enemy, and I’m not talking about Jay Z, I’m talking about the people that set styles. … Today you strip the woman of her clothes.
We don’t even realize that uncovering yourself is beauty but it’s the beauty of your form. Don’t degenerate your woman and make her nothing but an object of sex. She’s more than that. So I would encourage Jay Z, and I hope you will take it in the spirit that I give it, out of love for you and honor for your greatness, and honor for the love and beauty and greatness of your wife, I would love to see our women clothed demonstrating the gifts of their talent. The gifts of their form should be seen by those who are worthy.”
What are your thoughts on his words of guidance given to Jay-Z concerning his wife and those artists and the level of respect they are due? Do you believe his words were sexists, misogynistic or inappropriate?
NK: In absolutely no way, shape form nor fashion were the Ministers words disrespectful, nor sexist or misogynistic! Here you have a leader. A man who has lived before you and has lead you. He is giving safe, sage, ageless and timeless advice as well as pearls of wisdom to young women and men about how they should conduct matters with regards to honor and respect for their bodies and presentations of themselves, and their cultures. They are the ones leading, put there by the media. They should use that platform to encourage women to have more respect for themselves.
I understand the art, the artist and the talent of the artist in the way that they become susceptible. That is also why I know that true talent and respectfully, their talent, can be seen and heard without devaluing a wave of women. How can you call yourself a feminist and still promote calling yourself a B****? How do you stand in and with a movement for equality and still perpetuate dressing like less than a respectable lady? Minister Farrakhan showed a great degree of respect for the artist when he mentioned them by name and stated that he had respect for them. This was advice such that would come from your grandfather who says, “Baby, you have a beautiful voice, you don’t have to do all that” or “Son, don’t allow your girl to be treated like that—an object of someone’s lustful desires.”
If Beyoncé were fully clothed, she’d probably have just as many who would still try to imagine what she must look like under all those clothes. She’s still a very attractive woman. So why give them all that? And if she wouldn’t have just as many, then that should tell her that sex sells, and with that- it’s not equality, therefore you are not promoting feminism.
The Minister simply gave encouraging words like all of our fathers do with their girls and to their boys about how to treat a lady. He still stands on and practices principles where women are covered, and so he will naturally object to the way they present themselves. A lot of girls who were raised like this, or with moms and dads or caregivers who rest in these beliefs will still tell you today “Girl go put some clothes on.”
We can’t get mad when dad tells us to put some clothes on. It is powerful when a man tells a woman that she doesn’t need to do all that to be seen. It’s advice in the form of an heirloom when a man tells another man how he should treat a lady. He didn’t say disrespect her. He said have some respect for her. It’s not chauvinistic.
I think people can be charged with looking too much into the comment. When that is done, they only hear a man “telling a woman what to do” or a man saying “women shouldn’t or aren’t supposed do that” or “women can’t do that.” When they hear it like this, it translates to a woman as, “she can’t do something, thus she feels the need to express that she has a ‘right’ to do it. I do not believe at all, that this is how it’s meant to be taken. I think it’s more golden when you can say, “Yes, I do have a right to, yes I can, I can if I want to, I will if I want to………but I am NOT – and I refuse to, because I don’t have to!
I do show skin when I wear sleeveless tops, shorts and bathing suits. So I won’t be a hypocrite and say that I believe women should not have a spec of skin showing. I don’t dress in full garment from head to floor daily either, but I am always covered and most above all, my standards are what shows. I think that was the underlining message there.
EM: Yes ma’am, thank you!
Have you seen the video footage of Beyoncé being slapped on the butt during one of her concerts and also being dragged off of the stage by a male fan while she was performing?
NK: No, haven’t seen it.
EM: What are your thoughts about that as it relates to the words given by Minister Farrakhan?
NK: I don’t believe Minister Farrakhan could have said it better. When people are in positions of perceived power, such as the artist, sometimes receiving advice is not first or second nature. They have arrived by doing something ‘right’ in their eyes. Those people have fans and followers who idolize them, and with that comes a great deal of grandeur. They feed off of that and that is where their existence lay. Their immune systems and egos are not prepped to do anything different but feed itself the food that that has filled them. It would take reconditioning.
They do not recognize that they hold something even more powerful, in that they are in charge of that perception and can change it back to where it should be whenever they are ready. IE: If Beyoncé and Nikki Minaj decided to do a full tour completely covered, I can guarantee you women would flock to the nearest store that sold full garments.
EM: Wouldn’t that be something beautiful to see! Similarly to ‘Rihanna of Arabia’!
When the media places a spot light on women such as Nikki Minaj and Beyoncé as feminists vs. the women you and many others look up to, what do you believe the motive is in influencing the newcomers to feminism?
NK: I believe their motive is to create a generation of people who mock the ‘Bye Felicia’ meme. They want to change the idea, to adopt something very different and reformed. However, it does not improve it. The media definitely know that they shape a large part of perceptions. I cannot say that all media outlets have motives to make us feel that we should do what those artist are doing to be seen as feminist. However, they do know that by promoting it, influences the direction. Media has a responsibility to report. They can’t report or promote if it’s not there, so I do not blame the media solely for this. It falls back on the person generating the perception that is being created.
EM: What advice do you have for those who are new to feminism and/or are emotionally rooted in their response to intelligent discourse when it comes to the exploitation of women vs. gender equality?
NK: My advice to them would be the advice I have to give myself each day and at times I am discouraged. It would be to hold the line! Stay the course: Keep going strongly to the end of the race. Hold on to your values. Do not compromise, do not bend, and do not waver. There are still girls and women that are looking at you and up to you from afar. You may not realize it because the ones who are naked are getting the attention, the spotlight and the platform, but slow and steady wins the race.
EM: Excellent advice! Is there anything else you would like to add?
NK:Coco Chanel, “Keep your head, heels and standards high” -)
Thank you Mya Angelou for giving me something to aspire to me.
Phenomenal woman, phenomenally aka Freely Speaking
EM: I sincerely thank you for your time and for sharing so much on the subject of feminism and the movement! It has given me a deeper appreciation for the women in my life growing up that stood for this movement before I knew what it was. I learned a great deal and I hope that those reading have as well. You definitely shed some much needed light.
NK: That’s very kind. Thanks for the opportunity. I’m humbled. I tried not to be so long winded but that’s my topic girl (laughing)!
Niedria D. Kenny is a five time published author, blogger, journalist, realtor and working mom. She was awarded as one of Houston’s Most Influential 40 under 40 in 2014, The Institute of Real Estate Management Young Professionals Spotlight of the Year in 2008 and was a recipient of the Houston 40 under 40 Award for Most Influential Single Mothers, Glady’s Edition in 2014.
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“Freely Speaking is what most people want to be but is what most people are afraid to be”
– Niedria AKA Freely Speaking