Toward A Pop Culture Womanism: A Call for Mobilization via the life sounds of Jenni Rivera, M.I.A and Beyoncé

First of all, before I begin my last post of 2013, I want to say thank you to all of our readers. We see big things popping off for NenaWorld in 2014- we are two years in the game, and we are just getting started. A luta continúa!

To begin, one may ask, why is this a “thinkpiece” on womanism, instead of “feminism”. My answer- there are many articles all over the internet about feminisms, from every sector on earth. There are many ways to tease out feminism, and apply it to ones political ideology. For me, womanism rings truer to my experience as a post-colonial body living in this world. With womanism (and certain feminisms), I can embrace and recognize the power of my matriarchal relationships as being something other than hierarchal, I can find strength in my traditions and cultural definitions, and finally I can recognize how genre( see Sylvia Wynter) plays into my identity- how I relate to others, and my drive for my humanism to be recognized. The three women that I chose to highlight have proven to be unconventional examples of these aforementioned concepts. All three women are mothers, daughters, sisters, were once working class, and have had to navigate cultural patriarchy with still being true to themselves and their work. I would like to mention that at one time or another, all three of these women have been persecuted by women from their own communities for being too “mainstream” or rather honest to themselves and their fans. It is this type of feminism, or womanism that includes my African mother and her mother, that I trust will facilitate spaces for praxis to end patriarchy, especially cultural patriarchy, without alienating anyone, nor requiring a college degree. So, I am going to highlight each artist and talk a bit as to what inspired me to write about their contributions to the womanist movement.

Jenni Rivera ( July 2, 1969 – December 9, 2012) I came across the songs of Jenni Rivera as a teenager cruising to my local public radio station. The show called “Freaks of the Week” would come on during the “Latin Energy” block in the late evenings. The Dj’s including Mixmaster Jay effortlessly could mix Jenni, Stevie B and Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz all within a 15 minute break. At that time, I did not understand the cultural context to Jenni’s narcocorridos, I thought it was just banda, but after learning from my dj friends, and at school, I was able to understand a little bit more about Jenni and her audience. However, it was not until I stumbled across her reality show one late night did I actually take the time to figure out who exactly she was. As a 2nd generation Mexican American born in Long Beach, California, Jenni took her life by the horns. Her family was working class, and she gave birth to her first daughter at 15. She managed to still graduate high school while working two jobs, selling videos at a video store and cooking at a flea market. While working she gave birth to 2 more children, and married their  father. However, at age 23 she divorced their father due to sexual assault, not only was he physically abusing her, but he molested their daughters and her younger sister. That same year, Jenni embarked on her singing career. Beginning as a present for her father, she sang and recorded various hits including “Las Maladrinas”. Throughout her career, she spoke to an audience, young women who said “fuck respectability politics”, these same women navigated through various systems of oppression in their life to survive and make way for their families. Musically, she took over a male dominated genre- by performing patriarchy morso a critique of patriarchy from a feminine standpoint.  Her lyrics dealt with drug trafficking yes, but also Now, I came across Jenni, the bad-ass mom, while watching her television show one night. I saw two episodes. The first one had her talking to a group of young teenage girls that were mothers in California. She told them that society tries to make them think that they were stupid because they were pregnant, she told them she knew that reality all to well as she struggled, but graduated valedictorian of her class. The second episode was her talking to her eldest daughter about breast augmentation. All episodes showed Jenni as the matriarch of her intermediate family but also taking a strong role in her extended family. She ran numerous business, employed her family, even acted in Philly Brown (produced by Edward James Olmos). However, she had so many battles with her detractors until later in her life. In the industry, she was seen as so “brash” and she in turn embraced it. Below is an example of how people used to react to her on television show “Gordo y Flaca”:


Jenni did not shy away from her truth, and this is what kept her in the spotlight and curated her fanbase. Those late fans (like myself) that joined her during the second decade of her career have missed out on authentic gems from her collection. For her legacy, I dedicate this poem by Chicana Feminist Lorna Dee Cervantes.

Y Volver*
Lorna Dee Cervantes

Who is to say Love
with her battered face
won’t come? Who’s to know
she won’t rise and run
her comb through clotted
hair and spray the scent
of mysterious apples
between her breasts?

She rises with the strength
of seeds and the rule of roots
riddling the sidewalk.
She is the hag who cries
for hours in the mewing
of lovers. She’s the catch
in their sweaty breath,
the blush of rose wine
on the magnolia in winter.

She is her best in ice
when her swelling abides
and small mirrors litter
the lawns. She is the face
you casually scuff through
in the refuse of a storm.
She can’t ever hear you
but she sings. She feeds

the blooming magpie
death until he’s bloated
with the feast of her
leaving. She is the dried
blood gracing his wings.
Vengeful and forgiving,
her honor weighs in a few
blown stars, in the halo
that lingers in the west
when the launched nightship

explodes, in the one lie
she espouses in her heat,
the beat between her thighs,
the veldt** where she holds
you when you mean to go
free. Love, in her candor,
can’t explain the attraction
but nuzzles the wild
horse’s mane, and rides.

*And to come back (Spanish)
**Grassland of southern Africa

Now, for an individual that has a staunch in your face candor about her feminism, is of course M.I.A. Not to be distracted from the fact that she is recognized for it in many academic circles- post colonial studies young bucks if you will. What I want to bring forth is this notion of her capabilities of navigating cultural patriarchy. How her fellow countrymen tried to silence her, yet she still incorporated her own narrative of resistance throughout her work. Born to a Tamil Rebel fighter, M.I.A, her mother and her siblings moved to the U.K. as refugees in the 80’s. She studied design at St. Martens in the UK. It was not until her late 20’s that she garnered attention for her musical capabilities. Originally working with artist Switch, then adding Diplo to her mix, she was able to create ‘World Town”- a sonic urban landscape of globalization, but also an intimate survey to regional music from various diasporas. It was not until “Paper Planes” that M.I.A. had a world pop following, but she gave the establishment the big “FU” after flipping the bird at her Super Bowl Performance in 2012 (which she now claims was her just recreating the “Matangi Mudra” for center stage). Nevertheless, its her visual dedication to juxtaposing concepts that are understood as standard in the west that is her testament to womanism. 2012 brought about her visual project “Bad Girls”, where she showcased women dressed in Burkas’ driving/racing (which is still not legal in Saudi Arabia) in a desert area. The song itself displays a radical twist on such feminist narratives “Live Fast, Die Young, Bad Girls Do It Well” is simply sung over a mix of Indian and Middle Eastern beats.

Politics is her strong point, however, her recent album this year “Matangi” gave us an a closer look at her daily life, and what she thinks her life means in the greater context of the world. The line that still resonates with my perception of a global womanism is “My Baby, I am More..My mommy I adore”. This line explores her dedication to her child, as well as her recognition of the dedication her mom has for her- this notion of cultural motherhood as a means of recognizing political resistance to western hegemonic standards of raising children and white feminism is fresh and new in her work. As she noted throughout the media this year, her contemporaries challenged her political statements, suggested she ‘retreat’ to India, all while fighting a nasty custody battle. M.I.A.’s ‘Matangi’ reminded us that the drive to derail our existence is much stronger than to validate it. Her project gave us a visual, sonic, and literal exposé to what global womanism feels like, and may I say, it feels so great!

Finally, I’m going to spend a little bit of time talking about the King herself, Beyoncé. There are many pieces on the internet from wonderful Black Feminist writers about Beyoncé- including this one I hate this piece with sincerity, but it is argued quite well. This piece  I love oh so very much. So, I’m going to use this space to tease out this notion of modern southern black womanism that I just coined for this post! Beyoncé let all the ‘bishes’ (in the South, we don’t call people all types of bitches and ho’s for just any reason by the way- so please don’t refer to her as those names in your posts please.)  know that she was finally in control of herself. Not an easy feat being a black woman from third ward Houston (although she had some class privilege). Her ability to maneuver and tackle the music industry with some ounce of sanity calls for a political ideology that had to be the praxis for her success in the industry. Her project “Beyoncé- The Visual Album” explores the black female eroticism, sexuality, motherhood, and cultural womanhood all to the beat of superstars like Pharrell Williams, Timbaland, and the Dream. The discourse around Beyoncé womanism is interesting, but moreso- the surface conversations about her morality to me extract more to her politics of womanism than anything else. Here the portrayal of the Carter family: Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Baby Blue as a “bad’ example for whatever reason baffles my mind, but also reinstates my opinions on white supremacy. The Carters are heteronormative (*shudders* lol) to a T, they are openly Christian, capitalist, straight, and monogamous (they are like the Black Roosevelts- Franklin/Eleanor style!). Alas, their morality is still challenged- probably due to their blackness- but could it also be the visual representation of the power dynamics it took for Beyoncé to create such a public image for herself? Beyoncé has only let the images she wants of herself and her ‘own’ in public display, and thus reminds the public that she is a human moreover a black female human that does not owe a damn person access to herself. This includes self-definition. Media circles run amok to discredit Beyoncé feminism ( which in my opinion was actually just sheer attempts to ‘deintellectualize’ marginalized voices claiming their own narrative) but say nothing when artists like Miley Cyrus, Brooke Candy, and Lana Del Ray have superfluous relationships with maybe one member of the communities they love to appropriate from.

It’s crazy, this year has been a whirlwind of cultural appropriation, but also a year where such actions have been checked without remorse, especially on social media by bad ass women of color and our allies. Here’s to more of that FOREVA!


One thought on “Toward A Pop Culture Womanism: A Call for Mobilization via the life sounds of Jenni Rivera, M.I.A and Beyoncé

  1. Pingback: I just Can’t Get Over The Fact That Our Children Go Through This | Pogobrain

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s