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May 12th, 2016

What “Lemonade” Could Teach “Ain’t Your Mama” About Today’s Feminism

JLO’s new song, Ain’t Your Mama, is, as predicted, a hit. And why wouldn’t it be?

Women are fed up af. We are still not earning as much as the rich white guys, and there is a higher value on our looks and ability to meet the needs of men, as opposed to our own unique dreams and goals.  So, thanks JLO for opening up this conversation. It’s good for artists to take stands and risks.

For some, quoting a feminist icon like Gloria Steinem or presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and white actress Patricia Arquette is honorable. “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all,” Clinton told a crowd in Beijing at the United Nations Fourth World Congress on Women. It’s a good quote, but I think you can do better. Also, while Clinton can make a statement on this, there is much controversy on how her policies have not helped but hurt women. And wouldn’t it be amazing to give a prominent Latina feminist a little shine instead of the actress whose stand for women left people asking which women she was standing for ?

While all this is ok for mass appeal, it is clear that more can be done to bring JLO’s message to her fans. Not the ones who this video might help “discover” her now but the Latinxs and Latina women in the diaspora who have been with JLO since she was Jenny from the Block, riding that 6 train to the BX, or had a salsa rhythm in Let’s Get Loud or any of her romantic songs in Spanish.

While Beyonce is boldly celebrating radical black culture, dressing her dancers like Panther Party members, alluding to the powers of the Orisha goddesses and quoting Malcolm X, I want for  our Latino big budget pop stars to bring it on the Latinx front.

JLO, there is so much inspiration from women of this current political moment, why are we going back to 1950s blond haired housewives, Rosie the Riveter and Dolly Parton style working 9-to-5 in the 80s?

JLO, there is so much inspiration from women of this current political moment, why are we going back to 1950s blond haired housewives, Rosie the Riveter and Dolly Parton style working 9-to-5 in the 80s?

Instead of recreating scenes from Hollywood So White of yesteryear, if Ain’t Yo Mama was situated in today’s Latina reality it might show how women are crossing borders to hold families together, how we hold down households despite the bills that are piling up. It could shout out the fight for $15 in the march scene or put us in work scenarios closer to our reality than either staying at home while the man works or working in a Lucille Ball bottle factory showing off our curves. There is a reason why Beverly Hills has housewives and the rest of the country does not. Instead, it could place us as mothers, teachers, nurses, sex workers, domestic workers, beauticians, baristas, computer programmers, farmworkers,  retail workers, taxi drivers, and in home office internet businesses.  

Ok, now that we’ve addressed the video/ footage part, let’s talk about lyrics. Sister, please brush up on Latina women writers! Beyonce lifted up Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on her self-titled album and Warsan Shire throughout Lemonade. There is a huge trove of amazing Latina feminist women writers that have blown our minds and can speak to us and for us so much more than Clinton or Arquette.

Julia de Burgos, for one, is a poet who was all about integrating the themes of the woman’s body with the colonial situation of your country, Puerto Rico. How different it would’ve been if J.Lo came in from the rain to de Burgos reciting “Yo Misma Fui Mi Ruta” (I Was My Own Path) as a diasporican, with her roots both on the Island and in the States. Julia de Burgos’ writing portrays what J.LO’s video aspires to: the struggle of being a woman in the context of a longstanding struggle for the economic and political freedom, especially of Puerto Ricans. How about writers like Rosario and Aurora Levins Morales, Sandra Maria Esteves, or more contemporary writers like Sandra del Valle. They are all Puerto Rican women, that can, let’s face it talk about being a woman in a way the world understands.  Of course, writers like Gloria Anzaldua and Sandra Cisneros are always at the ready to be cited if we are going to talk about our liberation as women.

So, to end this in a place of love and appreciation, thanks JLO, for trying to open up this conversation. This was written in recognition that we are now a global community, connected and open to our own history, and moving away from the standard narratives that have shaped us. Let’s make art with that inspiration and get us back on that good ole block.


Lenina Nadal is a Puerto Rican writer, social justice organizer, activist, and a member of Mijente’s Commsquad based in Brooklyn, NYC. Follow her at @LeninaTweets.

Paid for in part by Mijente PAC, 734 W Polk St., Phoenix, AZ 85007, not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.