A group of people has emerged as a hot topic in contemporary media discourse in South Africa in recent years: slay queens. Slay queens, according to the number one pub quiz aficionado Wikipedia, is the following:
The term ‘slay queen’ was initially a term of positive empowerment used amongst women and queer communities – a person was ‘slaying’ (someone doing an amazing job or that they ‘killed it’, whether in life or performance), whilst being a ‘queen’ (referred to someone who looks good, someone who exudes excellence). The term slay queen came up in that people would question how these young women obtained their high-maintenance luxury lifestyle without having a blesser. Over time and through inter-cultural exchanges from the Global North to the Global South, the term has become a notorious archetype in the broader African context, where ‘slay queen’ no longer refers to its original definition, but is used to negatively describe the behaviours, attitudes and looks of certain black women. Therefore, what I’m hoping to do in my research is unpack what is unseen, the covert factors influenced by historical narratives that impact how we see black women in South Africa today. And so, my research is looking at:
- What is the definition of a Slay Queen in post-Apartheid South Africa?
- What contestations are there surrounding black femme archetypes and subjectivities in the South African context?
- What forms the basis of slay queens’ existence within postfeminist discourse in the South African context?
The theory that will tie my analysis together, is postfeminist theory. Postfeminism is the idea that since we have made socio-economic strides in gender equality, women’s empowerment is found through achieving some or all of the following: a good job, dressing well, a successful career, good looks, and/or a family. These factors would fall under what are called neoliberal markers of success. Another colloquial term for postfeminism is ‘girl boss feminism’, which focuses on the achievements of individual women in their careers and lives, not necessarily on collective empowerment.
Lebogang Masango, a South African anthropologist, published critical work in this area of study called ‘The Soft Life: Love, Choice and Modern Dating”, which uses a qualitative approach to study the dating lives of black women in South Africa.
Additionally, a plethora of novel research has been done on the experiences of slay queens in the South African context. Lebogang Maphelela (2019)’s masters looked at how young black women studying at the University of Johannesburg were using their Instagram accounts to mobilise their social and economic capital by creating an audience and building a network. Zawu (2020)’s thesis further studied the rise and normalisation of the blessee/blesser relationship in South Africa. So, it’s safe to say that there is growing literature on the topic, with space to explore it from new angles, including my own that specifically wants to look at slay queens through the lens of postfeminist theory.
As mentioned in my first blog, the political is personal, and the personal is political. Studying gender within my work has been something that has made the most sense to me as a self-defined feminist. When I tell people I’m studying slay queens, there is a range of reactions from different people. I’m in the second year of my research, so much still needs to be done before the thesis is completed. After getting my proposal approved, I am now in the process of obtaining ethical clearance, along with designing what my data collection will look like. Because this is a new area of exploration from a South African perspective, I hope to contribute to the growing literature on understanding black postfeminist ideals through a gendered lens in South Africa, Africa and within the diaspora.