What role does Beyonce as a feminist play into when it comes to empowering women and perpetuating hegemonic masculinity through the entertainment industry?!
When Beyonce came out as a feminist, the news, as usual began to buzz around her. How would this effect her music? Her relationship to Jay-Z? Her role as a mother? Her sexuality? Feminism is defined by “the social, political and economic equality of the sexes,” as stated by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, who is featured on Beyonce’s hit feminist song, “Flawless.” All throughout history, there has been a stigma when it comes to feminism, and the reason behind this is to scare women off from saying that they are demanding equal rights. The stigma has a negative connotation due to the perpetuation of stereotypes when it comes to a feminist being portrayed as a female who doesn’t shave, and takes all her rage and anger out on men. The patriarchy has been trying to make women less assertive and more soft and sweet when it comes to not exposing feminism in the right light. Beyoncé has stated in Out Magazine, “I’d like to believe that my music opened up that conversation. There is an unbelievable power in ownership, and women should own their sexuality. There is a double standard when it comes to sexuality that still persists. Men are free and women are not. That is crazy. The old lessons of submissiveness and fragility made us victims. Women are so much more than that. You can be a businesswoman, a mother, an artist, and a feminist -- whatever you want to be -- and still be a sexual being. It’s not mutually exclusive.” Music did just that when it came to her self-entitled album, Beyonce.
As a feminist, she showcased all the different varieties, pleasures and difficulties that come hand in hand with the female perspective. She challenges what a cookie cutter image of a woman is. She’s a business woman who fires her dad as her manager, takes charge of the creative aspect of her album, and drops the album without advertising. She owns her sexuality and in an unapologetic manner, expresses it. She questions what significance being “pretty” places on a female, and much more. Let’s face it-Beyonce does it all. From vulnerable songs about feeling insecure, unworthy, and unattractive, to power anthems about confidence and self-esteem, it’s hard to place Beyoncé in a box, which successfully breaks the perpetuated stereotypical gender biases such as a woman being portrayed as only being soft spoken, submissive, and light hearted about her feelings. She tackles emotions across the board and a with wide range which makes people confused how she’s singing “Flawless” and singing “Pretty Hurts” in the same album. Beyoncé’s feelings showcase another stigma when it comes to feminism- that a woman has to be strong and fierce and confident all the time. That’s why women shine away from it, because it wrongfully brings a notion that one must never feel insecure or less than herself, or take time off to figure things out. We’re all human, not robots. We have bad and good days and that’s realistic. Beyoncé, unlike other artists, showcases this in a raw and honest manner because it’s truthful and shifts day to day.
Feelings can be consistent and temporary and Beyoncé analyzes and is self-aware enough to explore her contradictions of feeling insecure to feeling confident. Her moods shift on a day-to-day basis which makes her relatable. Her music and videos don’t always showcase the “best Beyoncé”- the one living it big and throwing money and partying, instead some showcase her struggling with the double standard power struggle dynamic between her and Jay-Z in “Jealous,” or her confusion in finding her path to learning how to be independent of just her mother label in “Mine.” She’s not afraid to say that she doesn’t have it all figured out and she’s learning from her mistakes and successes as she goes, and that embodies confidence. Fans of Beyoncé have her on a pedestal and with Beyoncé being authentic, she’s reachable to fans and serves as a musical therapist, instead of being in a “separate world” and being closed off with which she could delusion her fans into thinking that she lives this glamorous life and never has any problems or bad days. Beyoncé has stated in Complex Magazine’s August/September 2011 issue: "When I’m not feeling my best I ask myself, ‘What are you gonna do about it?’ I use the negativity to fuel the transformation into a better me." Her statement inspires her fans worldwide to be strong and work through the worst of days in order to become the best you, and she also shows the world how important and essential it is to have an artistic outlet to serve for expression and positivity in order to evolve as a human.
In mainstream media, artists are always put into a box. For instance, go see Miley Cyrus if you want to have fun and dance around crazily. Go see Lady Gaga if you want to express freely how “you’re born this way.” Unlike most mainstream artists, Beyonce is doing it big and in the rawest way. Without outrageous costumes or sets, Beyoncé gracefully sings and is the soul sister for girls getting ready to go out, or girls who just broke up, or girls who realized their worth, or girls who are saying “enough is enough” and are ready for a breakthrough cry.
In Beyonce’s feminist anthem “Flawless,” the beginning lyrics are:
I know when you were little girls
You dreamt of being in my world
Don't forget it, don't forget it
Respect that, bow down bitches (Crown!)
I took some time to live my life
But don't think I'm just his little wife
Don't get it twisted, get it twisted
This my shit, bow down bitches
Bow down bitches, bow bow down bitches (Crown)
Although Beyonce is pitching feminism overall in this song, the beginning is contradictory to her message. Her use of derogatory words such as “bitch” and telling women to bow down instead of all women supporting each other is hypocritical. We can understand and see the strength in her voice when she sings these lyrics, however it backfires on the feminist movement of women joining as a union and working together instead of tearing each other apart and belittling each other by calling each other the B-word.
Rahiel Tesfamariam, a writer for The Washington Post analyzes her lyrics by stating: “the self-glorifying anthem cannot go without criticism amidst Women’s History Month as it sabotages many of Beyoncé’s past female empowerment efforts. The release of “Bow Down” suggests that the pop icon only adorns the feminist label when it suits her - dangerously straddling the line between female empowerment and subjugation. As a mother and sister, how does she not see a problem in referring to women as “b--ches” and “tricks”? There are times when Beyoncé boldly lives up to these words. She does it whenever she makes arguments for women having financial autonomy, appreciating their unique body type, and relishing in the joys of motherhood. The “Survivor” and “Independent Women” singer should remember that you’re either committed to female empowerment or you’re bowing down to patriarchy. Because feminism and the fight for women’s rights are not part-time jobs that you can clock in and out of. They're a way of life.” The author of this article brings a very vital message to the feminist community-that consistency is key when it comes to having values and morals. At times, Beyoncé plays for both the equalist and the patriarchal teams, and this author expresses the fact that she’s blurring lines by appropriating women getting called the B-word, and she’s approving of the power of this word when it takes place in the hegemonic world of men having more opportunities than women. On the flip side, Beyoncé ironically as a side project is also the face and representation of the Ban Bossy campaign which urges both men and women to stop calling women “bossy” when they take charge and control and are in a leadership position, and to instead call them a boss only. This campaign verses her “Bow Down” lyrics is highly contradictory and hypocritical, because on one end she’s emphasizing the impact that one letter can make in order to belittle a woman, yet she doesn’t follow up and isn’t across the board in regards to banning the B-word which emphasizes this patriarchy as well.
We do however think it’s essential and important to note how she says: “But don't think I'm just his little wife. Don't get it twisted, get it twisted,” because she’s expressing her independence and stating that contrary to societal belief, a woman is her own person, not the worth of her man, and that she can carry her own weight and doesn’t need the last name of any man to do so.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche in the song states the gender roles that society places on women to be submissive and soft-spoken through the following:
We say to girls, “You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful
Otherwise you will threaten the man."
Because I am female
I am expected to aspire to marriage
I am expected to make my life choices
Always keeping in mind that
Marriage is the most important
Now marriage can be a source of
Joy and love and mutual support
But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage
And we don't teach boys the same?
We raise girls to see each other as competitors
Not for jobs or for accomplishments
Which I think can be a good thing
But for the attention of men
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings
In the way that boys are
Feminist: the person who believes in the social
Political, and economic equality of the sexes
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech for TED tackles the stigma of feminism head on as she stated to The Huffington Post, “The word itself comes with such bad baggage. You’ll have women who if you listed out major ideas of gender equality, they would agree with them, but then if you said, “are you a feminist?,” they’d say “no.” That's one of the reasons I wanted to use the word feminism. [I wanted to] talk to young people, and say, “forget the history of the word and the baggage it carries, and think about the idea of it.” She, along with other feminists are boldly propelling the word into the mainstream and fearlessly doing so in a straight forward manner. Her statement makes feminism simple to grasp. Do you believe that women and men should be equal? Yes? Then you’re a feminist. Adiche’s speech in the song tackles the topics of girls not being supported in society to dream big and go for their goals because that is the kind of journey that is “associated with men.” It also tackles how the significance of marriage is weighed out on woman’s part and not on a man’s as equally. Marriage is a two-way street for both sexes as they join in a union, however for females, a greater responsibility is placed, especially when it comes to one’s virginity and staying pure. It also tackles the double standard when it comes to sexuality and how it’s displayed openly for men and disclosed for women, and slut-shamed. Later in the song, Beyonce sings, “I woke up like this. We flawless, ladies tell 'em!” Beyonce through this part is exuding confidence and feeling comfortable in her own skin. These lyrics also vocalize that in the morning, without dressing up or putting on makeup, she feels effortlessly flawless due to her natural beauty inside and out. She radiates fearlessness and imperfection as beautiful.
In Beyonce’s song “Grown Woman,” she sings:
I'm a grown woman
I can do whatever I want. They love the way I walk
'Cause I walk with a vengeance
And they listen to me when I talk
'Cause I ain't pretending
It took a while, now I understand
Just where I'm going
I know the world and I know who I am
It's 'bout time I show it.
This song beautifully states how she’s taking ownership of her life and calling the shots and not letting anyone get in her way, which is a huge part of being a brave feminist. By saying she’s a “grown woman,” she is showing us how she’s evolved and embodies confidence and self-reassurance, which she doesn’t need from anyone else but herself. She’s not looking for anyone’s approval because she knows she can do “whatever she wants.” Beyonce’s growth is so greatly appreciated by all women out there. She’s honest and states, “It took a while, now I understand just where I'm going,” which showcases that women can be confused and lost and insecure at times but are hopeful in finding their path, which Beyonce has found. That path comes from loving yourself inside and out, being honest with your emotions, being self-aware of your actions, and trusting your instincts. As Beyonce showcases, it comes with putting everything out there and being raw and free. She got there by liberating her fears and her dreams through her music, and finding her voice for her rights through the platform of feminism.