The “F” Word: Beyonce and Feminism
Columns / September 28, 2015
Beyonce’s Brand of Feminism
The dark stage is suddenly lit. Light pours down towards the massive, capitalized white letters that together spell out “FEMINIST.” A silhouette of a woman stands proudly in front of the sign, locks blowing in the wind. She fiercely, heroically claims a taboo title.
It is 2014, and Beyonce Knowles has single-handedly taken feminism to the masses.
And she looks sexy as hell doing it.
In one moment the “Partition” singer embedded in the world’s mind that this is not a post-feminism era we are living in. She dusted off the title of “feminist” and reminded us that feminism is still very much alive, important and—yes—even trendy. As of late, it seems as though many female celebrities, Beyonce in particular, are stepping up to claim female empowerment. But before we make Queen B the icon of modern feminism, we must ask ourselves: is her mainstream brand of feminism going about the movement the right way?
We should recognize first all the good that Beyonce has done for feminism. In 2014, Forbes magazine listed her as the top-earning woman in the music business. With her massive, instantly recognizable brand she is uniquely able to take feminism to the masses—which, it should be noted, would be nearly impossible for a middle-class woman of colour to do.
In her “Flawless” performance at the 2014 MTV VMAs show, Beyonce literally spelt out the definition of feminism which many people are ignorant of. That is, a “ person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” Too many young women get caught in the trap of rejecting the feminist title because of an “ugly” image the media perpetuates. However, on stage and all glammed up, Beyonce was able to defeat the negative stereotypes that all feminists are petty, bra-burning, hairy, anti-motherhood lesbians.
And for the record, so what if some of us are?
Queen B is also known for proudly showing off her “bootylicious” and voluptuous figure, which does not fit in the mainstream “skinny” idealistic standard. Beyonce released a track in 2013, “Pretty Hurts,” in which she addresses the danger of the mainstream beauty standards. Knowles and her army of curvy, full-bottom icons such as Jennifer Lopez and Queen Latifah challenged the media’s body standard by marketing “women with curves” within their fashion, music, and films. Their body-positive movement had such an impact that new policies were enforced on runway models so that they had to meet a certain healthy weight.
However, Beyonce’s feminist efforts are at times undermined by the content of her lyrics. While many of her lyrics do shout female empowerment, some of her songs have a strong sense of misogyny in them. Knowles’ 2002 track with Destiny’s Child, “Nasty Girls”, is an example of a problematic, mainstream hit. Feminism, something Beyonce claims to stand for, is supposed to be inclusive to sexual freedom and against the double standards inflicted upon women, but the entire song shames women for having casual sex and wearing revealing clothes. The lyrics tell women to “put some clothes on” or risk being “classless,” as men don’t want a female that has “been around the block,”
C’mon, Yonce, slut-shaming is a basic feminism no-no.
Granted, that was more than a decade ago. Surely Beyonce has grown from her misogynistic habits. Well, let’s look at Beyonce within the last couple of years. She’s married to famous Brooklyn rapper Jay Z, whose work is misogynistic enough to make it onto Elite Day’s list of “The 15 Most Misogynist Lines In Rap History.” In 2013, Beyonce and her rapper husband released a track called “Drunk In Love,” which makes overt references to the abusive relationship between Ike and Tina Turner, even going so far as to invite comparison between the two couples.
Ultimately, Beyonce Knowles tends not to embrace feminism unless it is marketing to her benefits. Her “feminist” performance at the MTV VMAs was beneficial in so far as it allowed a sensationalized and beloved celebrity to claim a taboo title, which in turn raised awareness for feminism… as a trend. And because it is a trend, her brand of feminism, like most mainstream feminism, lacks depth and seriousness and will eventually die off.
However, we should still give Beyonce credit for taking the opportunity provided to her by a privileged lifestyle to publicly advocate for Feminism. Beyonce has an incredible influence on today’s youth and her pose in front of the bolded “F” word might expose the movement to millions. Her feminism still believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes, which we could understand in context as baby steps into the movement—and perhaps it will encourage people to look deeper into feminist thought.
Beyonce’s brand of feminism shows us that we must be mindful of what we consume and what we support, like we do with any other ideologies being endorsed by the mainstream media.