In the wake of the surprise release of Beyoncé’s video-clad, self-titled album, the internet is bursting with all-capped tweets and enthusiastic articles celebrating her influence as a feminist popstar.
While some have argued that her seductive moves and tight outfits beat to the same heternormative drum of so many other female artists, many insist that her bold attitude is a unique statement of sexual ownership and empowerment.
TIME Magazine’s Eliana Dockterman claims that Beyoncé is the embodiment of modern feminism, replacing anger with personal strength and a healthy, loving marriage.
This isn’t the first time people have hailed Beyoncé as a feminist leader. For years, she’s been regarded as an ambassador, representing women as proud, successful and unapologetic, and asking questions like, Who Run The World? (girls).
It’s easy to see why she’s regarded so highly by so many in the feminist community. Her confidence and success inspire girls and women all over the world, whose self-esteem is otherwise stunted by other cultural influences.
While there’s no question that certain aspects of Beyoncé’s career are feminist-friendly, it’s important to remember that she has never personally assumed the role of feminist leader.
Beyoncé’s feminist identity is primarily the creation of feminists who assert their wish for her onto her persona. Exuding seemingly feminist ideals and identifying as a feminist are different things. Beyoncé has a lot of strength and wisdom to offer future generations of women, however, until she claims a feminist identity, who are we to force the label upon her?
I recognize that mine is an unpopular opinion.
And, as someone who strongly identifies as feminist, and takes offense to the common misunderstanding of the movement, I’m familiar with the temptation to assign the title to anyone who supports the equality and empowerment of girls and women. She’s a feminist, she just doesn’t know it, I’ve often said about women in my life who feel uncomfortable with the word feminist.
So, before you assume that I’m somehow anti-feminist, or have embarrassingly mistaken Beyoncé for someone else, here are the most popular arguments against my stance, along with my responses.
1. Of course Beyoncé’s a feminist – she’s so powerful AND she’s her own boss.
No doubt she’s extremely powerful. Anyone see that photo of her and the Obamas casually hanging out? (Which one, you ask? That’s right, because there are hundreds!) But, in soon-to-be 2014, it’s time we stop assuming that every successful, powerful woman identifies as feminist. Feminism has allowed to women to legally hold jobs and acquire professional power, but successful professional women are commonplace these days. Granted, the difference in power between Beyoncé and the female head of marketing at your company is notable, but it’s time we stop assuming that a woman’s ambition is tied to her social and political beliefs.
2. She supports women in her lyrics.
In some cases, yes, that’s true. Blow, a track on the new album, describes her happily receiving oral sex, a topic seldom mentioned or celebrated in music.
Not to mention the feminist words by Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in the song Flawless. The excerpt from Adichie’s TEDx Talk, appropriately titled We Should All Be Feminists, questions societal pressure on women to be married, and to compete with each other only for male attention. The last line of the excerpt is a feminist definition: a person who believes in the societal, political, and economic equality of the sexes.
Of course, if we look back just a few lines earlier in the song, we’ll see the repeated use of the word bitches, as Beyoncé commands women to “bow down”, seemingly arguing against backlash she received during her Mrs. Carter tour for the use of her husband’s name. The word bitch, as we all know, has been used by men to degrade women for decades. It implies that women are disposable, crazy, less-than. It’s also used by women to describe other women, a grave offense in my view.
In the endless battle to defy stereotypes and misguided gender norms, there’s no room for insults and name calling. There is plenty of room for thoughtful, impassioned arguments and respectful dialogue, but choosing to put women down with a word associated with gender discrimination is incongruous with Adichie’s powerful call for feminism.
3. She just said she is a feminist this year!
Did she? If you look closely at what she said, she openly admits her discomfort with the word feminist, hesitantly agrees to a modified version of it, and then immediately takes back her answer, claiming she’d rather be label-less. See for yourself, in her response to the question of feminism in the May, 2013 issue of British Vogue:
“That word can be very extreme … But I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything? I’m just a woman and I love being a woman. … I do believe in equality and that we have a way to go and it’s something that’s pushed aside and something that we have been conditioned to accept. … But I’m happily married. I love my husband.”
Firstly, modern-day feminism is a transparent term. People identify as modern-day feminists to protect themselves against the stigma of feminism. The extremity Beyoncé references probably refers to the old popular belief among feminists that men had no place in women’s lives – women could be self-sufficient without a husband, and wanting or needing romantic love showed weakness. While this view deserves an in-depth understanding, it is certainly no longer the norm. Most feminists want professional success, personal empowerment, and loving relationships. Yet, we’re still regarded as anti-men, anti-femininity advocates, who lack appreciation for nuanced goals and desires. Feminism moves with the times, but the words “modern day” here apologize for the (misunderstood) word feminist.
Secondly, as soon as Beyoncé begrudgingly accepts the title, she takes it back. Clearly, she’s uncomfortable labeling herself as anything other than “woman”, and prefers a label-less existence. And, that’s okay. While some of us may take pride in our labels, imparting those identities onto others with similar values undermines their right to define themselves as they see fit.
4. You must not really be a fan.
Well, that’s just ridiculous. I was so excited when I heard about her new album, I hung up the phone on my friend to go watch each 30-second video clip online. Twice. I recognize her power and strength, and I definitely want to listen to her sing as often as possible. Obviously.
I appreciate the feminist qualities of Beyoncé’s work – recording songs like Pretty Hurts, being proud and outspoken on stage, and breaking barriers for other female artists. But, until she proudly accepts the feminist crown, let’s stay away from forcing it on her head. She is smart enough to create her own identity, and if she doesn’t want to be labeled, we ought to respect that.