All thing’s considered, it’s hard to think of Beyonce as anything other than a good role model for young women. Sure, particularly earlier this year, she drew some criticism for posing in her underwear on the cover of GQ magazine, as well as performing at the Superbowl in little more than a patch of leather held together with some lace, but she’s never been known for dressing conservatively and there’s a lot more going on in her world to land her the ‘role model’ label than what she chooses to perform in.
Beyonce has built her own empire. For the last number of years, she has been her own manager, looking after all aspects of her career and her brand. When she fired her father, who had until 2010 been her manager, she said that she felt it was time she compete with her male artist counterparts and become a mogul, and that she has. She runs her own business; mostly stays out of trouble (lip-syncing scandal aside); is happily married with a daughter; and with numerous female empowerment anthems in her repertoire, even Barack Obama has declared her the perfect role model for his daughters. If that’s not a shining endorsement, I don’t know what is.
Beyonce is a powerful woman, and there’s no doubting she’s well aware of that. In that same issue of GQ, she says: “I’m more powerful than my mind can even digest,” and her most recent release, ‘Bow Down, Bitches’ demands people well, bow down before her, clearly making the point that she really is the Queen B.
Her message is empowering, and while she’s never quite accepted the feminist label, she’s being increasingly vocal in her concerns over the situation women find themselves in today. The interview in GQ touched on her feelings on the gender pay gap, something which she elaborated on in her documentary that premiered on European televisions last week. She said: “You know, equality is a myth, and for some reason, everyone accepts the fact that women don’t make as much money as men do. I don’t understand that. Why do we have to take a backseat? … I truly believe that women should be financially independent from their men. And let’s face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what’s sexy. And men define what’s feminine. It’s ridiculous.”
This was the narration to a scene where a scantily-clad Beyonce was dancing around, and in the case of GQ, the accompaniment to a spread of five or six photos of her in her underwear. People were quick to criticise and point out the irony in this, and when that’s the case, it’s no wonder she steers clear of the feminist label. It’s been the same for her entire career. Her back-catalogue may be chock full of girl power anthems, but nobody misses a beat before pulling her up on what’s she’s wearing in the video as she sings about girls running the world.
Though some argue that portraying sexiness is empowering in itself, most seem to believe that your screams of “I’m more than a sex object!” are undermined unless you’re fully clothed. And when Beyonce’s brand of sexy aligns so easily with the very same definition that she spoke about men giving it, it does become hard to tell whether she’s empowered by expressing her own sexuality, or by embodying what the patriarchy have, time and time again, told us is sexy. When you look at how aware Beyonce is of the power men hold however, it’s difficult to believe that she falls into the latter category.
Lena Dunham has become renowned for taking off her clothes or wearing very little and celebrating her body, and the media lap it up. However, because Beyonce is more conventionally sexy, it would appear she’s killing feminism while Dunham champions it. Just maybe, the world should open it’s mind to the idea that you can be a feminist and still want to be attractive to men. And certainly for Beyonce, that’s almost a necessity. Within the music industry, half of the business is centred around creating fantasies designed to entertain and sell and that doesn’t just apply to the women either. All you have to do is take one look at the crazed One Directioners and Beliebers to see that.
Beyonce has built a multi-billion dollar empire and commands a huge amount of respect, and it almost seems as if, for that reason, anything she does which might in theory endorse a feminist mantra or feature female empowerment in some form can be put to trial to decide if it’s ruining feminism the minute it’s put out into the world. Here’s the thing though: Beyonce has never declared herself a feminist, and by all accounts, seems uncomfortable with that particular label. Why then, do we feel we can tell her that her feminism, the same feminism she has yet to lay claim to, isn’t good enough? Far too many feminists are pushing the idea that there are a million wrong ways to be a feminist, and no way but their way to do it right, and that needs to stop.
Beyonce has never asked, or presumed to be, a feminist role model. She has certainly championed the independent woman, and surely that is what we should be looking at. That is the brand of feminism she has defined for herself, and that is what she understands and practices. That is where she is absolutely killing it; I don’t think anyone questions Beyonce’s independence, or even tells her what to do. Even as she takes her husband’s name for her latest tour (It’s called the Mrs Carter Show, after Jay Z’s given name), no one believes that was anyone’s decision but Beyonce’s, especially given that Jay Z took her name as well.
Feminism isn’t gaining anything by tearing Beyonce down. She represents an accessible feminism that most women can get on board with, and that’s easily seen by women’s responses to her female empowerment anthems. Whether it’s the fact that ‘Run the World (Girls)’ and ‘Independent Woman Part I’ are among her most famous songs, or the fact that every man in a club disappears the minute ‘Single Ladies’ comes on, as women scarper back to their friends so they can dance around handbags singing about how they don’t need no man, or whatever.
Beyonce, whether hardcore feminists like it or not, is an inspiration to many, many women, and as long as her message continues to be that women deserve to be seen as equals, does it really matter what she’s wearing? When I see a front cover picture of Beyonce in her underwear, my focus isn’t on whether or not you can see a bit of her boob. Granted I’m not a man, nor am I attracted to women, but I see Beyonce as a strong and formidable woman who at the very least pretty much runs the music world. Beyonce is powerful, and she continuously seeks to empower other women, and remind them of their worth, and that’s something we should be able to get behind. Perhaps those who can’t, to borrow Beyonce’s own words, simply aren’t ready for all that jelly.