Beyonce is far from polarising – in fact, up until recently, you’d be pretty hard-pressed to find anything overwhelmingly negative written about it in mainstream media. All in all, the world pretty much loves her. She’s celebrated for her own unique brand of fierce female empowerment, and revered for her business smarts. The web seems fascinated by her ability to juggle a hugely successful career with motherhood and being half of one of Hollywood’s supposedly highest-earning power couples. And yet…
There is one point of contention on the web regarding Bey right now, and is has everything to do with feminism. Her stance on it. Her, at times, contradictory comments about it. The controversial lyrics in one of her latest hits. And whether it’s even possible for the woman married to Jay-Z – a rapper famous for celebrating a ‘bitch’ not being one of his 99 Problems through the majesty of song – to consider herself a feminist.
They said What?
If you’re not yet familiar with the recent debate, it all pretty much stemmed from a line in Beyonce’s Drunk in Love single, where Jay-Z (who often features on her tracks) likens himself to Ike Turner (Tina Turner’s notoriously abuse ex-husband) and sings the line, “eat the cake, Anna Mae” (in reference to a scene from Turner’s biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It).
Understandably, critics were uncomfortable with the line, and questioned its tastefulness. But it really wasn’t until Beyonce herself was seen to sing the words along with her husband at the 56th Grammy Awards that people really took offense. Because it’s okay for a man to make light of domestic violence, but not a woman? No matter how repugnant the line is, isn’t that a double standard in itself?
This, Following a Feminist Essay?
But that’s what not the only thing that has us scratching our heads. See, not long before the Grammys performance, Bey wrote a decidedly feminist essay for The Shriver Report titled Gender Equality Is a Myth!. In it, she wrote:
We need to stop buying into the myth about gender equality. It isn’t a reality yet. Today, women make up half of the U.S. workforce, but the average working woman earns only 77 percent of what the average working man makes. But unless women and men both say this is unacceptable, things will not change. Men have to demand that their wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters earn more—commensurate with their qualifications and not their gender. Equality will be achieved when men and women are granted equal pay and equal respect.
Her words seemed to solidify her position as a feminist icon for many of the critics who’d read her latest, secret self-launched and self-titled album as a beacon of female empowerment. Then, many commentators declared that she’d shot herself in the foot, and that the whole feminist tone of the album was little more than a marketing stunt.
Why It Sucks So Bad
During a time when we desperately need more strong and successful female role models – particularly those who are actually willing to go on the record and draw attention to the continuing gender inequality that exists – the whole situation kinda blows. And when you read the literature online about the whole fiasco, you get the feeling there’s a whole lot of broken-hearted and confused people out there just waiting for Beyonce to make a statement and clear the whole thing up. Which she’s yet to do.
Had the line been incorporated into a song of an artist, male or female, of whom we had lower expectations the same outrage may not have applied. It wouldn’t have been ignored (at least, I hope it wouldn’t have) but I do think the brand built around Beyonce – a brand that is very much about female power and strong, unapologetic sexuality – is so at odds with what those lyrics represent that people have been far more hurt by them than had, say, Miley or Robin Thicke sung them. This isn’t right either, since we should be holding all artists to the same standards, and questioning every instance of media that reinforces harmful gender stereotypes. But it is food for thought.
What I want to know is, what do you all think about the debate? Did you, or do you still, think of Bey as a modern-day feminist icon? Did Drunk in Love change your mind? Do you feel like Beyonce’s brand of feminism was more marketing stunt than genuine declaration? Is the media machine overreacting? Are they using the debate as a tool to drive traffic, thanks to Bey’s bankable pull?
I’m really curious to hear everyone’s thoughts on this, so be sure to comment. There are no right or wrong answers. The more we’re all willing to discuss the issues, openly and without judgment, the more we have opportunities to decide what our own positions are, and encourage positive change.