A few months ago I wrote an article about the faux feminism that Beyoncé is threatening the music industry with. While I still think all of those arguments are valid, a recent discussion about her GQ cover spread has sparked my need to speak about sexualization and sexual empowerment in the media – mainly in the music industry.
If you missed it, Beyoncé is staring at the camera with her mouth half open, wearing a tiny thong. Inside, she tells some hard truths about gender equality.
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.”
It is groundbreaking that a major star like her endorses feminism – we need more people to come out and say “Hey, I am not being treated equally and that has to change.” Beyoncé is one of the most powerful women in the world, and even if sometimes I detect signs of faux feminism in her actions, she is still a good role model girls can look up to.
The music industry has never just been about music. It’s also about image and style, particularly for women. Going back a few decades, it is easy to see there are always trends and styles women developed; beehive hair, fluffed bobs and thick eyeliner, way too much black eye shadow and messy, angry bed-hair, underwear as outerwear, thick hair, straight hair, ripped clothing, flower power, etc.
The post-Madonna music industry has seen women extremely sexualized for the sake of selling music. As my friend Grace wrote a while ago, women have to fit a certain shape, size and attitude to make it big – if they don’t, tough luck. From sexual empowerment we have jumped right over to giving the power of our bodies to men and the industry once again. And seemingly, Beyoncé is still a victim of this, despite her feminist stances. Her opinions have been completely overshadowed by the photo of her in a thong.
Though it’s fair to say that being sexy, alluding to sex or at least having a pretty face is now mandatory in the music industry, I must confess that I sometimes wonder if these women – though perhaps damaging the industry for others – feel empowered by their bodies, their outfits and style. And often, I think I have no big problem with that.
The music industry has never been just about the music. What about the rebel look of the Runaways? Diana Ross’ diva hair? Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” look? And Aretha Franklin’s soulful image? How many fake eyelashes does Adele stick on her face? What about Cher’s crazy style? These are all images that go with the music, the band, the singer. If it makes the performer happy, who cares what they are wearing, as long as you enjoy their music?
Maybe Beyoncé’s image has been a bit misguided as it encourages and permeates patriarchy. It has been widely criticized by feminists around the world. But what keeps coming to me is that maybe – try to think with me on this one – just maybe Beyoncé wants to be portrayed as beautiful, she wants to pose in a thong and declare she’s a feminist, maybe she’s a different kind of feminist who also wants to be sexy. Maybe this is Beyoncé just being herself. She knows sex sells and she’s using it with all her power. So what?
Feminism is about choice and awareness. Beyoncé clearly knows that she dresses herself up because of an idea of beauty much constructed by the patriarchy. But the same goes for you and probably most women – why do you put on make-up? Why do you hide your ‘imperfections’? Why do you wear the clothes you wear? I’ll tell you why: because of a culture of patriarchy, perfection and consumerism. That being said, I don’t think you have to stop doing what you do to express yourself, or make yourself feel good about yourself because of this. I think we need to be conscious of where the pressure is coming from and why – and act on it in our own way.
The sexualization of the media is not Beyoncé’s problem – if this were the case it would be every woman who ever posed for a magazine cover’s problem too. The issue lies with the people who make the media such a misogynistic place to be, who make it a place prone to this kind of marketing. The real problem are the people who ignore talent over shape and size of body, the people who see women artists as less because they take time putting on make-up, because they take care to perform, not just sing. The people who shun artists who look different and don’t fit into a standard of beauty; those people are the problem.
We have to stop blaming each other, judging each other, and strive for unity between ourselves – all women are different and all women make different choices. If Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katy Perry, and whoever else use their sex appeal to sell music, I don’t see a problem with it. The way you dress, the way Rihanna dresses – none of it matters if you understand the issues behind it, if you understand that the world isn’t perfect for us just yet, and that there are equality issues we have to work on. I am 100% guilty of judging Beyoncé for trying to look so perfect, so beautiful. But with her recent feminist rant I realize she is not so far from reality as I previously thought. I was wrong: she knows girls don’t run the world! And it seems that she wants them to.
So please, do not devalue a woman’s statement on equality because she is sexy, confident and powerful – and isn’t afraid to show it.