Is Beyoncé a feminist? Here’s the short answer: yes. The long answer will be a blog I am writing out of wariness because I am honestly sick of the whole discussion. Let’s be clear about this: women do not need a feminist badge that is approved by every feminist on the internet. It’s gotten to a point that Beyoncé is simply being attacked by people who have not even studied her work – which is fine, but also misleading.
Beyoncé, the studio album, is a concept masterpiece that focuses on black womanhood, sexual pleasure between two consenting, married adults, love for Beyoncé’s daughter and grief for Aaliyah. In my humble opinion it is impossible to judge her ‘feminist credentials’ (whatever the hell that is supposed to mean) without really getting to grips with the message she is trying to get across.
Beyoncé’s album is full of explicit, sexual content that quite clearly expresses a full, satisfied sexual relationship with her husband. Yet Beyoncé gets criticized for wearing skimpy dresses, dancing suggestively and showing her sexual side.
In the song Partition, for example, Beyoncé reveals “He like to call me Peaches when we get this nasty” and “He popped all my buttons and he ripped my blouse / He Monica Lewinski’d all on my gown”, suggesting Beyoncé and her husband engage in sexual role-play (Monica Lewinski, Peaches).
Beyoncé said, about this song, to People magazine: “I was so embarrassed after I recorded the song because I’m just talking shit, I’m like, ‘I can’t play this for my husband.’ I still haven’t played it for my mom. She’s going to be very mad at me.”
Perhaps Jay Z and Bey should be ashamed of playing the widely criticized verse of Drunk in Love, “I’m Ike Turner, turn up, baby, no, I don’t play / Now eat the cake, Anna Mae said, “Eat the cake, Anna Mae!” since all thinkpieces written about it say it glamorizes domestic violence (in this case Tina Turner’s abuse by her ex-husband Ike Turner).
But it’s really important to bring context into this discussion. As I previously mentioned, the whole album has BDSM theme, heavily influence by role play. And what Jay Z and Beyoncé say before the Anna Mae bomb is very relevant:
Beyoncé: “We be all night, and everything all right / No complaints from my body, so fluorescent under these lights”
Jay Z: “Hold up, stumble all in the house, time to back up all that mouth / That you had all in the car, talking ’bout you the baddest bitch thus far / Talking ’bout you be repping that Third, I wanna see all that shit that I heard.”
All accounts indicate that this is a consensual BDSM relationship. It’s curious to compare this to the 50 Shades of Grey, a widely accepted book that speaks of a non-consensual, abusive BDSM relationship (oh and let’s not forget the series of books that brought this about that also depicts an abusive relationship, Twilight), yet was read by thousands of women and accepted like it was nothing. Yet, when Beyoncé sings about a strongly consensual relationship, she is torn to pieces and the context is completely ignored – has it ever occurred to anyone that this could open the door for an honest discussion of BDSM, perhaps including the line between abuse and sexual play?
Personally, I can say that Beyoncé has time and again liberated me sexually. Her work continuously tells me that it’s okay to love sex, to feel sexy and be sexual.
She said, about her body and showing it off: “I was very aware of the fact that I was showing my body. I was 195 pounds when I gave birth. I lost 65 pounds. I worked crazily to get my body back. I wanted to show my body.”
There’s no problem in showing off your body, as long as you don’t shame anyone in the process. Men and women with all kinds of bodies should show off their bodies, actually. But Beyoncé can’t really win: when she shows her body she is bragging, right? Or is she showing personal satisfaction with the work she put into her body?
And on her sexual freedom: “I don’t at all have any shame about being sexual and I’m not embarrassed about it and I don’t feel like I have to protect that side of me because I do believe that sexuality is a power that we all have.”
How is this not a positive feminist opinion to have and declare to women all over the world?
Feminism is a personal choice
Feminism has a perfection problem. We need certain perfections that fit in the right places to have feminist credentials, otherwise our opinions and actions are just completely invalid. This belief is a problem.
Feminism is about freedom and personal choice, not impossible standards. Impossible standards are routinely enforced by the patriarchy and enforcing it in feminism is a kind of oppression in itself. So is Beyoncé a feminist? Yes she is, because she self-identifies as a feminist and she is free to do so even if she is married, has a kid, has an amazing sex life and talks about BDSM. (Let me just point out here that one of the bigger problems I have with Beyoncé’s work is her collaborations with Terry Richardson. Again, she’s not perfect.)
And can I just say, on the subject of Beyoncé and Jay Z’s collaboration at the Grammy’s that a woman was passionately singing about her sex life with her husband and she was criticized? Women cannot win: if a woman dances with a random guy, she is a whore – and even if she dances with her husband she is a whore. Can someone please explain?
I cannot stress enough that all of us are imperfect and that the perfect feminist does not exist and will never exist. Beyoncé is not it, and she will never be.
So if you disapprove of Drunk in Love’s Jay Z lines, that’s fine. But that does not negate anyone’s ‘feminist credentials’.
“She’s only doing it for the money!”
This is one of the most tired and simplistic arguments that are often thrown at artists (mainly female pop stars) and it honestly irritates me. Let’s break this down once and for all.
Everyone needs to work to live: artists, singers, journalists, lawyers, businessmen. Everyone. Does that devalue the work you do in any way? Does earning money mean you’re a bad person because you don’t work for free, in a state of complete selflessness?
It’s not immoral to do things for money, that’s the world we live in. And it does not (and will never) devalue any of the messages Beyoncé is trying to get through to women all over the world. And maybe just her fans will listen, but you know what? That’s pretty awesome because she has awesome things to say – and as a writer I understand she should be paid for her work.
One of the most valuable things I took from Beyoncé’s new album was the book Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie. It is, at present, my favourite book and Chimamanda has a place in my heart as one of my favourite writers now (right up there with JK Rowling, and you know that’s a big deal). I am extremely grateful to Beyoncé for bringing this woman into my life.
Chimamanda’s stories are truly revelatory. They are mostly about Nigeria and the culture clashes between Africa and the Western world. I had become bored with young adult fiction and was looking for something new that didn’t sound like the same old story: Chimamanda saved me. She is truly brilliant. And for this, I declare that Beyoncé is a feminist and no matter how many think pieces you write you cannot take away her agency and self-identity.