Unless you’re living in one of those abandoned subway tunnels uptown, you’ve probably heard all about Beyoncé’s new self-titled album that dropped in the dead of night last Friday; like Santa sneaking the Beyhive an extra special pre-Christmas treat in their iTunes stockings. The album, which sold over 600,000 units in three days, set the Internet ablaze. But not all of it was fan-fueled. Besides the general merriment that ensues whenever the Queen B drops new content, there’s also a discourse between self-identified feminists that pops off with each release as well.
As usual, some are rejoicing and claiming that Beyoncé is finally embracing her inner feminist. Others, however, are lamenting what seems to be more of the same stereotypical portrayal of women and gender roles in her songs. What sets Beyoncé apart from her other albums though, is that she puts her self out there to be critiqued a lot more than usual, especially on the track “Flawless,” in which she includes a sample of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists.” The snippet is as follows:
We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller We say to girls: “You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you will threaten the man” Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is most important. Now, marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support. But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors. Not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be good thing. But for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.
Is this the same Beyoncé who put out the anthem to the marriage Olympics “Single Ladies”? A song which places the engagement ring on a pedestal and makes it seem as if getting a man to claim you is the ultimate goal for all women. Some touted “Single Ladies” as a feminist anthem when it first came out, but really? “If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it“, what message is that sending to young girls? Is that not feeding into exactly what Adichie claims is wrong with the messages we send young women in our society?
It’s as if Beyoncé is trying to have her cake and eat it too. She wants to market herself as a feisty symbol of girl power but her lyrics and attitude when it comes to the subject of marriage and men leave much to be desired. The problem with Beyoncé Brand Feminism, or what some have coined “Bottom Bitch Feminism,” is that although Beyoncé definitely turns up the heat and progresses certain feminist ideals; such as embracing female sexuality rather than shaming it, she also reinforces cliched images of what a woman’s role should be in relation to her man. I.e. “Cater 2 U.”
These contradictions have been prevalent throughout Beyoncé’s career. Back in the Destiny Child days they put out the girl power anthem “Independent Women” but then they also released “Cater 2 U”; a Stepford Wives guide to dating. As a solo artist, Bey has definitely put out her fair share of women empowerment tracks such as: “Run the World (Girls),” “Irreplaceable,” and “If I Were A Boy.” But there has also been a constant theme of subservience to men throughout her music. For example, in “Ring The Alarm” she proclaims:
Won’t you ring the alarm, I been through this too long
But I’ll be damned if I see another chick on your arm
She gon’ be rockin’ chinchilla coats, if I let you go
Hit in the house off the coast, if I let you go
She gon’ take everything I own, if I let you go
I can’t let you go, damn, if I let you go
She gon’ rock them VVS stones, if I let you go
In the ‘Bach or the Rolls, if I let you go
She gon’ profit everything I taught, if I let you go
I can’t let you go, damn, if I let you go”
She is basically saying that it doesn’t matter how her man treats her, as long as he’s providing material things and fulfilling his role as provider, she won’t let him go. As if Beyoncé (BEE-YON-CE) couldn’t provide those things for herself. Even with all of her accolades and success, she still needs a man to complete her.
These sentiments become more clear when hubby Shawn Carter is introduced on any of her tracks or his for that mater. As he says “he’s got the hottest chick in the game wearing [his] chain”…and his wedding ring. Jay Z has been known to produce some questionable lyrics when referencing his wife. He caught heat earlier this year when he seemingly referred to Bey as his “Bitch” on the Watch the Throne pre-release track “That’s My Bitch.” On his latest hit “Tom Ford” he brazenly refers to Bey as a “Bad Bitch” on which Beyonce proudly lends her vocals to reinforce the sentiment. I, for one, don’t know any self-respecting woman, let alone self-identified feminist, that would let their husband refer to them as a bitch publicly, let alone on an international scale. But Beyoncé seems to be more than happy to accommodate to this title.
And lets not forget the crazy ass lyrics on Bey’s newest hit “Drunk in Love” in which Jay spits:
Catch a charge, I might, beat the box up like Mike in 97, I bit
I’m like Ike Turner, turn up. Baby know I don’t play, now eat the cake Anna Mae. Said, eat the cake, Anna Mae
For those that don’t know, Jay is referencing a scene from the ’93 classic “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” in which Ike Turner physically abuses Tina and forces her to eat cake. I didn’t think Jay Z could be any more misogynistic until I heard this verse. It’s outrageous to think that anyone’s significant other would publicly reference something so horrific as domestic violence and think that it was acceptable.
So, is Beyoncé redefining feminism in the modern age or has she just been reducing herself to S. Carter’s shiny trophy wife and using feminism as a way to superficially boost her image and her sales? Share your feelings on the subject below.