Everything About Beyoncé Is About Power

Everyone agrees that Beyoncé killed it at the Super Bowl. There’s no loved-it/hated-it debate out there—no one could argue that it was anything less than Awesome (yup, capital a).  And look at how worked up everyone got on Twitter (including Oprah, Michelle Obama, and Martha Stewart)! But, of course, there is debate. Sadly, some critics still find the need to pick apart and judge this woman for things that at this point are becoming quite sexist—not to mention boring.

First, there’s the focus on her wardrobe rather than her music (really, we’re still doing this?) There was some analysis basically saying the slut-shaming analysis of her wardrobe wasn’t the issue (though it still focused on that). And then there were just the crazy people who just flat-out called her a slut. (This is but one of myriad examples; I choose not to direct traffic to any others). 

There are two ways for female pop stars to appropriate themselves in performance: The way that gets the public to look at their bodies as a form of marketing, selling sex first, product second (early Britney Spears, The Pussycat Dolls). And the way Beyoncé, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Christina Aguilera and P!nk (not to mention the Riot Grrrls before them) do it: As a middle finger to that gaze.

During the half time show, Beyoncé’s wardrobe was armor. When she stepped out into the lion’s den of masculinity and jock culture that is the Super Bowl, she wasn’t timid. She stomped her feet and popped her collar, signifying that they’d better watch out. My new favorite writer over at Patheos.com says it brilliantly: “That a Black woman claimed and owned her power during the misogynist, consumerist celebration known as the Super Bowl only highlights Beyoncé’s brilliance and boldness.”

Consider the harrowing revelation that the Super Bowl is the leading human trafficking event in the United States—and has been for decades. Lord knows how many women were being forced into sex acts and held captive against their will in the small motels and back rooms surrounding New Orleans. Can we maybe get worked up about that on our message boards and protest blogs, rather than scrutinizing a leotard that offered more coverage than the swimsuits wholesome little Gidget paraded around in circa 1965?

Is it not a beacon of hope for women that Beyoncé was up there on stage surrounded by legions of women—only women, not even Jay-Z was invited to this matriarchal stage—blatantly kicking ass?

Speaking of her husband, I’d all but forgotten about him until she announced her world tour after the Super Bowl. It’s called the “Mrs. Carter Show World Tour.” Cute, right? Well, Slate published a big-ol piece about why they don’t think so. Here’s the gist of the argument:

As a woman who has earned enough clout to inspire dance crazes, earn lucrative (if controversial) advertising deals, and perform for the U.S. president on multiple occasions, one can’t help but wonder why she felt the need to evoke the name of her beau in her solo world tour. Is this a step back in the ongoing debate about “Beyoncé-as-feminist”?

When I read this, I can’t help but think that writer Aisha Harris was just bored, or pressured on deadline to come up with a new angle—two things with which I can empathize as a fellow journalist.

If there’s anything I hate more than clothing analysis as a feminist-or-not argument, it’s calling marriage anti-feminist. Let me clarify the progression of feminism for, apparently, everyone: We have moved past this. Every noted feminist from the second wave to today has acknowledged that we are beyond pointing the finger at marriage as the shackles it once was when Betty Frieden wrote The Feminine Mystique. Recap: That was in 1963. Since then, here are some feminists who have been married: Naomi Wolf, Jennifer Baumgardner, Jessica Valenti, Anne Theriault and Gloria Steinem. The fact that they are not all still married isn’t the point. The point is that the marriages happened and feminism didn’t implode. When Steinem got married in 2000, she explained this to Barbara Walters:

“To be against unequal marriage is not the same thing as being against marriage… The marriage law changed a lot because if the marriage law was the same law that it was before the women’s movement thirty years ago. I wouldn’t have been able to do it. You know, because I would have lost most of my civil rights. I would have lost my name, my credit rating, my legal domicile, the ability to start a business. You know really most civil rights. And also, I mean I was a happy single person for fifty years. I mean, this is a long time.”

Yes, a long time. Feminism took a long time getting those laws changed so that marriage could actually be a choice—in all regards. If a woman wants to change her name, great; if not, great. No one is chattel here anymore. Showing love and devotion to your spouse shows strength in a relationship. Enjoying the legal perks of shared estates and medical visitation rights are luxuries for which the gay community is fighting passionately.

So Beyoncé wants to honor her happy, healthy marriage to the father of her child in a public and dramatic way (which is about the only way crazy-famous people like them can make a grand gesture)? I say, you go, girl! Bey knows a healthy marriage is about confidence as well. Here’s a quote that was left out of her GQ cover story that should answer that feminist-or-not? question once and for all:

“I was independent before I met my husband, and we have such a natural chemistry and a genuine relationship, and it’s based on the things that relationships are supposed to be based on. I’ve seen, growing up, when a woman or a man in a relationship—it doesn’t matter which one—doesn’t feel confident, they feel a bit trapped. Your self-worth is determined by you. You don’t have to depend on someone telling you who you are.”

Oh, and P.S., Jay-Z legally changed his name to Shawn Knowles-Carter when they got married.

Power.


PG

Author: Heather Wood Rudulph

Heather Wood Rudúlph is the co-founder of SexyFeminist.com and recently FeministMommy.com. She's a seasoned editor and writer, most recently for The Huffington Post, AOL, DAYSPA magazine and Movies.com. She’s written and edited stories about entertainment, beauty, healthcare, fashion, travel, teens, spirituality, women's rights, civil rights and environmental practices. Her work has also appeared in Seventeen, Elle, Details.com and The Los Angeles Daily News. She teaches nonfiction writing for Gotham Writers Workshop and is co-author of the book, SEXY FEMINISM, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March, 2013. She has a journalism degree with a sociology minor from Syracuse University and lives in California with her husband and son.
About Heather Wood Rudulph

Heather Wood Rudúlph is the co-founder of SexyFeminist.com and recently FeministMommy.com. She's a seasoned editor and writer, most recently for The Huffington Post, AOL, DAYSPA magazine and Movies.com. She’s written and edited stories about entertainment, beauty, healthcare, fashion, travel, teens, spirituality, women's rights, civil rights and environmental practices. Her work has also appeared in Seventeen, Elle, Details.com and The Los Angeles Daily News. She teaches nonfiction writing for Gotham Writers Workshop and is co-author of the book, SEXY FEMINISM, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March, 2013. She has a journalism degree with a sociology minor from Syracuse University and lives in California with her husband and son.

Comments

  1. momo says:

    unfortunately all in a blond wig. Sorry homegirl, B is a fantastic show person and can sing her a$$ off even if her songs are garbage. but black feminist icon she is not. And oy vey that Mrs. Carter thing is so beyond wack. You don’t squat around on a stage in your underwear with a blond wig glued to your head and still get the title feminist. There are lines that are drawn you know. And why you think Rihanna has stuck her middle finger up to anything is laughable. the “feminist” that went back to a man that beat the hell out of her and scoffed at people that encouraged her to free herself from him. She’s an idiot. I know many women were hoping you could be a whore AND a feminist because being a whore reeeeeeally is effective and such a short cut to soooo much but you can’t. That’s why the movement is in such bad shape. : /

    • The Sexy Feminist says:

      Yikes, Momo. I think women calling other women whores is perhaps a bigger problem we should address. Being a performer does not make you that. Dancing provocatively doesn’t either (look at matriarchal communities around the world and sexy dancing is a huge part of their empowerment). Making mistakes in love and evolving as a woman doesn’t make you that either. No, feminist is not a catch-all term that all women can appropriate; work must be done. But it needs to be more inclusionary (and supportive) if it is going to survive.

  2. Sarah says:

    Geez. I would hope that if anyone could show sympathy and understanding to victims of domestic violence it would be feminists. There are lots of reasons why battered women go back to or stay with their abusers. It’s upsetting, yes, but you don’t get to call Rihanna “an idiot” for a situation you don’t know the half of. And if Chris Brown abuses her again then NO PART OF THE BLAME FOR THAT will be on her. For fuck’s sake, this is feminism 101.

    Similarly, you don’t get to decide – none of us do – what Beyoncé can and can’t do with her own hair before we accept or denounce her as a black woman. Yeesh. Would it be nice if more little black girls could see black women in the public eye with natural hair? Sure! But that’s a problem with the white-centric culture in the US, it’s not a problem of Beyoncé or other women like her not being “black enough” (seriously, black women can’t win – they are either too black or not black enough, or both). Ultimately it’s her hair, she can do whatever the hell she wants with it, and even **if** she dyes it blonde or styles it the way she does solely *because* the culture she lives in wouldn’t accept her with her natural hair, then that’s the culture’s flaw, not hers.

    As for the rest of the article, I am not sure that I am 100% pro-marriage. Not in the sense that I think women who get married are stupid or bad feminists, or that I don’t support marriage equality. But the more I – as someone who cannot legally officialise her own relationship – think about marriage as an institution the more problematic it seems to me that we enshrine sexual relationships as the most important in a person’s life, and we ONLY offer the privileges and responsibilities of domestic partnership to people who are lovers. I would quite like to see a world where legal and financial responsibility and bonding to a family or household was something we could disentangle from romantic love and that people could choose under various circumstances and for various reasons.

    That said, the arguments against Beyoncé’s a) Mrs Carter tour and b) outfit at the Superbowl are fucking ridiculous. The Mrs Carter thing is clearly tongue-in-cheek, I mean her name ISN’T Mrs Carter anyway. She and Jay-Z share the surname Knowles-Carter. The idea that this woman’s strength and success as a performer and as a businesswoman is meaningless because of the fact she is married or because of what she wears is sexist garbage, not feminism.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] by adopting her husband’s last name for her tour. We already debated these specific issues in another post, but my point today is this: Whether you think Beyonce is demonstrating against sexist pressures [...]

  2. [...] us for generations, it’s hard to argue against Beyonce as a feminist. She’s a goddamned feminist icon. But, yes, she did once call feminism “bootylisciousness.” And, yes, she did put a [...]

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