Let me set the scene.
It’s Friday night and you’re out with your ladies. You’re wondering if it was worth pausing Netflix, getting out of bed and putting on makeup to go pay for alcohol at a bar with mediocrely attractive people.
But then, everything changes. “Drunk In Love” comes on, and suddenly you know that this is going to be the best night ever.
Why? Because Beyoncé.
After making a name for herself as the lead singer of Destiny’s Child in the late 90s and early 2000s, Beyoncé went on to build a successful solo career with her first album, Dangerously in Love.
Fast-forward 11 years and Beyoncé is more relevant than ever. She has emerged as a symbol of femininity, sexuality and success, while embracing the idea of being a strong independent woman and feminist.
But with this success also comes some heavy criticism. As young women navigate the media on a search for a strong female role model, many question the validity of Beyoncé’s brand of feminism.
Feminism has been defined in many ways, but can ultimately be described as the fight for gender equality (NOT the superiority of women over men). Feminist writer and cultural critic bell hooks defines feminism as “A movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression,” while Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who is sampled in Beyonce’s song “Flawless,” defines a feminist as “a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”
How can Beyoncé be a feminist if she dances like that? Isn’t she just playing into society’s representation of women in the media?
The answers to these questions, of course, are complicated. As an avid Beyoncé fan, I’ll be the first to say that Beyoncé’s sexuality and self-expression can be confusing when looked at from a feminist perspective.
Beyoncé’s cultural relevance is especially important in this day and age, as one issue in the feminist movement has been how to increase accessibility. Feminism has been isolated in academics and made inaccessible to the average layperson who is unfamiliar with complex and specific jargon such as “intersectionality” and “false binaries.”
Beyoncé’s music, however, has made the idea of equality of the sexes accessible for everybody, presenting it in a way that is interesting and relevant to modern day young listeners. Similar to Virginia Woolf and Alice Walker, whose literature highlighted feminist ideals, Beyoncé’s songs and music videos present feminism in a way that’s easier to swallow.
This is a part of a greater movement of feminism away from academia and back to the founders — everyday women.
Of course arguments arise when Beyoncé is presented as an “everyday woman.” As No. 17 on Forbes’ list of 100 most powerful women in the United States, Beyoncé has resources that are unavailable to the majority of her listeners.
But looking at feminism through the Beyoncé lens can help us understand society’s view on feminism and sexism, and help us assess what still needs to be done. While no one needs to agree with everything Beyoncé says, understanding her effect on modern day feminism can bring us a little bit closer to gender equality.
Beyoncé has created a successful music career while also making huge steps towards overcoming sexism in our society by providing a brand of feminism that can be consumed as an entertainment media by the masses.
While Beyoncé has dazzled all of us with her performances and sparkly dresses, she isn’t a perfect human being, or a perfect feminist. Throughout the next few weeks I’ll be looking at Beyoncé and the role she plays in providing different viewpoints on modern day feminism, and I hope you’ll be paying attention too.
To sing Beyoncé karaoke with HANNAH STRUMWASSER, email her at email@example.com.
The problem with communicating feminism through mass media entertainment is that it turns feminism into mass media entertainment, and less feminist while at it.
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