Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is one of the best-selling musicians of all time. As a solo artist, she has sold over 75 million records; add her success as part of Destiny’s Child, and that figure almost doubles. She has won 17 Grammys, and released 47 singles (including nine as a featured artist). In 2014, she became the highest-earning black musician in history. She even has a cult-like religion, the National Church of Bey, dedicated to her.
A master (or should I say mistress?) of re-inventing herself, Beyoncé’s latest reincarnation comes in the form of a modern-day feminist. Her latest self-titled album explores women’s sexuality, motherhood, and gender discrimination, and she has fronted feminist campaigns including Ban Bossy and Chime for Change, just to give a few examples.
As with most women in the spotlight who label themselves feminists, there has been a backlash to Beyoncé the Feminist. However, I have absolutely no problem with being a very vocal feminist and a diehard Beyoncé fan. I actually think that having Beyoncé as an advocate can be nothing but beneficial for feminism.
Firstly, you have to think about the reach of artists like Beyoncé. Essentially, she is a pop artist. Her music is played on mainstream radio, people are exposed to it every day, and it also has the ability to sell out arena tours in minutes. She is undoubtedly one of the most famous women in the world. Every listener will hear the countless references to feminism in her music; take the single ***Flawless, which features Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We should all be feminists” TED Talk, including the key phrase: “Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” When it comes down to it, this is true feminism in a nutshell. How many of the millions of people (not just women) who have listened to ***Flawless would have heard Adichie’s words had it not been for that four-minute song?
For me, that is the key to Beyoncified feminism; it is accessible. It takes feminism beyond the realm of privileged, educated white people, and makes it relatable. Beyoncé shatters several myths that surround the general perception of what it means to be a feminist. She shows that you can be enjoy sex (Partition and Blow could make a nymphomaniac blush), put a career on hold to look after your kids, you can even get married and take your husband’s name, and this does not make you a “bad” feminist.
The issue of race is particularly relevant to Beyoncé’s feminism; it is undeniable that white feminists face nowhere near as much criticism as black feminists. For example, if Lena Dunham talks about sex, she is praised for being “real”. When Beyoncé does the same, she gets blamed for teen pregnancy. The lack of black women role models is a serious issue; for a black feminist to be celebrated, she basically has to be Maya Angelou or bell hooks. Beyoncé brings the issue of intersectionality to the forefront of feminism, in a way that few high-profile women are doing.
There are also nods to feminism in Brand Beyoncé that go beyond her music itself. She tours with an all-woman band, for example, making the experience of seeing her live feel like a feminist rally without you even realising. She’s even tackled the world of feminist academia, by writing her Gender Equality is a Myth! essay as part of the Shriver Report, after research showed that 42 million US women are living in or on the brink of poverty.
This is not to say that Beyoncé is without her mistakes. Who can forget the reference to the domestic abuse suffered by Tina Turner in Drunk in Love? Even I, a loyal member of the BeyHive, thought it was just awful. At best, it was an insensitive lyric added purely because it “worked” with the rest of Jay Z’s rap; at worst, it was a hideous sexualisation of violence against women. I also take issue with referring to other women as “bitches”, which is somewhat commonplace in Beyoncé’s songs. It normalises the word, and only encourages men to use it against women.
But no one is perfect, not even feminists. Yes, she should be held to account for these mistakes, but does this devalue the rest of her feminist actions? I don’t think so. Germaine Greer has made some downright offensive comments about transgender people and FGM, but that doesn’t make The Female Eunuch irrelevant.
Beyoncé presents a key message to her not only her millions of fans, but the general public; feminism is relevant, necessary, and can come in all shapes and sizes. As far as my feminism is concerned, I will support any woman who uses her fame to bring women’s rights to the masses. I have Grown Woman on my iPod, and The Second Sex on my bookshelf, and I have yet to see a real problem with that. Who run the world…?