people have been claiming beyonce as a feminist icon for some time, pointing to songs like “single ladies” and “girls run the world” as proof. i’ve been much more skeptical, hesitant to impute my own sensibilities on celebrities and their ideology. in fact, in an interview for british vogue about the topic, beyonce stated “that word [feminist] can be very extreme…” and reminded the interviewer that she’s “happily married.” possibly proving that she, like many,erroneously sees the “f” word as being anti-male.
but then beyonce dropped her self-titled secret album, and the game changed forever.
“am i tripping?” words uttered to myself when i saw queen bey’s track list. “is chimamanda ngozi adichie’s ted talk really featured on “flawless?!?” beyonce starts the track with “bow down/i been on,” a song that will raise your confidence level by at least 10 decibels per listen, and goes into chimamanda’s thoughts on feminism:
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 a 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.
in this moment, despite how beyonce may label herself, she introduced her entire beyhive to feminist thought and challenged them to think deeply about a woman’s place in society. much like tupac and his black liberation politics, she used one of the most influential platforms imaginable, music, to deliver a message greater than herself — equality.
i realized that i’ve been holding much too strictly to an academic definition of feminism; as if it’s only about how many audre lorde or bell hooks books one has read in order to receive the honor of being a feminist that i should recognize. this album made me check that elitism and realize that an artist who has created a body of work that’s a reflection of womanhood doesn’t need to read a book to create her own definition of women’s empowerment. from a song about the pangs of the constant scrutiny women face to fit into a narrow standard of beauty (pretty hurts) to an ode to motherhood (blue) to a boldly sensual track full of innuendos that make it a sexual liberation manifesto (drunken love), beyonceism might not be a complete reflection of my feminism, but it’s her own, and i respect the fact that she’s on a quest to enlighten others.