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Beyonce's Take On Feminism: 'Flawless,' Or Flawed?

Allison Selick |
February 3, 2014 | 3:07 p.m. PST

Style Editor

How do you define yourself? You might define yourself as a member of a community or culture. Maybe you see yourself as a set of interests. No matter how you see yourself, gender is likely an essential feature of this definition. You are a woman who likes to go on hikes. You are a businessman. Gender is arguably the most foundational aspect of self-conception. As such, gender differences have been a focus of journalists, scholars, and everyday people for years. 

Historically, the female gender has been disenfranchised. Women have been viewed as vehicles for reproduction and pleasure. To combat this framework, many women have adopted a new “girl power” trend. Some celebrities, such as Beyoncé, have built their careers on this idea. Their lyrics send the message that women are capable of the same objectification, power trips, and sexual detachment that men have been practicing for centuries.  

Read more about Beyoncé's brand of feminism here

Bow down to Bey (Pinterest @Ratia Purdy)
Bow down to Bey (Pinterest @Ratia Purdy)

But this “girl power” trend sends the wrong message. In a recent essay for the annual Shriver Report on gender equality, Beyoncé claims that feminism isn’t over. But her lyrics posit that women should gain leverage by using their bodies to control men. Feminism isn’t about bringing women up by bringing down men, however: it is solely about reaching equality.

In her newest song, “Flawless,” Beyoncé includes a speech by feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie states that women are raised to see other women as competitors, “not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.” The moment that this sample fades out, Beyonce, seemingly blind to Adichie’s message, demands that “bitches” should “bow down” because she “woke up flawless.” Her power over men and other, less attractive women lies in her physicality.  

Mainstream gender is a dichotomy. Ideals for women exist only in direct contrast to conventions set for men: when men are valued as strong, women are supposed to be helpless. When men are stoic, women are emotional. Beyonce’s “girl power” songs send the message that men are weak-willed, and, by using their bodies to control men, women can therefore gain leverage. But we can’t change how we think about gender roles for one group without expanding our conception of gender for all people.

Men are subjected to gender norms just as women are, if not more so. While girls are told that they can be anything, young men are told that they must earn a degree with financial security. Men are told to be strong, good at sports, and self-reliant. Add on the pressures of a mentality where boys who do not fit the stereotypical model of masculinity are made to feel as though they have nothing to offer. Combine this with a hefty scoop of emotional suppression and a dash of financial burden, and you have a recipe for roughly half of the population to be 3 to 5 times more likely to commit suicide

(Neon Tommy)
(Neon Tommy)

In “If I Were a Boy”, Beyoncé sings “but you're just a boy, you won’t understand.” Which is true. Men don’t know what it feels like to walk down the street and have strangers ask them to jump in their car. They have no idea what it is like to know that you have a one in five chance of being assaulted, and overwhelmingly likely that it will be at the hands of someone you trust. They don’t feel for you when you excel in academics and the multiple jobs that you have to support yourself (all while still finding time to volunteer), but the second that you put on a tank top that all becomes irrelevant. But we will never know the shame that comes from football coaches and machismo bullies. We will never know what it feels like to be told that you are betraying your male identity if you pursue a career in the arts. We watch a movie and see how the misogynist lead disrespects the women in his life, but not how he belittles the male characters who don’t fit his definition of a man. 

To be sure, the entertainment industry is sorely lacking in strong female figures. But if we really want to improve the outlook for women, then we need to take pressures off of men. They are not mutually exclusive- to make any progress for either (traditional) gender, we must redefine gender norms for both sexes. To start, women in the media can stop perpetuating stereotypes of men as weak-willed and obsessed with women’s bodies, and instead focus on where we meet as humans. They can show the next generation that women are worthy of equal pay, not because we can “bear the children and get back to business,” but because we do our jobs as well or as poorly as our male coworkers. 

Maybe we shouldn’t be teaching girls that it’s suddenly okay to be sexual in the way that boys are. Maybe boys should be taught to commit as well. Maybe we should make loving each other as human beings a priority over making love to each others’ bodies. Fighting centuries of silence and celibacy with chainmail bras and an army of backup dancers isn’t necessarily as effective as teaching our youth that they are people, that they deserve to be loved and respected regardless of how well they fit a set of prescribed roles.  

Reach Style Editor Allison Selick here



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