How Beyonce Became A Feminist
FOLLOWING her outstanding 16-minute performance at the MTV VMAs last Sunday night, it’s clear that Beyoncé wants there to be no doubt in anyone’s mind that she is at the forefront of the modern feminist movement. But this has not always been the case.
In the past, there have been many moments when Beyonce’s belief in women’s equality has been called into question. Examples of this include the adoption of the name Mrs. Carter for her recent world tour, the message behind her 2013 song ‘Bow Down’ and the questionable lyrics in some of her older songs such as ‘Cater 2 U’ which proclaimed: “When you come home, late tap me on my shoulder, I’ll roll over. Baby, I heard you. I’m here to serve you.”
There seems to be a common perception that you are either a fully-fledged, hairy legged, bra-burning feminist or a doting housewife with no goal in life other than to be a mother. However, Beyonce’s developing ideas of the meaning of the F word demonstrate that everyones feminist beliefs are constantly evolving, and there is no right or wrong way to pursue gender equality. We take a look at her path to feminism, from Destiny’s Child to Flawless.
The release of ‘Independent Women’ in 2000 marked the beginning of Beyonce’s career as an icon for strong, fearless ladies everywhere. A far cry from Destiny’s Child’s earlier hit ‘Bills Bills Bills’, which begged for a man to pay their telephone and car bills, Independent Women preached, “I pay my own fun and I pay my own bills, always 50/50 in relationships”.
By 2008, Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’ solidified her position as Queen of Independent Women everywhere, and this song went on to be a timeless anthem representing female empowerment. However, the message behind the song is clear – it deals with men’s reluctance to commit to marriage and essentially it puts the idea of marriage on a pedestal, as something which all women should aspire to.
At the same time, Beyoncé released ‘If I Were A Boy’, which further highlighted the different standard to which men and women are held with lyrics like “If I were a boy […] I’d put myself first, and make the rules as I go. ‘Cause I know that she’d be faithful /Waiting for me to come home”. Although Yoncé can be commended for challenging these double standards, at the same time the meaning was implicit: men are always dirty cheaters and women are always virtuous housewives.
In 2011, Queen Bey released her fourth album, entitled ‘4’, with ‘Run The World(Girls)’ as its lead single. This song marked a significant shift in style and message, which may have been of a result of her impending journey into motherhood. The lyrics are strong and empowering, and focus specifically on how women can be both mothers and business women, “Boy I know you love it – How we’re smart enough to make these millions, strong enough to bear the children, then get back to business”
Despite her seemingly progressive beliefs, even as recently as last year, Bey seemed reluctant to call herself a feminist. In April 2013, Beyoncé was interviewed for British Vogue and was asked about her feminist beliefs. Surprisingly, she pulled back from the label, saying “that word can be very extreme.” She went on to say “I guess I am a modern day feminist. I do believe in equality…but I’m happily married and I love my husband.” This rhetoric, that one cannot be both happily married and a feminist, is a condemning, outdated idea which for some reason has lingered to this present day and it’s even stranger that it should come from the mouth from someone who previously declared (and rightly so) that girls run the world.
However, at the VMAs last week, Beyonce sent a very clear message with regards to her current perception of gender stereotypes. While she took to the stage to perform her entire album as the show finale, her husband sat dutifully with their daughter playing the role of father as his wife put her career first. Furthermore, her choice of the album version of ‘Flawless’ seems to have been very intentional. She could have easily performed the much hyped ‘Flawless Remix’ with Nicki Minaj, who had also performed at the awards that night. Instead, she chose to use the original song, which included a quote from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from a TEDx Talk entitled “We Should All Be Feminists“.
As she stood, centre stage, with the word ‘feminist’ emblazoned behind her while Adichie’s quote played in the background: “Feminist – a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes”, Queen Bey put an end to the discussion on whether or not she believes in feminism.
Photos c/o twitter.com, washingtonpost.com, fanpop.com