It’s no secret that fame often brings about unwanted side effects, one of which is being a cultural spokesperson, regardless of your aptness. When you do something, it becomes a statement.
It is a common feminist intuition to think that when Beyoncé says “I really love my husband,” she is unexpectedly condoning the dominance of heteronormative relationships, while concurrently perpetuating the oppression of the black female as a household entity or a possession. Yet the idea that she’s simply expressing her love for her husband sans cultural undertones is possible, and let’s be honest, much more likely. The problem lies in the fact that Mrs. Carter can’t say she is a feminist without every arguably non-feminist thing she has ever done being thrown in her face.
Being an icon and a feminist isn’t the same as being a feminist icon—nor should it be.
As an African-American female who often struggles to find representation in the feminist movement, I was thrilled to hear Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s inspiring TED talk We Should All Be Feminists in Beyonce’s “***Flawless” song on her latest album. I was thrilled that a beautiful African-American woman, who seems to be almost universally adored, was embracing the feminist label. But perhaps I was most excited by the idea that people who would not otherwise come across feminism in any form would be exposed to Adiche’s ideas.
But my excitement quickly turned into discontent when numerous debates imploded within the feminist community in regards to Beyoncé, and whether or not she is really a feminist.
On one hand, it is irrational to presuppose that every pronouncement a woman makes is feminist purely because a woman made it. Beyoncé has made many suspicious decisions, perhaps most perplexing to me being Jay-Z’s infamous line in Drunk In Love: “eat the cake, Anna Mae, said ‘Eat the cake, Anna Mae!’”, —a reference to the notably abusive relationship between Ike and Tina Turner. Another questionable song is Destiny’s Child’s “Cater 2 U,” with the classic lines, “I’ll keep it tight, I’ll keep my figure right, baby I’m here to serve you.” On the other hand, it is unreasonable to believe people can’t grow and change.
Mrs. Carter is, in many ways, an incredibly feminist figure. She has prestigious agency: She owns and runs her own company and is evidently completely in control of her own sexuality, though there are many who believe dancing provocatively or being almost completely naked is inherently anti-feminist. But to expect a pop star, male or female, not to capitalize on their sex appeal is illogical. Beyoncé has been successful partly because she is, as complicit in her own commodification—she is her own product.
Unfortunately, for a woman to commodify herself is to make a statement about the commodification of women. It has been proven, time and time again, that valuing the female body in that way promptly results in objectification. Yet, when people complain about what Beyoncé is doing, they are actually lamenting the fact that we all can’t express our sexuality without slipping into exploitation. It isn’t Beyoncé herself, but rather what she is implicitly accepting by continuing being a beautiful woman under the gawk of a patriarchal public.
Queen B is not an academic, she is an entertainer. Just as it is crazy to view her album as the answer to all things feminist, it is crazy to expect a complex person who is not a feminist scholar to present cogent views about it in a pop song. We cannot expect her to answer the questions no one has answered yet, especially not within the realm of entertainment. But with that said, it only does a disservice to women—especially black women whose voices in the feminists movement are spare—to deem Beyoncé opinions invalid or lacking in some sort of credence. Perhaps the least feminist thing one can do is silence a woman’s opinion.