"Beyoncé's feminism is not ***Flawless"oouinouin

Being very famous can have the curious side effect of making you a cultural spokesperson, regardless of your suitability; when you do something, it de facto becomes a statement about that thing.

When Beyoncé says “I really love my husband”, à la Mrs Carter, she is suddenly condoning the supremacy of hetero-normative relationships, while simultaneously condemning everyone single to invalidity and perpetuating the oppression of the black female as a household entity or a possession… pause to catch our breath. Oh wait, she’s just saying she’s really into that guy over there. In this way, she can’t say she is a feminist without being confronted with every time she has done anything “un-feminist” (which of course means different things to different people). However being an icon and a feminist isn’t the same as being a feminist icon, nor should it be.

As someone who ardently believes in and strives for gender equality, I am thrilled at the idea of anyone so famous embracing the ‘feminist’ label, when many – even those who share our beliefs – are unwilling to do so. I was genuinely overjoyed to hear that in “***Flawless”, Beyoncé refers to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s brilliant TED talk “We Should All Be Feminists”, which is a lot funnier and more forgiving than it sounds, and presents a much more interesting argument for feminism than Bey, bless her. I love the idea that girls and boys who would not otherwise come across feminism in any form will be exposed to Adichie’s ideas.

But it is foolish to assume that every decision a woman makes is feminist purely by dint of her having made it. Beyoncé has made many dubious decisions, most disconcerting for me being Jay-Z’s rap, “I’m Ike Turner, turn up/Baby know I don’t play, now eat the cake, Anna Mae/Said ‘Eat the cake, Anna Mae!’” – a reference to the famously abusive relationship between Ike and Tina Turner. I can almost forgive songs like Destiny’s Child’s “Cater 2 U”, featuring classic lines like “I'll keep it tight, I'll keep my figure right […] Baby I’m here to serve you”, because Beyoncé has evidently grown since then, but a nugget of domestic violence is not what I expect to find in a feminist manifesto and to be honest I don’t know what the hell she was thinking. 

Nevertheless, ‘King B’ is in many ways an incredibly feminist figure; having prestigious agency, owning and running her own company, being apparently utterly in control of her own sexuality… and this is where we start to fall down. I don’t propose that dancing provocatively or being near-naked is inherently un-feminist; it’s illogical and unrealistic to expect a pop star, male or female, not to capitalise on their appeal. Beyoncé has been successful partly because she is, as RealColoredGirls calls her, “complicit in her own commodification” – she is her own product, she is sexy, and sex sells.

But for a woman to commodify herself is to make a statement about the commodification of women, and sadly we can’t escape the fact that the valuing of the female body in that way rapidly leads to objectification. But really when people complain about what Beyoncé is doing, they are actually lamenting the fact that we can’t all express our sexuality without slipping into objectification and exploitation. It isn’t her, it’s what she is implicitly accepting by carrying on being hot as hell under the gaze of a patriarchal public.

Beyoncé is not an academic, she is an entertainer. Just as it is mad to read this new album as a ‘feminist manifesto’, it is mad to expect a complex human being who does not study or write about feminism to present cogent views about it in, of all things, a pop song, or even several pop songs. We can’t expect her to solve problems no-one has solved, let alone alter the entire music industry. With this in mind it would be a sad error to deem her opinions are invalid – just about the least feminist thing you can do is to silence a woman’s opinion.

There is no doubt that Beyoncé is a very talented, hard-working, beautiful and inspiring woman. I don’t need to look to her for moral principles or guidance; I have people like Bim Adewunmi, Laurie Penny, Deborah Orr, Chimamanda herself, Alice Walker and my mother for that. However I would like for her to realise that many girls don’t, and if she’s really a feminist, she could be blazing the trail a lot brighter for them.