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According to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, as used in Beyonce’s song, a feminist is “a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality between the sexes.” Yet, women have always been and still are subject to oppression: in our daily lives, literature, science, and in music. Yes, modern-day girls and women are able to live a much more free and comfortable life than those before us, but we still aren’t equal to our male counterparts. The difference today is that women possess a bigger platform to speak out and voice their concerns, and one of these platforms is in the music industry. Music has made a profound impact on the way we regard women and society as a whole. Beyonce Knowles Carter is one of the many women in the music industry who has a voice. She used her song “***Flawless,” to promote feminism, which is not about women hating men but simply about the equality of men and women. She was able to manage this by splitting her song into three different sections: “Bow Down”, a portion of a speech called “We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and “Flawless”.
Although, Beyonce’s song “***Flawless” was built on the definition of feminism provided by Adichie and actually uses a snippet of Adichie’s speech in her song, Beyonce’s interpretation of the word is not how Adichie would have used it. Now don’t get me wrong, Adichie is all about the idea of a strong woman, as well as Beyonce, but Beyonce is actually promoting the idea of love, sexuality, empowerment, and marriage. Adichie is not against these ideas, but in her definition and snippet, she is trying to say that those very ideas are the ways that women are oppressed because only they are taught to value them. I believe that both interpretations are important, but Beyonce’s definition could be flawed based on how original feminists used the word or it could be the beginning of a new feminist view.
How it works
Beyonce continually talks about how she woke up flawless, and she pushes her listeners to do the same. Although she does this she gives credit to her husband, Jay-Z, for making her feel so fine. She also speaks on how her wedding ring is a diamond rock and that it is flawless. This is a part where Adichie and Beyonce would interpret the idea of feminism differently, because they have different views on marriage. Adichie would not agree with how Beyonce is flaunting her ring and husband. Adichie isn’t against marriage, but she believes that women shouldn’t be the only ones to “aspire to marriage.” Although I don’t believe Beyonce was necessarily trying to tell her listeners to “aspire to marriage,” especially since she talks about not just being “just his (referring to Jay-Z) little wife.” Betty Friedan would agree with this, because she makes the argument that women can have a career along with being a wife and raising their children (32). Beyonce’s compliment to her husband could just be that, but it could also mean that Beyonce looks to her husband for approval of how beautiful she is. This is a contradiction to her portrayal of a strong, independent woman in her song.
Her portrayal of a strong, woman can be seen by looking at her clothing choices for her video. We can see how she plays with the idea of masculinity and femininity for both males and females. The majority of the clothing in Beyonce’s video is revealing, with the short shorts, fishnet underwear, and ripped clothing, which showcases the “feminine” side of her. Her wardrobe choice also portrays femininity in a more masculine way, with the turtleneck, long-sleeved, button up shirts and black combat boots. Now if you know Beyonce, then you would know that she is more into tight clothing, dresses and crop tops, with high heels and lots of diamonds, which we can see parts of this in her clip of the girls at the beginning and end of the video. Even though this is true, Beyonce’s video can still be viewed as sexual, which can explain the backlash she got for this video. Second wave feminists would not agree with Beyonce’s attire while speaking about feminism. Astrid spoke about how second wave feminists looked down on women who wore hyperfeminine clothing and being sexually provocative because that was one way how men oppressed women (cite). Her clothing choices played into the gender roles and the dichotomy of being a woman or a man that they tried to get away from, especially with the invention of pants for women. Although Beyonce is playing into this idea of being feminine and embracing that she still threw in elements of masculinity to show that being too feminine might not be the way to go just yet, but with a little masculinity we will be just fine.
Beyonce’s can also be seen as being vain, with her speaking about how she has everything going for her with her lyrics, “Mama taught me good home training/ My Daddy taught me how to love my haters/ My sister told me I should speak my mind/ My man made me feel so God damn fine/ (I’m flawless!).” Her tone in “***Flawless” is also more aggressive and angry as she warns haters and b**ches to “bow down.” It almost seems like she’s trying to prove a point that she is a strong, independent woman who has control of her own life. This plays into the idea of empowerment, but how much is what she shows empowerment and social norms. With the snippet of Adichie’s speech, which is in summary speaking against women being docile and not making choices for themselves, especially when looking for marriage. Ingraham argues that weddings regulate heterosexuality because we teach girls to dream of their perfect wedding, which normalizes the social structure of heterosexuality. He also speaks on how women are the happiest and interested in this day and that men could basically care less (216). Beyonce talking about her marriage and flaunting her ring portrays plays right into Ingraham’s argument. I believe Beyonce does not want it come off that way though, I believe beyonce wants to show how she is happy with her husband and can still feel empowered.
Another way Beyonce shows female empowerment is in her video. In the couch scene, she places herself above the men. Although the video had focused on the men in the beginning and how they were pushing up against the women, which shows the men as being aggressive, she later focuses on the women dancing in the mix of the men and women. Although there is a mix of races in the video, for the most part she has white males which is another way her video could be seen as sexual. Gilman explains how just picturing a black women next to a person of the opposite race and gender makes the relationship between the two sexualzied (209). This really shows when she is sitting on the couch and the two white men are sitting on the floor, but it still illustrates her power over them.
Another thing to think about is how she uses black and white in her video. The whole video is shot in black and white with a bunch of skinheads, but when you think of skinhead, you typically picture them as white males. Beyonce plays with this idea by including a variety of different races and genders as her idea of skinheads. It also seems like she is in a mosh pit or some underground place, which adds to the danger and mystery, but also the chaoticness of the whole song. Here is another place that she plays with masculinity. Pascoe says that masculinity varies within different races, for example white men are taught not to care much about their clothing while black men are (340). For the most part everyone in Beyonce’s video is wearing generally the same thing but in different ways. This portrays how nobody really cares about what they are wearing and yet they still seem masculine, but that could be because they are shown as aggressive or because the clothing style is more masculine. Fischer says that America speaks about the world in terms of opposite values, such as black and white, and how there is nothing in between because that makes people uncomfortable (58). We can see this in Beyonce’s video with her video being majorly black and white and how much backlash she got from parents because they didn’t want their children to get any ideas.
One thing to note in Beyonce’s video is how she pictures women of all races hanging out. Rich argues that compulsory heteroseuality says there is no way for women to relate to other women if they are only heterosexual and without their relationship being sexual (648). Beyonce shows that this is not true. In the beginning she shows a clip of a group of girls, her old group, performing together and in no way is it sexualized. These girls are just performing as friends who all like to sing and dance together. Another way she shows this is by portraying all the women dancing together in a group after they had all been pushed around by the men. This we can view as women coming together to get away from all the violence. Beyonce also shows herself sitting on a couch with two girls by her. None of these pictures are meant to be sexual, it’s supposed to show girls having fun together and this is a part of Rich’s lesbian continuum. Beyonce showcases lesbian continuum through her lyrics also. In the snippet by Adichie, she speaks about how women are put up against each other to find a husband, which is what Rich was talking about how compulsory heterosexuality affects women. In general flawless means being perfect with no type of faults. Beyonce is using the word flawless to bring women together and show how they are beautiful, or flawless, from the moment they wake up to the way we drive. This references the stereotype of women looking like zombies in the morning and how women are “naturally” worst at driving the men are.
At the end of the video, we can see that the girls group had lost the competition to an all white male group. We can also note that the judge, as well as the crowd was white. Because we the group lost, we can also think of this song as a revenge type of song. We can also say that Beyonce was talking about these men when she says “bow down b**ches,” seeing as though they did bow at the end when they were announced as the winner. While there are still doubts about whether Beyonce’s interpretation of Adichie’s definition of feminist is flawed or the beginning of a new feminist view, we can safely assume that Beyonce is indeed all for empowering women. She is also for having a healthy, loving relationship and still having a career of your own. For the most part I believe that Beyonce offers her listeners a new view of feminism, but she is still able to include the historical ties of old feminist ideas.
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