Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)” music video takes place in an apocalyptic realm where men and women are in battle against one another in a goal to “rule the world”. The video is focused on head female activist, Beyoncé, and her army of women who stand their ground against a unit of threatening men, whilst wearing revealing, but symbolic outfits. In addition, there are multiple aggressive dance scenes, as well as, brief visuals involving wild animals. The women in this video demonstrate incorruptible dominance and fearlessness through their assertive attitudes and actions, backing the songs main message of female empowerment. The underestimated fortitude of women and the incentive for a new feminist movement are exemplified in this video through Beyoncé’s lyrics, conceptual scenes, and the apocalyptic backdrop.
In the “Run the World (Girls)” music video, Beyoncé is calling upon fellow females to help her seek change in this patriarchal society. Through the use of a dystopian society in her video, Beyoncé is drawing comparison between this apocalypse and the real world. She is bringing light to the often-ignored issue of gender discrimination. Beyoncé is suggesting that if sexism continues to be prevalent in our communities, it will result in a crumbling empire. Additionally, the main lyric in the song “Who run the world? Girls!” supports the Peace Corps research on global gender equality and women’s empowerment. The Peace Corps is a volunteer organization that allows individuals to immerse themselves in societies where there is little social mobility. They discovered that “empowered women and girls contribute to the health and productivity of their families, communities, and countries, creating a ripple effect that benefits everyone (“Gender Equality”).” Beyoncé knows that all genders depend on women for survival; a revolution is needed to bring women the respect they deserve. While this video’s message is explicit through its lyrics, the visuals are highly conceptual. Instead of telling a story, Beyoncé is bringing awareness to an injustice through imagery. Visuals of women standing on top of destroyed cars with the word “Revolution” spray painted on the side, cleverly implants the concept of rebellion in the viewers mind. Furthermore, flags with the letter B and propaganda-like posters with Beyoncé’s face are discreetly hidden in the background of shots. In terms of rebellion, Beyoncé is implying a revolt not against a single institution, but the inequitable, close-minded expectations of women to submit to male influence.
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Susan Bordo claims that women are traditionally the gender who is constantly sexualized and objectified in American society. In her essay “Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body”, she discusses how women are responsible for appropriately presenting themselves a certain way in order to gratify men and offer themselves up as objects for pleasure (Bordo 36). Bordos concept of “men act, and women appear” allows us to reexamine the lyrics- “My persuasion can build a nation/Endless power/Our love we can devour/You’ll do anything for me”- as empowering rather than deprecating. Beyoncé dances passionately and seductively in revealing clothing in front of the army of watching men; Bordo would argue that men are the ones who dominate the relationship between male and female. She uses “the gaze”, the action of inviting people to look at one in a suggestive perspective, as evidence that women have no self-respect and succumb to the aggressive sexual intentions of men (Bordo 17). However, Beyoncé’s lyrics can be interpreted to show her audience that this power is not only a masculine trait, but women can exploit their sexuality to seduce men and strip their control away. The ideas of “men act, and women appear” and “the gaze” are disregarded, as men will go to great lengths to be sexually satisfied, therefore Beyoncé’s women use this weakness to their advantage in order to obtain dominance.
Similarly, in her article, “Interrogating Girl Power: Girlhood, Popular Media, and Postfeminism.”, Michelle Bae discusses “girl power” and how women who have this power are “well-groomed and sexual”, allowing them to attract male attention, but use their privilege to choose what they wish (Bae 30). Bae defends the idea of “girl power” from postfeminist views, who claim it applauds conforming to patriarchal norms (Bae 28). In reality, she states that girl power provides liberation for females (Bae 30). This idea provides insight to Beyoncé’s lyric, “This goes out to all my girls/That’s in the club rocking the latest/ Who will buy it for themselves/ And get more money later”. In the music video, she is seen wearing an ornate, gold headpiece and armor hinting at her wealth, in which we can assumed she acquired without the assistance of a man. Beyoncé proposes that one can be beautiful, but also smart and strong; women can achieve the same success as men yet look exceptional while doing it. She is breaking the stereotype that a woman cannot be both highly educated and attractive. In addition, Bae writes how girl power encourages girls to take care of themselves in a goal of self-improvement, resulting in social distinction (Bae 30). This evidence can help us understand Beyoncé paradoxical message of feminism, but feminism where one manipulates their sexuality to empower, rather than belittle. However, Deborah Tannen claims in her essay, “Wears Jumpsuit. Sensible Shoes. Uses Husbands Last Name.”, that women are consistently overanalyzed and sexualized based on their looks. She defines this through the term “marking”, which claims that things such as a women’s clothing, makeup, and hair are given a new meaning or a “marking”. Tannen continues to explain this idea, suggesting that there is no unmarked woman. Any style or action women embody are closely analyzed by both men and women, resulting in a predisposed bias. For example, Tannen explains that an attractive woman in a professional setting is “calling attention to her hair and away from her lecture”. While exploiting one’s sexuality can lead to prosperity, it can also result in a distraction and misinterpretation of one’s intentions. This presents a shortcoming in Beyoncé philosophy of involving sexuality with professional matters.
In “GIRLS RUN THE WORLD? Caught between Sexism and Postfeminism in School”, Shauna Pomerantz argues that sexism is still present in society, however teenage girls don’t recognize this gender injustice because it has been bestowed as an issue of the past (Pomerantz 185). She analyzes how girls are stuck between the postfeminist era and the reality of their lives, which still include sexist ideals. Beyoncé proves these allegations as fault through her video by including scenes of different animals within the set that hold powerful symbolism. Headstrong and powerful animals such as a bull, lion, and horse, can be suggested characteristics Beyoncé wants her army of women to embody. Furthermore, women in this video are seen whipping chains, growling like beasts, and trapped in cages; these visual cues characterize women as aggressive, power hungry beings, breaking the stereotype that women should submissive to men. In particular, there is a moment where Beyoncé is seen wearing an elegant white gown while holding the chain leashes of two hyenas; hyenas symbolize greed, lust, and untrustworthiness. Additionally, female hyenas are dominant over the males. These hyenas represent the male population; Beyoncé restrains these animals with chains making a statement to let men know that they can no longer mislead women with their dishonest nature. Pomerantz uses two postfeminist plots: Girl Power “where girls are told they can do, be, and have anything they want” and Successful Girls “where girls are told they are surpassing boys in schools and workplaces” to back her argument that girls today are oblivious of the gender discrimination in their lives because they are now identified as “having it all” (Pomerantz 185). These claims are counteracted when Beyoncé sings “How we’re smart enough/ To make these millions/ Strong enough to bare the children/ Then get back to business”, implying that women go through strenuous things in life, such as child birth, while also being able to make a living for themselves. Through this line, she is insulting the male gender, claiming that they have it easy, never having to go through a long and often painful process of having a baby; there are women who go through childbirth multiple times and are still more successful. Furthermore, these lyrics highlight the Peace Corp’s claims that women are at a disadvantage since birth. Females around the world have little opportunity with respect to economic and political participation, education, and health care globally (“Gender Equality”). Through her empowerment anthem “Run the World (Girls)”, Beyoncé encourages social change in order to normalize the concept of women as the dominant gender.
Impactful lyrics, symbolistic visuals, and the overall insurgent attitude of Beyoncé allow this music video to empower its audience. “Who Run the World (Girls)”, provides an example to women of what they are capable of despite being condemned to sexism and how females can overcome patriarchal maltreatment and objectification. Beyoncé reassures women to neglect male approval and consider what will individually benefit them in a social context. For years, women have hidden and been ashamed of their sexuality. The army of women in the video encourage girls to own their beauty, suggesting using it as an advantage in society. Although many argue that women have obtained gender equality, Beyoncé will not stop at the bare minimum. She wants females to be world leaders, pushing them to be animals who stalk the prey of success. Thanks to Beyoncé, this video is an effective and accessible medium that allows women to become enlightened as to what it means to be a confident and determined females who won’t let a man diminish their rights.