Apparently calling Beyoncé "Queen Bey" is fine when seeing her on the cover of magazines or viewing her self-made HBO documentary, but when she embraces her accomplishments in her new song "Bow Down/I Been On" — stating something that’s true in that she’s been a pop superstar since the 1990s and is one of the most powerful women in entertainment today — we all get to slam her for not being a true feminist.
True empowerment of women comes from women being seen as multidimensional figures rather than 2D stereotypes. And women need to remember this most of all.
This underlies a seemingly large hole in the argument people make about modern figures in pop culture being feminists. Lena Dunham isn't a progressive woman today because her portrayals of women are perfect, but because she captures the messy trek of today's millennial woman. The brilliance of 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation and the funny women behind them — Tina Fey and Amy Poehler respectively — is that Liz Lemon and Leslie Knope can be irrational, nonsensical, ridiculous, and frustrating, as well as being smart, successful, interesting and irreverent. The reason that Olivia Pope in Scandal is such a powerful TV figure is that she can reign supreme in her work sphere and show poor decision-making when it comes to her love life.
Now cut to Beyoncé, who in a time where people are writing about how women still can’t have it all is doing just that: Only in her early 30s, she’s got a successful marriage, a loving husband, a beautiful child, and is also a powerful businesswoman and rocking music, television, fashion and fragrance, while still maintaining femininity and power. Feminism is about political, economic, and social equality between genders. How is Beyoncé not a great example of a high achieving woman in many of those realms?
People who dismiss the song forget that she’s also painting a picture where’s she "not just his little wife" but a powerful woman in her own right, and "you can see me stunt when you turn on your screen" because let’s face it: the halftime performance was one of the highlights of a fantastically interesting Super Bowl in it’s own right.
(Oh and side note: For the people that say Jay-Z’s influenced her: 1) They’ve been together for a decade; it’d be ridiculous to assume that his musical influence wouldn't influence her, and 2) The girl’s from Houston, an area noted for its hip hop. Don’t act like you didn't hear “Baby Boy,” or “Hip Hop Star” on Dangerously In Love.)
The point is not perfection, or not being able to celebrate high levels of success. Any kind of limitation on expression of women goes against the cause. Female empowerment should be about presenting women as whole figures, with strength and vulnerability, pride and poise. Otherwise it’s just pigeonholing women in a different way.
Feminism is not just a buzzword to be thrown around without understanding its meaning. And when women are the first to take to the Twitterverse, the blogosphere or the airwaves slamming other women for not being supportive enough, they are engaging in a self-defeating practice. So let’s lay off Beyoncé — that goes double for Keyshia Cole, who seems less concerned with Beyoncé’s portrayal of feminism and good girl power in today’s society and more with boosting her own record sales and promoting a new reality show.
There’s room for lots of successful women at the top — and Beyoncé’s success does not mean that Rihanna, Keyshia Cole, or any other woman can’t survive and thrive.
Anyone who was trying to squash women as hard as people are implying based on this new song wouldn't be so intent an all-female band, or invite her former band mates up on stage with her for one of the biggest performances of her life (I mean when’s the last time you've seen Justin Timberlake out anywhere with anyone from 'NSYNC?), or be the voice behind songs like “Run the World (Girls),” or “Independent Women”?
How quickly we forget.
And if none of that's convincing, then a word of advice: relax. It’s just one song.