As most people know, the Women’s Rights Movement of the 1960s and 70s initiated the push for reproductive rights, domestic violence, equal pay, and sexual harassment. Despite decades of reform campaigns, women are still not completely treated equal to men. From the beginning of the feminist movement, a few women in particular stood out to be the face of women’s rights. In 1962, Betty Friedan’s book The Feminist Mystique painted the picture of the constrained life of intelligent, college-educated housewives. Friedan writes, “I’m desperate. I begin to feel I have no personality. I’m a server of food and a putter-on of pants and a bed-maker, someone who can be called on when you want something. But who am I?” Friedan shocked the American public with her openness about the discontent of housewives. Up until this point, housewives were assumed to be content with waking up, serving the family and taking care of the children, and going to bed. Betty Friedan put a stop to this assumption, revealing exactly how dissatisfied these housewives were with their “meaningless” lives. In the beginning stages of the women’s rights movement, feminists struggled to name an official leader to their groups. Because the feminist movement spanned vast differences in age, the younger feminists thought that the older representatives of the movement were stuffy and out of touch. The older women felt that the young were inexperienced and overly radical. This left the media to select the feminist leaders that stood out to them. Women who wanted to be paragons for the feminist movement attracted media attention often through their popular writings and their supplicating image. Writers Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer effectively emerged as public representatives of the feminist movement.
As power in the media’s eyes is power in the peoples’ eyes, it is no wonder that Beyoncé has become a contemporary 21st century leader of the feminist movement. Beautiful and talented, Beyoncé encourages women around the world to love themselves and stick up for what they believe they deserve. The first time I realized that Beyoncé was a temple for the feminist rights movement is when I listened to her song, “Run The World (Girls).” The lyrics scream equality, and arguably a surplus of power, of women over men. Beyoncé belts “Who run the world? Girls!” She sings of men “disrespect us no they won’t” and encourages women to “buy it for themselves and get more money later.”
As a woman who is not particularly activist, although I do believe that women should be equal to men, listening to Beyoncé’s songs inspire me to fight for women. She shatters the common image of the submissive, secondary being that is a “typical woman.” She takes female sexuality and utilizes it as power over men, singing “My persuasion can build a nation. Endless power, with our love we can devour. You’ll do anything for me.” As the women’s rights movement often highlights the sexual harassment of women by men, Beyoncé turns feminist sexuality around, creating a dominant view of women over men. She embraces her childhood bearing abilities, crooning “strong enough to bear the children,” but asserts their working abilities directly afterwards by singing “then back to business.” Even as I write this article, Beyoncé’s words are inspiring me to go out and make a difference in the world, using my femininity as a strength to achieve my goals… not a weakness.
Another Beyoncé song that screams women’s empowerment is her more recent single “Partition.” Throughout this song, she grips sexuality of women and transforms it into a power over men. While often times the man is seen as the initiator of sexual situations, Beyoncé pulverizes this image by asserting sexual domination over her partner. She sings, “I do this all for you baby just take aim, and tell me how it’s looking babe.” She puts herself in the position of control, urging the man to sit back and allow her to be the figure of authority. She also sings part of the song in French, demonstrating her intelligence and capacity by speaking multiple languages.
Beyoncé’s influence on feminism around the world is magnified by the amount of media attention that she receives. Recently, the University of Texas at Austin announced that they will be posting a new course next spring taught by Omise-eke Natasha Tinsley entitled “Beyoncé Feminism, Rihanna Womanism.” Tinsley states that Beyoncé represents “a world-changing vision that stages an alternative reality in which black women have value.” Tinsley focuses on “Queen Bee’s” effect on the black women in the world in particular, and the encouragement that black women are empowered with as a result of Beyoncé and the message that she sends out. As white 19-year old woman, I agree with Tinsley that Beyoncé is an exemplary image of a black woman making a name for herself and demonstrating the ability of a black woman to achieve astounding success in their life. However, I think Beyoncé is just as powerful to every white woman in the world as well. Regardless of race, Beyoncé encourages all women to embrace their femininity and use it as a tool to further themselves in life, rather than resent it as a setback.
Beyoncé appeared in the May issue of Vogue UK in 2013, for the first time avidly discussing her feminist views. She said “I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything? I’m just a woman and I love being a woman.” Beyoncé goes on to say “I do believe in equality and that we have a way to go and it’s something that’s been pushed aside and something we have been conditioned to accept.” Beyoncé has become a spokesperson for women’s rights that stands proud as a physical representation of the idea that a woman can become just as powerful, if not more so, than any man.
I personally love Beyoncé as a performer and as a woman. Not only is she gorgeous and unbelievably talented, but Beyoncé utilizes her publicity for good, aiming to improve the world for women everywhere. Whenever I’m feeling weak and need to be motivated, I crank up Beyoncé’s “Flawless” and feel well equipped to make my impact on the world. All hail Queen Bee.
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia uploaded by Jen Keys)