Who run the world? Men, actually.

Whenever I slip into Starbucks for a little iced Joe these days, there she is: Beyonce.

For the moment, I won’t get into the outfit she sports on the cover of her latest work, nor the disturbing fact that it seems every album Beyonce puts out is adorned with an ever-lighter version of her genuinely lovely self.

No, I want to talk about her music, but there’s still one more caveat: As a 46 year old suburban mother who likes loud rock n’ roll, I am not nor have I ever been Beyonce’s target audience.

Yet when an artist sells majillion and twelve copies of everything she produces over the course of more than a decade; is chosen to serenade a freshly elected President and his first lady; shills for non-musical products that range from make-up to electronics; and is celebrated and/or dissected in every media outlet known to humanity — I’m kind of in her audience, whether I’m the target or not.

Beyonce’s got a hella voice, that much is for sure and for certain, and I understand she’s got a hella business sense, a fact which I can certainly respect and enjoy in a young woman. I appreciate that she holds on to her curves in an era of rail-thin female performers, and lord knows she puts out music to which the toe simply begs to tap. Beyonce is a force with which to be reckoned.

But for all her business sense, for all her cross-market branding, for all her grab-your-sexuality-and-own-it bravado — I don’t think she’s ever represented anything particularly new. On the contrary: At her most interesting, Beyonce is the best of all that has gone before her and/or current pop culture, and her lyrics are either run-of-the-mill ordinary — or down right reactionary.

Take for instance “Single Ladies” — now there’s a song with a hook that can go for miles and miles. And fun to dance to? You betcha. But what’s it about? It’s about how if a man likes you — or, indeed, your body? He should damn well marry you:

Cause if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it
If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it
Don’t be mad once you see that he want it
If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it

Seriously? Beyonce, what you’re saying here is: “You shouldn’t have tried to keep the cow for free once you’d had the milk.” I kind of thought we’d gotten past that.

Then there’s the most recent single, “The Best Thing I Never Had.”

There was a time
I thought, that you did everything right
No lies, no wrong
Boy I, must’ve been outta my mind
So when I think of the time that I almost loved you
You showed your ass and I saw the real you

Honestly? All these years, all that work with the best and the brightest, and you’re still singing what every single female pop artist has sung throughout the history of popular music? And throwing in the word “ass” for, I don’t know, street cred? Just: Why? Why be Beyonce, of all people, and sing words that a million other people have sung before?

But the song that really got me thinking about Beyonce’s essentially reactionary nature as an artist was “Run the World (Girls),” a song which purports to be about girl power, but is in fact absolutely nothing but a rehash of centuries of “the power behind the throne” thinking.

The music is martial, pounding, a mix of styles that includes accents from all around the world, the official video a kind of a Mad-Max-meets-Victoria’s-Secret aesthetic — and bottom line, before you even get past the title, a nearly-30 year old adult is referring to the world’s women as “girls.”

Who run the world? Girls! [x4]
Who run this motha? Girls! [x4]
Who run the world? Girls! [x4]

… I’m just playing, come here baby
Hope you still like me, If you hate me
My persuasion can build a nation
Endless power, with our love we can devour
You’ll do anything for me

First of all, as any businesswoman who has made her fortune in the entertainment business knows: Women (or, if you insist, “girls”) most certainly do not run the world. To the extent that a woman’s “persuasion can build a nation,” and/or that “endless power, with our love we can devour/ You’ll do anything for me” — you’re not talking about running things. You’re talking about slotting yourself expressly into a male-dominated structure and at the very most, subverting it by using that structure for your own purposes.

That’s not running things. That’s making the best of a bad lot. That’s being — if you happen to be one of the few women anywhere near the throne — the power behind the throne, and singing the praises of being stuck back there.

Normally, I would merely be annoyed by someone selling me old shit in a shiny, new-ish package. I might make a point of turning the particular pop culture bag-of-shit into a teachable moment for my kids, but I wouldn’t go to the trouble of writing an entire post about one artist — but Beyonce is not, in any measurable sense, “one artist.”

Beyonce is a pop culture phenomenon who plays a central role in setting the tone for the America in which my boy and girl are growing up. When people of that stature not only sing what amounts to pablum, but are also selling the twin soul-crushers of “the price of a woman’s body is a wedding ring” and “the power of my coochie runs the world,” I feel a rather powerful need to point it out for what it is: bullshit. And dangerous, damaging bullshit at that.

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49 comments for “Who run the world? Men, actually.

  1. tinfoil hattie
    July 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Great post. Applause from this corner. Thank you.

  2. July 26, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    I completely agree with this. After Beyonce’s well-received Grammy performance, I wrote a post about her clothing line and Jay-Z’s lyrics – two things that have questionable representations of girls and women and ramifications for girls: http://larkincallaghan.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/beyonce-a-word/

  3. July 26, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    I’m not feeling this one. Which makes me a little sad, but I feel like I ought to, but I keep coming up dry.

    I mean, no arguments here that Beyonce isn’t exactly a poet, but I guess I’m not reading anything other than blandness and an exaggerated optimism into those lyrics, and the latter isn’t something I’m actually opposed to – I really cottoned to peppy girl power music when I was a kid, because it made me feel good. Even when I clued in that life wasn’t all roses and strap-ons, a pick-me-up song was sometimes exactly what I needed to keep going and keep the faith. I don’t believe that men exclusively run the world, actually, even if they have disproportionate control. There’s a line there somewhere that becomes more defeatist than realistic.

  4. erika
    July 26, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    okay, this analysis of single ladies is really common but also really shallow. it’s like everyone forgets the verses, where beyonce describes her ex (the one who refused to commit to her) getting mad at her — after they break up — for dancing with another guy. she knows exactly what she wants and isn’t willing to be jerked around by some guy who wants her to be exclusively with him, and gets jealous when she’s with other men, but who isn’t willing to make that commitment himself. it’s not exactly feminist utopia, but it’s also not as simple as the average knee-jerk feminist reaction makes it out to be, either. (i also find it… interesting… that a self-identified “a straight white lady married to a straight white dude” is critiquing a straight black woman for wanting to be married. anyone else?)

    run the world is an intensely boring song, but it also feels like wish fulfillment and not an actual statement of fact.

  5. saurus
    July 26, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    I guess I feel kind of uncomfortable with any analysis of Beyonce that doesn’t factor in race. I’m not saying her lyrics are going to make it into a feminist anthology anytime soon, but I think there’s more to Beyonce – and her role in pop culture – and her role in the lives of kids who listen to her music, especially kids of color – than what she wears or the lyrics she sings.

    Anyway, I’m really not sure (as in, I’m undecided) that our kids read as much into lyrics from pop songs – and model them – as we think. I grew up on Spice Girls “girlpower”, sappy heteronormative 1950s love songs, and – as I aged – Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and boy bands like N’Sync and Backstreet Boys. And I turned out okay. Which is not to say that there aren’t kids who are being corrupted or crushed by Beyonce lyrics, but in my case at least, those lyrics had pretty lukewarm effects. They were catchy and I sang them, but they didn’t form the script to my politics or my worldview.

    Sometimes with pop culture, I think those of us involved with analyzing it take it too seriously, and those of us who don’t analyze it don’t take it seriously enough.

    I like “Run This World”, in the sense that I find it catchy and fun and I think that while women do not “run this world” and the myth that women can do anything with their “sexual power over men” is both harmful and absurd, I can personally interpret the energy of the song as defiant, not triumphant (like Jadey, sometimes I need a pick-me-up, even if it’s just wish fulfillment as Erika said). I can also read it as suggesting that women are powerful even if I know – and Beyonce knows – that powerful doesn’t mean in power.

    In a way, it reminds me of critiques of heteronormativity in the movie WALL-E. People were pointing out how Eve is obviously female and WALL-E is obviously male and they adhere to traditionally masculine and feminine traits, and then Kate Bornstein had this great post about reading it as a lesbian love story between a traditional butch and traditional femme.

    Also, if Beyonce’s lyrics seep into our psyches without critique, what happens when we hear contradictory messages from other pop stars? Does it cancel the earlier message out? Do we latch onto the new message like hermit crabs?

    It’s not that I think people don’t sometimes absorb the messages of pop culture uncritically – certainly they do – but I think often they don’t internalize them as much as we think, and may even read them subversively. And sometimes the medium of Beyonce may make more of an impact than the message of her lyrics.

  6. July 26, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Okay, saurus has, as usual, neatly articulated all of my reservations about this post and now I don’t feel so bad. +1,000,000 to saurus

  7. July 26, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Thanks for your words. I wrote a post about this on my own blog in April.

    http://ladyj-in-lotus-pose.blogspot.com/2011/04/beyonce-thinks-girls-actually-run-world.html?zx=1a78c51704a7c10d

  8. Azalea
    July 26, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    I disagree for sooo many reasons.

    The most arbitrary reason being that I am a Beyonce fan and I love her music. What is your take on “Diva?”

  9. July 26, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Hella is not an adjective. It is a numerical/quantitative modifier used similarly to “lots of” or “many”.

    So, in fact, she does not have “a hella business sense”. She has “hella business sense”.

    I am hella gramatical.

  10. elena
    July 26, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    “Single Ladies” isn’t about giving the milk away for free. It’s about not wanting to stay with someone who won’t commit. Which, considering Beyonce’s a Black woman whose music is listened to by tons of young Black girls, is a significant message that seems to have totally passed you by.

  11. IrishUp
    July 26, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    I’m more feeling saurus and Jadey on this. I lurve me some pop, up to and including stuff that’s pretty cheezy and/or antifeminist. Heck, my boy and I have a special dance we do for Ke$ha’s “Blow”. Doesn’t stop me from doing the work, or make me a bad mom/feminist, and it’s no worse than lotsa stuffs weeIrish gets exposed to. BUT. Liking it doesn’t let me off the hook either.

    Snarky’s Machine nails it when she says:

    “It’s really easy to pick apart even the legitimate shortcomings of media you don’t like, but it’s hardly productive.”
    and ” … granted, it’s a lot more difficult to question the merits of things you cherish, but it’s work that has to happen. Ain’t no two ways about it. The alternative is merely ensuring it’s always someone’s else’s heroes, interests or passions that are problematic and not say – yours. ”
    (from a must read post if you want to get real about breaking pop culture down:
    http://snarkysmachine.wordpress.com/2010/03/12/everybody-loves-a-strawman/).

    So, it’s not as much that I *disagree* with the points in the OP, as that I find the takedown somewhat wince-inducing, insofar as it reads like it’s coming from the outside -> in.

  12. tinfoil hattie
    July 26, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Sorry to be the bearer of shocking news:

    Men run the world. Patriarchy – you’re soaking in it.

  13. July 26, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    I agree with the ‘should have put a ring on it’ point! I’ve never really understood that.

  14. July 26, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Yeah, I remember feeling a bit sad when I first heard this song because…it’s just not true. No matter how much we want it to be, it’s not.

  15. Sam
    July 26, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    To “show your ass” is a common and established term for revealing your ignorance and flaws, usually while thinking you’re more clever or important than the person you’re talking to. It’s related to the saying, “The higher a monkey climbs, the more he shows his tail,” and is actually rather neatly demonstrated by this post.

  16. Lara
    July 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    Diva already got tagged above, so how about Independent Women? (Yeah, yeah, I know it’s a Destiny’s Child song, meet me halfway here.)

  17. Rose
    July 26, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    I can’t help but wonder if there was anything else you could have devoted this much space to instead of knocking one of the most successful black female singers in the world?

  18. Emily Hauser
    July 26, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    @ all

    Of course on a day when I would want to be in here replying one at a time, my electricity went down for hours and is only just now back up and I have only a few minutes and so will speak generally.

    I can’t blame anyone for arguing with a self-identified straight white lady married to a white dude for criticizing Beyonce’s expression of a black single woman’s experience with a (presumably black) man who is unwilling to commit. I say this in all sincerity: I can’t blame you, and I won’t really argue with you. There’s a point at which I say what I say, but my experience ends I can go no further in the argument.

    What I will say is this: Beyonce is (as I wrote) huge. Whatever her core audience is or was, it is much, much bigger than that core now, and she is seen as an example of an “empowered woman,” by many people of all colors, genders, sexualities and stripes. Because of the position she holds in our culture, I feel comfortable speaking as a woman about the messages she sends as a woman, to men and women, girls and boys alike. Even if I’m not her target, as I say, I am most certainly in her audience.

    And I promise: I didn’t ignore the verses or miss the message re: commitment — I felt them to be less important than the hook. The hook is the point, and the hook is what the little girls sing, and the little boys hear.

    To those who say picking apart a particular piece of pop culture is a lot of work over something small, I also have no real argument to offer! I think that Beyonce is much more than one or two songs, and that really, really big pop culture phenomena should be called out — but at the same time, I, too have shrugged my shoulders at something that drove someone else nuts and said some version of “So change the channel!” Beyonce really, really drives me nuts, so I wrote about her. You may be quite justified in telling me to just change the channel!

    Also – I am hella grateful for any and all hella grammatical corrections.

    And coincidentally, my next post will be something of a white Jewish lady topic — but it will piss people off, too, so we’ll always have Paris! Or something.

  19. Emily Hauser
    July 26, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    Sam:
    To “show your ass” is a common and established term for revealing your ignorance and flaws, usually while thinking you’re more clever or important than the person you’re talking to. It’s related to the saying, “The higher a monkey climbs, the more he shows his tail,” and is actually rather neatly demonstrated by this post.

    Oh honey. If you think I’ve climbed high to show my ass, you are very sadly mistaken. I have apparently managed to show my ass from the brush.

    But I am sorry that I didn’t understand the context. Duly noted, and I won’t mention it again.

  20. Angryblackguy
    July 26, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    I must say that I am very happy to see folks pushing back on this post. As a married guy with daughters it is hard to find female black role models in the pop world who excel for their looks,talent and most importantly, brains. Beyonce is symbol of female power in my house and it was depressing to see lyrics that are simplistic yet fairly positive in the black community bashed as damaging.

    If we want to target negativity, there are far better targets than Beyonce. I can honestly say that I don’t know a black woman, feminist or not, that doesn’t think strength and power when the think about Beyonce.

    And that’s who we target for our scorn? I think this is a good example of the place where womanists and feminists part ways.

  21. abby
    July 26, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    if you think beyoncé is much more than one or two songs, why aren’t you mentioning “if i were a boy,” which is not only a straight-up critique of the patriarchy but a correct usage of the subjunctive? what about her all-female touring band? her joy at seeing a veiled woman singing along and waving her arms at her performance in egypt?

    is all of that overshadowed by a white woman’s interpretation of a black woman’s song’s hook? even when that song is part of beyoncé’s long history of singing about how women deserve respect from men? i’m disappointed.

  22. QoT
    July 26, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    The hook is the point, and the hook is what the little girls sing,

    I’m also going to put my grammar-prescriptive white-girl-privilege hat on here (because others have much better analyses of other aspects of this post) and say that even if we just focus on the hook of “Single Ladies”, it still isn’t a pure “you have to marry me to continue to fnck me” anthem (also, women =/= cows). It’s past tense. It’s still emphasising the song’s message about how the man in question has no right to try to control the singer, because if he really had liked it he would have done something to show it, and didn’t, so can bug off.

  23. Ash
    July 26, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Marlene’s right about the awkward/improper usage of “hella”. But I do completely agree with this post. I’m glad someone was able to put into words my aversion to the song about girls running the world. I don’t find it empowering in the least, and the use of the term “girls” makes it rather the opposite of empowering.

  24. Kirsten Nicole
    July 26, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    The point, you missed it.

    I agree with Abby’s words. Beyonce’s all-female touring band is but one testament of her views regarding a woman’s proper place in this world. That is, on stage, reveling in all her talents and abilities.

    Yes, Beyonce, like myriad female public figures, wrangles with the patriarchal bargain. But she is the least of a feminist’s worries, and this post could have chosen a better target, and had its pick of figures such as: Eminem, and all other rappers with unbelievaly misogynistic and rape-culture-riddled lyrics; Katy Perry, and other “pop star” women who subvert true empowerment messages waay more than Beyonce; Enrique Iglesias and the other artists who exemplify the unremitting phenomenon of passing Female Objectification par excellence off as a music video (Dirty Dancer, I Like It, Tonight I’m Fucking You).

    Calling out B’s recent singles as lyrically vapid does not a meta-critique make. Furthermore, B’s “4” (though yes, she is incontrovertibly whiter on this album cover compared with “Dangerously in Love”) is, musically, not vapid at all. She is challenging the model of necessarily club-ready, Ke$ha-ish cookie cutter songs.

    I just feel like you unsuccessfully tried to take down a strong woman for little reason. I really don’t want to make a personal attack- I just feel bad that Beyonce is getting undue flak when Eminem talks about pissing twice on a woman’s face, after he ties her up (Roman’s Revenge).

  25. Vigée
    July 26, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    All I know, and this is kind of off-topic, is that her Single Ladies video is my #1, all-time favorite video ever. Hot damn, that woman is friggin amazing in that video.

  26. Darque
    July 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    tinfoil hattie:
    Sorry to be the bearer of shocking news:

    Men run the world.Patriarchy – you’re soaking in it.

    Thank you tinfoil. Tomorrow I’m going to demand a raise from my boss. When she asks me why I deserve it – imma say “because men rule the world, of course”.

  27. Unree
    July 26, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    I’m in awe of Beyonce. If there’s anything she can’t do, I dunno what it is. Looks amazing too.

  28. July 26, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    1) I love some Beyoncé. I love that she’s a professional. I love that she gets it done. I love that she writes as many songs that are fiercely empowering (The Best Thing You Never Had! Diva!) as sort of wincey (Upgrade U, Single Ladies.) I love that she stands up for herself fiercely in her songs. She doesn’t take anything and she pays her own bills.

    2) This critique is so short sighted. Like other posters said – yeah, the chorus of Single Ladies is weak, but the whole song is pretty on point. The Best Thing I Never Had has a video that is basically wedding porn, but the song itself is powerful (not just for the words, but for the orchestration – who doesn’t want a rousing drumbeat behind them as they finally rise from the ashes of their breakup?)

    3) Frankly, I’m all for little girls running around thinking they run the world, and if they’re just singing the hook, that’s exactly what they’re singing.

    Also, can we place a moratorium on bloggers talking about how since they are so unimportant, what they say doesn’t really matter? Especially when they get pushed about it? Because really, have the courage to stand behind your words. If you’re just squeaking, why should we even bother reading? It’s such a bummer when women do this. To be real, I always have to go back and edit my writing to take the hedges out – but I do. Because it’s important.

  29. Emily Hauser
    July 26, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    Ariel:

    3) Frankly, I’m all for little girls running around thinking they run the world, and if they’re just singing the hook, that’s exactly what they’re singing.

    Also, can we place a moratorium on bloggers talking about how since they are so unimportant, what they say doesn’t really matter? Especially when they get pushed about it? Because really, have the courage to stand behind your words. If you’re just squeaking, why should we even bother reading? It’s such a bummer when women do this. To be real, I always have to go back and edit my writing to take the hedges out – but I do. Because it’s important.

    I only really want to take on these two, but:

    #3 is something that if I’m going to honest, I absolutely have to grant you. If I’m stuck on the hook on one song, and the verses on another? I’m not being anything even approaching consistent, and you’re right. I hadn’t considered that before, and I’m glad you pointed it out. Thank you.

    On the other hand: You do not get to tell someone else who they are, or how they are to view their work and their career.

    This is not a “woman” thing, this is not a “hedge” thing, and I am absolutely standing behind my words, even with the understanding that, if you prove me wrong, I will acknowledge it (see: above). Being polite and choosing not to throw down is not “not standing behind” my words. It is being polite and choosing my battles.

    The so-called “hedges” are me having a good long look at 20 years of writing and knowing precisely what my place is in the world. If you don’t want to read me because I acknowledge that my reach is short and my influence slight, you may feel free not to.

  30. Azalea
    July 27, 2011 at 12:16 am

    Angryblackguy:
    I must say that I am very happy to see folks pushing back on this post. As a married guy with daughters it is hard to find female black role models in the pop world who excel for their looks,talent and most importantly, brains.Beyonce is symbol of female power in my house and it was depressing to see lyrics that are simplistic yet fairly positive in the black community bashed as damaging.

    This rings true for a LOT of black families.

    Angryblackguy: If we want to target negativity, there are far better targets than Beyonce. I can honestly say that I don’t know a black woman, feminist or not, that doesn’t think strength and power when the think about Beyonce.

    And that’s who we target for our scorn? I think this is a good example of the place where womanists and feminists part ways.

    I hope this link will go through because I beleive it is within their blogroll but http://www.whataboutourdaughters.com does NOT view Beyonce as empowering at all and yes it’s a blog run for and by black women.

  31. Derrick Keith
    July 27, 2011 at 12:24 am

    I never understood how people can be so critical of things they cant do themselves. I think that Beyonce is one of if not the hardest working artist in entertainment and it has rewarded her well. Looking back to even her DC days I always got the feeling that she spoke from a place of strength and self worth. Bills, bills, bills, survivor, independent women, me myself and I, single ladies, girls etc… Understanding the power your words can hold is a serious responsibility and I think she handles this better than many other artists. Look at the challenges you see people like Britney Spears or Amy Winehouse go thru (R.I.P.) Imagine how a song like rehab could affect someone vs. a single ladies.

    You dont hear of her in and out of many relationships, shes always been a women who I would consider a role model thru her actions and lyrics. Sure women dont “run the world” but historically speaking womens roles have been diminished throughout the world….. You have seen many changes and overcome many things over time…. Hilary ran for president. She very well could have been the leader of the free world. Whats wrong with promoting a message to women and girls about understanding their value and self worth? Men cant bare children. And truth be told there has been a few women I would probably have done anything for (Beyonce included). If one day i’m blessed to have a daughter I would hope that sje does understand how special it is to be a woman. To be able to bear children & deal with emotions and feelings in making decisions like a man could never do. I would hope that she understood her value in a relationship. And that she is respected and cherished by a man who loves her and isnt afraid to express it (say my name). Looking back at her catalog I can’t point to one song that expresses weakness or vulnerabilty in a negative sense. Where I am from I feel like there are many more girls who don’t feel this way because they have never known anything else. Fatherless daughters. 21 year olds with 4 or 5 different kids by different fathers. Women with no career aspirations who live on welfare. Women in abusive relationships who don’t know real love. If girls, or single ladies changes one of their lives was it not worth it?

    note I am a boy! If beyonce talked about sex all day i’d love her but her songs make me respect and in turn love her even more lol

  32. Cagey
    July 27, 2011 at 1:10 am

    Their are many things to critique in Beyonce, Racialicious did a nice roundup not too long ago of some problematic elements to the song and to many of the elements of the video, including ones mentioned here, but the typical analysis outside of such spaces often seems to rely on a rather shallow and narrow interpretation of her lyrics, simultaneously scolding her for the Cater 2 Us in her back catalog while ignoring the Divas, Independent Women parts 1 and 2, and Best Thing I Never Hads. She is, at worst conflicted and contradictory (my word, it’s like she’s a person), but you would never know this because only some aspects of her lyrics are analyzed extensively. Run the World is such a contradiction in fact, in one sentence announcing the supremacy of women while in another reassuring her man that this doesn’t mean she hates him and then not a second later flipping him off. The lyrics don’t just rely on seduction either, talking of women who work hard, women who graduate from college. And she represents this in a video where she isn’t just seducing, but outright intimidating a squadron of armed men. You are exactly on point that such roles are very much not ways that women “run the world”, but when did we no longer allow for music to be a source of fantasy, with every lyric being interpreted as literal? I mean, she opened up her first performance of the song stating outright that men run the world and it was time women took control. Doesn’t sound to me like she’s oblivious to reality and trying to spread a nefarious message, sounds to me like the song is a power fantasy, a flawed one, but a fantasy nonetheless.

    I’m also a little peeved that there’s an absence of a racial aspect. Because how do you talk about marriage and not mention what that has meant and still does for black women? How do you talk about positions of power without mentioning that the positions she speaks of: being a college graduate, having a steady job, are things black people and black women especially have had a hell of a fight around? How do you talk about money without talking about the role that money has played in giving women power in society, especially women who have had their race play an extra role in restricting them? Well, you can’t, especially not when a black woman is regularly singing about all of those things alongside her sex jams and her love songs. How do you mention Beyonce’s looks and body without having to open the can of worms that is lightening, black women getting hair that is more like white women’s or the way that black women’s bodies are policed in such a way that they are made out to be sluts on a whole ‘nother level when they dare to be sexual or scantily clad in public. And I can see why this analysis might be absent those considerations, but that just leads me to believe that the analysis is really limited and unsatisfying for it.

    And side-note: “street cred”, seriously? Not only is “showed your ass” a pretty common phrase (that I didn’t think was racialized until I saw every white person looking at it as if it was the strangest thing they’d ever heard) but Beyonce is in no way speaking any differently from the way many of my black relatives, from many different financial backgrounds, all speak and she has spoken this way in song for quite awhile, obscenities and all. Wasn’t aware we were all just being “street”, though.

  33. Cagey
    July 27, 2011 at 1:23 am

    And to clarify my ramblings, I’m not saying Beyonce is without fault, flawless or even the best role model for young black women. There are issues there. But the issues that surround her are nuanced and complex because she, like any person, is complex and nuanced. She is heavily steeped in the background of race and gender that she comes from. But that is all cast aside when the discussions and criticisms of her are reduced to shaming her for showing her body (not here, but in general), accusations that she wants women to not give the milk away for free and accusations that she must really be simple and honestly believe that women run the world.

  34. July 27, 2011 at 2:39 am

    Yeah, the critique of “showed your ass” was really… awkwardly… wrong – that, and I’m not sure why the author didn’t pay attention to more Beyonce songs (If I Were A Boy) or even the whole lyrics within a single song (Single Ladies). It’s just strange.

    Cosign Jadey and Saurus.

    Also, I thought for the longest time that the chorus was “Who’ll run the world? Girls!” and therefore was revolutionary. Sad to hear it’s in the present! Still, as Ariel said, if it gives girls a feeling that they actually do run the world, that is nothing but awesome, sorry. Sometimes you need optimistic or utopian fictions to break out of a mindset. It was here on the comments of feministe that I saw that the best revolution is to act as if you are already free. I live it, and honestly can’t take more of society’s overwhelming message that girls are weak and run nothing. Show me some strength, you know?

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  36. Bob
    July 27, 2011 at 4:25 am

    The highlight of this whole song for me.. is the end of the film clip where she salutes a man… go girl power..

  37. Medea
    July 27, 2011 at 5:13 am

    Kirsten Nicole: But she is the least of a feminist’s worries, and this post could have chosen a better target, and had its pick of figures such as: Eminem, and all other rappers with unbelievaly misogynistic and rape-culture-riddled lyrics; Katy Perry, and other “pop star” women who subvert true empowerment messages waay more than Beyonce

    There have been many posts on feminist blogs targeting those people. Why is Beyonce off-limits? Because she’s “strong,” which means that she’s financially successful and not apparently unhappy? Because everyone loves her music? You’d think from some of these comments that feminists had never heaped scorn upon Lady Gaga or Gwen Stefani and reserved all of their ire for one of America’s most famous black singers.

  38. July 27, 2011 at 7:28 am

    Loved this post. Beyonce’s musical catalogue has been a focus of mine too. I posted what I wrote about her lyrics here:

    http://mariaeileenduke.blogspot.com/2011/07/i-was-reading-feministe-this-morning.html

  39. July 27, 2011 at 7:49 am

    Analyzing Beyonce and her lyrics is akin to reviewing the latest McDonald’s “dish.” Or analyzing cotton candy and wondering why there’s no nutritive value.

    I get it – but there’s this “what did you expect” element that kept coming up for me. Most mega pop stars have obviously bought into the system. They sell their sex appeal first and foremost and music is a meddlesome afterthought. How can we possibly expect any feminist underpinnings in a cookie-cutter package like that? Britney is not going to be our next Steinem, for instance. So why bother breaking it down?

  40. Angry Black Guy
    July 27, 2011 at 8:00 am

    Azaela

    Azalea: This rings true for a LOT of black families.

    I hope this link will go through because I beleive it is within their blogroll but http://www.whataboutourdaughters.com does NOT view Beyonce as empowering at all and yes it’s a blog run for and by black women.

    Thanks for the link. Definitely true that black feminists and households, like their majority counterparts, are not uniform in their beliefs. But I would wager that the the comments about Beyonce being a negative force would ring hollow for many of us. Set aside the music for a second and what do you have: a self made millionaire who actually made her bones writing her own music (a rarity), marketed herself into the biggest female star in the world, married another mogul (albeit one probably disliked by many here) in a partnership where she was the more powerful figure, did not put her career on hold to immediately have children, and is (from the looks of things) enjoying a stable and healthy married relationship. And the man is not threatened by her success to boot. The fact that this is a black relationship and more importantly one involving a YOUNG couple is particularly important (there are lots of Cosby’s but not enough Jada and Will’s).

    I don’t think the impact of these images can be understated.

    And look, every song she makes is not going to be a PC, woman’s anthem, and to be honest, she wouldn’t be where she is if they were. People want to hear songs that relate to their lives, some songs that don’t relate to their lives, some songs that make them feel positive, some songs that make them feel evil, some songs that they know are a little naughty, etc.

    Her primary job is to entertain, and imposing a framework on her that forces her to advocate a singular, unwaivering message means advocating her to relinquish her power.

    I say no. Give me 1 out of 4 songs that are positive, let the other songs be nonsense and enjoy the image of a powerful black woman excelling on her own terms in a healthy and stable relationship with a black man.

    We should be applauding.

  41. July 27, 2011 at 8:59 am

    So basically we’re arguing here that it’s possible to make a cultural critique of the most successful black female music artist of an era and just kind of…ignore the fact that she’s black, and how that affects both what she sings about and what it means to her audience? That does not seem to me like a wise or even logical argument to attempt to make.

    As a music critic I have to point out that in terms of the current pop landscape strong female artists of any variety are damn thin on the ground. Beyonce isn’t perfect, but the fact that she rather than, say, someone whose public image is less “strong powerful woman” is in fact one of the biggest female pop stars around? This is a good thing. A very good thing. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, etc. If our choices are Beyonce or Katy Perry, I’ll take Beyonce, thanks (and I’m a punk/metal/alt kind of person, so I’m not in her target market either). Also…the whole “no free milk” bit in Single Ladies is in the past tense. There is no “put a ring on it or I’ll stop fucking you” in that song – the actual message is more “you wouldn’t commit, and I got tired of it, so bye bye and don’t pretend that it isn’t your own fault that I left”. Granted, Beyonce isn’t going to win any awards for lyrical brilliance – her lyrics are pretty straightforward. But precisely because they are so straightforward I’m baffled as to how anyone could interpret “Single Ladies” as a request for a ring, because the fact that that particular train has left the station is made very clear.

  42. tinfoil hattie
    July 27, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Darque, let me know how that works for you. BTW, your sarcasm does not make my point untrue. It’s almost as though people think if we believe there’s no such thing as patriarchy, why, then – that’s almost as good as patriarchy not even existing at all!

    Just like “Hey, if girls sing a song and therefore think they run the world, then our work is done here!”

    Side note: Often, when people say women “run the world,” many of them are talking about “by having vaginas that they won’t give men access to!”

    Yeah, because women have so much power and everything. Who needs equality, when you have the mighty vagina?

  43. Emily Hauser
    July 27, 2011 at 9:46 am

    To add a little more grist to the mill, here’s a video by Nineteen Percent in which she addresses Run the World (opening with: “Hey Beyonce, guess what, you’re a liar,” so hey, at least I didn’t say that!)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p72UqyVPj54

  44. July 27, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Thanks for the enlightening analysis. You did such a good job writing about Beyonce and analyzing a variety of her songs. You made extremely good points and had such good evidence backing it up. This has been one of the best analytical articles I have read. Keep up the great work!

  45. July 27, 2011 at 11:06 am

    elena: You’re talking about slotting yourself expressly into a male-dominated structure and at the very most, subverting it by using that structure for your own purposes.

    The thing is, many women have done this in the past, and it actually works. Think of Helen Gurley Brown. She played the system (and I’m not defending everything she says or does because she’s definitely not a feminist angel) and ended up beating the men at their own game, by playing by their rules.

  46. Cagey
    July 27, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Beth Mann:
    Analyzing Beyonce and her lyrics is akin to reviewing the latest McDonald’s “dish.” Or analyzing cotton candy and wondering why there’s no nutritive value.

    I get it – but there’s this “what did you expect” element that kept coming up for me. Most mega pop stars have obviously bought into the system. They sell their sex appeal first and foremost and music is a meddlesome afterthought. How can we possibly expect any feminist underpinnings in a cookie-cutter package like that? Britney is not going to be our next Steinem, for instance. So why bother breaking it down?

    Analysing pop culture is a critical part of being an engaged and thoughtful person, rather than a mindless consumer.

  47. Sylvia
    July 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    I can understand the writer from one aspect- she expects more from Beyonce. “Expecting More” (see Shakesville) is a double-edged sword. Ideally, all of Beyonce’s songs would be completely feminist. But they’re not. So yeah, we can talk about the ones that are not. But maybe let’s reflect on a lot of lyrics, a lot of songs, her background, her history, her everything you know? Maybe it was meant to be a light piece? Ok. But she’s not a light subject, so…?

    As an aside, I just want to mention that one of my favorite songs of hers is Cater 2 You which is viewed by almost everyone as being the antithesis of a feminist viewpoint. But the reason I love it- is because these are all the things that BOTH my husband and I do for each other. I do want to cater to the man I love. And he cater’s to me. So if an asshole were to tout this song as his END ALL BE ALL, I’d take offense. When my husband sings this to me for me, I melt in his arms.

    It’s not black and white… too many shades of grey.

  48. Darque
    July 27, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    tinfoil hattie:
    Darque, let me know how that works for you.BTW, your sarcasm does not make my point untrue.It’s almost as though people think if we believe there’s no such thing as patriarchy, why, then – that’s almost as good as patriarchy not even existing at all!

    Just like “Hey, if girls sing a song and therefore think they run the world, then our work is done here!”

    Side note:Often, when people say women “run the world,” many of them are talking about “by having vaginas that they won’t give men access to!”

    Yeah, because women have so much power and everything.Who needs equality, when you have the mighty vagina?

    My sarcasm doesn’t make your point untrue. Neither, however, does your point prove itself dear. :)

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