(And leave Michelle Obama out of it, too.)
So we know that Beyonce’s numerous sins include dressing sexy, being married, and saying that girls run the world when that isn’t technically true. But did you also know she’s singlehandedly responsible for luring young girls into sexual exploitation? Rakhi Kumar did, and now (I’m assuming) so does Michelle Obama, and now so do you.
Dear Michelle Obama,
I’m addressing this to you because I admire you. Because you’re smart and a mum to two young girls. And you’re the First Lady of the USA. And because you were recently quoted as saying that Beyonce is a ‘great role model’ to your two daughters, and because you recently tweeted, after the Superbowl, that you were ‘so proud’ of her. I’m writing because everything you do is admired and emulated by so many; but when you endorse a recording artist like Beyonce, I see the most misogynistic aspects of the music industry (that prefers girls to be no more complex than dolls) interpret your comments as a seal of approval for the thoughtless cultural currency that they flood the youth market with. I’m writing because I think it’s time to stop suggesting to very young girls that ultimate feminine success — in the music industry or anywhere else — comes with the need, or the expectation for them to undress.
Next time you’re presented with a shortlist of people in popular culture who you should spend time with or commend, think about how many young girls want to be just like Beyonce: Beyonce who sings ‘Bow Down Bitch’ and wears sheer bodysuits and high heels, singing about making money and being independent.
Remember that in the USA, the average age of a girl when she is trafficked for sex for the first time is 13.
Remember that she’s often brought into the ‘life’ by drug dealers who promise her a celebrity lifestyle, clothes like the ones Beyonce wears, and situation where she can live like Queen Bey: looking hot, being desired by alpha males, wielding power over others with her body and sexuality.
So please, let it be known that Beyonce is not a role model. She may have a lot of money, and she may have enormous influence. But she can no longer be called a role model.
(Unless you think it would be really cool for Sasha or Malia to follow her example and sing songs for people on a stage whilst wearing sheer gold glitter bodysuits detailing the contours of their body, under the management of their daddy and/or their husband.)
Okay, first of all, because apparently this is very important to you: It wasn’t a sheer bodysuit. It was a glittery bodysuit with enormous, glittery nipples. Weird? Definitely. Aesthetically appealing? Not to me, no. But they weren’t her personal, actual nipples. I mean, let’s be logical here: Are we attributing to Beyonce — a seasoned, successful, and image-conscious businesswoman — the decision to update her brand to include frontal nudity in her concert attire? Thinkbox.
Moving on: I think holding Beyonce personally responsible for human trafficking is a bit of a reach. I think conflating her sexy costumes with actual sexual availability is slut-shaming and wrong and contributes to rape culture. I think that requiring women to cast aside any sexuality to be taken seriously and considered successful is also slut-shaming and wrong. I think that conflating sex trafficking, voluntary sex work, and sparkly-costumed music concerts is closed-minded, elitist, misleading, and flat-out confusing. I think that reducing Beyonce’s success to “looking hot, being desired by alpha males, wielding power over others with her body and sexuality” says more about you than it does about Beyonce or about the young women who admire her. And I think that reducing child sexual exploitation to “I want glittery underpants like Beyonce!” seriously misses… pretty much everything, Jesus Christ, I don’t even know where to start on that one.
Thirdly: I’m sure Michelle Obama appreciates your unsolicited input into the way she raises her daughters, but I’m guessing she’s got this one. If she needs tips, I’m sure she’ll call you.
Fourthly, and in general: All right, folks, time to find someone else to trash.
Seriously. Beyonce paid for a fancy birthing suite at the hospital (how dare she enjoy luxury!), and that was way bad, and then she wore sexy costumes for the Super Bowl (how dare she dress like a hundred other female performers!), and that was extra bad, and she said that girls run the world, which we totally don’t, and she told “bitches” to “bow down,” which was awful, and as if it wasn’t bad enough that she took her husband’s last name (that would be husband Shawn Knowles-Carter), she named her tour “The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour,” which is unforgivable (how dare she celebrate the life she’s created with her husband and child!). And by far the worst thing a singer can do in the whole world, because if anyone had ever done anything worse, people would be talking about that and not how very anti-feminist Beyonce is, right?
Britney Spears, mother of two, spangled-bikini wearer? Lady Gaga, Mother Monster, nipple-tape aficionado? Pink, mother, self-proclaimed feminist, basically wore medical tape and body glitter on a trapeze at the Grammys? Selena Gomez’s bindi? Maybe tee off on Taylor Swift or Katy Perry for just a little while, just to relieve Beyonce’s quads of the constant weight of our amassed baggage?
Beyonce is a force of nature, she sang “Independent Women” and “Survivor” and “Irreplaceable,” her band is all women, she’s pro-gender equality and anti-gender wage gap, she supports women through charity work, she does things that people so often identify as feminist-y — and so we load her down with our own expectations and identify her as a feminist icon and then hold to her to arbitrary standards as if she signed up for them herself. And even when she comes out and says she’s a feminist, she gets shit because she said it “ambivalently.” The nerve! How dare she not perform as enthusiastically as we demand at the moment we demand it?
At the risk of being one of those “don’t we have more important things to talk about” feminists… don’t we? Not that anyone is beyond reproach, but God knows Beyonce’s been picking up reproach for every damn thing she does lately.
Look, I get it; Beyonce is a successful, self-possessed black woman with a career, a family, a ton of money, a ridiculous body, a strong sense of self, and an apparent desire to live her life openly without hiding those things like they’re some kind of shameful secret. It’s offensive and terrifying, and God forbid a young girl should find herself inspired by such a woman. But calling her anti-feminist for celebrating her family (which Tami Winfrey Harris, Morgane Richardson, and Andrea Plaid discussed in February), calling her a bad role model for celebrating her body, accusing her of ambivalence for defining her relationship with feminism for herself, or accusing her of promoting child trafficking with her sparkly leotards and sexy dancing is just ridiculous and stupid. And there has to be something else we can be taking on.