Is Beyoncé a feminist?
To say that Beyoncé Knowles is one of the most influential women in pop culture today is an understatement. In 2013 so far she has performed arguably the most spectacular Super Bowl half-time performance in history, been on the cover of almost every major magazine, released a documentary, become spokeswoman for Pepsi and started her world tour, “The Mrs. Carter Show.” Commercial popularity and economic success often comes with scrutiny, however, especially when it involves female celebrities’ own views on women’s rights. Recently, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry stated they do not consider themselves to be feminists, and until recently Knowles has remained silent on her feelings about feminism.
In 2012, Rutgers University even had a class in their Women’s and Gender Studies department called “Politicizing Beyoncé” in order to tackle issues relating to the singer’s sometimes conflicting ideals and actions relating to feminism. Most recently, Knowles released a new single entitled “Bow Down” in order to both celebrate her successes and shut down the haters. However, due to her choice to use the word “bitches” to describe these haters, many have been asking the question, “Is Knowles a feminist?”
Knowles is half of the richest celebrity couple in the world, with a net worth of nearly $775 million. She also mentions in her documentary that she severed professional ties with her former manager, her father, in 2011 to gain more autonomy over her art as well as her finances.
“My life is a journey … I had to go through my miscarriage, I believe I had to go through owning my company and managing myself … ultimately your independence comes from knowing who you are and you being happy with yourself,” Knowles said in her documentary. Regardless of how she chooses to use her talents, Knowles has capitalized on her financial success in order to create more independence for herself.
At the same time, Knowles’ career has been built around her sexuality. While it is indisputable that Knowles has raw talent (Google a capella versions of her songs if you don’t believe me), in many cases this vocal talent is overshadowed by the sexuality that comes through in her revealing outfits and booty shaking.
While as a businesswoman and human being Knowles may be fiercely independent and a champion of women’s rights, her professional career muddies the waters a bit. On one hand, Knowles has released many an anthem of independent womanhood throughout her career such as “Me, Myself and I,” “Run the World” and “If I Were a Boy.” On the other, she has released songs such as “Cater 2 U” with Destiny’s Child, which carry strong overtones of male dominance over their female partners.
So how does “Bow Down” fit into the conflicting messages within Knowles’ work? The lyrics: “I took some time to live my life / but don’t think I’m just his little wife / don’t get it twisted / bow down bitches,” shed some light onto how Knowles views herself in the sociopolitical context in which she exists as a performer. In an upcoming issue of British Vogue, Knowles sheepishly admitted, “that word can be very extreme … But I guess I am a modern-day feminist.”
Of course, in spite of this self-identification, some lingering questions remain: To whom is she referring as “bitches,” exactly? Does it matter as long as she uses vocabulary so loaded with meaning? Does her new identity as a mother as well as a performer impact how the public reacts to her word usage? And possibly most telling, are we at a point where celebrities are afraid to “come out” as feminists at the risk of losing fans?