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is beyonce the new face of feminism?

Since Beyonce’s appearance in a barely there photo shoot in GQ some days ago, the age old question has again emerged: is being “sexy” empowering or demeaning to women?

Further complicating matters is the fact that Beyonce dared to express her thoughts on gender inequality alongside these pictures, stating to the interviewer:

‘Equality is a myth, and for some reason everyone accepts that women don’t make as much money as men do. I truly believe that women should be financially independent from their men. And let’s face it; money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what’s sexy. And men define what’s feminine. It’s ridiculous.’

The real question to me though is not whether you can be considered a feminist if you use your sexuality or your fit body to propel your own agenda, but rather whether the ends justify the means.

When Slutwalk was being debated rather more persistently, I wondered whether the publicity it was garnering for feminism and campaigns fighting violence against women was worth the obvious issues surrounding it. But I find this Beyonce/GQ debacle considerably less problematic, given it’s not a calculated “movement” but rather one woman using her position (both in the public eye and possibly in more compromising positions in the magazine) to share a message about something that concerns all women in a forum that wouldn’t often hear such viewpoints.

Let’s look at this again friends; these quotes –

‘Women should be financially independent from their men.’

‘Equality is a myth.’

‘Men define what’s feminine. It’s ridiculous.’

– have appeared in a men’s magazine. GQ, no less. As in, the GQ that its publisher reports has a circulation of 963,507 and a total audience of 6,414,000. That’s a hell of a lot of dudes being told that it’s uncool for men to still be running the show, and that women aren’t happy about it.

That Beyonce has now potentially exposed a large population of men (and women) who don’t often think about gender inequality to her own views of it has been overlooked in favour of questioning whether we want feminism aligned with a scantily clad Beyonce, regardless of what she’s saying. But one interview hardly makes her the figurehead of feminism.

As for whether Beyonce even could be considered a feminist – well, I don’t know. I suspect she hasn’t given much thought to the furore in the feminist blogosphere about her giving feminism a bad name, considering she’s the woman who came out with this gem to British Harper’s Bazaar: ‘I need to find a catchy new word for feminism, right? Like Bootylicious.’

Ultimately though, it’s only our own feminism that we can be in charge of or label. Try as we might to hand Gloria or Germaine or whoever a trident to decide who is or isn’t a feminist, there are potentially as many types of feminism as there are feminists. And like it or not, some people’s idea of feminism is one in which they get paid obscene amounts of money to pose half naked on a magazine cover. You can get on your soapbox all you like, but it’s probably not going to stop anyone self-identifying as a feminist.

Personally, I don’t really care if Beyonce says she’s a feminist or not. With the hoards of women who were dismissing feminism and defiantly pronouncing themselves NOT-feminists, I don’t think it’d be bad PR for “feminism” to have Beyonce identify herself as such (Zooey D’s probably feeling lonely in the celebrity-feminist corner). We may want only the right kind of feminists on side, but it’s impossible to get anything done without the numbers to back you up.

In my mind, the worst case scenario here is that no one ever reads the interview and no one is thus prompted to think a little deeper about gender politics and inequalities. But more likely is that Beyonce’s words will actually inspire the odd person to give feminism a bit of thought. And a gesture that both appears to be sincere and improves how feminism is perceived is, I think, a good thing.

Dunja Kay is a former Lip columnist who now just writes bits and bobs here and there about this and that (but mainly music and feminism).

(Image credit)

5 thoughts on “is beyonce the new face of feminism?

  1. Pingback: Feminist News Round-up 20.01.13 | News | Lip Magazine

  2. I think it’s long overdue that Beyonce put some clothes on it. I’m sick and tired of female celebs getting their clothes off for photos, videos, movies etc. I want to see some class, I want to see some clothes, I want to see less of Beyonce.

    It’s time female celebs stopped acting and dressing skanky and got some class.

  3. “The real question is… whether the ends justify the means.”
    This is definitely the real question but I don’t know if any of us are in a position to answer it.
    How do you know that the readers of GQ are slightly more enlightened about feminism as a result of Beyonce’s efforts? It seems just as likely (and provable) that they struggled to comprehend what message to take out of the article – that Beyonce’s hot? That ‘feminists’ talk about not wanting to play the men’s game, but then do it anyway? – and so Beyonce’s message gets lost.

    Maybe Beyonce is a PR genius for feminism… but I kinda feel that if someone wants to advocate a cause they should not simultaneously muddy that message with hypocrisy and juxtapositions – Beyonce’s effort kinda feels like the feminist equivalent of getting Chuck Norris to wave a pair of M16s at the camera in an ad where he calls for an end to gun violence.

  4. How is it possible that we are debating this? It’s 2013. If you’ve ever seen a Beyoncé performance, you know that her “sexiness” is combined with unbridled power: growling, screaming, glowering, punching, kicking, and incredible body control. If she were really trying to garner attention via her lady parts, she would hire Britney Spears’s choreographer. She would use traditionally feminine backup dancers, rather than transgender woman clad in a tight-fitting leotard in the video for “All the Single Ladies.” She would not waste her time singing about gender issues in “Run the World” (“Strong enough to bear the children, then get back to business”) and “If I Were a Boy” (“If I were a boy… I’d chase after girls and kick it with who I wanted and I’d never get confronted for it”).

    Now, as for her clothing: Beyoncé can wear what she wants. Just like the rest of us. As soon as you accuse her of using her scanty clothing to invite men to mistreat her or think of her as an object, you are underestimating her power of choice, her independent thinking, and her sense of style. And you sound like the people who believe that a woman could ever deserve to be raped because of her clothing.

    Beyoncé is intentionally combining all the sexy, curvy, beautiful, feminine parts of the female body with the power, anger, and attitude of masculinity. Just look at her outfit for the Superbowl: one part tough leather, sharp angles, straight lines, and jagged edges, and one part floaty lace, curves, softness, and transparency. Beyoncé is telling us that you CAN be both at once, and you DON’T have to conform to traditional ideas of a woman’s sexiness — but if you want to, you also can. It’s every woman’s choice.

    So let’s all shut up and be grateful that Beyoncé is a fierce, confident, sexy woman with an eye out for using her power to make life better for us, and let’s not take 5 steps back by slut-shaming her.

  5. Pingback: The Light at the End: Women’s Sexual Freedom has Tunnel Vision –

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