There is a three-step reaction that seems to go along with the initial hearing of Beyoncé’s media over-saturated single, “Bow Down”: initial curiosity, momentary contemplation, followed by an immediate distaste. Much like sampling vegan donuts for the first time, you feel let down and quite sure you could do very well in life without ever, ever experiencing that again.
Very few things that Beyoncé does fail to not create a headline-making frenzy. It’s a sign of the power we give celebrities in a culture completely underwhelmed by things like the scourge of homelessness and the depletion of the ozone layer, and a total over-fascination with what kind of deodorant Bey uses and how many times she and Jay-Z smile at each other in a day. This latest song has bloggers blogging and haters hating and stans stanning, per usual, but it’s also inflamed the sisterhood for its reckless inclusion of the B-word, its take-that braggadocio and its anti-woman messaging.
It’s just not that serious.
Beyoncé, if anything, is an accidental feminist. It was suggested to her one time that she might be one and she, figuring that there was no harm in embracing the term, allowed herself to be labeled as such. She even rose to the occasion and made “Run the World (Girls),” even though that seemed to hock off feminists, the very subset of women she was trying to shout out. Although she hollers “girl power”—and I believe she genuinely means it—she’s more of a master at tapping into the sensibilities that make us proud of who we are and empowering us to empower ourselves.
Forty percent of my workout playlist is composed of Beyoncé songs. “Get Me Bodied” is a standard when I’m getting dressed and prepped to go out for the evening. She knows how to sing the inner badass-ness out of a woman, energize her confidence and draw out a strut for onlookers to see. But she’s also a singing, dancing, Naomi Campbell-walking, Sasha Fierce-morphing contradiction. She, like most womenfolk, has fallen short. That can’t make her any more eligible for scolds and frowny faces than the rest of us.
When you’re the direct product of a patriarchal society, you’re gonna be conflicted at times and have an occasional crack in your feminism. I don’t care how elevated your thinking is or how rabidly pro-woman you are. I adore women. I love being a woman. I want to work for the betterment of every part of our lives, particularly for those who don’t know how to get there or what it would look like. But I readily admit that I occasionally muff up my girls-can-do-anything agenda, particularly when an insect or a rodent is involved.
Even though I have trouble turning my mind off when I go out with friends to dance through whatever misogynistic nonsense is blaring through the speakers, I can’t resist Uncle Luke’s “Scarred.” And that’s about as bad as it gets. I don’t use the B-word just like I don’t use the N-word, mostly because— as a general rule—I don’t refer to myself in terms I wouldn’t want anyone else to call me. But there have been times I’ve wanted to roundhouse kick a fellow woman for being rude, disrespectful or intentionally menacing. Here, take my feminism membership card. Have at it.
Beyoncé is a brand, a musical tour de force. And so far, I think she’s done a fairly good job of representing us and herself well, sans this latest debacle which is more of an insult to me as a music lover because of its lackluster production and uninventive lyricism than it is to me as a woman. If art is truly supposed to represent the authenticity of our experiences and the fullness of our lives, that includes the ugliness, not matter how unintentionally it comes across. She was clearly talking to somebody or somebodys specific when she hit the studio. We’ve loved Tupac and Nas for their ability to express the contradictions of Black manhood, so it’s not fair to string Beyonce up for having a moment.
If feminism mandates perfection, then that strikes quite a few of us off the roster. Yet some of the same ladies tsk tsk tsking Beyoncé would just as soon be stingy with their smiles, much less speak to a woman they didn’t know, then turn around and pump the fist of sisterhood. Sometimes it’s easier to point out what other women are doing wrong than to get it right ourselves. To me, the most critical element of feminism is to generally have the best intentions of women at heart. And I think Beyoncé does, flaws and all.