About three weeks ago, I went to see Beyoncé and Jay Z’s ‘On The Run‘ stop at MetLife stadium, and it was the most mainstream expression of feminism I’ve seen in a while. Last night’s show in San Francisco will be the tour’s last before a hiatus (it will resume in Paris this September). In the face of all the commentary that came out between the MetLife show in July and today, I felt obliged to talk about what the show was like, why Beyoncé is a feminist, and how you should leave her alone about her alleged impending divorce if you consider yourself one, too.
1) The Answer Is Within The Question: Listen Closely, ‘***Flawless’
Most of the feminist commentary on the ‘On The Run’ tour stems from the same place as ‘Beyoncé’: Throughout the tour, seven songs into the set list, Chimamanda Adichie’s quote from a TED talk, also the intro to ‘***Flawless’ appears on the screen, one word at a time:
“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise you will threaten the man.’ Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support. But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors – not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.“
Mind you, 850,000 people went to the 19 of these shows all across America, and saw and heard these words on the screen along with Beyoncé’s Roman helmet-clad performance bridging ‘***Flawless’, to ‘Yoncé’, to Justin Timberlake’s verses in ‘Holy Grail’. One can only hope that at least some understand that defining Beyoncé (and her career) through her marriage, or victimizing her as a betrayed wife is the complete opposite of what she rooted for since Destiny’s Child days: The idea that women can be as powerful, independent, and free of society’s judgements as men are.
2) Body Image: It’s Not About The Male Gaze
In between the songs, Beyoncé gets in and out of a number of bodysuits that might not fit some people’s definition of feminism, all, in the language of the likes of People, “flattering to her post-baby body”. The personal and vulnerable ‘Resentment’ is performed in a wedding gown while ‘Pretty Hurts’ is accompanied by visuals of strippers pulling out crumpled one dollar bills from their XL underwear.
To this day, the biggest argument surrounding Beyoncé’s brand of feminism remains the male gaze — and the idea that her appearance and performances are built to entertain it. I will be straightforward (or depending on your take, bland) call this one out hopefully once and for all: BULLSHIT. The male gaze as it is doesn’t need any sidekicks to stick around, but if it did, I’m pretty sure they would be the conservative feminist columnists of the world. Whereas myself and almost all the women who came to the MetLife looking at their Beyoncé-st at the night of the show beg to differ and say it’s really about owning up yourself and your sexuality; especially considered there was barely a heterosexual male mosquito in sight, let alone boyfriends, husbands, or whatever.
If you’d like to think more into the subject of why Madonna’s persona’s take on female sexuality is applauded while Beyoncé’s is housewife-shamed, and what it has to do with race, be my guest and read this great article by Tamara Winfrey Harris.
3) The Myth: “Beyoncé Couldn’t Be Where She Is Today Has It Not Been For Jay Z’
Beyoncé and Jay Z’s first time touring together deconstructs any suggested asymmetry in power, offered and served by some feminists, for some feminists. One doesn’t realize how little their respective music has to do with one another’s aside from the tracks they collaborated on until they start singing separately. And when they do, it makes you respect them individually a quadruple times more than you already were (even if you were a fan, which I am), as human beings, artists, and performers. Which is to say, their marriage may have added some benefits to their career paths, but a potential divorce will not take anything off of from that, at least for me.
My point is, leave Beyoncé alone.
Follow Busra on Twitter: @busra_erkara