‘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 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’
– ***Flawless feat. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Beyoncé
Following 2013’s visual train wreck of Miley Cyrus, “Twerkgate” and the shocking insight into how media have portrayed women, the polemic over women, sex and music is never more relevant than in 2014. A central figure of this debate is Beyoncé, both criticised and venerated by feminists for her lyrics and costumes. But what does the sneaky, unpublicised release of her fifth album, ‘BEYONCÉ’, reveal about Beyoncé, sex and feminism?
In April 2013, an article which condemned Beyoncé as a role model even went as far as to link Beyoncé to misogyny and sex trafficking – all because of her decision to wear a sparkly gold leotard which outlined her breasts. It is rather an old and tired prosaicism that women who display their bodies are being objectified and are victims of oppression. First, we need to think about the subject of this polemic. If the woman who is being “objectified” made the decision to be objectified, then it is her who has agency, who has power and who is control of the situation. This is the post-feminist concept of female empowerment at its clearest. As long as the woman is in control of her own life and makes her own decisions than she can keep her bra, or burn it.
‘I don’t at all have any shame at all about being sexual, I’m not embarrassed about it and I don’t feel like I have to protect that side of me, because I do believe that sexuality is a power that we all have.’
Beyoncé makes it clear that she has the control over her body, her sexuality and any decisions involving the two. Some of you may have been shocked by the ‘mature visual content’ of Beyoncé’s new album’s videos. For example, in ‘Partition’, Beyoncé wears a bejeweled g-string during her performance at the Crazy Horse cabaret. You may think that this is just another female artist teaching young women to objectify their body. However, what separates Beyoncé from the likes of Rihanna in the grotesque ‘Pour It Up’, is the audience. Beyoncé makes it clear that all this visual pleasure is for her husband, and her husband alone; her love for whom is a constant theme of her music. Rihanna performs for a faceless, featureless and anonymous man. As Beyoncé makes clear in ‘Liberation’, Part 4 of her ‘Self-Titled’ documentary series, she is celebrating her body, and she is encouraging you to do the same. She is encouraging her audience to play out their sexual fantasies, in a way which is only natural. This is explained by the French interlude in the track:
‘Est-ce que tu aimes le sexe? Le sexe, je veux dire l’activité physique, le coït, tu aimes ça? Tu ne t’intéresses pas au sexe? Les hommes pensent que les féministes détestent le sexe, mais c’est une activité très stimulante et naturelle que les femmes adorent’
(Do you like sex? Sex, I mean to say ‘physical activity’, coitus, do you like it? You’re not into sex? Men think that feminists hate sex, but it’s a very stimulating and natural activity that women love’)
This interlude emphasises perfectly that Beyoncé is proud of her sexuality. She acts as the spokeswoman to women whose sexual voice has been stifled; she continuously highlights that sex is a normal, natural activity. Which begs the question: why shouldn’t the love for it be celebrated? It is a biological process akin to eating, drinking and sleeping. Unfortunately, we have thus far been conditioned to believe that a woman’s love of sex renders her a slut. Yet, returning to the audience argument, Beyoncé makes it clear that she loves to have sex with her husband, is this wrong? Furthermore, is it not liberating for a woman to state freely and openly that she loves sex or are you still living in your neo-Victorian bubble where it is forbidden to display one’s naked flesh? I cannot help but feel that claims of the “sexual objectification” of women by women is akin to slut shaming and smacks of envy or, worse, uncertainty and insecurity about our own sexuality and femininity.
‘I was very aware I was showing my body… I wanted to show that you can have a child and you can work hard and you can get your body back!’
Without a doubt, Beyoncé is capitalising on her beauty and displaying her incredible body. A woman is blessed with beauty the same way that a woman is blessed with intelligence. It’s a biological lottery. Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that intelligence is a more noble, more admirable and more respectable quality than beauty. Otherwise, this is provoking a kind of elitist intellectualism. Beauty is just more obvious as it adopts an external, rather than an internal, presence. Both attributes need hard work and dedication. A woman putting in the hours at the gym works just the same as a woman putting in hours at the library; both are with the vision of self-improvement. In the same way that we cannot begrudge a woman for wanting to capitalise on her intelligence to make lots of money or have an excellent career, we cannot begrudge a woman for wanting to capitalise on her beauty to make lots of money or have an excellent career.
To say that the only way a woman can be successful is to show off her body is erroneous. A woman is showing off her body in conjunction with a great many other techniques to “get noticed”. If we take the example of Beyoncé, yes, she uses her body to advertise herself but she also uses her music, her charity work and social media – to name but a few. If Beyoncé wants to show off her body in order to sell more then she has the same right as the intellectual woman who uses her mind to achieve similar goals. Why only use one card in your hand to make a trick when you can use more? We must instead look at the recipient of such images: the man. If a man wants to turn the figure of a woman, as a woman, celebrating her body and sexuality, into an object of sexual gratification, then it is he who must be judged, not the woman.
But what does this mean for Beyoncé’s younger fans? Granted, no one wants the presexualisation of young girls but Beyoncé has spent the past fifteen years of her career being very conscious of the message she has been delivering her fans. However, as she states during ‘Honesty’, Part 5 of ‘Self-Titled’, ‘When I started out I was a child. Now I’m in my 30s and those children who grew up listening to me have grown up too’. This new music direction is appropriate for a woman of Beyoncé’s age and the fans that have grown up with her. Beyoncé must finally be allowed to be a woman, with all the sexuality that comes with it, and her music must be allowed to reflect this.
Beyoncé has done her dues for over fifteen years. Now, let her produce whatever music her creativity wants her to, sex and all.