Like millions of other humans, I am immensely inspired by Beyoncé. Most of this post was written before all the “Lemonade” hype, so I feel that it is especially important to state that Beyoncé’s celebration of black womanhood is beautiful and powerful. However, I recently read an article about one of her interviews covering her take on feminism, “Formation”, and being a powerful woman, and found myself slightly disappointed. There are many things she explains so well, but others that I feel fell a bit short of my hopes, especially in her explanation of feminism. This post is dedicated not to criticizing Bey, but to pushing her and others to widen the scope of their feminism.
First she explains, “I put the definition of feminist in my song and on my tour… not to proclaim to the world that I am a feminist, but to give clarity to the true meaning.” She goes on to say that many people don’t understand the meaning of the word “feminist” and that she doesn’t believe it should be attached to something negative. Here, Bey is spot on. It is invaluably important for people to understand the meaning of feminism and to reduce stigmas attached to the word. But if she doesn’t think the word should carry a negative connotation, why isn’t she using it as a self proclamation to the world? Yes, we need to educate people about the meaning of feminism, but we also need to claim the word proudly and as part of our identity in order to reduce the negativity associated with it.
Queen B continues this discussion by stating, “I don’t like or embrace any label. I don’t want calling myself a feminist to make it feel like that’s my one priority over racism or sexism or anything else. I’m exhausted by labels and tired of being boxed in.” Labels aren’t for everyone and being confined to a box can certainly be frustrating and tiring. However, in an intersectional world, Beyoncé’s concern of promoting feminism as a priority over other personal beliefs should not be a concern. While our current culture often chooses to examine and criticize perceived priorities of individuals, we need to steer in the direction of intersectionality, in which issues overlap and interconnect and are not ordinal. The early waves of the feminist movement mainly focused on the mobility of white women. Though imperfect, today’s feminist movement advocates for the understanding of how #BlackLivesMatter, Islamophobia, Transphobia, disability, and countless other identities are interrelated (“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”- Martin Luther King Jr.).
For readers that may be unclear, Bey offers her definition of feminism stating, “it’s someone who believes in equal rights for men and women. We need men and women to understand the double standards that still exist in this world and we need to have a real conversation so we can begin to make changes.” This is not untrue. There are numerous issues between men and women, such as employment positions and salaries, that need “real conversation” to incite overdue adjustments toward equality. This definition she provides is simple and clear, but not inclusive or intersectional. For individuals newly introduced to feminism, Beyoncé’s definition is a good start. It is teachable and easily supported. But for myself and many others, feminism is more. Intersectional feminism not only recognizes inequalities between men and women, but also among non-binary and genderqueer individuals. To emphasize issues only among men and women is to exclude an entire population of non-conforming persons and to ignore intersectionality.
In some ways Beyoncé is on board with intersectionality. She says, “I wanted to work with Chime for Change and Global Citizen. They understand how issues related to education, health, and sanitation around the world affect a woman’s entire existence and that of her children.” It’s extremely important that she brought this up because education and health are essential to achieving a more just and equal world. Healthy and educated people are empowered people.
Beyoncé is undoubtedly powerful, influential, and an advocate. How dare I question her?! I mean, she’s Beyoncé. She is a fierce role model and uses her talent and art for social awareness and change. Can we really ask for more? I think yes. Bey, forgive me, but I think you can challenge yourself to think outside of your current identity as a feminist. Some of the beauties of feminism are that there is room for disagreement and that no one’s feminism is perfect. But there is no harm in challenging our current views, for it is how we become better allies and advocates.