First let me start off by saying that while I am a HUGE Beyoncé fan, I am the first to criticize her when it comes to social justice issues, whether it be her extensive skin lightening in photographs, her penchant for blonde wigs, her recent trip to Cuba, or her unapologetic blackface. As cultural consumers, I think it's important that we approach the things that we are fans of with a critical eye, rather than accepting them at face value simply because we like them. So you could understand why I was excited to read this article, hoping to see Beyoncé and her work through a new culturally constructive lens.
The main point of the article appears to be to discuss how Beyoncé is an insufficient and inappropriate role model for children, a point with which I wholeheartedly agree. Beyoncé is a celebrity, and I think all celebrities are poor role models for children. I would much prefer that the next generation look up to someone who's life work and legacy centers around building a stronger community and challenging the status quo, rather than someone who reinforces it.
Where the author loses me is in her reasoning for why Beyoncé is a poor role model. The author's argument centers entirely on the idea that Beyoncé's recent costumes from her Mrs.Carter Tour are hypersexualized and inappropriate, and that makes her a bad role model.
“When Beyonce kicked off her Mrs. Carter Show World Tour two nights ago, wearing her sheer bodysuit with nipples showing, to me she performed the final degradation of her talent; a retrogressive transformation that has taken someone stellar and otherworldly, and made them into something dreadfully familiar and sad.” (italics added)
I could not disagree more with this statement. Being in touch with your sexuality does not make a woman a bad role model for children, and frankly in my mind, this argument amounts to little more than slut shaming. To say that a woman can't be powerful and in touch with her sexuality while still being a role model to children is an extremely problematic statement at best, at worst a sign of a deeply rooted internalized notion that women cannot be in control of their own sexuality. When we make statements like this, we reinforce the virgin/whore dichotomy and position sexuality as a male construct, rather than as a conversation that women can take part of, create, define, and redefine as well. The author is effectively saying that by wearing revealing clothing during her concert, Beyoncé s stepping outside of the bounds of a ‘proper’ lady and can no longer be looked at as a role model.
The author then goes on to make some interesting points about human trafficking. Don’t get me wrong, I think that human trafficking is a terrible and horrendous human rights violation that no one should be subjected to, and awareness of this issue is desperately needed. But to blame Beyoncé or the ‘appeal’ of human trafficking to young girls is a bit of a reach. I mean, come on. First of all, there is no ‘appeal’ to human trafficking, as the link that the author provides aptly defines human trafficking as “a criminal business that profits from enslaving people for sexual servitude and forced labor.” Regardless of the labor involved, sexual or otherwise, forced labor is never appealing. Second of all, instead of blaming Beyoncé or contributing to sex trafficking simply by flaunting her sexuality in the public eye, how about we blame the men who create and profit from the human trafficking industry, who trick these young girls into a life of forced prostitution? Or, if you’re looking for someone in the public eye to blame, how about the men in the music industry who glorify the sexualization and exploitation of women, as opposed to Beyoncé who is simply embracing her own sexuality?
The one point in this article that I will agree with is when the author alludes to Beyoncé's new single, “Bow Down”. The author mentions it in passing, but I think it would make for a much more substantial and relevant article topic. While I personally can appreciate the song as a base-pounding party anthem, I think that the message it conveys is completely offensive and downright disappointing. Beyoncé often sings about and portrays herself as a person who is deeply invested in female empowerment, and to see her stoop to the level of what seems to be a catty challenge to other women is saddening. Girl on Girl hate is something that is a very real and very prevalent problem in our society, and to see Beyoncé reinforce this while previously championing female independence is very problematic. But any goodwill the author gains from her vague mention of this song is lost a few paragraphs later, when her article takes on its own catty tone:
(Unless you think it would be really cool for Sasha or Malia to follow her example and sing songs for people on a stage whilst wearing sheer gold glitter bodysuits detailing the contours of their body, under the management of their daddy and/or their husband).
This is by far the most overt slut shaming and openly hostile line in the article. This line directly states that being a woman who embraces her sexuality is an embarrassing and inappropriate thing, and something that can only be done for the purposes of pleasing the men in your life and not for your own ends. Never mind the fact that Beyoncé herself has spoken of and acknowledged the problematic nature of female sexuality in a male dominated world, or that she is indeed managed by herself (not, as the author inaccurately states, by her husband), a feat few females have achieved in the music industry.
In conclusion, while I’m all for analyzing popular culture through a critical lens, I think it’s important to do so in a way that doesn’t condemn or demonize female sexuality or sexuality in general. If you want to have a conversation about Beyoncé being a bad role model, let’s talk about her shutting down an entire hospital floor to give birth to her baby, or her disappointing bandwagon approach to the gay marriage debate despite the fact that she has legions of gay fans. But let’s knock it off with the slut shaming, ok?
Thoughts? Opinions? Agree? Disagree? Share in the comments below!