“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”
The above is an excerpt from ‘Flawless’ – a song from Beyoncé’s latest self-titled album, featuring Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s lecture on feminism.
Beyoncé has certainly received much praise for her apparent reconciliation of contradictions facing women, namely how to succeed in a career while simultaneously being perceived as a sexual being and as a mother. Notably, Beyoncé has also written an essay on gender inequality emphasizing the importance of teaching men the rules of respecting women.
While it is praiseworthy that someone of such influence can bring women’s rights to the forefront of conversation, Queen Bey has also received criticism for anti-feminist activities in her stage performances, song lyrics, and her marriage to Jay-Z.
Their rendition of Drunk In Love at the 2014 Grammy’s will be etched in memories forever as a wet haired Beyoncé in a barely there outfit with legs splayed wide sung along to a particularly disturbing Jay-Z line depicting aggression against women. Jay-Z’s very identity in hip-hop music is founded on undeniable contribution to, and profit from, blatant sexism and objectification of women.
Beyoncé may actively want to be the face of feminism, but she is allegedly not responsible for penning a single one of her songs promoting female empowerment. However, any such inauthenticity is masked by the brand Beyoncé, ultimately forgiven by many fans and critics. Could this be because her type of feminist persona is not adhering to traditional norms at all but is a carefully designed market-based one, used to captivate entire generations of women?
How does market-based feminism differ from traditional feminism?
Society understood the threat to female empowerment to be political and systemic – entrenched in traditions, institutions, legislation or networks favoring inequality. Meanwhile, market-based feminism is one rooted in emotion and morality – how a woman should operate in her ‘market’, in other words her world, to pursue happiness through a monogamous relationship with her (heterosexual) partner. As such reinforcing the implied moral order of the market as a whole.
Beyoncé is seen to be engaging in this kind of feminism in placing her six-year marriage always alongside her image – through public appearances together, musical contributions to each other’s careers, and notably through their recently completed On The Run tour which styled them as a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.
In all this, Beyoncé celebrates monogamous love as something that can be kept fresh, sexual and inspiring, standing the test of time and endless external scrutiny. Only an emotional brand is able to combat and overcome this. The beauty of her brand is indeed in its multi-faceted representations of women – a full spectrum of possibilities: fierce and coy, sexual and elegant, youthful and wise.
Being the face of traditional feminism thus would not have worked for such an emotionally diverse artist and woman. Beyoncé is not just one thing to anyone. And, note – emotionality is not perfection, it is incredibly human and fallible. So while traditional feminism also displayed as many differing shades of feminism as there were feminists, their code always enforced equality.
Similarly with market-based feminism, Beyoncé might ruffle a few feathers in dress sense and lyrical integrity, but never does she threaten that which is most important to her market-based feminism: finding and loving one’s partner until death do us part.
Fruzsina Hughes, Mark Lazzaro, Marta Residori, and Sarthak Shah are MBA Students in the new Customer Experience Design course at the Schulich School of Business at York University.