This may be the most fiercely contested Lifting Fog post… ever. Even more so than when Henning derided a harmless teen flick for not being Oscar-worthy. Let me say first, that if you are someone who doesn’t think women are capable of being sexist, or furthermore that any group of individuals previously victimized by some form of discrimination aren’t capable of displaying that same mindset of prejudice against others, then you need not read on.
It all started a few weeks ago when a co-worker showed me a video of Beyoncé performing her new single “If I Were A Boy” on, appropriately, the Oprah television program. The performance really moved me, as it did my female co-worker, and I’ve listened to the song on and off since then. I have to say, I love the song. The melody is catchy yet simple. The message, coming from Beyoncé, appears to be quite powerful, yet part of me has to stop and think every time I hear the lyrics.
I get it. I really do get it. I think it’s a brilliant song idea to be utilized by one of the most powerful and famous female voices on the planet. In her celebrity lies the power of the message of the song. Or does it? There are parts of the song and the video above that leave me somewhat unsettled. At the end of the day, a pop song is a pop song, but if Rolling Stone can make a career out of criticizing them, why can’t I? The song lyrics are clearly based on a stereotype of men. It’s one of those casual, always funny to laugh about with the girls stereotypes, but to me, a stereotype nonetheless. When Beyoncé sings, “When you lose the one you wanted, ’cause he’s taking you for granted, and everything you had got destroyed,” it’s with such conviction that it almost makes me forget all the times when women have treated men exactly the same way. The same can be said for most of the lyrics.
There is a lyrical duality of the song that makes me question the message it brings. On one hand is the video/the lyrics to the song. And on the other is her real life persona. Beyoncé, assuredly a self-made, independent woman, fell in love with one of the richest and most powerful men in the industry that she works in, something that has without a doubt kept her in the papers and at the top of the charts long after many female talents before her have fallen. The fact of the matter is, her celebrity and stature voids the lyrics for me when she sings “I’d roll out of bed in the morning and throw on what I wanted and go.” I’m pretty sure she can do that. Public expectations of her being a sex icon and pop star only beg the question more: why doesn’t she roll out of bed and put on what she wants and go? If anyone can, I would think it would be Beyoncé. And wouldn’t that be a much more powerful statement for women than the lyrics of the song?
But she doesn’t. She wears designer clothes, drives expensive cars, and stars in big budget movies. I haven’t heard her complain about it so far. Likewise in the video, she portrays her husband as a NYPD officer (how much more manly does it get?). Yet when she comes out of the bedroom wearing a uniform, the first thing that comes to my mind is “sexy cop” rather than “powerful woman,” probably because her shirt is so wide open even Lt. Co. Frank Slade could drive a Ferrari through it. Later, while undressing in the NYPD locker room, my mind stopped wondering if we would get to see her in her underwear. Is that feminism? I don’t claim to know or understand it fully (obviously), but while the message is an interesting one coming from her, it feels empty given the contradictory nature of the business she’s in and the way she presents herself on a daily basis. Why can’t she take the lyrics of the song a step further, beyond cliched stereotypes of gender roles in America? She has the voice. She has the audience. What more is necessary? As always I’m more than open to discussion.