Since the late 1800s, feminism has worked to advocate for (certain) women, fighting for equality, access, and diversity. There’s been progress, setbacks, and stagnation, but one thing is clear: most women do not identify with the word “feminist,” even if they share its core ideologies. There’s been a shift in the definition of women’s empowerment and the contemporary agenda for achieving equality. Not only are most women tired of the hardcore oppression and patriarchy rhetoric, but also they’re ready to embrace their bodies and sexuality in public way. Simply put, 20-something-year-old women are ready to showcase the multidimensionality of womanhood: we can be intelligent, independent, powerful, family-oriented, and sexy without having an identity crisis.
Enter Beyonce, one of the most talented, career-driven women that has ever graced the music industry. She’s a multi-platinum selling artist, songwriter, entrepreneur, wife, daughter, sister, and oh…she can also dance like no other. Ignoring all of the previously listed positions that Bey occupies, most people simply deem her a gyrating, sex symbol. And frankly, all of the traditional feminist criticism of her “Who Runs The World (Girls)” video is just another example of the disconnect between intellectual theory and real life.
It is no secret that black women need more diverse representation in the media. Yes, it seems that every pop culture icon, actress, or singer can fall into the “hypersexualized” category. But truthfully, what does Beyonce represent as a whole, as a multidimensional human being? Taking bits and pieces of her is the same as reading a chapter of a book and claiming to know the whole story.
Beyonce’s “Girls” video is an anthem for contemporary women that aren’t afraid of being powerful, driven, smart, and sexy. We can hold our own in the workplace, and later in the evening, pull out our garter belts and work it for our partner.
Essence Editor Demetria Lucas critiques Beyonce’s video, writing:
“A mind is a terrible thing to waste and so is a perfectly good video that doesn’t match the song. Despite the declarations in the lyrics (and the unrelated hotness of the video), it’s a still a man’s world, and it will always be as long as women think their vaginas are where their power lies.”
I’d have to disagree. Lucas’ commentary implies that powerful women cannot bask in their sexuality, femininity, and confidence without jeopardizing their authority. Like Lucas, women pushing the traditional hypersexual critique have been focused on the “male gaze” for far too long.
Have you ever noticed the reaction of most women to Beyonce’s music in a dance club? It’s as if all the men in the room disappear and the women group together, dancing with their heads held high and empowering each other with every hip twist and hand wave. Almost every woman can feel some sort of empowerment from Beyonce’s music and it doesn’t take away from her power the next day when she runs the emergency room at a major hospital or leads an executive board through a complicated marketing plan.
When Beyonce sings about girls running the world while busting African-dance-influenced choreography and swiveling her hips, it should remind all women that it’s okay to run this mother f***er and still appreciate our breasts, move our hips, and showcase our multidimensionality (and sexiness) in a public way.
Beyonce’s video provides one more signal that women need a new movement. Can we finally declare first, second, and third wave feminism as history? Has the fourth wave of feminism finally arrived?