Beyonce — apparently not content to quote Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at length on her single “Flawless” or pen an essay on gender equality in the Shriver Report, has recently recorded a PSA for Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In foundation.
The campaign, hashtagged #banbossy, encourages girls to throw off stereotypes and seek out leadership roles.
By middle school, “girls are less interested in leadership than boys,” Beyonce says, in a one-minute spot that also includes Jennifer Gardner, Diane von Furstenberg and Sandberg herself. Later, she adds: “I’m not bossy. I’m the boss.”
It’s a great message, but tinged with a vein of irony. That same song that had Beyonce quoting Adichie also demands — we dare not say bossily — that other women “bow down.” In “Drunk in Love,” an occasionally puzzling ode to marital sexuality, Jay-Z raps out a disturbing and much-dissected reference to Tina Turner’s abusive marriage: “I’m Ike Turner/You know I don’t play/Now eat the cake, Anna-Mae/Eat the cake, Anna-Mae.” Incidentally, Beyonce chose to name an entire tour after Jay-Z, to the outcry of some fans.
Even “Single Ladies” contained some odd conflations of women and things. “Run the World (Girls),” Bey’s last feminist anthem before that, confusingly sported “gyrating, garter-wearing women” in its music video. And as Gaylene Gould has written over at The Guardian, Beyonce is still part of an industry that objectifies and marginalizes women. Now, at least, the superficial pretense of feminism sells albums.
Debating Beyonce’s feminism is, of course, as old as Beyonce’s top-100 streak is long; and as I can always trust Twitter to remind me, parsing another woman’s beliefs as feminist or not feminist enough is not a particularly progressive stance to take, either. (Though apparently doing so on Twitter is okay!)
But whatever her ultimate beliefs or intentions, Beyonce can’t tell women to bow down and stand up at the same time. And as her fans and consumers, we shouldn’t uncritically accept that contradiction, just by virtue of the fact that they come from Queen Bey.
Incidentally, when I first watched this PSA on nymag.com, the pre-roll ad — which was for Revlon nail polish — consisted entirely of manicured hands stroking a man’s face. Strong hands, I’m sure! Brilliantly polished hands! But … still! It’s uncomfortable.