Anyone who’s read this blog in the last week or so knows that I don’t think much of Huckabee’s skills as a cultural critic. So to help him understand what’s going on, and why this fight might play well in the primaries but is doomed in the general election, here are 10 lessons that Sasha and Malia Obama might be getting from Queen Bey other than an education in killer dance moves. This may be pop feminism, but Beyoncé’s message comes through clearly, even if Huckabee’s getting distracted by her outfits and dance moves. And it’s a much easier sell than the idea that women should reject a terrific track — or our own empowerment:
1. You should never let sexist double standards deter you from the pursuit of success: In a line that could be applied to a massive number of situations where women are described as difficult for behavior that in men would be cited as proof of fortitude and vision, Beyoncé insisted that a “Diva is a female version of a hustla.” If she’s undeterred by anyone who wants to put down her work ethic, neither should anyone else be.
2. Having a well-established professional life will bolster you in times of heartbreak: “Now that you’re out of my life, I’m so much better / You thought that I’d be weak without you, but I’m stronger / You thought that I’d be broke without you, but I’m richer,” Beyoncé and her Destiny’s Child colleagues sang in “Survivor.” “You thought that I’d be stressed without you, but I’m chillin’ / You thought I wouldn’t sell without you, sold 9 million.” In a society that encourages women to venerate their romantic relationships above all else, it’s good for girls to hear that developing a robust career means you’ll have something else in your life if you’re single or go through a rough breakup.
3. But when someone you loves tells you good things about yourself, believe them: “When I’m standing in this mirror after all these years / What I’m viewing is a little different / From what your eyes show you / I guess I didn’t see myself before you,” Beyoncé explained in “Superpower.” It’s a great model for what a supportive romantic relationship between two working partners might look like. I imagine Ben Wyatt and Leslie Knope from “Parks and Recreation” kiss each other tenderly to this song at least once a week.
4. Hurting yourself to meet a beauty standard that comes to no one naturally has fewer benefits than you might expect: “Mama said, you’re a pretty girl / What’s in your head it doesn’t matter / Brush your hair, fix your teeth / What you wear is all that matters,” Beyoncé argues in “Pretty Hurts.” “Just another stage / Pageant the pain away.” It’s a lot easier to find guides to beauty techniques than it is to find instruction in inner development. Girls always need to hear that just because there are fewer immediate incentives to do the latter doesn’t mean it’s not the most important part of yourself to care for.
5. With that said, enjoy your awesomeness: Feminism doesn’t require anyone to reject beauty altogether. The great, sarcastic choruses of “I woke up like this” in “**Flawless” are simultaneously a rejection of the idea that anyone was born airbrushed and a call to enjoy the goods you’ve got. (It also emphasizes that no woman should ever be treated as less than totally committed to her career for devoting time to her family, too.)
6. If you’ve got it, brag on it: Beyoncé’s “Ego” is ostensibly about a man with a lot of self-confidence and other, er, sizable endowments. But in it, she’s very clear that she has a sense of her own assets. “I, I walk like this cause I can back it up / I, I talk like this cause I can back it up,” she tells listeners. If the Obamas want their daughters to make like Charlize Theron and negotiate for what they’re worth once they reach the workplace, “Ego” is the perfect psych-up track before they head into negotiations with their future bosses.
7. Being grown-up is absolutely wonderful and youthful irresponsibility is overrated: “I remember being young and so brave / I knew what I needed,” Bey sings in “Grown Woman.” “I was spending all my nights and days laid back day dreaming / Look at me I’m a big girl now, said I’m gon’ do something / Told the world I would paint this town / Now b—— I run this.” If pop music is normally about a celebration of the excesses of youth, part of what’s striking about Beyoncé’s music over the past couple of years is how dedicated it is to the pleasures of adulthood and the power that can come to women with age.
8. Having your own money is delightful: Consumption isn’t everything, but being dependent on someone else isn’t a great idea, not least because you’re denied the pleasure of buying them gifts with your own cash. “Yup, I put it on him, it ain’t nothing that I can’t do / Yup, I buy my own, if he deserve it, buy his s— too,” Beyoncé sings in “Countdown.” (Bonus message: enjoying occupying a feminine role, like cooking dinner in your high heels is not incompatible with achieving professional success.) And Destiny’s Child made the same point in “Independent Woman.”
9. If you’re lucky enough to have a fulfilling job, you have an obligation to make the most of it: In “Ghost,” Beyoncé muses on the creative advice she’s getting from her label in the same verse as she considers what it means to have a job that’s entirely about economic survival. “I don’t trust these record labels, I’m torn,” she says in one breath, before pivoting to “All these people on the planet working 9 to 5 just to stay alive.” It’s a great reminder that if you’re lucky enough to be able to choose your profession on the basis of personal fulfillment, as the Obama girls seem likely to be, you really ought to use that position to create or do something you genuinely care about.
10. Who run the world? Girls (or in this case, their parents): This track is actually one of my least favorite of Beyoncé’s empowerment tracks, because of its nineties-throwback aura. But I do appreciate one part of Beyoncé’s analysis: the idea that having to balance multiple obligations and unfair expectations give women skills that men aren’t required to develop. “We’re smart enough to make these millions / Strong enough to bear the children / Then get back to business,” she insists. Would it be better if we didn’t have to be in that position? Sure, but we might as well take advantage of the resilience we develop in the meantime.