Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

For feminism's sake can we give Beyonce a break?

Beyonce, in a high-profile interview, has said that men and women are not equal and that, simply, that fact is "ridiculous".

"You know, equality is a myth. And, for some reason, everyone accepts the fact that women don't make as much money as men do."

It is both tragic and hilarious that the most radical thing Beyonce has said in her 16-year career is accompanied by a photo-shoot in which she's posing in her knickers.

Beyonce has been working, relentlessly, since she was 15, in a universe that is alien to ours. Anyone who has spent that long under the world's spotlight will contradict themselves. And that she has.

On the much-loved track Nasty Girl, from 2001, she sings, "You's a nasty, nasty, trashy, nasty, sleazy, nasty, classless, nasty ... Nasty put some clothes on, I told ya. Don't walk out your house without your clothes on, I told ya." Fairly horrific.

Beyonce has spoken openly about her Christian beliefs in interviews and songs: "I'm not gon' compromise my Christianity (I'm better than that)," while performing scantily clad.

However, on the same album we find The Story of Beauty, written in response to a letter from a young victim of abuse, "Please dry your eyes, young girl, don't cry, you're beautiful. It's not your fault, young girl, don't cry, you're beautiful. You're not the one to blame, soon it will be okay, one day you'll realise your beauty."

If a superpower of a woman, who has never been known to engage with feminist discourse, then chooses to, and is met with scepticism and harshness, who are we to hold it against her?

Who are white, middle-class feminists to condemn Beyonce's discussion of the pay-gap; to tell her she isn't feminist enough?

She contradicts herself because she is a woman, on a journey, living in a system designed to make women feel that they mustn't question.

There is a middle-ground full of uncertainty. And I congratulate Beyonce for stepping into it.

The race dimension of the disparity in the way these events have been interpreted is another article.

But the fact that Beyonce is a black woman must not be side-stepped. In their criticism of Beyonce, people have assumed she has brought nothing to feminism.

But it is clearer than day that she brings something important to the lives of millions of women. As one of the biggest icons of the 21st century, she sure has some stuff to say: she has long been a champion of the independent woman - especially where finances are concerned.

And, if that's how she understands and practises feminism, it is not our place to condemn her.

If we are so intent on building an accessible, inclusive feminism, why don't we focus on what Beyonce has to offer, rather than her all-too-obvious failings?

In Beyonce's contradiction, I see hope and progress.

In the backlash, I see negativity and narrow-mindedness.

Next time, let's all look a little deeper.

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