Is Beyoncé an appropriate ambassador for feminism?
“I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything? I’m just a woman and I love being a woman,” Worldwide phenomenon music artist Beyoncé said in a recent interview with Vogue magazine. Surely her enormous success would seem to offer a great cause for celebration in the world of feminism, having claimed a throne of power in the normally male-dominated multimillion-dollar empire otherwise known as the music industry, while meanwhile breaking the mould set by other high-profile mainstream female entertainers by choosing to openly express her true opinions on gender inequalities. In the years of her upcoming success, much controversy has surrounded the question; ‘Is Beyoncé truly a feminist?’ with many people claiming that the femininity that Beyoncé exhibits and feminism itself stand in stark binary opposition.
There are many social, political and cultural factors contributing to both sides of the argument equally, however before we begin to consider this example further, it would prove worthy to first establish the true meaning of ‘a feminist’. Since the 1800’s, feminism has worked to advocate for women, striving for both equality and diversity, challenging structural inequalities in society, and being pro-woman without being anti-man.
Initially following traditional beliefs, feminism then progressed to follow more complex structures especially with the introduction of post-feminism in the late 1990’s, which has become a key term in the lexicon of feminist cultural critique, posing as a contradictory to traditional ideas and presenting changes such the shift from objectification to subjectification, meaning that post-feminists are self aware and demonstrate the female ideology of being in control of their own bodies, in opposition to being disregarded as an instrument of sexual pleasure.
It could be argued that linear feminism is outdated, as the relative positions of men and women in modern western societies are becoming more similar, with generally equal rights due to the fact that sexual equality is something that almost everybody in power at least claims they are in favour of after a great deal of changes in society in the second half of the twentieth century.
Beyoncé is seemingly open to the male gaze, which is Laura Mulvey’s theory that women are represented in the media not as a cognitive subject, instead as a ‘sexual’ object existing merely to gratify male fantasies and desires via the process of scopophilia. For this reason in certain circumstances viewers would consider that the thin barrier between sexual empowerment and exploitation is broken in the example of Beyoncé, however arguably every pop culture icon, actress or singer could possibly fall into the “hyper-sexualised” category in one way or another. Any show of sexuality is not inherently dis-empowering, instead it shows the star’s ownership of her own sexuality, proving to be a consistent quality of her image.