I never expected Beyonce to be such a spokeswoman for feminism. She's been dropping hints, but it wasn't until she dropped her new, self-titled album that her message of female empowerment and equality came out loud and clear. This week Beyonce declared gender equality a "myth" in an essay for Maria Shriver's website, The Shriver Report. Some people are getting huffy over it -- she's either too rich and privileged to be in touch with "real" people, or she's just a frivolous pop artist who doesn't deserve to be taken seriously. But here's why I think Beyonce's feminist message deserves to be taken seriously.
It's true that Bey is uber-privileged. I mean, we all remember the royal treatment she got when she birthed Blue. That and a few other things she's done seem to betray a lack of consideration for regular folks. I think there's a bit of exaggeration involved in these tales of extravagance. But that aside, I think it's partly because of her privilege that her perspective is important.
You know what? Beyonce as a feminist icon is kind of complicated. But every feminist icon has been complicated. Why should she be any different?
Beyonce has made it in a male-dominated industry. Up where she is, in that thin air of wealth and power, she's probably noticed that there's far fewer women standing with her. She's among the few female recording artists who basically get to call the shots. She has a lot of power, and she knows it. She also knows there should be more women (a larger proportion) with as much power as she has. We need feminism at all levels -- she's kind of another, more interesting version of Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In.
She's also aware of the huge influence she has on her fans. If she talks about feminism, a lot of people are going to listen. She could just be raking in those endorsements and album sales, quietly supporting charities. But instead she's taking on a big issue and rousing everyone else to join her.
And by every else, that includes men. In her post, Beyonce says, "We have to teach our boys the rules of equality and respect, so that as they grow up, gender equality becomes a natural way of life. And we have to teach our girls that they can reach as high as humanly possible." Beyonce has probably worked with plenty of men who don't see women as their equal; I imagine Jay Z isn't one of them. Will guys listen to Beyonce? I hope so. If they listen to anyone about feminism, it'll be her.
Bey has done her homework, too. One of my favorite parts of her new album is "***Flawless," which includes voice-overs of Nigerian feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Feminism is something Beyonce has been mulling over a great deal. I'm excited to see if she keeps preaching. I hope she does.
What do you think about Beyonce as a feminist icon?
Image via Alex Johnson/Flickr