The Vagenda

Tell Me What You Think About B

I genuinely think I would like to be Beyoncé more than anyone else in the world. I would love to be able to sing and dance, and run very fast in high heels. I would like to be married to Jay-Z and be friends with Michelle Obama. I think I would enjoy having cause to wear hotpants on a regular basis. I fail to see how being Beyoncé could be anything other than brilliant fun.
The difficulty is, it’s hard to reconcile a love of Beyoncé with feminism. I’m sure I could construct an argument for her as a feminist icon, including the words ‘success,’ ‘money’ and ‘expressions of sexuality’. But I know in my heart that if some kind of feminist goddess appeared holding a dossier of Destiny’s Child lyrics with highlighted phrases –  ‘when you come home late, tap me on the shoulder, I’ll roll over/Baby, you heard me, I’m here to serve you’, perhaps, or ‘a bad-performing, non-fulfilling woman drives a man away’ – I’d find it difficult to justify myself. If they brought up the fact that she spends most of her working life semi-naked (as compared to most of the men in the same field) or that Jay-Z, her future husband, sets fire to a car she is sitting in in the Crazy in Love video, I know I’d be in trouble. Best not to think about it too hard. Continue with my double-life, perfecting my ‘body ripple’ and reading The Whole Woman. 
But now Beyoncé has launched ‘The Mrs Carter Show’, a tour under her married name, and I feel I cannot ignore it any longer. 
My first response was one of disappointment. ‘Come on, Beyoncé, ’ I said, in one of our many imaginary conversations. ‘Once it was all ‘independent women’, now you’re urging us to ‘put a ring on it’ and taking your husband’s name! Lip synch all you want, but please don’t do this to me.’ The concept of the name-change makes me instinctively uncomfortable, however intolerant that may sound. I find it hard to make sense of a society that recognises phrases like ‘making a name for oneself’ and ‘not in my name’, and then expects women not to attach any significance to theirs. I am suspicious of a tradition that served us well when women didn’t need to be identified by anything other than who they were married to. I know that if I changed my name, I would feel that everything I had achieved, as insignificant as it all may be, was being erased. And it sounds like a lot of paperwork, and some of my favourite principles are those that combine nicely with laziness.
But then, my life is not really very similar to Beyoncé’s, however much I would like it to be otherwise. She clearly finds that different identities allow her to do what she does well (‘I Am Sasha Fierce’) whereas I think in my line of work, an alter-ego would be confusing for everyone. I have a relatively straightforward relationship with my father in that he was not once my manager and I have not written a song expressing the wish that my husband and unborn son be ‘like my daddy’, so I don’t mind keeping my family name. Beyoncé doesn’t have to worry about her past achievements being erased by the Mrs Carter Show, because, really, that isn’t very likely to happen.  
Frankly, I have absolutely no idea what Beyoncé is trying to say by announcing a world tour using her married name while dressed as a queen in her underwear with some kind of terrifying, prancing DJ/court jester. I’m assuming there is some sort of plan: an additional identity, one more reinvention. But truthfully, one of the things I love about her is the fact that she looks like she’s doing whatever the hell she feels like, however much of an illusion that may be and with all the contradictions inherent in it. Maybe Beyoncé is showing us that a name change can be exciting and revitalising, and necessitate wearing a diamanté crown. While I agree with Grace Dent that taking your husband’s name is unutterably depressing when it’s ‘just what you do’, maybe Beyoncé is showing us what it can be if it’s a considered choice. It certainly wouldn’t work for me, but I can’t rule out it working for others. Maybe she is showing me how to be a more open-minded, more tolerant feminist. Maybe there is hope for our relationship after all. 

14 thoughts on “Tell Me What You Think About B

  1. Still hate it. Call me intolerant but I hate the name changing tradition so much for every reason. As I’m not up to date with celeb news, I didn’t know J-Z’s surname was Carter so it made no sense to me at the time. I now read that they both double barelled their name to Knowles-Carter which is something

  2. There was a great article in The Guardian about her and how talking about feminism in her underwear posing coquettishly for mens magazines doesnt make her a feminist.frankly, I cannot stand her because I feel that she is so talented that she’s let us down basically by the lyrics and also through pimping herself out. I would say for all. Her talk about independence, she isn’t a feminist when she basically has her image based on what the patriarchy demands. She is super talented why does she do this????!

  3. I’ve had it with this blog. Hardly mentioning the fact that Girls has almost no people of colour and saying that Lana Dunham is some amazing feminist, and then daring to criticise Beyonce over her life decisions. Beyonce is a woman of colour, who just happens to be one of the most influential people on earth. She has an all female band. She sings about empowerment. She works hard as hell and has achieved more than many other people. She wears what she wants, and to pay any kind of attention to what she wears is anti-feminist. Frankly, white feminists seem to jump on the train of criticism against women of colour. This website did not mention Caitlin Moran’s lack of care for the non existence of POC on Girls. This website does not criticise white feminists for their racism. This website really lacks women of colour in the banner and in general.

  4. Hi Veronika
    This article is generally positive about Beyonce, and is much more positive than the two which appeared in the Guardian and the Indy. Indeed, the author concludes with: ‘one of the things I love about her is the fact that she looks like she’s doing whatever the hell she feels like.’ However, I don’t think she is exempt from criticism because she is black, which is what you seem to be implying. Nor is she being criticised because of the colour of her skin.

    In terms of women of colour, as you term them, here are some articles which specifically discuss issues faced by those women (or talk about women of colour who are in the public eye) which have been featured on the blog (the rest of the blog tends to address women in general, regardless of their race)

    This one
    The last one

    These are off the top of my head, so aren’t exhaustive. You’re right, there probably isn’t enough, we will try harder. But to say that we lack women of colour in general is unfair, especially as many of them have worked so hard writing for us.

    As for Lena Dunham, that’s your bugbear. Girls is not perfect, but life is too short to get bogged down in one TV show. If you want to write an article about the lack of women of colour in television generally, ( a much more important point) then you’re welcome to pitch us an article.

  5. Jay-Z changed his surname to Knowles-Carter, so they both have each others surnames. I personally have always had a major problem with the slut shaming in Nasty Girl, but can’t help but want to dance like her and sing her songs.

  6. Love Beyonce but had difficulty reconciling it with my feminist principles whilst trying to explain why to my bf whilst we watched the Superbowl half time show.

    I like the way it appears to be on her own terms, she dictates the nature of her own sucess and doesn’t seem to me to use her sexuality in ways that don’t ultimtely empower her.

    Of course if I were being more cynical I could say that this is all what I’m supposed to think, and that Beyonce’s PR peeps have done a very good job packaging her that way.

    Although I do think it would be very helpful if she called herself a feminist, rather than go all post-feminist, Carla Bruni on us.

    Maybe it all comes down to the fact that I just think she’s cool. And that’s a good enough reason as any!

  7. I can see where you’re coming from, but really I think you should just focus on your last two paragraphs; the rest just seems like a massive headache to be honest. I don’t think women need to feel any guilt or conflicted about their image, etc. If you are squeezing into those hot pants purely to please men then of course that’s an issue. But I think women just wear whatever the hell they want to. Even the lyrics don’t seem that contradictory to me, I think there are times when you can act submissive etc in a sexy way without betraying you’re feminism. I doubt men feel so conflicted about getting their abs out or submitting to a woman.

    I think my basic issue is that these things are even an issue, in a way that I really don’t think they are for men.

    ‘But truthfully, one of the things I love about her is the fact that she looks like she’s doing whatever the hell she feels like, however much of an illusion that may be and with all the contradictions inherent in it’ – This should be the feminist manifesto :)

  8. “I’ve had it with this blog… daring to criticise Beyonce over her life decisions.”

    Why on earth wouldn’t you criticise Beyonce for her life decisions? Is she exempt from critique for a special set of reasons? What has being ‘a woman of colour’ have to do with it?

  9. ‘A bad-performing, non-fulfilling woman drives a man away’ – swap round the man and the woman in that sentence and we’d be all over it.
    Also, Beyonce is a marketing machine first and foremost. Think of the Google hits her tour has got now.
    As for HW, I take it you’re familiar with the sentence ‘girls, get the fuck off the podium, you’re letting the side down’, where it comes from, and what it implies?

  10. I think it’s hard to critique Beyonce from a feminist angle because she doesn’t really fit into a certain box. Like one of the other posters mentioned, her and her husband both took each other’s surnames which puts them on an equal playing field so to speak as far as male/female gender roles. Then she created the King B moniker for herself which her fans delight in using whenever she does something good. There are others in her “beehive” who call her mother, giving her the highest title of femininity. The costumes she wears are for her character Sasha Fierce who chooses when she wants to be sexy. At the Grammy’s on Sunday when everyone else was wearing dresses she wore a black and white pant outfit!

    As a performer I think she tries to defy as many labels as she can and I think she’s doing a good job of it. I really did like this post because it covers Beyonce in a way which you don’t see very often. Please visit Venus Blogs at when you have the chance as they also feature content that challenges notions of what women should be.

  11. I think the lyrics you take as an example should be viewed in a different light, I feel that what Beyonce is trying to say with these lyrics is that to take care of your husband or partner doesn’t make you any less of a feminist it just means that you also have to choice not to. When she says ‘serve you’ I don’t believe that she means ‘you are the man so you are in charge’ just that she has chosen to support her husband just like he would be there to serve her and support her. The good thing about the 21st century is that women have to choice to be a business woman single with no children or a stay home mum who’s husband goes off to work in the morning and is home for dinner. One is no more feminist than the other. They both want equal rights and laws, for their gender, but they also want to have the choice to lead their life whatever way they choose.

  12. it’s important to remember women of colour (US) Black women (UK) had a bellyfull of crap off white feminists in the 60s when the white feminists were doing great stuff with the personal is political, but on the whole, too busy to help people of colour achieve the freedom to vote in the Deep South [with of course, some honourable exceptions]
    read bell hooks and alice walker for more on that, audre lorde and june jordan…
    as a teenager i thought Bo Diddley’s ‘I’m A Man’ was the most sexist crap i’d ever heard, and then my dad explained that when it was written it was revolutionary – white men in the deep south (US) and South Efrica were killing non white men who dared to ask to be called by their names, rather than BOY or MIDNIGHT….and elsewhere, but there in particular…
    so there are lots of strands to tease out here, the lyric no one has mentioned yet is ‘girls rule the world’ – now that is….???? wtf? to me as a 48 year old survivor of multiple abusers…
    but overall i think beyonce is a power for good among girls, she is alive in her own body, obviously having fun and doing what makes her happy, different personas on different days…compare her to Victoria Beckham clinging to fame through being married and skinny after being in a totally naff ‘girl power’ band and making THE size zero look her number 1 priority and see the difference, or Lady Gaga who literally needs men to carry her because she can’t walk in her own shoes…