ON: My Back Won’t Bend: Beyoncé and Egocentric Pop Cultural Feminism

It is always, alwaysa nerve-wracking thing to be a male invested in feminism/womanism and female-presented (and at times produced) culture and then criticize a woman. I ask myself, “IS this my place?” “Am I just another voice telling a woman, particularly Black women, she is wrong?” Truthfully at times the answer is, No it is not my place, and though the tune to my song is different the lyrics sound the same (“you are wrong”), but at other times, what must trump is not ones biological sex but what causes and issues to which one is committed.  In that vein let us risk our lives, the Beyhive is real y’all, and turn our attentions to Queen, King Bey’s latest offering: “Bow Down/I Been On”:

Now I am not going to be catty and point out how this sounds more like refried Rihanna song and instead let us focus on the lyrics, particularly one stanza:

I know when you were little girls
You dreamt of being in my world
Don’t forget it , don’t forget it
Respect that, bow down bitches

I took some time to live my life
But don’t think I’m just his little wife
Don’t get it twisted, get it twisted
This my shit, bow down bitche

Now some are (rightfully thrown); this is not the Bey we are used to; we are used to Beyonce empowering women, but here she is letting some anonymous girls know that they will never “Run the World,” at best they can serve as ladies in waiting. And, she is firing at those of us who have scratched at her entire Mrs. Carter project; she is not just his little wife. Of course not; she is also a fulltime ruler of all things pop and apparently things that are hip and occasionally hop. Never-mind there is no acknowledgement of responsibility for why people felt that she was molding herself into “his little wife”; it was not ever because she took time off. (I for one was grateful for the break; it was part of why I was/am so hungry for new Bey material.) For some of us this started back when she (and DC) decided to begin to croon songs about how they will cater to their men (found soldiers), then she positioned herself as man’s sexual fantasy (which is of course fine), and then an independent woman in charge and looking for a good time but surrounded by men who constantly disappointed ( Green Light, Kitty Kat, anyone?), then we shifted into the Mrs Carter mode: songs espousing the need for claiming via marriage and rings; no longer were you upgrading your man (a dubious message on its own) because now you both had big egos,  and then on while we were told girls ran the world, much of their power was connected to their bodies. This is not really surprising, Beyonce has always been a rather body conscious artist, but it is to say, her “message” has been rather inconsistent. And it is not that she has to have a message but rather that she has chosen to present herself as having one.  Beyonce holds the label of  “feminist” but is she really one? Does making money, being a female in charge really make one a “feminist”? Can one still be a feminist if they trade on their body and sex appeal to men for success and media coverage? Can one be a feminist when they still play the post-baby-body game? Of course this requires also asking: “How much can one woman do?”

But let us circle back to the “bitches”

Over at The Root Akoto Ofori-Atta gives a defense of Beyonce’s song by rooting it in “hip hop” (it certainly is) and citing how much of hip hop  is about  bravado, and it does beg the question: if it is good enough for the boys then why not for the ladies? Isn’t this just Beyonce being complex? Women do not always have to be nice; that is a sexist expectation forced on women too please and apease. But, there is always danger in adhering to the “what is good for the goose is good for the gander” logic; for me, part of feminism, its goals and power, is not just equality but also CHANGE; changing society and culture for the better.

You see, more than hip hop bravado this song plays into the common media-fueled stereotype that women cannot get along; that one woman’s (or person of color’s) success must come at that expense of another. Perplexingly there is no real way to process this stance; if it is about old beef with Ciara and Kerri Hilson as some have suggested then that is rather dated and therefore petty and unnecessarily viscous. If it is about future songstresses then why should they ever pay respect to a woman who labels them “bitches”? If it is about neither of these then it seems to best then speak to an attitude permeating throughout current popular culture of people with inflated egos and senses of self that labels any and every critic a “hater” and cannot stand criticism  It is a fragile or false sense of self and entitlement buit at the cost of others. Say what I will about “Girls (Who Run the World),” it is factually inaccurate and irresponsible (as if pop music has to be responsible) and reduces women to essential bodily functions, it was at least an attempt, a striving toward, a version of female unity and empowerment.

Once again, let me reiterate, I understand that it is dicey that I, a male, am critiquing a woman, a black woman, on her performance of empowerment, but it is about what  I am invested in, feminism which lifts up rather than tear down. If I really wanted to hear someone say to women “bow down bitches” I guess I would just listen to…I don’t know what because I have no need to hear women be told to bow down as bitches for anyone.


For further reading check out :Beyoncé Takes A ‘Bow’ But Needs To Have A Seat”


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One thought on “ON: My Back Won’t Bend: Beyoncé and Egocentric Pop Cultural Feminism

  1. wertykulator says:

    Really Appreciate this blog post, can I set it up so I receive an update sent in an email when you publish a new article?

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