Is Beyoncé a feminist icon?

She is! by Max Hill

Like it or not, for many people in our society, feminism is still a bad word. Female pop stars from Katy Perry to Taylor Swift to Madonna have openly rejected the term, citing the same tired “I’m not a feminist, I’m an equalist” argument we’ve heard a million times before. For this reason alone, the depressingly small number of female pop singers who do openly support feminism deserve our applause and support.

Beyoncé is one such woman.

It hasn’t always been this way — back in 2010, Beyoncé only referred to herself as “feminist in a way,” mainly because she valued her female friendships. But four years later, she’s publicly proclaimed herself a modern day feminist, both in her music and in her everyday life. She even wrote an open essay last year in response to a study which reported that 42 million women in the United States were living in poverty.

“We need to stop buying into the myth of gender equality,” she argued, urging men and women alike to fight for equal pay and equal treatment in society. That sure sounds like a feminist to me.

To be fair, Beyoncé isn’t a flawless exemplar of feminist ideology — her music videos skew towards the male gaze, and some of her lyrics are more than a little problematic. But arguing that these issues disqualify her as a feminist icon treats feminism like the kind of exclusive club that feminists have been trying for centuries to undermine.

Especially on her most recent album, Beyoncé, her lyrics have advocated sex positivity, self-confidence, girl power, and positive body images. With each new record, her feminist lens focuses more clearly on the issues affecting girls and women in North America and beyond.

Feminism is an open conversation, a movement with plenty of room for dissenting voices and different cultural experiences. Beyoncé’s is one such voice, and it deserves to be heard, both by her fans and her critics.

At the end of the day, Beyoncé is one of the most popular and influential women in the Western world, and she’s using her power to promote feminism and gender equality. What more can you ask?

No way! by Joel MacKenzie

Beyoncé is a strong woman. She’s a fantastic performer and artist. She is a feminist. But her feminism is problematic.

Feminism itself is a slippery term. Generally, it can be defined as advocating for women’s rights to achieve equality among the genders, on levels of economics, politics, and sociality. It is a movement that affects everyone, not just women. The problem is that it’s hard to say exactly what constitutes behaviour that strives to meet this goal. Thus, feminism is a constantly changing, open debate about the best way to do so.

Looking at Beyoncé’s music — the clearest vehicle for the pop icon’s opinions and influence on the general public — she only makes female empowerment statements in relation to men. This attitude does not contribute much to long-term gender equality.

Of course, I lack sufficient room here to do justice to anywhere near all of Beyoncé’s work. And she has done writing outside of her song lyrics that addresses feminism. But again, her lyrics are what she uses to communicate with the masses, and they should be seen as a fair representation of what she stands for.

I look here at two examples of her work, though this theme appears throughout.

Listen to “Single Ladies.” This song is an apparent response to not receiving a proposal from a man. From this point of view, the power remains in the man’s hands. The only agency that the woman assumes in the song is spiteful revenge amassed by flirting with other men.

Certainly, “Run the World” has a lot of explicit positives — suggesting that women college grads can be powerful, for instance. But beyond some simplistic notions about women power, the song begs for a gender struggle of women versus men, rather than equality. This perpetuates the same problem that feminism is a response to, and is exactly what spurs the reaction from loud-mouthed, ignorant persons (Men’s Rights Activists) who become threatened and take an opposite stance in the same gender struggle.

It is awesome that Beyoncé can stand as a strong woman and inspire anyone to feel empowered. And it is certainly necessary to talk about relationships amongst genders. But only when we can look at women as independent and equal, not only as such in relation to men, can equality be achieved.