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Beyonce Isn't Afraid to Get Ugly on New Track

A lot has been said (including on this blog) about the sort of affable empowerment that is ubiquitous in Beyonce's chart-busting hits, especially on her latest record, I Am... Sasha Fierce, but the third single, "Diva" is more "fierce" than what you might expect. Unlike the Eisenhower-era feminism found in "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," which shows a woman who says she wants a man who "makes me and takes me, and delivers me to a destiny," "Diva" shows a woman who is entirely - and unapologetically - in charge of her own destiny. Claiming "Diva is a female version of a hustla," Beyonce takes the word the final step on its journey from a put-down used for women who were seen to be too self-absorbed into a badge-of-honor for women who are merely pursuing the money, power and fame that men take for granted (perhaps in much the same way that "bitch" is often used to describe women who speak their mind). She borrows Lil' Wayne's menacing snare from "A Milli" to deliver lyrics which celebrate "getting paid" and "ladies who talk back." In the video (which dropped just before Christmas), she borrows more than just the figurative swagger of male hip-hop stars for her dance moves, and ends it by literally exploding a metaphor for the way women are usually treated in rap music: a beat up pimpmobile full of female mannequin parts is set ablaze by Beyonce's cigarette as she turns her back and walks away. It's not a pretty image, but Beyonce seems to be saying that being a successful woman in the music biz isn't always about being pretty, either.

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Comments

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I'm torn...

I've always despised Beyonce because I find her incredibly annoying and too poppy and far too mainstream (I try to pride myself on being on the fringe). And I honestly don't understand the attraction, but whatever. Irrelevant. I'm torn because I am nearly loath-full of Beyonce. But with all these good things this site has said about her and her music, etc. I may have to give her a second chance.

not just music

you can appreciate the feminist aspects of her art without liking the music. i'm not big on beyonce's music, but for instance i can appreciate the amazing dancing in that other video. you don't have to feel conflicted.

Yeah its awesome being

Yeah its awesome being totally on the fringe and indie.
Come on, mainstream pop music is the most pure form of sonic bliss sometimes.

Meh

Wow, I'm kinda shocked Bitch is loving Beyonce. She's not original musically or lyrically. The best songs--in my opinion--that she's sung have been written by someone else and I just don't consider being half clothed relevant to her talent. Granted, she has a good voice and some of her songs are good, but a feminist? Really? A few anthems of telling men if she were a boy she would be better than them and copying Lil Wayne's beat about being a "female version of a hustla" (which I thought was a unisex term to begin with) makes her a feminist? I just hope and pray Beyonce doesn't make it into the print edition of any Bitch articles.

Wow, Bitch, you have

Wow, Bitch, you have disappointed me. I stumbled upon a great scholarly article about you guys while researching for a paper and have held a special place for you guys in my heart since. But praising Beyonce as a feminist? Are you fucking kidding me? Have you not heard her songs and witnessed the atrocity that is her lyrics? Here, let me provide you examples:

From Cater 2 U:

Let you know that I admire what you do
don't know if I need to reasure you,
My life would be purposeless without you.

Let me help you
Take off your shoes
Untie your shoestrings
Take off your cufflinks (yeah)
Do ya wanna eat boo (yeah)
Let me feed you
Let me run your bathwater
Whatever you desire...i'll supply ya
Sing you a song, turn my game on
I'll brush your hair... put your du-rag on
You want a foot rub (yeah)
You want a manicure
Baby I'm yours I wanna cater 2 u boy

I just want to take the stress away from you
Makin sure that i'm doin my part (oh)
Boy is there something you need me to do (oh)
If you want it (i got it)
Say the word (i will try it)
I know whatever I'm not fulfilling
No other woman is willing (oh)
Im gonna fulfill you my body and spirit

I promise ya i'll keep myself up
remain the same chick,you fell in love with
I'll keep it tight,I'll keep my figure right
I'll keep my hair fixed,keep rocking the hottest outfits
When you come home late, tap me on my shoulder i'll roll over
Baby I heard you Im here to serve you if it's love you need
to give it is my joy, all I want to do is cater to you boy

From If I Were a Boy (gender stereotype-reinforcing crock of shit):

If I were a boy
Even just for a day
I’d roll outta bed in the morning
And throw on what I wanted then go
Drink beer with the guys
And chase after girls
I’d kick it with who I wated
And I’d never get confronted for it.
Cause they’d stick up for me.

I hope you guys got compensated in some way for plugging "Diva" because it isn't any better. Why does it always have to be a "female version" of something? It just re-asserts that females are subordinated and as a result have to invent an feminized equivalent in order to keep up. Is that really what feminism is all about? The mere thought of a need to keep up with males is an insult to women everywhere, and I think "Diva" is a setback to feminism in everywhere, not to mention it associates a certain sense of respect with being a "hustler". I don't think I even need to go there.

Bitch, you should have known better.

I just wanted to explain

I just wanted to explain Beyonce's point of view to you. I'm a feminist and a fan so I think I can be objective. She did many interviews explaining that Cater to You is dedicated to men that are worthy of that kind of treatment..meaning men you would and have done the same for thier women. What is wrong with that? Why is nurturing your spouce opposite of feminism ideals? And the verse you chose for If I Were a Boy was meant to show what guys do that hurt women and how she WOULDN'T act like that. I think it is possible to be young and a fashionista and have feminist ideals..it shouldn't be all or nothing.

I know what she meant in the

I know what she meant in the verse I chose. I thought its gender-stereotype-reinforcing was done in a more rhetorical sense - by saying she WOULDN'T act like that, she assumes that the majority of guys DO act like that. I guess some perceive this type of gender-bashing as feminism, but it speaks nothing to equality.

And honestly do you really expect the vast majority of media consumers to keep up with Beyonce's interviews so they can listen to her defend her idiotic lyrics?

I never said it was all or nothing. I just don't think Beyonce has feminist ideals at all. Or if she does she has a very misogynist way of displaying it. Someone who's "young and a fashionista and have feminist ideals," hmmmm, look up Christina Aguilera and her Stripped album.

I strongly agree with the

I strongly agree with the Lee_09. While Beyonce may address some of the sexism in her industry by attempting to counter it with the "feminine" version of many male performers' music, the whole of her work is still very gendered in its confinement to female/male stereotypes.

Note the highly sexualized imagery of the posted music video, wherein the "female version of a hustla" is still made to display her body and sexuality in a stereotypically feminine way, while male performers' or the "hustlas" to which she refers display their sexuality (which is equated to their status) not so much by revealing their bodies but by describing their sexual conquests. The inequality between a "diva" and a "hustla" is automatically obvious in the different demands that are made on their respective sexualities or modes of physical expression; women are scantily and/or elegantly clothed, men are generally fully covered and less likely to appear in polished or evening garb. The lyrics also reinforce the values of our patriarchal, capitalist society (money is all-important and our foremost motivation, unreasonable sexual expectations are present in some verses - "when he pull up/wanna pop my hood up/bet he better have a six pack in the cooler...if you ain't gettin money then you ain't got nothing for me"). The content of the video is not sex-positive or empowering despite the fact that Beyonce states a sexual expectation of a potential partner's body. Rather, it reinforces gender stereotypes and stresses the superficial - men must be muscled and rich to attract the attention of a wealthy diva. People are treated as currency and can be earned with a sufficient amount of money and physical strength or "beauty".

Beyonce's work and presence in the music industry is a necessary response to the male-dominated media in our culture. She proves that women can have what men take for granted in terms of money, power, and respect, and she is particularly significant as an African American woman who can and does enjoy all of the aforementioned through her great commercial success. Kudos to Beyonce for being a strong, independent woman in her field. However, her work is feminist only in a fleeting sense. For a minute, we feel good about what we have supposedly gained. We feel good in our ability to "talk back", as the lyrics say, as well we should. But in the next moment, we realize that we are only basing our idea of empowerment on the existing patriarchal ideal of empowerment. We need to take it a step further. Of course, we can do as men do. We've been doing it. We can also do better. We can have money, power, and respect without defining people by their things and appearance. Individuals should be valued by their character, not by what they possess. We should use our money, power, and respect to create social change.

Also, I am curious as to what the author of the blog means by "ugly". Beyonce doesn't seem to be breaking any conventional standards of "beauty" in the video. Granted, the burning of plastic models sends a strong message about the traditional role of women in rap music and the artist's unwillingness to conform to that one-dimensional role. I would say that the gender role itself is ugly, though - not Beyonce's attitude towards it.

I used "ugly" to refer to

I used "ugly" to refer to the rather ruthless way she refers to getting money and power. The lyrics of the song even referring to robbing banks as a useful means of acquiring wealth, which is obviously not a proper thing to do. And such an obsession with money is frowned upon by our society (at least what we're taught in by moral teachers.) But in hip hop culture, being a hustler is seen as laudable, or at worst, a necessary evil -- but only for men. I think that it's maybe a dubious victory to demand equal license to be immoral or greedy, and not the first thing I would fight for, but I do think that it's a brave stance to take, to say that women have every right to be just as ruthless and materialistic as men.

And as to whether this sort of thing belongs in Bitch, I would say two things. One, I think that the very name of the magazine gets at the same ideas Beyonce is covering here. Both "bitch" and "diva" are used to refer to women who strive for success in a man's world, in ways that go directly against the gender normative values of being "docile" or "supportive." Two, I think that while people like Kathleen Hanna and Ani Difranco have done some amazing feminist work, they are working in "the fringe." Now, most music I listen to is far to the margins of the culture, but I think that Bitch has an imperative to cover not just the avant garde but the stuff that most women actually listen to. If Beyonce is the sort of feminism that most American women are likely to encounter, than it seems vitally important to be discussing it here.

I wold also like to point out that I am not an editor here at Bitch, or even a regular contributor, and that what I just wrote are merely my own opinions as both a fan of the magazine and someone concerned with the direction our culture is heading.

response

I agree that the stance Beyonce takes regarding how it is acceptable for women to adopt what are traditionally men's roles in any community is a brave and necessary stance to take on those issues. I would also go so far as to say that it is not wrong to "steal from the rich" to survive or to support your family or larger community. We are not past these issues at all. But I would like to see it taken a step further. After Beyonce responds to the male stereotype and establishes that women can be just as ruthless and materialistic by singing this song, maybe she could be even more progressive and write another song that denounces the entire system in which material wealth is valued above human life, that denounces the system in which a history of racism had made ruthless and materialistic privileged and usually white men CEO's and ruthless and materialistic usually people of color from more impoverished backgrounds gangsters and "hustlas". There's a whole interlocking system of racism and sexism here that I would like to see addressed by musical artists like Beyonce, who seem progressive in some ways (her music definitely deals with women's various roles in society and in relationships, etc.) and regressive in others (her image is highly sexualized in a way that is not necessarily either sex-positive or positive about self-image, she stresses the purpose of material wealth in her music, etc.). That might be wishful thinking, but I would at least be interested in discussing how we could change our system through music.

Also, I completely agree that this topic is relevant and totally belongs in Bitch. I just wanted to make a few points, as I think that Beyonce's significance as a feminist icon is complicated.

Thanks for posting this, and also for responding to my comment.

Hmmm....

I know Beyonce's work well and am a huge fan, which from the comments thus far, I don't see many who are. I consider her to be a feminist, even though I do not believe that is what the author was getting at. I think that she was stating that this one particular song was a feminist song. The author even exemplied but the use of lyrics from other songs of Beyonce's that Beyonce is not a feminist 100 percent of the time. One thing about feminism is that there is not one way to accomplish feminism, Beyonce's portrayal of feminism in this song is unconventional, no doubt. Beyonce, in her interviews(because I do follow them), always talks about the empowerment of womyn. She is a advocate for womyn in many ways; her songs are empowering to me and many others for the most part, and she also donated the entireity of her earnings from Cadillac Records to a women's shelter for battered women. She is independent and is respected in the world of Hip Hop, which is a male dominated field, this shows why she is a strong woman. Her lyrics may not always be about the empowerment of womyn and they may be very unconventional but they are empowering and meant to be empowering. Everyone has their own view of feminism, maybe Beyonce doesn't feel as if copying as man's pergogative is detrimental to her womanhood, she surely didn't feel that way about getting married. Maybe she doesn't feel that way about skimpy clothes, I don't.

One of the things I've

One of the things I've always liked best about Bitch is that it discusses feminism in the context of pop culture, but doesn't treat pop culture with pessimism. To treat pop culture with pessimism is to make like people are fools, and she who walks around talking about how everybody else is a fool is an asshat.
I think we've all taken enough media and gender studies courses to agree that perhaps Beyonce is not a "Feminist." But, she certainly negotiates feminism, gender and sexuality. That she does so, and pretty actively, is uncommon and noteworthy.
To that end, I don't like "Diva" that much. It's a bit too chopping for my taste. When I read the lyric "Diva is a female version of a hustla" in the article, I didn't realize she was going to say it like a zillion times. Once or twice would have done. I'm a bigger fan of "If I were a Boy" because it shows off her pipes and I think there is some truth in the idea that men (boys) don't always fully grasp the complicated roles women have to play in relationships. It may not be feminist to write a sad song about it, but it's pretty real to admit that it causes women sadness.

exactly,

I don't think anyone is trying to argue that she is the next leader of the feminist revolution, or something like that. Beyonce's type of music isn't really my thing, but I'm always interested in being kept up to date on how gender is being dealt with in mainstream culture, especially when it's outside the feminist circle. Thanks for the article!

Constructive Criticism that needs to be said

She's not a Diva because Diva's don't copy of their other female competition in the music industry. For example the Diva video, does ANYONE notice how she seems to be jocking Rhianna's weird mysterious clothing style now! Has anyone noticed that she's tried to copy Ciara's gravity defying backwards lean dance move!? Oh yeah the concept for "if i were a boy" was totally stolen from ciara too! I hate it when women try to compete by copying off other women (younger women at that). It shows insecurity and Beyonce is too successful, has worked too hard, is too mature, & too well into her prime to be stealing other peoples ideas. She could at LEAST make what she steals look better but she doesn't because it doesn't fit HER. She needs to remember that her beautiful VOICE got her where she is and so she need not try so hard with her image.
Beyonce has a faaaarrr superior voice in comparison to singers like Rihanna and Ciara so why copy their style? She'll always have them beat when it comes to vocal talent. But still, she totally tries to capitalize off of other peoples ideas and foolishy thinks that no one notices. I personally think the "Diva" video is her worst video. I like that song and she totally disappointed me with the video. No one can tell me she didn't look like she struggled dancing in those futuristic platforms. She almost seems off beat and somewhat neverous in her steps. She doesn't pull off the fashion in the video because she doesn't have the "effortless", cool, mysterious sexiness for it (or in other words she LOOKS like she's trying to hard to pull it off). And she'll never be able to pull off ciara's backwards lean dance move by going ALL THE WAY TO THE GROUND & BACK UP AGAIN! No one has Ciara's muscle controll for that move! And even if she finally did perfect the move it will still originally always be Ciara's move. Come on now!
Why can't Beyonce just be her sassy, glamorous over the top self? That's who she is and the world loovves it! I love it! No one expects her to be that way around the clock. But as far as her career goes that's the stage image she needs to portray because it's her most original. But yet the more I see her copying others the more I truly think Beyonce doesn't know who she is or how to take her own image & career to the next level without copying someone else's ideas. I'm disappointed in her.

Yes But...

I agree with you that Beyonce could have done better, and that she doesn't need to be anything other than herself. (I've always been a fan-not huge, just liked some of her songs, and *loved* that she could ACTUALLY sing and do it while dancing, and so shut up those "But it's so *hard* that's why so-and-so less talented artist can't do it) And I *love* Ciara also, because she is an A-class dancer, and agree that the back bend is her signature.
But I think we're all getting too over the top with the 'copying' thing. (And by 'we' I mean current popwatchers). I mean, someone is influenced by someone and suddenly they're copying. Never mind that many of the things the first person did were done earlier and earlier-I mean, nothing's all that new. Quite frankly, it's pop music-it can never be all that original, because the majority of them are using the same producers/choreographers/etc. I don't really care about so called originality-as long as you are making good music, and either are writing/co-writing it yourself, or have a voice that is a blessing from on high, and are not *pretending* you are so original and yet out right stealing someone else's stuff-I don't care.
I mean-I *love* Lady Gaga, for the reasons above (sings, sings *live*, writing much of her music) But the whole "she's super original" thing is mostly marketing and managment. She was influenced by Dale Bozzio, David Bowe, Grace Jones (and I would argue Christina Aguilera, but we don't need to start up *that* shit again). And she admits most of them as influences. As long as she does so, wonderful. I hate high fashion, so it never mattered to me anyway. But so many young fans have bought her tagline of originality, they are running around accusing many other artists of swagger jacking what she herself made up based on other people.
I know I went on and on, I just wish people (i.e. the pop market) would stop buying music based on image not talent. (Which is foolish of me since that's how pop music is sold. Ah well. Rant, over.