I'm gonna start out by introducing the song with the last of Chimamanda's lines in ***Flawless:
"Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes."
Don't get me wrong. Feminism can be confusing. With the rise of Third Wave Feminism, people are misinterpreting the intent and purpose of feminist activism and questioning its validity, legitimacy, and impact on the world and society at large.
Now, I don't exactly like this article nor the real purpose behind it, but this quote really puts it in perspective for people who don't understand: "First-wave feminism fought for women’s right to vote. Second-wave feminism fought for equality in the workplace. Third-wave feminism is fighting for the right for women to engage in self-destructive behavior and get away with it while making sure men do not," writes the author, Elijah Butler.
Have your controversial and ignorant opinions on Beyoncé and other female activist icons in the music and pop culture industries. You can (but shouldn't) slut shame, demonize, dehumanize, and criticize her, all for embracing her sexuality and intersectionally attacking misogyny, body shaming and slut shaming, and taking a stab at dismantling the patriarchy, because you're literally validating the entire purpose of her activism. You are driving her motivation because you are proving we are not equal, and that women do still experience blatant sexism. If you do not like Beyoncé because she is too sexual, you are probably part of the reason she is so open about her sexuality and encourages the personal embracing of ones own sexuality and sexual being. Here are some more lyrics broken down by their rhetoric:
"I took some time to live my life,
Don't get it twisted, get it twisted"
Take time for yourself. Take time to find yourself. Do not devote yourself, nor your life, to men nor the patriarchal agenda. Don't let people think you are a puppet being controlled by the patriarchy. Do not allow yourself to be a puppet controlled by the patriarchy. Take care of yourself, take care of your significant other, but you are not required to abide by the society's toxic stereotypical gender roles.
"Momma taught me good home training
My Daddy taught me how to love my haters
My sister told me I should speak my mind
My man made me feel so God damn fine, I'm flawless!"
I'm not sure if this rhetorical connection was 100% intentional, but I feel as though she is explaining how she is surrounding herself with supportive people and people that redirect her focus in a positive direction. Her mother taught her good manners and etiquette, her father taught her how to blow off people that don't support her enough and those who try to bring her down, her sister taught her to be herself and express herself, and to say what she thinks, to not let her voice be suppressed, and her man makes her feel good about herself. Sounds like a pretty good support system to me, reinforcing a positive mindset about the strength of women in a patriarchal society and one that is imperfect but judges based on those imperfections.
The next verse is a sampled interview from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, however, the general central theme is consistent with Beyoncé's rhetoric in other verses.
"We teach girls to shrink themselves,
To make themselves smaller."
Society literally teaches women that being fat is gross, and ugly, and unappealing. However, that standard isn't appropriate, seeing as most women don't have a perfect waist-to-height ratio and not all of them are just curvy enough to not be considered fat. We teach women that their value is rooted in the size of their waists, the size of their butts, the size of their breasts, and their BMIs, rather than what's in their hearts. Body shaming women in any way, shape, or form is unacceptable.
"We say to girls,
'You can have ambition, but not too much.
You should aim to be successful, but not too successful --
Otherwise, you will threaten the man.'"
We teach women to be humble. Society teaches women not to learn, to be dumb, that men will pick up after them and do the dirty work and the hard work. Society tells women that they should pursue their dreams -- as long as that isn't at the expense of any men. Women are told that they are less valuable in society and therefore don't need to strive to be incredibly successful because they won't amount to anything that a man does, because women are the inferior. The patriarchy upholds the power of men in these settings, perpetuating that they are inferior and should not work too hard, as they don't need to, and won't be as valuable as men are. That shouldn't be the case, though. Men and women are built differently, yes. Women are built differently than other women and men are built differently than other men, so why should women remain inferior and silent? Threatening the patriarchy with your social or legal status is something that has plagued men for years, as their masculinity is ever so fragile, and if you step into their box, you are no longer seen as valid of a woman, because you are "doing a man's job." Basically, we need to stop telling women to stay in these boxes. Women are capable of so much more than society tells them they are capable of.
"Because I am female,
I am expected to aspire to marriage.
I am expected to make my life choices
Always keeping in mind that
Marriage is the most important.
Now marriage can be a source of
Joy and love and mutual support.
But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage
And we don't teach boys the same?"
It's so traditional to teach women that one day they will find the man of their dreams and get married. In fact, many families encourage marriage, especially early on in life. Unfortunately that is an unacceptable and inappropriate standard to hold women to, as some women do not want to get married, or simply will not ever get married for whatever reason(s). This goes along with the expectation that women are also expected to endure pregnancy whether they really want to have children or not. I hear it so often from people's friends and family members, asking when this woman is getting married, if she wants children, if she has any men in her life, etc. Not only is that severely heteronormative and uncomfortable for some women, it's just not acceptable. Don't ask loaded questions like that. Women should be in control of their own bodies and lives, women's sole purpose isn't to marry and have babies. We should not be expecting our sisters and daughters and nieces to just find a man to marry and make babies -- their lives are so much more complex than that and we don't hold men to the same standard. We teach men that it's OK to not want to get married. Though boys do get asked the same questions about relationships and marriage here and there, they are more often expected to work hard and find a good career; maybe this is rooted in the historical polarized male-female gender role ideology, but still, not so appropriate, especially with changing times and the fact that women are not devoting themselves to marriage and having children as often anymore.
"We raise girls to see each other as competitors --
Not for jobs or for accomplishments,
Which I think can be a good thing --
But for the attention of men."
Society pits women against each other. Literally. Society tells women to compete with one another to look the prettiest, to have the biggest breasts, to have the biggest butt, to have the sexiest shape and proportions for their height, to be more ladylike and more feminine than one another, to be so much like one another that some women lose sight of the importance of their originality and authenticity. We live in a day and age of great material obsession and self-obsession, in which we focus on ourselves and our appeal to the rest of the world rather than real issues, like, who's going to get the next promotion based on performance. Just for example, women may feel compelled to fight against each other to win over a guy in their friend group over helping build each other up and support each other for accomplishments, such as good grades and performance rewards. This happens in both academic and workplace settings. It's time we start telling women that they are more than just eye candy and that they are much better than silly fights about who should get the guy, who actually got the guy, how pretty they are, and how popular they are in order to gain visibility by the men. No, it may not be the most ideal to suggest that women should be in competition for anything, but the fact of the matter is, we do create tension between women for these things. Women usually aren't working hard to support each other and build each other up when they're competing for jobs or accomplishments - the end result is usually met with even more tension, because we tell women to always compete with one another, that they are not good enough. This is unacceptable, and we need to start encouraging women, even at young ages, that they are worth more than what a man thinks of them, and that women should unite to be the greatest people they can be, not better [women] than each other.
"We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings
In the way that boys are."
If my point about slut shaming hasn't already been proven, we can revisit it here with this line of the song. When men have lots of sex, they are commended, called "stud," encouraged, considered a "ladykiller," etc. Men receive positive reinforcement for high levels of sexual activity and for sexual behavior. When men joke about rape and talk about women it's just "locker room talk." Except, it's not. Men do this publicly. Men do this to their female friends. Men say these things about their female friends behind their back...in places other than locker rooms. When women talk about having sex, they are called "slut," "whore," "skank," "tramp," etc. Women spread rumors about each other having sex. Again, sex can sometimes be a competition between women -- who has had the most sex, the least sex, the best sex, the most different types of sexual acts, and many other things. Men are competitive with sex too, but they are encouraged to engage in this type of behavior, whereas women are shunned and shamed for it. Women are shamed for exposing their bodies. There's literally a war on breasts, and it doesn't make sense. Heaven forbid a woman exposes her breast to feed her child, or feels extra sexy that day and wants to wear a low-cut shirt, or takes sexual pictures with her boobs out. Why is it that once a woman does that she loses her purity? Why is a woman's worth and value based on her sexual history? I find that fairly appalling and I would encourage us to change our attitudes about sex and sexist standards of sexuality. Women can't even have leaked sex tapes that they didn't consent to being publically released without being condemned for their sexuality and "whorish" behavior. No, that is not me saying I like Kim Kardashian, but she is a human. Who has sex. How revolutionary! (Not really. Sex is perfectly healthy. And it's perfectly healthy if you DON'T have sex.)
Of course Beyoncé is a feminist. Her lyrical rhetoric would support that 100%. However there is a misconception about feminism. Feminism is not the "Feminazi" misandry that people so easily and readily confuse with authentic intersectional feminism, which is pro-men, pro-self-expression, pro-trans, pro-color, pro-feminism for everyone. It's time we start recognizing where we are going wrong more often and recognizing, then rectifying these unacceptable standards perpetuated by society.