- Beyoncé’s video “Run the World (Girls)” premiered the other day, and it is a veritable fun-fem-a-palooza.
Looking blonder than ever, Beyoncé doesn’t stray far from the current template prescribed for popular female singers. Although she praises women who are “college grads”, this nod is quickly undercut as she and the dancers drop to their knees and writhe on all fours. The road to empowerment through making gobs of money is promoted in typical Beyoncé style (see also: “Why Don’t You Love Me” & “Irreplaceable”). A ‘women can do it all’ message is apparent: “Strong enough to bear the children/then get back to business.”
Beyoncé appears unfazed by the groups of menacing dudes with night sticks.
And did I mention there’s a friggin’ lion in the video? Cuz there is.
Overall, the video and lyrics are pushing the idea that females ‘actually’ have control over everything, despite the fact that violent dudes surround us (even at your sexy-lady-exclusive meeting under the bridge with the commie red flags everywhere!). See, it goes like this: we have the babies, we have the capacity to make a bunch of money, and we have our sexuality. But mainly we have our sexuality. Out in the interwebz, the video is being lightly critiqued for presenting ‘women’s sexual powers’ as our only kind of power. However, in a culture that promotes this exact kind of hyper-sexual behavior and display for girls and women, simply claiming that one is choosing it does not make it a magically liberatory ‘power’, nor does the decision of the individual work towards structural change.
Females are not benefited by the kind of rhetoric which acts like women really — in some super secret, underground way — control the world. This kind of message is perhaps the worst branch of ‘empowerment’ culture. It presumes we already won, that we don’t have to fight. Women gain nothing when we delude ourselves into thinking that we have structural power. It’s nice to feel in control, but a feminist movement cannot be built on good feelings. I’ll take “atrocity feminism” any day.
It’s notable that the music video features almost exclusively women and men of color, and in parallel with the ‘exotic’ elements of clothing, location, and other imagery. In the teaser clip released to hype the video (below), the word “revolution” in red flashes erratically through choppy scenes of Beyoncé in a non-contextualized beaded headdress, tanks rolling down a street, and all-woman militaristic marching.
The clip seems to be saying that revolutions are only are possible “over there” in those dusty police states. It’s also part of the idea that Western women have it so good compared to those foreign brown women and their wacky cultures — what would we need a revolution for? Meanwhile, “our” culture is supposed to be female-oppression-free because Beyoncé’s neon yellow gown has thigh-high splits up the sides. Some freedom.
By the end of the music video, for all that girl-power and ra-ra spirit, Beyoncé and the other women all salute the weaponized men standing before them. The pseudo-confrontational gestures and catchy lines all turn out to be just non-threatening ‘girls’ dancing around.
Wow, it’s almost like it’s a metaphor for liberal feminism. Huh.
Related viewing and reading:
Willow Smith’s music video for “21st Century Girl” – uses similar themes but with actual girls.
MTV News article, “Beyonce Says She’s ‘A Feminist, In a Way'”.