Girls Don’t Run the World

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.”

Visually, it looks like Michael Bay has been put in charge of a promotional video for SlutWalk.

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'”.

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36 comments
  1. Mantis said:

    Ah yes, the “freedom” to be exploited for the pervy entertainment of men. That’ll show ’em whose boss. /sarc>

    I couldn’t bring myself to actually watch the video, but judging by the screencaps, it’s the same tired parade of flesh that I’m forced to endure every time I dare to turn on the TV. I wonder what other dehumanizing behaviors will be touted as “empowering” by the FunFems? I dare not imagine it, as I’m sure it involves something like being used as a human toilet.

    “Today, I made the liberating choice to allow my boyfriend to take a dump in my mouth. Go me! Girl power! I’m in charge!!!!111!!” <<<< What the future looks like.

  2. It’s the hair-toss army! Krumptastic!

  3. Yeah, I finally watched that video this morning after seeing it posted for the bajillionth time and hearing about how female empowering it is. It’s about as empowering as a Lady Gaga video, a bunch of half naked women gyrating in front of a group of men and calling it “power.” The salute at the end just killed it for me. How the fuck is THAT supposed to be empowering? So, if I go by this video, to be an “empowered” woman I need to completely sex myself up for the male gaze (even though I’m supposed to be fighting against it?), gyrate around and make sure to lick my fingers seductively and get down on all fours at some point, and then, in the end, completely acquiesce my power to the ones I was trying to take my power from? I mean seriously, they couldn’t even be bothered to be fully clothed in the video. If I was in a roving gang of awesome ladies trying to take over the world I would at least wear pants and sneakers/boots. Definitely not heels! D:

    Such a fail of a video. I was expecting at least SOMETHING halfway decent for all the internet hype it’s been getting…

    “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?”

    Of course we don’t need a revolution in the west. If sexual objectification = power (at least according to this video) then we here in the western world have power out the ass. You know, because female objectification and sexualization has always been the root of the feminist movement and the ultimate tool for freeing us from the patriarchy. Anyone up for a SlutWalk? -_-

  4. Sargasso Sea said:

    Hi, Lishra!

    So, I guess the Official Feminist Revolution Uniform is a burlesque costume!!1!

    How am I supposed to tote my machine guns? Maybe that’s what garters are for! 😛

  5. This is great!

    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.

    This reminds me of a quote from Sheila Jeffrey’s Beauty & Misogyny that I tweeted last week:

    This belief is bound up with the notion that the consumers of this popular culture are knowledgeable and discriminating, imbued with agency and choice, able to select and reject from the smorgasbord of offerings in their own interests.

    It’s so CONSUMERIST!!! How can exhibitionism be empowering in a context that DEMANDS it from females in exchange for attention? I think it was 9/2 who used to say “BE FUCKABLE OR DIE.” And for females, that’s basically true. Be sexxy, or be INVISIBLE. That’s what Gail Dines has been saying, too. It’s not POWER when female visibility is both so LIMITED and on MALE TERMS.

  6. KatieS said:

    The expressions on her face are frightening, if you focus on those. I read many of her expressions as that of an empty human being, with, at the same time, a manic energy. I think it’s the face of a woman who has been horribly abused, killed inside but is making herself continue, in some way like a robot or a zombie. Then there are the seductive looks, too. They are frightening because they represent how women have been dehumanized into objects. Perhaps others will have a different response, but this just hit me in the gut.

  7. kurukurushoujo said:

    This is one of the most tiresome tropes in pop music: The Empowered Woman Who Can Do Everything. Has there been a female artist who didn’t do this to some extent? What always gets me is the complete lack of open criticism of male behaviour or constricting norms. It’s all about using the most of what you already have but not striving for more. Men are just a temporary convenience that is easily overcome- it presents a fairytale world of all-powerfulness that doesn’t exist and leaves women trying to live out a useless and draining fantasy of Having It All.

    There is only one song by a female pop musician that had some guts and that is BoA’s “Girls on Top”:

    Press CC to get English subtitles. Of course, this song was released with the tune beginning to play after “Girls on Top” ends in which BoA behaves traditionally feminine to “soften” her image again.

  8. kurukurushoujo said:

    Once more with feeling:

    Little did I know that WordPress embeds these videos automatically!

  9. rahelle said:

    Ahh, good old girl power! It’s like the devious sitcom wife who always gets her way by humourously withholding sex from the oh-so-loveable dude protagonist. Yup, the joke’s on the men, behind the scenes we girls run the show, with the fabulous powers of PIV. Empowering AND hot!

  10. FCM said:

    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.

    why yes. yes it is. i think the most important radical critique that any of us can do is an anti-PIV critique, because its whats at the foundation of womens subordination to men. it causes death, illness, unwanted pregnancy, ambivalent pregnancy, trauma bonding etc etc. its the very definition of female-specific harm, and is the clearest example i can think of (because its the only one) in which women are oppressed as women, by men AS MEN.

    and THEREFORE PIV-centric sexuality will NEVER, and i mean NEVER be the source of womens liberation, from men, no matter how its packaged. and clearly all the saluting of men (and thier nightsticks) and fuck-me nonutilitarian underpants are references to PIV-centric sex. ie. ITS NOT GOING TO WORK.

    i havent even watched the vids, but i will. the stills are very illustrative on their own.

  11. FCM said:

    ok i watched the vids. how empowering for beyonce as an artist, to have her lyrics CENSORED by “the man” who has a problem with the term “motherfucker” but certainly not with PIV or porn (and probably not with rape either, really)? as a song, it wouldve been better if they left the term in. it wouldnt have been less empornulated, or more likely to cause (or describe) a real revolution, but at least as an artistic piece it wouldve been intact. what a bunch of shit! who runs this motherfucker, indeed.

  12. FCM said:

    oh, and i also love the insinuation that if women were left to their own devices and lived in female-only groups out of the control of men, this is how they’d dress. this is every mans empornulated fantasy of womens true inclinations and preferences regarding dress. they may as well have had a sexy-pillowfight while they were at it…

    if there were no men around (and no patriarchal dress codes) it would be all about the comfort. the BDSMers, if there were any left, could form thier own town (and call it sexxxaytown), and noone would visit them EVER.

  13. So…girls run the world.. not women even*? So my 4 year old daughter runs the world, whereas I don’t. And it’s definitely not all the men in the white house/pentagon/military/porn industry/corporations/media who are running the world? Nope, actually it’s girls….

    The clip looks so desperate for all involved: the women and the directors… because it’s just a blatant lie. [or is it just that I now see the world through my radfem glasses]

  14. FCM said:

    yes it *is* a blatant lie. its a very clear example of a pomo/fun-fem favorite: if i say its true, then it is. all they have to do is SAY they have power, and they have it. they just have to SAY that girls run the world (yes, girls, not women!) and its true…or it pacifies men and makes it clear that theres no PROBLEM with the status quo, we wont be seriously fighting with you about anything serious, anytime soon, carry on!

    ultimately, its a framing of the issue (every issue!) from mens perspective. if the PROBLEM (with womens powerlessness, with male violence, with unwanted pregnancy) is WOMEN COMPLAINING ABOUT IT…well, the solution is to get women to stop fucking complaining. NOT to change whats actually happening, because whats actually happening benefits men. getting us to LIKE it is even better. YAY PORN! yay PIV-pozzie! its really sickening isnt it?

  15. maggie said:

    Empowerment fail. Tell African women they rule the world. Tell chambermaids in New York hotels that they rule the world – union membership does pay off -. Tell all women who have been raped in the last year that they rule the world. Tell child brides that they rule the world. Tell single mums and abandoned wives/partners that they rule the world. Tell all old women in care homes that they rule the world. Tell women in sport that they rule the world.

    Empowerment fail.

  16. ybawife said:

    Like the pornified culture we live in, womon in the pop industry have to keep delivering all this hyper sexual garbage in the belief that as womon we will buy it and that like porn, it is liberating womons sexuality and power. Oldest testo-male trick in the book. The only thing being liberated here is the nake gaze and the reassurance that womon can be duped into anything if the ‘cheque’, is huge enough.
    Rhiannon is exactly the same with all their talent these womon still allow themselves to be bought and sold deluded by the idea that this is ‘their’ free will in action. Exploiting their bodies and minds does have a polluting effect on the psyche after a while and surely the empty souless cavorting and grovelling to maladapted-maleness will result in self-destruction.
    I have not watched this latest trope either, but what I see here is enough to choke the life out of any thinking womon and young womon who see this get a message loud and clear the only valuable womon are those who strut and fake their sexuality to all comers…….

  17. KatieS said:

    Everytime I read the posts on this article, I think about Sinead O’Connor and how she handled her career. Here’s a video piece on her actions where she stood by her principles and her artistic integrity. This was before, on SNL, she tore up the picture of the pope in protest over child sexual abuse in the Catholic church. She sang the song “War” by Bob Marley and tore up the picture at the end (second link).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tTp2AZZhOc (link disabled, paste it in your browser)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYw8JR1N90o (link disabled, paste it in your browser)

  18. I LOVED Those links to Sinead O’Connor Katie.. She was a true revolutionary in every sense of the word.

    You have GOT to see this take on Beyonce’s Song:

  19. lishra said:

    Thanks so much for all the comments, folks! I didn’t put this in the post, but I suppose it’s implied, is how the idea that women have control is the same schtick that the pro-pornstitution folks push with their shouts of “AGENCY!!!!11!”

    And that’s a great video, cherryblossomlife. I’m now tempted to write a parody song called “Girls Run the World? (Rape)” to point out the most glaring proof that girls and women do not in fact run the world.

  20. KatieS said:

    Great video, CBL! I noticed she was recommending feministing’s website. Maybe someone should tell her about radfem hub. . . 😀

  21. Hecuba said:

    Excellent analysis Lishra of that awful propaganda video claiming ‘girls (sic) run the world. Title should have been ‘boys run the world!

    All those images of almost naked women gyrating around for men’s sexual titilation – yes indeed that’s real empowerment women because that is we are apparently – just men’s dehumanised sexual service stations. But we mustn’t criticise the claim that girls (sic) run the world must we because it would upset menz sensibilities and it is vitally important women focus on men and their needs (sic) 24/7.

    Thank you Cherryblossomlife for locating the critical video which utterly destroys the pseudo claim ‘girls run the world.’ Only one issue with this video and that is author promotes feministing. Up to that point the author’s analysis was spot-on – yes radfem hub should be the one being promoted not that pseudo feminist site!

  22. KatieS said:

    I just watched it again and she is amazing and her message strong and very cool, except for the end, including the Jessica Valenti book (goes with feministing).

  23. SheilaG said:

    As I’ve said, we are up against a 5000 year system of outrage — men attacking, manipulating, colonizing and murdering women. The system stays in place as long as women go along with it, as long as token women get media attention, as long as young women continue to be brainwashed by the biggest brainwashing system the world has ever known. The ad / media industry hires more psychiatrists and psychologists to push human buttons, to control and continue to create a female conditioned system of self degredation… they hire more of these human manipulation brain experts than any university on earth, and then will brainwashing going on 24/7, claim its consensualk, that’s it’s choice.

    There is nothing choice within male domination at all, and as long as a new generation of women can be made to drink the cool aid, buy the high heels, and buy the fashions…. well, there’s a reason radical feminists continued to be the most hated on earth…. we could cause the boys to lose billions of dollars in the female industry machine. And no, I won’t watch these videos… the stills are sickening enough!

  24. Luckynkl said:

    UCP is on the right track when she says:

    It’s so CONSUMERIST!!! How can exhibitionism be empowering in a context that DEMANDS it from females in exchange for attention? I think it was 9/2 who used to say “BE FUCKABLE OR DIE.” And for females, that’s basically true. Be sexxy, or be INVISIBLE. That’s what Gail Dines has been saying, too. It’s not POWER when female visibility is both so LIMITED and on MALE TERMS.

    Now take it one step further. Men control the entertainment industry and it’s their way or the highway. Women don’t get to work unless they agree to go along with the program – on men’s terms. Don’t like it? Don’t work. I’ve heard quite a few women in the business – from singers to actresses to comedians – complain about it. If they don’t go along with the program, they can kiss their careers goodbye. I heard one female comedian flat-out say that it’s a big no-no to tell jokes about men. It means instant death to their careers. There are very few exceptions to the rule. Is it really any different in any other male-controlled institution or industry? (Which is basically, all of them). Women are told how to walk, talk, act, look, dress. Those who don’t conform will be punished, won’t find work and will be starved. Which is why so many feminists die paupers. Dare we speak about this? Or is it just safer to kick the master’s dog?

  25. FCM said:

    Is it really any different in any other male-controlled institution or industry? (Which is basically, all of them). Women are told how to walk, talk, act, look, dress. Those who don’t conform will be punished, won’t find work and will be starved. Which is why so many feminists die paupers. Dare we speak about this? Or is it just safer to kick the master’s dog?

    wait…we *are* speaking about this. arent we? and no, its not any different. its just more of the same shit. (oh, and hi luckynkl! thanks for reading and commenting.)

    i do think theres some tweaking of fun-feminism (and the mainstream) here at the HUB in many of our first-posts, including my first post here which was half spoofing the fun-fem favorite (and favorite pasttime) “sociological images” and other half radfem analysis of media imagery and PIV propaganda. but i think (no, i know) the HUB authors are all on the same page. it *is* all about male institutions and men controlling women, including forcing them to adhere to fun-fem rhetoric, PIV-propaganda and male-centrism, in order to eat, and in order NOT to be subjected to mass-rape as prostituted or public women, which is exactly what happens to women who are unable to “support themselves” (and each other) under patriarchy. this *is* what we are talking about, and you are absolutely correct. this *is* the whole entire point.

    i dont know about kicking the masters dog though…perhaps more like “tweaking each others corsets” (as i believe zeph has said?) and expressing the rage we have felt these last years, radically-blogging into the void and alone, before we found each other. i hope this post and all our posts are read from that perspective, because thats the perspective from which we are writing, as we detailed in our “about” page, and in the first post on this blog on opening day. and i hope none of us are misdirecting our rage, and that we will always check ourselves and re-direct if necessary, and that includes HUB authors, commenters, and lurkers too. thanks for the reminder.

  26. The classic online half-radfem rallying cry: “I Blame the Patriarchy!!!” and its corollary: “You’re soaking in the patriarchy!!” And we see what going only halfway leads to. True radical feminism must be able to tease out the difference between blaming specific women for their lot in life and questioning the choices and decisions women make. Andrea Dworkin is theoretically a role model at that half-radfem blog referenced above, but the folks there only have a facile understanding of what she actually said and did. In reality, she wrote a book that extensively dissected Right Wing Women. She didn’t blame them, but she didn’t shy away from looking very closely at what was going on with their ideology and behavior and the background and foreground thereof. There is a difference in radical feminist and liberal feminist analysis and conclusion and we’re the ones to see the difference and do something with it.

  27. FCM said:

    That’s an excellent example noan. In RWW, Dworkin didn’t rage against right wing women themselves, even though she did provide a devastating (and compassionate) critique of that lifestyle, and their motivations, (hint: we share them) and sacrifices and payouts too. Dworkin was compassionate, but unflinching. She was perhaps even too compassionate, when she talked about men victimizing each other tooooo!!!1!11 but there you go. And she was unapologetically rageful, but didn’t direct it at the women she examined. Not the woman who ripped her off in Greece (as I recall?) And not right wing women, even though she describes a terrifying incident at a conservative rally where a bunch of rww nearly pushed her off a balcony because she was a butch feminist, and a jew.

  28. YES, Dworkin did all that and experienced all that, exactly! And she didn’t complete her analysis at blaming the patriarchy, she started with the understanding of its existence and delved deeply into how it operates. At the end of that kind of analysis we have a better understanding of what kinds of things will have to be done to dismantle the patriarchy. Half-radfems seem to be happy to think that someday something magical will come along and make that happen and in the meantime we can all just sit around chatting about the icky patriarchy. I think it’s fully radical to believe that it is up to us to figure out the exact details of our oppression and DO something about them. FCM, you have done both by identifying the harm of PIV AND making it obvious what women need to do about it. It isn’t “kicking the master’s dog” to point out that as long as women contribute to the system, the system is going to keep existing. Tearing down those women won’t make anything better. But showing how they are contributing to the system is how we are going to get a whole lot of women to stop doing that (because we do it automatically or for self-preservation, of course). There’s no magic that’s going to fix the system for us — we have to be tough enough to hear hard truths and act on them.

  29. lishra said:

    Thanks for covering the bases, FCM and NoAn. I’m definitely not blaming Beyoncé for this. It’s not solely her creation nor did she write the rules of patriarchy that she’s forced to operate by within her industry (if she wants to be popular). To the extent she had a hand in the direction/message of the song and video, I’m sure her intentions were quite good even. (At the bottom of the post, I link to an MTV news article where Beyoncé says she’s kinda-sorta a feminist and talks about the importance of her relationships with women in her life.)

    With the post, I just wanted to show how this is not what actual power looks like, that it’s simply a part of faux empowerment culture that just wants to act like women have control, when of course we don’t. I mean, in some ways the song is actually correct in that women — and their cheap or unpaid labor, etc. — do “run” the world. But, of course, that’s not how the song will be widely interpreted. The particular mainstream ‘girl power’ idea isn’t helpful to women in the long run, even if there are some women who enjoy it. It’s the same thing with when radical feminists critique the porn and prostitution industries AS industries, and we get called “slut shamers” and are told that we hate prostitutes.

  30. Yes, what you said, Lishra!

    And of course in the popular imagination these two things go together:
    faux empowerment culture that just wants to act like women have control
    and
    women do “run” the world

    It relies on the old trope of how men are bossed around by women, must kow tow to women, and shrink before women’s mighty power. It’s also the update on the practice of giving “faint praise” to women for doing it all (the “I couldn’t do it without her” trope). It’s all just patronizing bullshit to get women to do just exactly what they’ve always done, stay in their proper places as sex objects, and not expect one iota more than the crumbs that are thrown our way.

  31. lishra said:

    Thanks, Noanodyne!

    I just found this post on the Huffington Post by Malcolm Harris who comes to same conclusions that girls do not in fact run the world and provides the necessary evidence. And speaking to what Noan described, the most recent comment on the post is a dude saying that the song is bad because it might empower women *too much*… and any empowerment of women is bad because “for all practical purposes” women have “equality” in the United States. It’s always funny how the men who say things like that are Exhibit A for the case that we obviously don’t have such equality.

    Also, check out the Twitter search for “beyonce feminist” right now… our gal from the video that cherryblossomlife posted earlier is quite popular! And for the right reasons! Right on.

  32. lishra said:

    Indeed, Mantis. I saw that earlier, but didn’t want to link to it because of all of it’s bad vibes ; ) It’s good to show what the other side of the feminist coin is saying about the subject though… and how ridiculous it is!

  33. How nice, an african american woman with blond hair. I guess women running the world doesn’t translate into “liberating black people from imperialist notions of beauty”

  34. KatieS said:

    Every time I see this post, another song comes to mind, from the second wave. It is by Malvina Reynolds, entitled “We Don’t Need the Men.” It is hilarious. I was going to post it here, but I could find no mention of it online except for it being part of a vinyl record, “Virgo Rising: The Once and Future Woman,” which I owned in vinyl, and loved. A friend of mine also remembers it, though we were not part of the same circle when I owned the record.

    One reason I thought about it is the image of Malvina Reynolds being the polar opposite of the Beyonce performance. Here are two other songs by Malvina from youtube. The first one I’m posting because of the photo on the cover of the album. I find this an absolutely beautiful photo, she is old, her hair is not cool looking, you can see all kinds of wrinkles in her face, and she is not smiling. But she is absolutely beautiful, a face of someone who has told her truth as she sees it. A role model for young women in both her truth-telling and how we might want to look as we age. The song, “I don’t mind failing” is not strictly feminist, but it is about not compromising to gain position/power.

    The second song, “No Hole in My Head, Too Bad” is a feminist song. I offer the video in contrast to the Beyonce video. First, look at how Malvina is dressed (kinda frumpy, I like!) No makeup, glasses, etc. Her body language is not sexually suggestive in any way, though one of the lines in the song is about sex, the effect is of a wholesome sexuality, not degraded sex. Also, note the two men in the video, she is not deferring to them in any way, nor playing up to them. She gives them a friendly glance occasionally, They are deferring to her and giving her musical backup.

    My favorite song of hers, “We Don’t Need the Men” appears to be lost to history. I’d love to see a reissue of the Virgo Rising album. It had some amazing songs. For the record, here’s an interview with some of the women who made the album.
    http://www.onlinefolkfestival.com/blog/2008/08/05/virgo-rising/

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