Beyoncé Is a ‘Feminist, I Guess’

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Photo: Conde Nast

Turns out indestructible Beyoncé Knowles does have a weakness: She is afraid of being called a feminist. In the article accompanying her be-crop-topped turn on the cover of British Vogue, the magazine asked Beyoncé whether she considers herself a feminist. Her ambivalent response:

That word can be very extreme ... But I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything? I’m just a woman and I love being a woman. ... I do believe in equality and that we have a way to go and it's something that's pushed aside and something that we have been conditioned to accept. ... But I'm happily married. I love my husband.

Generally, asking a female celebrity whether she is a feminist is an exercise in baiting. (When it comes to click bait headlines, "is not a feminist" is the female media equivalent of "nip slip.") We know, at this point, that women who have a vested interest in being popular — i.e., celebrities — are still afraid of the word "feminism." Some fear alienating men: "I don't really think about things as guys versus girls," said Taylor Swift. "I'm not a feminist. I hail men, I love men," said Lady Gaga. Others object to negative associations: Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer objects to "the militant drive and sort of the chip on the shoulder" connected to the "negative word."

This doesn't offend me; I don't particularly care whether or not someone calls herself a feminist, particularly when, as is the case with Beyoncé, she so clearly is a feminist role model. To the extent that her selfie documentary had a message beyond "Beyoncé," the message was feminism. In her own words:

Women have to work much harder to make it in this world. It really pisses me off that women don’t get the same opportunities as men do, or money for that matter. Because let's face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define our values and to define what’s sexy and what’s feminine and that’s bullshit. At the end of the day, it’s not about equal rights, it’s about how we think. We have to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves.

So, no, I'm not offended by Beyoncé's ambivalence about the word feminist. (Back in 2011, Beyoncé offered to "find a catchy new word for feminism ... like Bootylicious.") Her waffling does come across as pretty weak, though. A woman who has worked so hard to cultivate an image of independence and strength, is terrified of one little word? Why? Is it because she's giving someone else "the power to define our values and to define what's sexy and what's feminine"? Because a certain pop star once told me "that's bullshit."