Beyoncé And the F-Word

Beyonce

Beyoncé

Though she’s agreed to the label of “feminist” before, Beyoncé–like many female celebrities–hasn’t always been eager to wear that title. “That word can be very extreme,” she told British Vogue last year. “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?”

No matter what she calls herself, Beyoncé is standing up again for gender equality in her essay that appeared on the Shriver Report yesterday.

We need to stop buying into the myth about gender equality. It isn’t a reality yet. Today, women make up half of the U.S. workforce, but the average working woman earns only 77 percent of what the average working man makes. But unless women and men both say this is unacceptable, things will not change. Men have to demand that their wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters earn more—commensurate with their qualifications and not their gender. Equality will be achieved when men and women are granted equal pay and equal respect.

Though the term doesn’t appear anywhere in the piece, “feminism” is still defined as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” so we don’t think that label is extreme at all. It fits just right.

Though it’s easy to see how a celebrity could write something like this and still hesitate over labeling, as less assured pop stars than Beyoncé do so all the time in attempt to distance themselves from negative connotations that could hurt their record sales. (See: Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga.)

So there’s the stereotype of “the militant drive and sort of the chip on the shoulder,” (which is how Lean In author and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer envisions the term, and why she rejects the label herself), which doesn’t help the movement. Then there’s over-identifies like  Miley Cyrus and Courtney Stodden, who, as Michelle Juergen put it, “misunderstand feminism as sexual exploitation of the self or willful adherence to a traditional beauty standard.”

But does Beyoncé discomfort with the loaded term make her any less of a feminist? And what else should we call her? Perhaps we can take a page from her 2011 Harper’s Bazaar interview answer:

“I don’t really feel that it’s necessary to define it. It’s just something that’s kind of natural for me, and I feel like… you know… it’s, like, what I live for.
I need to find a catchy new word for feminism, right? Like Bootylicious.”