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Malcolm Harris

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Beyoncé : Accidental Feminist? And Why We Should Care!

Posted: 05/23/2011 5:32 pm

The other day as I attempted to lull myself into a mini-subway meditation, a little blonde girl of perhaps nine or ten years of age plopped herself down next to me, iPod in hand, and began singing her little heart out: "Who run the world? Girls! Who run this motha? Girls! Who run the world? Girls!"

Well, I immediately looked up, peered over my trusted dark shades and shot a disapproving look directly at her doting and beaming mother. I'm sorry but the lyrics, "Who run this motha?" just didn't sound right coming out of this little cherub's mouth. But then it dawned on me, I'm sure this precious child had no idea what the abbreviated word "motha" truly meant. While the majority of the lyrics were garbled and ad-libbed, it was crystal clear how fully aware and empowered this little girl became when she reached the chorus, "Who run the world? Girls!" As my annoyance gave way to intrigue, I started to wonder: Has Beyoncé purposefully become a 21st century feminist or is she just out to make an extremely catchy song? However, by the time I made my way home and conducted a quick Google search of the lyrics, it became apparent that perhaps I had overshot Sasha Fierce's intentions.



While Beyoncé's history of "Girl Power" can be traced back to her days with Destiny's Child with such hits as "Independent Woman," "Jumpin'-Jumpin'" and "Survivor," there is definitely something about this particular anthem that seems to have struck a triumphant chord with young girls and women alike. This being said, Beyoncé's latest "you go girl" offering isn't short on venomous and vitriolic detractors.

Last week Beyoncé's highly anticipated video for "Run The World (Girls)" debuted after her appearance on American Idol. A recent YouTube examination revealed almost 17 million viewers have watched this video in less than a week after its debut. Of course, I realize this has a great deal to with the fact it premiered on the highest rated television show in American history, but something tells me the rapid success of this video has more to do with the hook than it does with its coming out party or her fashion on steroids style video. My hat goes off to Beyoncé's stylist, Ty Hunter, who pulled off a magic trick of epic proportions. It's not everyday one can view a video with a musical artist who can successfully don Alexander McQueen, Gareth Pugh, Givenchy Couture and a host of other emerging designers without detracting from the storyline. Yet and still, with all these glorious things going for it, there was something about this victorious mantra and jam-packed video that just didn't sit well with me. Then on Sunday night as I watched Beyoncé's "bring the house down" performance on the Billboard Music Awards, the reason for my discomfort struck me like a burst of well-appointed concert pyro. The reason none of this was sitting well with me was the "fact" that this song simply is not true. Girls don't "Run the World" and in my opinion, maybe this is the problem.

As a volunteer and supporter of the CARE organization that works tirelessly on behalf of empowering women and girls around the globe, I know firsthand these lyrics simply are not based on fact. Without getting on my soap box, it is a fact that if we don't collectively do more to assist organizations like CARE, these young girls may never have an opportunity to contribute to society, let alone run the world. We must assist in preventing young girls from being married off at the tender ages of 12 to 16 in developing countries, as well as assure they are afforded the benefits of proper education, health care and basic human rights. It is also a fact that if we do not serve in breaking this cycle of inequality, these under-served girls will be doomed to a life of poverty, illiteracy, torture and rape. And for me, I think this is way too large of an obligation to place at the doorstep of any one pop singer or catchy song.

As I thumbed through the cacophony of comments associated with Beyoncé's latest video, I couldn't help but be surprised by the fact there was an underlying discussion being had with a clear feminist tone. Of course, there are always the agitators who focus on the merits of co-opting of beats, dance moves and style choices, etc., but the pivotal dialogue seems to have more to do with the question of whether this was a song that helped or hindered women and young girls. And for my money, I thought this was a marvelous discussion being held. No matter what your opinion about Beyoncé and her music may be, at the end of the day, as an artist I believe she has done her job by igniting conversation.

 

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