Throughout history, “woman” has been mostly defined on society’s terms. Not women’s.
You grow up either as a princess or as a “tomboy.” You’re single, waiting or hoping to be married, or married. A career woman or a domesticated one. Compliant or bossy and entitled. Pretty or smart. You are either friendly (cc: smile) or cold (cc: resting bitch face). Nice or nasty. Perfect or a mess. And, on top of that, you’re treated entirely differently based on your social identity.
It’s as if we have to fit into a particular box categorized by what is expected of us or what is not. These boxes have been meant to label us and confine us. The messages we’ve been fed both explicitly and implicitly have ingrained in us: Stay in your lane. Stay small. Don’t cause a fuss. Sit pretty. Smile. Agree. These messages have also infiltrated men in how they interact with and perceive women.
Beyoncé performing the words of Warsan Shire, “women… cannot be contained,” was a reflection of the current reverberations of women around the world who have had enough and who are rejecting those boxes. Women who could barely be contained in the streets of Washington, D.C. and around the world on January 21st during the Women’s March. Women who refuse to stay quiet and accept the injustices surrounding us. Women who are resisting even after the march.
We will not be contained. We were never meant to fit into boxes assigned to us. We were never objects to be manipulated or grabbed. We were never meant to stay silent or hidden. We were never meant to stay small.
We are beautifully complex and diverse. We are large and we’ve got greatness to bring to the table. And to the world. May we live by our own definitions of the word, “woman.”
Beyoncé met each of us where our identities so often intersect. To name a few: a daughter, an African American, a mother, a partner, a shero, a victim. She reminded us of the struggles, pain and triumphs that unite us in sisterhood. In fact, Vanessa Williams tweeted that in 1993 her pregnancy was hidden from the camera during her Grammys performance.
She reminded us (“Do you remember being born?”) that it is a woman who brought each of us into the world. It’s a woman who can carry and grow twins in her body while wearing heels and putting the work in. As she strutted down that table pregnant with twins, she reminded us of the many ways that a woman provides — creatively, financially, emotionally, intellectually, biologically. As Bey appeared to defy gravity in that chair, so do we — each day in both small and large moments when we assert ourselves.
Beyoncé, in all her crowned glory, illustrated the ways we cannot and will not be confined as women. Though times have changed and evolved, we are seeing on a national level just how far we still need to go. This performance was a visual reminder of the ways in which women are a powerful force to be reckoned with, echoing the activism going viral in our country.
Warsan Shire once said, “If we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious. One thousand girls raise their arms.”
Beyoncé owned a story that contrasts so drastically with the generational, systemic narrative that we’ve been told about ourselves. That’s been written for us. Now it’s up to us to shatter those boxes and own it too.