Beyoncé recently did something rare among popular musicians – she sent out a message of resistance. Beyoncé calls herself a “modern-day feminist” and released her own album, somewhat critical of the entertainment industry. Her song, Pretty Hurts, criticizes the industry for “shining a light on whatever’s worst,” and claims that “perfection is a disease of a nation.” In her song, Flawless, she includes a Nigerian feminist challenging society’s obsession with the success of men and minimizing women’s success to relationships with men. In a male-dominated industry, Beyoncé has tried to empower women and shine a light on gender inequality.
But there are limits to Beyoncé’s feminism. Her music continues to portray women as sexual objects for the attention of men. At the Grammys Beyoncé performed a highly sexual strip tease. In her new album, her music videos show her stripping for men, rolling in the water in her bikini, and dancing half naked. Several of the songs reinforce women’s dependence on men. In Partition, she sings, “Take all of me, I just wanna be the girl you like.” In Blow, she sings, “I can’t wait till I get home so you can tear that cherry out” – as if women should want violent sexual advances.
This is not a problem created by Beyoncé but is a problem of an entertainment industry that focuses on women’s attractiveness above everything else, and makes women insecure by filling the media with images of women that are unrealistic. According to the industry, women must be skinny, big breasted, have no hair or blemishes, and should be smooth and soft at all times. Images in magazines are carefully crafted, with even the thinnest models and celebrities touched up to look thinner or bustier. Modeling companies have even been caught recruiting women out of eating disorder clinics. In this industry, women are encouraged to obsess over the way they look, and are worth only as much as they are able to look or act sexy.
The more women are portrayed this way, the more women have serious problems with self-esteem, and the more violence against women is encouraged. One survey of women’s magazines showed that 75 percent of them contain at least one item about how to change one’s appearance through diet, exercise or cosmetic surgery. In the U.S., 20 million women and young girls develop a serious eating disorder sometime in their lives. It was found that 42 percent of girls in first to third grade already wished to be thinner. When women are portrayed as only existing to fulfill men’s desires, they are made into objects instead of people, only making violence against women more acceptable. One in three women in the world will experience physical or sexual violence. Of all women murdered around the world, 38 percent are murdered by their male partners.
Whether in music, films, commercials, or ads, the entertainment industry always uses women as sexual objects in order to make money. This is just like any other industry where people are seen only as dollar signs to make corporations profits. In Beyoncé’s song, Flawless, we get the message that a feminist is “a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” But this equality can only come about in a society with social, political and economic equality for all – not a society that uses people just to make money.