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Is Beyonce a Fake Feminist?

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Apr 23, 2014 | 1:25pm EDT

Beyonce, Grammy PerformanceCBS

Given the recent statements Beyoncé has made along with some backlash she's received from others, it has to be asked: Is Beyoncé a fake feminist? On the one hand she makes grand statements, like this one, taken from a recent Out Magazine interview:

There is unbelievable power in ownership, and women should own their sexuality. There is a double standard when it comes to sexuality that still persists. Men are free and women are not. That is crazy. The old lessons of submissiveness and fragility made us victims. Women are so much more than that. You can be a businesswoman, a mother, an artist, and a feminist—whatever you want to be—and still be a sexual being. It’s not mutually exclusive.

It sure sounds like a feminist sentiment, doesn't it? She is saying all of the right things here. But Beyoncé is an icon, a businesswoman; she's someone whose very career depends on (among many other things) her ability to say the right thing. But what do some of her actions, or inactions, tell us about her true thoughts on feminism?

 Thigh Gap and Messages About Body Image

Beyoncé recently came under fire with accusations of photoshopping an Instagram shot of herself. In the picture, people claimed that the gap between her thighs was created through photo manipulation (they observed some strange effects on other parts of the picture). If it's true, then that is certainly problematic for a so-called feminist. Obviously, Bey gets photoshopped all of the time for her high-fashion shoots (which are fabulous), but to do so with an Instagram picture sends another message: that her natural, un-retouched body is not something she wants to share with everyone. This is a corrosive message to send to her fans, especially the younger lot, considering our culture's epidemic of body image issues. Beyoncé is often such a great champion of her curves, but this alleged manipulation sends a contradictory message.

Mrs. Carter Versus Beyoncé

When Bey announced the Mrs. Carter Show World Tour she got a lot of heat from fans who wanted to see their Queen Bey, not Jay Z's wife. The very concept of taking your husband's last name still sparks debate among women and feminists, but to be a pop star known for songs like "Independent Women," "Survivor," and "Run the World (Girls)," calling yourself "Mrs. Carter" is bound to spark some controversy. Around this time, Beyoncé also released the track "Bow Down" which many found offensive to women (due to the repetition of the lyrics "Bow down b**ches"). In her defense, it has to be said that being proud of your husband's name (especially when your husband is Jay Z) should not automatically be deemed anti-feminist. And "Bow Down" was really a playful track that functioned as an ode to Houston trap music. She also used the song to address her break from music and her new position as a wife and mother: "I took some time to live my life/but don't think I'm just his little wife."

The "Drunk in Love" Conundrum

Bey has been attacked in the past, most recently for her husband Jay Z's lyrics, playfully referencing the abusive relationship between Ike and Tina Turner on Beyoncé's "Drunk in Love" track. But Jay rapping "eat the cake, Anna Mae" is just that — it's playful. The joke may be lost on some — and may, indeed, be inappropriate, but one could argue that asking people to stand by literal interpretations of their music is problematic. Still, Beyoncé never spoke on the issue... but does she ever address specific issues in feminist debate?

Gender Equality, According to Bey

Now, in Beyoncé's defense, she did write a piece titled "Gender Equality Is a Myth!", and has spoken up about equal pay — props for that! And, sure, that alone could make her a true feminist! But it was another piece filled with clichés. Do we know where Beyoncé stands on harder issues like abortion and birth control? No. And we probably never will, if Beyoncé plans to keep on being Beyoncé. She's not a controversial figure, for the most part. She's loved and enjoyed by feminists and non-feminists alike. So she seems to say just enough to claim the title "feminist," without alienating any other part of her fan base. And the truth is, there's nothing wrong with this. It could even be that she is, simply, a pop star first and a feminist second.

If Beyoncé is a fake feminist or a real feminist (a difficult question ultimately, because everyone does not agree on the definition of the word), it's significant that she claims the title, and that she's speaking up (even if in clichés) when she could really say nothing. Some ask, "Who cares?" Who cares if our celebrities are feminists?" But for some of us, feminism is actually a fairly simple idea that should be embraced by everyone. So yes, it matters if Beyoncé is a feminist. And, even if it's difficult to discern her true intentions, it's good to see her bringing awareness to the very idea. Now, if we can just get her (and other celebrities like Miranda Kerr and Kim Kardashian) to stay away from the photoshop tools they have (allegedly) been using on their Instagram pictures, we'd be making great strides over here.

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