Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix
by Sesali Bowen
I didn’t even have time to learn all the lyrics to Beyonce’s new song “Bow Down” before people started policing whether or not the track was anti-feminist. A friend sent me this piece from theWashington Post entitled “Beyonce sabotages her female empowerment efforts with ‘Bow Down.’” I wish everyone reading this could see how hard I am rolling my eyes at this.
First of all, I would like to point out something I’ve noticed about how we receive Beyonce. It seems like unless she’s singing, dancing, or showing off her outfits, we immediately want to critique whether or not what she is doing is feminist. We don’t hold all artists to this standard, and I think the practice of doing it to Beyonce (and a select few other celebs) is a little anti-feminist. Why can’t we allow Beyonce be a singular expression of someone who is multidimensional? It’s almost as if unless she’s singing, dancing, and appearing (as opposed to existing) in love, she is only allowed to be one thing. But what do I know? I’m just a stan. Anyway…
You can not provide critique without context. And this Washington Post piece is so context-free that I question how she was able to write it. It’s 2013, and we still haven’t acknowledged that women can use the word “bitch” without setting all of feminism back? If you don’t use the word, that’s fine, but I don’t think that calling someone who has attacked you (verbally or otherwise) that is a set back. It’s contextual.
Furthermore, women do not have to be humble, nice, and modest all the damn time! I repeat: Women do not have to be humble, nice, and modest all the damn time! She has been running shit as a performer, as a singer, as an artist for quite some time now, all the while with people telling her that her music isn’t good, that she’s anti-feminist, that she’s a narcissist, that her baby isn’t hers, that she sucks because she lip synced, that she isn’t black enough, that she isn’t a good role model for women, that she’s a hypocrite, the list goes on. I think Bey is long overdue to demand some fucking respect, from men and women alike. And no, she didn’t have to say it in a “nice” way.
And those self-affirming, self-glorifying lyrics? Those descend from a tradition of self-glorifying verses that the creators of hip hop took to in rap battles and cyphers. That is the culture of hip hop to say: I’m the shit. Respect it. Bow down to it. I can’t say it enough: Context is so important. And while we would have preferred that Beyonce said, “I love and am proud of my work, take that!” she used the song to draw upon an alternative cultural framework to say the same thing in a different way.
So please, don’t get your undies in a bunch about how Beyonce is an anti-feminist mean girl. And did I mention the song is dope? It is. Bow down, bitches. Oh, and here’s some context to go with that.
Beyoncé | 1999 & 2013