When I was young and naive, I thought that feminism meant all women standing together to make the world a fairer place for us all. I honestly believed, like the song said, that the sisters were doing it for themselves; for each other. The naive part of me still believes that this occasionally happens and is always a possibility. The part of me that got older and wiser knows that there will always be sisters who do whatever they do for nobody but themselves, and call it feminism.
Now Annie Lennox, the woman who co-wrote the song Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves, has wondered out loud whether one of our more high-profile sisters is really a proper sister at all.
Beyoncé (who also likes to be known as Mrs Carter) co-wrote Run The World (Girls) and calls herself a “modern-day feminist” but Annie isn’t convinced. She thinks Beyoncé is a “phenomenal artist” but as a crusader for women, she’s “feminist lite”.
I get the feeling Annie and I see feminism the same way, believing that it’s about us all pulling our weight for one another; all women – and hopefully men too – working together for the greater good. She characterises Beyoncé’s feminist stance as “tokenistic” because: “I see a lot of it as [Beyoncé and other self-professed “feminist” artists like her] taking the word hostage and using it to promote themselves, but I don’t think they necessarily represent wholeheartedly the depths of feminism – no, I don’t.
“I think for many it’s very convenient and it looks great and it looks radical, but I have some issues with it… Of course I do. I think it’s a cheap shot.”
Beyoncé regularly does something that Annie has never done. She uses her body to sell records. She obviously finds this compatible with her brand of feminism, but I’m with Annie when she says: “I think what they do with it is cheap and… What can I tell you? Sex always sells. And there’s nothing wrong with sex selling, but it depends on your audience. If they’re seven-year-old kids, I have issues with it.”
Lots of us do, Annie. We have issues with the way our children – especially our daughters – are watching their music idols saying on one hand: “I am a feminist” and on the other: “Now look at my tits!”
Madonna created the “I Am A Powerful Woman – Watch Me Touch Myself Up” pose. Like Beyoncé today, most of her audience was made up of young girls and gay men, but ironically, that enabled her to do far more damage than if she’d simply been a pin-up for post-pubescent males. The boys would have just salivated then forgotten her. Unfortunately, she managed to convince what felt like almost a whole generation of young women that waving your bits around for all to see was “empowering”. I should know, it was my generation.
It’s hilarious that people call Madonna a feminist icon. Sure, she’s rich and famous, but if she’d done a good job for womankind, the likes of Beyoncé wouldn’t need to undress to be successful. That’s the legacy Madonna left them, but they don’t realise. Madonna is the Margaret Thatcher of pop. A sister for whom other sisters were irrelevant; she did what she did for herself.
Like so many little girls, Beyoncé grew up with Madonna and has bought into the lie that if a woman is in control, she is ergo a feminist. Perhaps she thinks because she persuaded her man to “put a ring on it” that also qualifies her, but in fact this shows no more than a useful understanding of divorce law. Being defined as the “it” that the ring was put “on” apparently didn’t bother her at all.
Annie Lennox wasn’t just talking about Beyoncé, of course. She was talking about a whole swathe of young, female artists who use sex to sell their product and, because they don’t feel exploited, they think this makes them feminists.
Well, here’s a little wake-up call for Rihanna, Miley, et al. Just because you’re complicit in selling your body doesn’t make you a feminist. Just because you understand what’s happening and are prepared to go along with it doesn’t make you a feminist. Maybe in your own minds, you’re “empowered”, but from where the rest of us are standing, you still look like a nearly-naked woman, gyrating against various fully-clothed men. Because – let’s be honest – that’s what you are.
If all this bumping and grinding were making life better for women everywhere, it would be feminism, but oh look – it’s not.
Like Madonna before them, Beyoncé and many of the female pop stars of today are selling sex and records simultaneously. And who does that benefit? Really, just them. They get the money; they get the attention they crave. They have decided to sell themselves and that’s fine, that’s their decision – just so long as they don’t dare to say they’re doing it to liberate the rest of us.
If Beyoncé genuinely wants to see how empowered she is, all she has to do is look at the man beside her. Her husband, Shawn Carter, best known as Jay Z, is also a hugely successful artist. But it’s worth noting that when Jay Z makes music, he is always dressed from head to toe.
We live in a world where Mrs Carter wears less on stage than Mr Carter does on the beach.
We live in a world where Mrs Carter believes that in order to succeed, she needs to be sexy; Mr Carter clearly does not.
In no way is Mrs Carter fighting these double standards, or blazing a trail to help the women who come after her to live their lives on a more equal footing with the men in the same industry.
Mrs Carter may think she’s a girl who’s running the world, but this sister is doing it for nobody but herself.