Independent Women: Why Feminism Needs Beyoncé

As a feminist, I have no qualms sharing that label with the famous singer Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. People say she’s not a real feminist, or that she’s not feminist enough, because she sometimes wears revealing clothing, or dances provocatively, or because she has named her world tour “The Mrs. Carter World Tour.” But not a single one of those choices are inherently anti-feminist. In fact, a woman that powerful, that successful, and with the ability to make choices about her life, her art, and her career is a huge victory for feminism. That she can be quoted as saying, “I am a feminist in a way,” only enhances that victory.

Third wave feminism – where the movement currently stands – is about inclusion, and it is about the freedom of choice. In a piece for Vice, Mish Way put it bluntly, saying, “If you enjoy birth-control pills and not being beaten up by your owner—I mean, husband—then you pretty much are [a feminist]… All it means is that you don’t hate yourself.” The boundaries of feminism are vast. Maybe you’re an asexual, transgender, mixed race hot air balloon pilot. If you believe that women and men deserve equal respect, rights, and the freedom of choice, you’re still a feminist! Same goes for the white, suburban, stay-at-home mom – so long as that’s the life she chose for herself. Who’s to say which choices are more valid, or more feminist, than any others? The right to make these choices is what the feminist movement must strive to guarantee.

Beyoncé might wear a scandalous dress or take pride in being a wife. So what? She also performs and popularizes songs titled, “Independent Woman,” and “Run the World (Girls),” among other very pro-women – some might even say feminist – songs. Of course, plenty of people have said that the latter track is a bold-faced lie and will only lead to complacency since a quick look at government and business all over the world show that women don’t literally run the entire world. It’s not true, so we shouldn’t put that silly idea into little girls’ heads. That’d be as wacky as casting a female POTUS! Wait, that’s actually been done. And we all know the kind of effect the media can have on kids and on society as a whole. A TV show with a female U.S. President and Beyoncé song about women running the world have probably inspired millions of young girls to aim higher and allowed people of all ages, genders, races, and classes to see such a thing as something other than flat-out impossible.

I want us, the ever-growing feminist movement, to do more than just accept Beyoncé as a feminist: I want us to embrace her. I want us to be as proud of her as we are of Alice Walker or Sojourner Truth. She is ubiquitous, she is powerful, she is a household name. And she herself has said that she is a feminist, which she’s demonstrated by celebrating her own body, choosing the direction of her career, and emphasizing the value of a strong and independent woman. Why would anyone in the feminist movement fight her on that?

Sadie Rothman is the grassroots coordinator for the American Humanist Association.