I once said to my ex that the most empowered I ever felt at Get Right (a testosterone-laden club night we’d go to in Columbus, Ohio) was the time the DJ played “Single Ladies.” While the playlist for the night ranged from Pac & Dre’s “California Love,” an inexplicable favorite for a place extremely far from its setting, to Pharoahe Monch’s “Simon Says” to 8ball & MJG’s “Alcohol Pussy Weed”, Beyonce’s kiss off to a dude who didn’t realize how good he had it was an anomaly.
Until it reached its saturation point (Liza Minelli’s cover in Sex and the City 2 being my own personal node), I loved that song. It said everything about being an unattached woman in the 21st Century that is capable of being said in a pop song, and it came from a long line of Beyonce-penned anthems that sought to do the same thing. While I don’t include “Single Ladies” in my trinity of Beyonce empowerment, it sets the tone.
For the genesis of her triple threat, I have to go back to 2000. Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women (Part I),” while a shill for the Charlie’s Angels sequel, was a more succinct version of ideas bandied about in “Survivor” and “Bills Bills Bills”. Not only could women get over some lame dude who wasn’t worth trashing on the internet, she could also pay all the bills and profit, buy her own rings and her own home. “It ain’t easy bein’ independent,” Beyonce confesses, but that struggle was way more worth it than the flip side of being beholden to a man. While Destiny’s Child were in their early 20s at the time, they shed the idea of being girls for full-fledged womanhood; this becomes peculiar as later songs revert to the diminutive.
In 2008, having launched her solo career, Beyonce released “Diva” as a single following the proliferating success of “Single Ladies.” because Beyonce and Jay-Z are inextricably linked in my mind, I always think of this track as the companion to “Dirt Off Your Shoulders.” ladies aren’t pimps, Jay – “a diva is the female version of a hustler.” While this song commands in a way her other tracks don’t, the message is the same: “I did this myself and I didn’t need a man for it.” (He better not show up without a six pack though.) While I wouldn’t necessarily want to be called a diva in the way that is punishing for women, the point is made.
That’s what I find so puzzling about 2011’s “Run the World (Girls).” In a way, this escalates the tone of “Diva”; it implies that women are not only running shit, but the invocation of the Goodfellas classic “fuck you pay me” adds an attitude she hasn’t copped really ever. In a decade, Beyonce has gone from celebrating her ability to profit dollars to demanding you respect her or she’ll come at your neck. I don’t blame her; for as much as I hear the term “post-feminism” bandied about I know that isn’t the world Im living in, and apparently B knows that too.
The true conundrum to me is the use of the world “Girls” – if this were a song meant for tweens (who will undoubtedly really enjoy that version lacking Ray Liotta’s famed quote), I’d get it, but that’s not where she is now. She’s cursing. She’s a livewire. Even today, the hairpin discusses the use of the world girls when referring to women. I understand the pop sensibility behind using “Girls” – it’s less syllables, it vaguely rhymes with “world”, and maybe using “babes” was out of the question. I just can’t get behind “Run the World” in the way i could with “Independent Women” and even “Diva”; I don’t want to be in an army of girls. I’m a grown-ass woman, and so is Beyonce.
Obviously, this is no gross misstep on B’s part. It could be so much worse than deference to the world “Girls” over “Women.” I’m not trying to start any infighting among a group that needs solidarity to fight for equality, not splintering. Her message has been consistent the whole time; it is only the language around it that shifts. If “Run the World” helps advance what the former two singles laid the groundwork for, namely the respect and autonomy of women, I can’t be held up in being put off by the usage of “Girls.” If I heard it on the dance floor in between any of the songs at get right or any other male-dominated club night, I’d be just as empowered.
Contributed by Erin Routson
Destiny’s Child – Independent Women, Part I
Beyonce – Diva
Beyonce – Run the World (Girls)
Beyonce : (Official) (Myspace) (Twitter)