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OK, I can no longer bite my tongue about this.

December 1, 2008

So, like seemingly everyone else on the planet, I have stared in wonder at the mesmerizing spectacle of Beyonce’s one-take dance tour-de-force video for her giant new hit, Single Ladies. I’ve laughed and cringed at the Justin Timberlake spoof on SNL, shook my own, much-less-precise ass when it came on the radio, and even caught a snippet of the insanely catchy hook on a promo for Ugly Betty.

It’s a crazy addictive breakup/liberation anthem an I know it’s supposed to make me happy. And it almost does. Until.

If you like it then you should have put a ring on it.

Can we talk about this? Please? This is liberation? This makes me crazy in like seventeen ways. Many (though not all) of which are related to the word it. It? Really Beyonce? It?

OK, let’s break this down. So the argument here is, generously, is you can’t be jealous, because you treated me bad, and now we’re through. So far, so good. We’ve all been there. We can shake our booty to that. But then the argument becomes, if this bothers you, me dancing with another guy, then you should have married me. Scratch that, actually. You should have married it.

And what is it here? Her pussy? Her body? Her sexuality? So, the key to a happy relationship for Ms. Knowles is finding someone who’ll reduce you to your sexual function and then claim ownership of it? Think I’m exaggerating? Later in the song she says Say I’m the one you own/If you don’t, you’ll be alone.

I know, I know, it’s just a song, and Beyonce’s not exactly a feminist icon (though there was a time when it looked like she was heading that way). But it’s one thing for Beyonce — a woman with a huge career and her own fortune, who dated her husband for six years before they married — to say these things, and it’s entirely another when the millions of girls who look up to her, most of whom have no where near her advantages in life, take her example and seek out (or even tolerate) men who want to own them and expect them to be constant sex objects, because this is what liberated romance is supposed to look like.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 1, 2008 1:26 pm

    Yeah, I see the notion of sex as commodity (which is an improvement over woman-as-commodity, but that’s not setting the bar very high) everywhere. On my account, this is a real root-of-the-problem dynamic. As long as “it” is a commodity, we’re all engaged in property transactions.

    To take that one step further, the notion of sexuality as the subject of a property transaction leads directly to consent as the absence of no, rather than the presence of yes. If one is trading this for that, the transaction is inherently adversarial, trying to get as much that for your this as possible. And as long as we’re stuck thinking about how much we can get, we are not thinking about enthusiastic participation, but mere acquiescence.

    It’s not just a song. It’s a habit of mind. How we talk, how we sing: that’s how we think, and changing how we think means changing how we talk.

    To pull another example of little lyrics and big differences from the distant past, from the first Beastie Boys album, which was in heavy rotation when I was in high school, in Paul Revere, Ad Rock (now married to Kathleen Hanna!!) sang, “The Sheriff’s after me/For what I did to his daughter/I did it like this, I did it like that/I did it with a wiffle ball bat.” I can’t stomach it; let’s not sugar-coat it, the obvious interpretation is rape. And when it plays on the radio and I rap along — think Beck from Mellow Gold, whose rap skills were self-parody — I change “to” to “with”, and then “I” to “we”. And that makes all the difference.

  2. jaclynfriedman permalink*
    December 1, 2008 1:37 pm

    I love that, Thomas! That one word change really does transform the song (and makes wiffle ball bats sound downright appealing). I will try to think if there’s some way I can change the lyrics to this one in my head so I can enjoy an otherwise really fun song.

    But yes – the property issue is exactly the problem here, and it’s so root that hardly anyone even sees it. And then it gets packaged up as liberation, to boot! It’s all right there in your essay, of course – Ladies! Hold out for the most valuable trade possible, because you’re worth it!

  3. December 1, 2008 2:23 pm

    It’s a great mental image: a couple of horny eighteen year olds holed up in the bedroom, gobs of lube on the sheets, clothes tossed in the general direction of the closet and a whiffle ball bat inserted … somewhere, nervously peeking through the window at the driveaway just in case. Ah … memories.

    Yeah, this was the whole of my essay writ small. (The property stuff, not the lube and whiffle ball bat. Maybe for the next book …)

  4. December 27, 2008 8:25 am

    Thank you for saying this. That little “it” makes it hard for me to enjoy this song, despite the dance-ability of the music, and instead turns it into something I feel bad about liking. I could really do without the way marriage is treated, too.

    P.S. This is a nice site. I’ll add Yes Means Yes to my ridiculously long reading list.

  5. Todd Jekins permalink
    December 16, 2010 11:55 am

    Alot of “celebrities” claim to not be roll models because they don’t want to be held responsible for their part in moulding the youth in the wrong direction with the ridiculous things they do and say. Just because you publically say, “im not a roll model” doesnt mske it true. Anyone with a following is a model atleast to their “followers”. The truth is, because they reach so many people through their “celebrity” they will be held responsible…… in the END.

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