Sunday, February 1, 2009

Beyoncé: Na-na-na Diva is a Female Version of a Hustla?

As you probably already know, I'm not much of a "top-40" kind of girl, but whatever, Beyoncé is fly as hell. Even Bitch Magazine called her the "female King Midas." She's constantly injecting everything she touches with a healthy dose of female empowerment...and shiny Gold accessories to match!

Think about it! From day one, Beyoncé has been pumping out chart-busting hits with strong messages to the ladies, such as "Survivor," "Independent Women," "Irreplaceable," "Upgrade You," etc.

B recently released her third solo album, I Am...Sasha Fierce on November 18th, 2008. The first two singles off the album, "If I Were a Boy," and "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)," play a bit with gender-politic, addressing female stereotypes and questioning what's heteronormative, but they're not nearly as "fierce" as her more recent single, "Diva."

The first time I saw this video, I was a bit confused. Okay, so... a diva is the same thing as a male prostitute? What?
After a bit of research (thanks wikipedia!) I discovered that "hustler" in hip hop terms means, "someone who gets by in life any way that they can."
As the video states, a diva is "a sucessful and glamorous female performer," but unfortunately the word has been adapted into a slang put-down for women who are too-self absorbed.
Beyoncé is reclaiming "diva" and making it a badge of honor for all women who are not afraid to pursuit the money, fame and power.

Before I go any further, envision a hip-hop video.
Got one in mind?
Twenty bucks says the video includes some pimped out car with a bunch of half naked women hanging out it in. Am I right? If you pay close attention to the very beginning of the video, B walks by a "pimp-mobile" with a bunch of cut up women mannequins just chillin' in the back. A powerful metaphor showing how women are treated as objects in rap videos. She destroys this common hip-hop image by blowing up the car at the end, and walking away from it without looking back once.
Ehren Gresehover points out that she even bends rigid gender roles in the warehouse dancing scenes. Her moves aren't exactly "sexy," adapting exactly to the way men dance in hip-hop videos.

This video is a new step for Beyoncé. Though all of her other videos do "up the ladies" in one way or another, they've never so overtly done so in the past. Hopefully B continues in this direction, because it's time the mainstream media has a strong, independent, female role model for all the little divas to look up to.


  1. C: I agree (partly). I think that Beyonce knows how to play to her audience, give girls a more powerful message than..Britney Spear's new "If you Seek Amy" for example (say the name a few times fast and read the lyrics). I think its aweomse that Beyonce's able to move from the music industry to the clothing industry to the film industry and succeed at all of them. She is beyond talented!!

    I also agree with what you're saying about her moving into a direction of more female empowerment. She's empodied this strong female role her entire career. However, there's something that I don't quite agree with. But I can't think of it right now. Let me think on it and I'll continue these comments later.

  2. J, I agree with you. If I went too in depth with the other singles, this post would have been way too long. But think about how problematic her first two singles off her new album can be.

    "If I Were a Boy" played with gender stereotypes, but yes, we know men and women are different and women get treated badly by men. When I started watching the video, I thought it awesome that she's portraying a powerful women in a male role, but then in the end it all turns out to be the other way around?

    As for "Single Ladies," it's your typical eff you, we broke up, I'm gunna hit up the club and pick up new guys. If you were into me, you shoulda shown me idea, but at the same time, it's breaching toward idea of how marriage is seen as heteronormal and playing up the reinforced idea that women need to be owned or claim.

    Diva on the other hand is completely different, and I see it as a pretty bold feminist statement within mainstream culture.

    B also plays up her audience 100%. She's a super star who's in the eyes of the media all the time. She doesn't have the freedom of an underground artist who can basically send out whatever message they want.

    Either way, this video is a good direction for B, and I hope she keeps it up!

  3. This is one of my favourite posts, as you know I'm a big Beyonce supporter. Not only are her songs geared towards empowering females I believe she also carries herself in the public eye with great pose and grace. She is sophisticated and it really shows. She was one of the few women out there that did NOT want to talk about her marriage and she simply said I'm happy and the rest is none of your business. I commend her for that entirely.
    She also coined the term bootylicious. Which also started the trend of recognizing your assets and being comfortable in your skin, in other words, "if you arn't a size 2 well we love you anyways."

    As for DIVA, once I let the song actually play through I was blown away, she really is taking back DIVA and changing it from the stuck up, bitch stereotype it hold and making it her own aka FEMINISM 101.
    I could go on and on about how Beyonce really is Queen B but you summed up everything your post!

    Good job!!

  4. AND! The only time she's commented on her marriage was on Oprah when she said she puts herself first always.
    As for Diva, you were with me the first time I heard it. I was like "this makes no sense, and I hate this song." but then after you left, I watched it like 20 more times and realized the message she's really trying to convey. I think it's my fav B song now!

  5. SAME! Also when I envisioned you writing this post, I envisioned you using the same title

  6. haha, I'm so glad!
    You know me too well :-)

  7. You know, I hadn't ever thought of Beyonce like that, but you have a point. At the same time, though, I look at the picture at the top of your post and I'm like "Really, B, is that what it is to be a fierce woman?" I mean, she's so air-brushed she barely looks like a legitimate human anymore and I think she's totally enacting the whole Laura Mulvey idea of "the gaze" where 'the woman' is presented in visual culture as something for 'the man' to drool over. But you're right about the "Diva" lyrics -- way more female empowerment in them than anything else on 95.5! She's an interesting figure to watch. Feminist enigma, perhaps! Awesome post.

  8. Well, of course! Beyonce is definitely not your feminist poster girl. She IS a media driven sex symbol for men to drool over.
    All of her music has a bit of female empowerment within the lyrics, but at the same time, they can all be misconstrued in a problematic way.
    This is Beyonce's first single that has REALLY pushed the boundaries of empowerment, reclaiming a word that has been put down for many years.

    She is very interesting to watch though. I can't really figure out what HER stance is as a woman since she never talks about it, so you kinda have to play a guessing game with her.
    But thanks Ashley! I'm glad you liked it!

  9. C, You perfectly summed up what I felt was missing from my first comment about If I Were a Boy and Single Ladies. I especially have to agree with what you were saying about Single Ladies about the normalcy of marriage. She's literally saying "if YOU liked it... YOU should've put a ring on it" still falling into the female submissive role in the relationship. But I think you're right about the change of pace in Diva.

    I also agree completely with everything Ashley said, but that raises the question: How can someone in the mainstream Hollywood/media industry become a symbol for feminism while avoiding the necessity of falling into the sexed-up stereotype? If people like Beyonce are who girls are aspiring to be, how can they [aspiring Beyonce wannabes] work through the mixed messages that are being sent to them?

  10. There is nothing wrong with being a sexy feminist. Why should feminists have to down play their sexuality?
    I don't believe Beyonce has ever considered what what feminism is, I don't think she has to. I think your post if merely outlining that there is much more feminism in mainstream than assumed. I what is so great about Beyonce is that her music is able to send different messages to different people. Those of us who want to get married can identify with the "shoulda put a ring on it", and those of us who dont necessarily agree with the idea of marriage can look at that song as "too bad you lost your chance, I'm not going to spend my time obbessing over you, I'm getting on with my life" message. One of the things she really emphasizes is the importance of female bonding.

  11. I think what Ashley meant was not that Beyonce is "sexy" in that photo, but that she's airbrushed and kinda looks fake.
    But there is definitely nothing wrong with being sexy and being a feminist! Check out my post on Roxi Delite and burlesque! That's all about female empowerment/feeling sexy!
    But I do also agree with Janine when she questioned how a mainstream women can portray herself as female empowering without being a "sexed up symbol"

    all you girls rule!

  12. hello from innerview zine. :)

  13. way to go, grrl. yes. i already link :)

  14. "She also coined the term bootylicious."

    Ugh. No. She did not. The term has been around since at LEAST the early 90s. If you'd take the 10 seconds required to do a simply google search, you'd know this. Instead, you just latch onto anything that people tell you and believe it. Such is the majority of humans.

  15. LOL

    Glad you can decipher so much about me from one sentence in a blog post.
    Glad the origins of "bootylicious" means so much to you.