Beyoncé's feminism – is it a help or a hindrance to women?

(AP)
Singer Beyoncé performing during her "Mrs Carter Show World Tour 2013"

Beyoncé penned what has been generously described as an essay as her contribution towards the feminist Shriver Report.

The things she wants for the wider situation of women aren't things that can be readily disagreed with. She wants women to have equal pay for equal work, and wants young girls to have high aspirations, and opportunities to fulfil them.

"We have to teach our girls that they can reach as high as humanly possible" she says. "We must demand that [women] all receive 100 percent of the opportunities."

However her three paragraphs on the matter of equality for women raise a question that is hard to ignore. Beyoncé argues: "We have to teach our boys the rules of equality and respect, so that as they grow up, gender equality becomes a natural way of life."

No doubt an admirable goal, but can we really take such a suggestion seriously from someone whose career involves so much male-directed titillation and so little clothing.

There are many who would argue that Beyoncé's raunchier videos are an expression of feminism, and her own comments suggest she shares this thinking too. After all, she is enjoying her body and revelling in a sexual identity all of her own creation. She's calling all the shots on her sexuality and how she is presented.

But the consequences can hardly be ignored. The often highly sexualised nature of her videos and onstage performances makes it far too easy for people not to respect her for her business acumen, her vocal talents, her skilled dancing, or her songwriting ability. That is because all of that is to a great extent overwhelmed by an objectified image, something to ogle and visually consume.

The Independent's review of Beyoncé's latest album has a brief section that includes the following description:

"And there's the obligatory appearance by her husband Jay Z, who she proudly claims 'can't keep your eyes off my fanny, daddy', over a cavernous sub-bass groove as billowing and bountiful as that legendary booty."

Beyoncé and her fellow Destiny's Child band members brought the word "booty" to the masses, but it's a word that hardly encourages boys to show respect to the parts of the body that deserve it more. It's telling that a review supposedly on the quality of the music diverts to her so seemlessly to her derriere.

Beyoncé is absolutely right to make clear that the issue of gender equality is a two way street. Men should be working to be more respectful of women. However, it is rather rich to demand that boys be respectful when the reduction of women to sexual objects, which today's pop industry has arguably contributed to, just makes it easier for boys to completely disregard the inherent value of women that runs so much deeper than physical attractiveness.

The likes of Beyoncé may champion self-confidence and independence, but are highly sexualised performances for the benefit of the world's "single ladies"? It is hard to conclude that they are aimed at anyone other than single men, while teenage girls everywhere feel their self esteem crushed under the weight of futile comparisons.

A desire for equal pay may be noble but equality runs deeper than money. It starts at a social level, when people are respecting each other in day to day life. If it were just about how much women were being paid, the challenge of bringing about full equality would be easier. But it's about attitudes and how women and girls are treated and regarded by their male counterparts in real life, whether that's in the workplace, the home, the school or anywhere else they may be.

Female pop stars can call for respect all they want, but when they're posing for GQ and swinging half-naked from a pole, the message is going to be harder to hear over the hollow gong of hypocrisy.

Women shouldn't have to wrap themselves in blankets but if they are serious about making men see their gender more than skin deep, then it's the worthier things about themselves that they should be at the forefront of promoting and celebrating. Women like Adele and Emeli Sandé are proof that talent doesn't need to come wrapped in a g-string bikini to sell, and the strive for female empowerment doesn't have to blaze a trail of social damage in the process.

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