Who Runs the World?: Beyoncé Releases Essay on Gender Equality


You read that right, Beyoncé has taken to the pages of the Shriver Report to offer her assessment on gender equality.

In an essay titled “Gender Equality is a Myth!” — the pop star lambastes the notion that equality has been reached and demands equal pay and equal respect across genders.

She writes:

Humanity requires both men and women, and we are equally important and need one another. So why are we viewed as less than equal? These old attitudes are drilled into us from the very beginning. 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. And we have to teach our girls that they can reach as high as humanly possible.

This is coming off of the heels of Beyoncé coming out as a feminist on her recently released album.

The self-titled album includes the song Flawless which incorporates the words of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie leveraging a sample from her recent TEDx speech, excerpted below, by the author titled We Should All Be Feminists:

We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise you will threaten the man.’ Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support. But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors – not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.

You can say whatever you want about Beyoncé.  I’ve loved her since I was 12. I remember introducing Bills, Bills, Bills and Destiny’s Child to all of my friends in middle school and freaking out whenever the song came on during the highly anticipated monthly dances held at the local YMCA otherwise known as “Neon Nights”.

I could, and indeed did, recite every lyric at the top of my lungs despite being 12 and lacking the boo and bills required to make the song relevant to my adolescent life.

I didn’t care, CAN YOU PAY MY BILLS.

The lineup of Destiny’s Child might have changed a few times over the intervening years but my love for them didn’t. I rooted for them like you wouldn’t believe and I was beyond delighted when they proceeded to blow up big.   I remember the interludes between the songs on Writings on a Wall, e.g., “Thou shall know when she can’t love you no more” and I’ll never forget the first time I saw Say My Name chart on MTV’s Total Request Live or when the girls won their first MTV Video Music Award.

I bought the Destiny’s Child Christmas album, watched Carmen’s A a Hip Hopera, attempted to learn the choreography to Survivor, and threw my hands up like any good independent woman obviously would. When Beyoncé released a solo album I played Dangerously in Love on repeat and felt all the emotions despite being in the stupidest and most naive high school relationship that didn’t even matter.  When that dude cheated on me I combined forces with the girl he cheated on me with and we drove to his school to both break up with him, throw your hands up at me, etc.

As a grownup, I stomped through the streets of New York City (literally stomped- how do you walk casually to a Beyoncé track?) to the sounds of girls running the world and forget the ring, all the single ladies to the left to the left!

Beyoncé was fierce.

She was one of my role models and while my insecurities, musical tastes and thoughts on the world continued to shed and evolve, I always had her to look up to.

I played her albums on repeat not just because she became unrivaled as an entertainer but because she really talked me through my teenage years.

Well after Destiny’s Child– I kept rooting for her and she returned the favor in track after track. The thing about Beyoncé– and this was evident from the start– is that she was always open to changing, evolving and adapting.  She went from “can you pay my bills” to “girls run the world” in a decade.

I was bummed to see her capitulating about feminism last Spring and I understood the pushback to the song Girls Run the World because indeed we don’t just yet– and yet in Beyoncé’s latest moves to embrace gender equality on her own terms  I am reminded why I’m such a fan.

She heard the criticism and she addressed it.

There’s no right way to be Beyoncé.  She’s an arbiter of culture and as such she’s had to develop her thoughts in real time, out loud, on a world stage.

In the face of criticism there are two ways to go about that.

You can double down on opinions that were informed by less than all the facts, or you can continue evolving.

Beyoncé’s elected to do the latter.

She goes up against the notion of girls running in the world to lament the existence of gender inequality and to encourage little girls to dream big in spite of it.  She takes the criticism of her being a fair weather feminist and not only incorporates thoughts on feminism into her art but does so in a way that elevates an actual feminist in a HUGE way.

A lot has been written on Beyoncé and more will be written. I have no doubt she’ll continue to figure things out, in her way, on her time, out loud for the world to critique and examine.

But for me, she’s as much on my team as she was when I was 12.  I’m glad that she’s shown vulnerability on both this album and in the controversies that have surrounded it.  She’s human– and she’s fearless in her quest to be authentic.

She’s not focus group testing her answers– she’s saying what feels real, and when that’s confronted by the experiences of those who haven’t lived in the bubble like she has (what with being an international pop star and all) she’s not only willing to adapt but she’s willing to do so in a big culture changing way.

To me that’s not only awesome it’s refreshing.

I could think of more than a handful of “leaders” who could learn a thing or two from her.

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Sara Haile-Mariam

Sara Haile-Mariam