IS Beyonce a Role Model

07 Jun

My roommate told me to check this out:


In a letter written by Rakhi Kumar to Michelle Obama in the parenting section of Yahoo!, Kumar takes issue with Mrs. Obama’s claim that Beyonce is a good role model for young women. Kumar points to Beyonce’s most recent tour and the revealing body suit that she donned for the occasion, arguing that the display of sexuality sets a negative example for young women. The article is framed largely as a rebuttal to the claim that overt displays of female sexuality represent a form of female empowerment, contesting that these displays are rather an example of structural subjugation and objectification of women. To achieve the same level of success as a comparable male artist, she states, women are expected to objectify and sexualize themselves. Going beyond this claim, Kumar speculates as to the consequences of the hypersexualization of women, arguing that the phenomenon contributes to the decreasing average age of teenage prostitution and sex trafficking. She does not have substantiated proof.

The fundamental question at the heart of the article is whether or not sexuality can be a source of empowerment. Surly, looking at male artists (particularly in the hypermasculine genres of rap and rock), there is also an expectation of

Description: he Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers - album coverDescription: eb



sexualization among male artists; one only need look as far as the album cover of The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers. Even then, the sexual freedom of the days of classic rock has been succeeded by a much more rigid brand of masculinity in many forms of contemporary music.

This comparison begs the essential question: Was the sexuality of classic rock and rap necessary for the success of artists like The Stones or Akon, similar to the claims Kumar makes about Beyonce? Or, was it simply a facet of those particular artists, and therefore not generalizable to the genre or times as a whole?

Looking to classic rock as our first example, there are clearly cases in which artists were not required to sexualize themselves for commercial success. The Beatles are a terrific example in this regard. They created a brand for themselves that communicated an element of sexual freedom packaged in slim fitting, classic suits; clearly not the same degree of exposure as Beyonce.

            And yes, there are female artists today that similarly do not brand themselves as a sex symbols. Look at P!nk (Pink): she regularly achieves a large amount of commercial success without a hypersexualized image. Furthermore, her music rails against notions of socially encouraged female sexuality (see: “Stupid Girls”).

But Ultimately, a single example from each genre does not prove or disprove a trend, and tying things back into Kumar’s article, this is the mistake she makes. She takes a single example of objectification[1] and claims causality between the example and other social phenomenon. Although the connection may be warranted, she does not satisfy the burden of proof to substantiate it. As I demonstrated above, looking at one example is not sufficient to draw conclusions; instead, we reach grossly overgeneralized narratives that oversimplify incredibly complex cause and effect relationships. This does a disservice to those in need by belaboring very important points that deserve mature and honest discussion.


[1] All performers are objectified; that is the nature of the beast. Show business necessarily collapses an individual’s personality into a packable and palatable brand. The question is whether or not the objectification of an artist is deleterious to the audience consuming that brand.


Posted by on June 7, 2013 in Uncategorized


2 responses to “IS Beyonce a Role Model

  1. thescotchtapemedic

    June 18, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    This is really interesting, because I recently read an article about why Beyonce is not seen as a feminist artist, which I think is very much tied to being a good role model for children (particularly young girls). I’ll see if I can find it, but I’ll just talk about my thoughts for now.

    Artists like Beyonce and Nicki Minaj are not perceived as feminist, and are often demonized as ‘cultural dopes’ that play into patriarchal expectations of beauty and sexuality. They’re objectifying themselves. But if you compare them to similar (in music and in image) artists like Lady Gaga or Madonna, they are definitely perceived as feminist icons that have reclaimed their sexuality, and are taking control of their beauty. These women, unlike Beyonce and Nicki Minaj, are exercising their agency.

    I think a lot of it comes down to the pathologizing of bodies of color. The bodies of black women have historically been viewed as obscene and overly sexual, while the bodies of white women were historically viewed as virginal and ‘normal’. A black woman who expresses herself sexually is playing into the racist expectations surrounding her body. She’s a cultural dope. A white woman who expresses herself sexually is defying a chauvinist ideal. She’s an agent of change.

    Looking at who is perceived as self objectifying and when is really interesting to me, but I don’t think that it can be examined in a vacuum. The racist narrative that surrounds men and women of color, particularly when they’re a national or global artists, confounds any conclusions we might draw.


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