On Beyoncé’s Run The World (Girls)

by | December 10, 2012
filed under Pop Culture

Beyonce and little girl voting in Florida 2008by Librarian Karen

I don’t usually pay much attention to popular music, but sometimes a song comes along which, when I hear the lyrics or see the video, I think, “What the heck was that?” For example, Beyoncé’s song “Run the World (Girls)”.

There are so many things I don’t like about this song, and video. I realize that most commercial music is created for entertainment (and subsequently monetary) purposes, but claiming that this song is an anthem for girl power or for female empowerment is absurd, leaving me confused and frustrated.

In particular, I am astounded by Arielle Loren’s article “Is Beyoncé The Face of Contemporary Feminism?”, for Clutch magazine. Is Beyoncé the face of contemporary feminism and an inspiration for a fourth wave of feminism? No. Here’s why not and why she shouldn’t be.

Based on the lyrics – the choice of words and the intended message – I don’t see how this song can be taken seriously as inspiration for women’s empowerment. The repeated use of the word “girls” (and why is it in parentheses in the title?) is not only annoying but insulting. I am a woman, not a girl. Personally, I don’t like the using the word “girl” when referring to an adult woman, as if the reference is being made to someone who is young or immature. Women and girls are females, but girls are not women, and women are not girls.

The lyrics, besides lacking substance, send a confusing and contradictory message. “You’ll do anything for me” suggests dominance. Why? Because a woman can’t do it herself and needs a man to, or feels a man should?

Empowerment of one gender does not mean the dominance of another. I don’t want to dominate men, or anyone from any gender group. I want equality and freedom of oppression for all. How can women gain the skills for increasing confidence and self-sufficiency when there is an expectation or assumption a man will do anything for us?

Beyoncé highlights some life achievements which could be assumed as indicators of success: education (great!), salary (really?), and whether one has reproduced (ugh). For example, in her shout out to college grads (“Help me raise a glass for the college grads”), the line “Some of them men think they freak this like we do” doesn’t make sense, I have no idea what this means.

It’s great that Beyoncé is acknowledging the value of post-secondary education, but nonsensical lyrics are not an encouraging endorsement. Next: “How we’re smart enough to make these millions”. Do I need millions to feel empowered, or do I have to make millions to be considered smart? Do I want men to be impressed by how much money I make? No.

And then the line: “Strong enough to bear the children”. Not to undermine the achievements or importance of parenthood, but it offends me that one’s ability or choice to have a child defines their success as an adult. Lastly, the line “Hope you still like me, f*ck you, pay me”. Pay me for what? Should I modify my behaviour so men like me? Is that more important than living my life according to my values and beliefs?

If I’m coming across as being pedantic by focusing on the literal meaning of some of the lyrics, it’s because Loren has placed so much weight on them to arrive at the conclusion that this song, and Beyoncé, could act as catalyst for a new wave of feminism.

As for the video, I take issue with the overt sexualization of the women, which is not new or even uncommon. But in this case, if we are to believe that this is indeed an anthem of female empowerment, the video suggests that one must be sexy to be powerful and confident. The video contradicts the definition of empowerment; empowerment is not achieved by one’s ability to dance in garters and stilettos. But most bizarre to me is when at the end of the video, the women salute the men. If ‘girls’ rule the world shouldn’t the men be saluting the women?

For someone who has struggled with self-esteem and body image issues, this video only makes me feel worse about myself, because I have not, nor will I ever, have the physique or sex appeal of the women in the video. Is intelligence not sexy? I’d like to think so. Does it motivate or inspire me? To shake my booty, no. To complain, yes.

To answer the big question, do ‘girls’ run the world? Ironically, women are strongly underrepresented in the creation and production of this song and video. Here are some other facts:

– Currently, of the 193 members of the United Nations, only 25 have female leaders.

As of October 31, 2012, the world average of women in parliament is only about 20%.

– Although women make up over half of America’s labor force, as of 2009, only 12 Fortune 500 companies and 25 Fortune 1000 companies have women CEOs or presidents.

(photo by Alex Johnson via Flickr)


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  • https://twitter.com/sherwinarnott Sherwin Arnott

    Great article! You make a lot of sense to me. The video was super sexualized, and perpetuated the worst kind of body image messages. And the use of ‘girls’ is really unfortunate.

    A more generous reading of the money stuff and the “run the world” stuff could be that women do most of the work in the world, and receive the least amount of monetary compensation. If that was the intent, maybe Beyonce could have been clearer about this so as not to confuse ruling the world, with running the world.

  • http://www.danatucker.com Dana Tucker

    I was shooting a video for my 11 year old granddaughters SCHOOL TALENT show. One of her little friends did a dance to the song you are describing.

    THEY PLAYED THIS SONG, UNCUT, DROPPING THE F-BOMB IN FRONT OF CHILDREN IN KINDERGARTEN THROUGH THE 5TH GRADE.

    I have this in high def video and STILL CAN NOT BELIEVE ANY ADULT CHECKED THIS SONG!!! As a Grandfather, I AM so disappointing. I am a fan of Beyonce, rephrase, used to be a fan.

    Your article was dead on track! is this really what we want our 5th grade girls singing?