Why It Felt So Amazing When Beyoncé Stood in Front of That Glowing “Feminist” Sign

What Women Really Think
Aug. 25 2014 12:09 PM

Why It Felt So Amazing When Beyoncé Stood in Front of That Glowing “Feminist” Sign

454110136-honoree-beyonce-performs-onstage-during-the-2014-mtv
The cause, illuminated.

Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Rush Limbaugh's claim that feminism exists "to allow ugly women access to society" is going to be a harder sell now that Beyoncé stood in the dark in front of the glowing "Feminist" sign at Sunday night's MTV Video Music Awards.

Amanda Marcotte Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

It's no surprise that Beyoncé identifies as a feminist: She featured a speech on feminism by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on her song "Flawless" and wrote a piece for the Shriver Report titled "Gender Equality Is a Myth!" But the VMAs statement was next level—an unusually mainstream flaunting of feminist pride in our image-driven culture. And man did it feel good.

Advertisement

Claiming that feminists are man-hating, haggard, bitter, unlovable women has been the primary strategy of anti-feminists since the era of the suffragists. In a male-dominated media, it's been incredibly effective, for nearly two centuries now, at scaring people—particularly women—away from calling themselves feminists. Even in the 21st century, only a fifth of Americans identify with the term feminist, even while they sign off on the belief that women should be equal to men. 

Which is why Beyoncé’s statement—a political statement, really—is so meaningful. Having her husband and daughter up onstage was a nice touch, too. Having dismantled the idea that feminists are just ugly wannabes during her performance, she might as well clean house by smashing the notion that feminists hate men or are somehow not maternal.

The VMAs were a testament to how much the public is ready to hear from women, and increasingly on women's own terms. Whether or not you liked their performances, it was impossible not to notice that Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Charli XCX, and, of course, Beyoncé, ruled the night. (I think Usher was there.) This is, of course, not the first time feminism has had a pop culture moment (though it might be the most fun, as anyone around for the Lilith Fair–style feminism of the '90s can attest). These things are cyclical. As Vulture's Lindsay Zoladz wrote about Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda" video:

... the over-the-top End of Men vibe makes the “Anaconda” video feel like a fitting coda for the summer of 2014, which at times felt like a hyper-feminized corrective to a 2013 dominated by the breezily cologne-drenched perspective of Robin Thicke, TI and Pharrell’s “Blurred Lines,” and a spring ruled by Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, and Tyga’s annoyingly ubiquitous “Loyal.” The biggest hits and most-discussed viral surprises of this summer were girl-on-girl collaborations — Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX’s “Fancy”; Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj’s “Bang Bang”; Beyoncé and Nicki’s “Flawless” remix; and Ariana and Iggy’s “Problem,” on which Big Sean’s voice is reduced to a superfluous whisper.

Who knows if female empowerment will still be in fashion next year. Still, it's incredibly heartening to see female entertainers use their platform to dispel long-standing myths about feminism. Even Taylor Swift is getting in on the action, telling the Guardian that while she used to fall for the myth that feminism "was that you hate men," she now understands "it’s not about that at all" and instead about pushing for a society where "women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities." Swift thinks that "a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means." Anyone still figuring it out got a pretty good education from Beyoncé last night.

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Use Facebook to Reconnect With Old Friends, Share Photos, and Serve People With Legal Papers

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?