Beyoncé, baby

Thursday, 23 October, 2014

Don’t watch, listen or dance to anything Beyoncé in the company of someone who doesn’t truly understand her greatness. Specifically, don’t do these things with teenage brothers around. I reached this conclusion when I was watching Beyoncé’s performance at the Video Music Awards earlier this month. Somewhere between ‘Drunk in Love’ and ‘Partition,’ my enraptured response was interrupted by my seventeen-year-old brother’s comments.

“She’s hot, but like, she’s a mum. That’s going to be so embarrassing for Blue Ivy when she grows up,” he said.

Once I overcame the initial shock that my brother actually knew the name of Beyoncé and Jay Z’s child, I realised that his statement came loaded with implications. He was referring to a part of the show where Beyoncé drapes her body over a plush seat, craning her neck back and arching her back. I won’t deny it was sexy as hell. But it also left me curious as to why my teenage brother condemned her provocative dance moves as inappropriate. Apparently, it was because she claims the title of ‘mother.’

Beyoncé has always championed ideas of being a strong, independent woman. Back in the days of Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé Knowles, Kelly Rowland, and the other one no one remembers, belted out tunes about what it was to be a survivor while paying their own bills. Since then Beyoncé has replaced her father as manager and has successfully paved her way as one of the biggest self-driven solo artists of all time. It is perhaps because of these reasons that Beyoncé’s feminist messages are being brought to light now more than ever. And I mean that literally. The most moving part of her performance was when the word ‘FEMINIST’ was lit up and projected onto the wall behind her. It was flashing, exuberant and proud. I was warmed by the thought of young girls and boys around the world watching her performance and realising that feminism can be celebrated. It doesn’t need to be encumbered with negative connotations. Call it celebrity endorsement or agenda pushing, but when a pop star is socially aware it gets people talking. And if it means they shed some light on otherwise misunderstood and derided ideas, I think it becomes unequivocally positive.

But, for people like my brother, the sticking point of her performance was sadly the deemed inappropriateness of the choreography, lyrics and even her costume.

His reaction got me thinking about the sorts of expectations we place on women who become mothers. It is common knowledge that once entering into parenthood, both men and women lose elements of their autonomy. A byproduct of being responsible for a child is invariably relinquishing some personal freedoms. However, it seems as though women are expected to surrender their freedom of expression much more than their male counterparts. Seldom do we see male artists critiqued by the media for objectifying women or appearing overly sexual given their role as father. Rather, it is the mother who must maintain the decorous façade of chastity. It is she who must represent the limitations of self-expression and desire.

The disjuncture between sexual expression pre and post baby is magnified in the public lives of celebrities, but it is by no means something that the everyday person is exempt from. I know plenty of female friends who worry about having children because they fear no man will ever find them ‘fuckable’ again. I don’t know any male friends who feel that way. The media’s obsession with getting women back to their pre-baby weight represents an obligation for women to maintain appearance at all times. Even after, you know, you’ve been carrying a growing child inside your uterus for nine months. The crux of the matter is that men are allowed to express their sexuality after becoming a father, but when women attempt to reclaim the same sexual expression pre-baby are seen as unsavory.

The notion that mothers must mask their sexual expression so as to protect their children is also something I find ludicrous and counterproductive. Communicating and demonstrating healthy sexual expression is critical to a child’s development. If Blue Ivy does have an issue with her mother’s performance in 10 years time, it will be more of a reflection of society’s unchanged expectations of women than of Beyoncé’s appropriateness.

So I guess I actually retract my suggestion to not watch Beyoncé with people who don’t understand her. Conversely, do watch it with those people. Talk about it with them and get them to articulate any qualms they might have with her message or mode of delivery. Nut out exactly why they think it is so wrong for a mother to express her sexuality and entertain in a public arena. And then, if they’re still not converted to pro-Bey, they’re probably a lost cause.