Promoted as an empowering female anthem, Beyonce Knowles’ latest lead single “Girls Run the World” misses the mark. The song’s lyrics boast that women “rule the world”, yet women today continue to lag far behind men in social, political, and economic representation. The notion of gender equality is overtly absent in this postfeminist pop-music psalm, which limits female agency. Moreover its accompanying music video clip filmed by Francis Lawrence in the Californian Mojave desert teems with phallocentric imagery that works to objectify Knowles and her sisterhood of dancers as scantily-clad sexual deviants.
The opening film sequence depicts a post-apocalyptic desert scene with Knowles a vision of purity dressed in white, attempting to control a rearing black stallion. This scene can be interpreted as Knowles’ challenging patriarchy. However, the success or otherwise of this provocative challenge is left undiscovered since we do not see Knowles placate the horse. Powerful phallic imagery, such as this, frames this alleged female power dance track and these interpretations of masculine metaphors are not empowering for women.
As the Major Lazer “Pon De Floor” sample kicks in the cinematography become increasingly chaotic with an invasion of masculine descriptors: an assault of contemporary storm troopers, provocative shots of caged women, water spurting from the gun barrels of tanks, and one woman seductively draped over a wooden cross. Perhaps this feminist revision of the symbolism of the crucifixion of Jesus alludes to the rebirth of women and their adoption of traditionally masculine roles. Nevertheless this reference merely highlights male centrality and the dominance and pervasiveness of western patriarchal ideologies. Furthermore Knowles’ army of femme fatales are supported by a lion, rather than a lioness, against the ‘glaze’ of the male militia.
Despite the lyrics advocating women’s economic independence: “we’re smart enough to make these millions”, women’s rights and access to higher education: “raise a glass for the college grads”, and the multiplicity of roles undertaken by women in society today: “strong enough to bare the children, then get back to business”, this song is not an ode to female empowerment. Rather it ultimately claims that women “run the world” by way of sexual evocation: “my persuasion can build a nation…you’ll do anything for me”. Thus the song argues that “girls run the world” by virtue of their ability to flaunt their breasts and shake their ‘bootylicious’ body’s! As if to affirm this argument Knowles’ and her dancers dress in Egyptian costumes evocative of Pharaoh Cleopatra, whose relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony enabled her to rule during the Hellenistic period in Ancient Egypt. Her strategic relationships solidified her authority. As such she is a popular figure in western society because of her conquests over several powerful men. This also increased her sexual allure.
“Girls Run the World” is masquerading as female empowerment when it is really audio-visual abuse: that is the exploitation of female sexuality guised as postfeminist liberation.