Please don’t kill me Beyhive, but I think Beyonce missed a huge opportunity to make a statement about womanhood in Lemonade. Here’s why…
I in no way shape or form condone cheating. I have been cheated on, a lot, multiple times, by multiple men… but that is neither here nor there. I have been in her situation. I have left and I have stayed. I have been in that awful purgatory in between. Should I stay? Should I go? Should I light his shit on fire? How can I ruin that other woman’s life? This is entirely my opinion and my experience with infidelity. I am just one woman who has been through a shit ton of relationship struggles, reflecting on something that is so much bigger than just me. Before I tell you why I think Beyonce is a total hypocrite, I have to say that Lemonade was genius. It really was, it was well done, it was creative, it was innovative, it was important for the African American woman– it celebrated blackness, the oppressed, victims of racially driven crimes, it had potential to take a very important feminist stand BUT, it didn’t.
My thoughts on Lemonade:
“So what are you gonna say at my funeral now that you’ve killed me? Here lies the body of the love of my life whose heart I broke without a gun to my head. Here lies the mother of my children both living and dead. Rest in peace my true love, who I took for granted.”
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Beyonce released an epic visual album on Saturday night. Lemonade blew up the internet and you can’t even go to a major news outlet’s website without seeing articles about the film. Emotional roller coaster is an understatement when it came to my state of mind during Lemonade. So what is it about? The Root describes it as “love letter to herself and black women — our pain, our beauty, our hard love, our betrayal, our strength — exposing herself bare like we’ve never seen her before.” It’s about the journey of womanhood, it’s about family, relationships, culture, ethnicity, sexuality. And it’s all set to the amazing soundtrack that is her new album, Lemonade. I am angry with her not because she stayed with her cheating husband, but because she didn’t pick a side. The root of my argument comes from my past experiences in relationships. Beyonce did what every other woman does & there is nothing empowering about that.
I must preface this post by saying I react a little dramatically to any and all Beyonce & Jay-Z news. I left their last concert early & angry because I believed they were “deceiving us.” I wish I could say that was an over exaggeration. I wasn’t always a crazy Beyonce fan. In fact, I only really loved her after she married Jay. I was that crazy little girl listening to Vol 2. while getting ready for school– catholic girl plaid skirt and all. And before you criticize me for getting involved or speculating on someone else’s relationship, please remember… She did this for a reason.
“You can taste the dishonesty, it’s on your breath.”
I read an article about Lemonade before actually watching it. So I knew it was coming. But when I actually watched it, I still thought to myself, “oh shit, she really went there.” The first song, “Pray You Catch Me,” is a haunting ballad that hints at Beyonce beginning to question her marriage. We’ve all been there– whether it’s a bad feeling, a call in the middle of the night, a weird text message conversation, a “friend” dropping off baked goods to your significant other’s work, one little lie. They’re the things we never want to admit. A woman’s intuition is usually right.
“I tried to change. Closed my mouth more, tried to be softer, prettier, less awake. Fasted for 60 days, wore white, abstained from mirrors, abstained from sex, slowly did not speak another word.”
These words are spoken in the “denial” phase of the film. My favorite part of Lemonade was the spoken word at the beginning of each song. As a girl who used to be a little emo (I had black nails and listened to Konstantine on repeat), and love Tumblr, I was familiar with Warsan Shire’s work. Her poetry is important, it is real, it is raw. And unfortunately, like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, she will be remembered mostly for her “Beyonce connection.” Her words are relatable, heart wrenching, and way too genuine. More times than not, the woman blames herself. Tries to change, sees the infidelity as a reaction to something they did or didn’t do. Beyonce admitting this brings her down to earth, makes her relatable, we see her vulnerability, she becomes like the rest of us. But this conflicts the next scene where she is seen bashing in windows with a baseball bat. Would this strong, badass woman really try to change for a man? Would she pretend to be she is something she was not just to keep a man? Can you be both? I don’t have the answer to that. But my gut tells me no. That wasn’t the Beyonce I wanted. I wanted strong Beyonce. I wanted “Survivor” Beyonce. She goes from asking “are you cheating on me” to walking down the street with a baseball bat and a smile on her face. This made me SO mad!
“What’s worse, looking jealous or crazy? Jealous or crazy? More like being walked all over lately, walked all over lately, I’d rather be crazy”
In “Hold Up,” we see Beyonce move from questioning to angry. Societal norms say that all women are crazy. I’ve been called crazy, I have acted crazy, hell I’ll even admit it, I am crazy. But don’t you dare call me that. I suffer from anxiety, I have had bouts of depressions, sometimes I can’t control my emotions. Instead of fighting this negative stereotype that society puts on women, Beyonce played into it. She is seen bashing in windows of cars with a baseball bat, driving a monster truck over them, and vandalizing A LOT of property. She asks what’s worse looking jealous or crazy? Why are those the only two options for a woman who has just been betrayed? These emotions are all connected. Beyonce is using these emotions an excuse to be able to use violence as a coping mechanism; to act irrationally. Teaching young girls it’s okay to damage other people’s property. What does she actually mean? Women need to stand up for themselves and not be treated this way? Did she want revenge? Retaliation? Dare I say that this scene actually propelled us backward? Part of me loved this scene, part of me wanted the documentary to end here. With her bashing in the windows of his car and saying “what a wicked way to treat the girl that loved you.” But that isn’t what happened.
I am the dragon breathing fire
Beautiful mane I’m the lion
Beautiful man I know you’re lying
I am not broken, I’m not crying, I’m not crying
The next song on the album, “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” shows a raw and angry Beyonce with braids in a harshly lit parking garage. Her aggressive tone shines through with the intense sounds of Jack White, who collaborated with her on this rock and roll track. Now, I am no expert, but I consider myself to be fairly well-versed in both African American literature and feminist literature. I have taken many classes on the subject, I wrote my senior thesis on Adrienne Rich- one of the most powerful voices in women’s writing. I have my masters in English Literature. I teach Frederick Douglass, Jessie Fauset, Zora Neale Hurston, Lucille Clifton, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Nella Larsen, Maya Angelou and bell hooks (who famously called Beyonce a terrorist, especially in terms of the impact on young girls). Lemonade touched on subjects that we talk about in my classes: Black Lives Matter, police brutality, the second amendment, women having no voice, oppression, the symbolism of African American hair (think Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God), gender roles. I appreciate that she brought all of these issues to light– these are things I fight for every day. Equality. Compassion. Human rights. While I am obviously not a woman of color, I am still a woman, who can relate to a lot of the hierarchical gender issues in Lemonade. Beyonce compares herself to Malcom X in this song, says she’s going to move onto another dick, says try this again and you’re gon lose your wife. Those are big words, big threats, empowering sentiments. So why didn’t she do any of that?
He only want me when I’m not there.
He better call Becky with the good hair.
My favorite song on the album is definitely “Sorry.” It’s catchy, it has the potential to be a club anthem. It reminds me of Britney Spears “Stronger” or Christina Aguilera “Fighter.” This was also my favorite scene in the movie- when I first saw it, I rewound and watched it over and over. You know I am all about strong, empowered women so including Serena Williams for this song was so freaking smart. She is the epitome of strong. She is a woman I would not want to mess with. By juxtaposing her and Beyonce dancing together with the images of tribal women dancing on a bus struck a chord with me. It was a girls night out so to speak– she played the part of a woman scorned who had her friends by her side to lift her up. It was a shoutout to the importance of female friendship. Every time I have been in this situation it was my friends, mom and sister who got me through the dark days– and there’s been a lot.
Despite my love for the song, one lyric really struck a chord with me– and not in a good way. “He better call Becky with the good hair.” By admitting her husband cheated on her with someone with “better hair” – to me, means that she wasn’t good enough for Jay-Z. She is insinuating he wanted someone with better hair, less coarse hair, straighter hair. What does that say to all the girls who have hair like Beyonce? Who have darker skin than her? If she wasn’t good enough to keep her man from straying, and she is the most beautiful woman in the world, does anyone else have a chance?
This song directly calls out the side chick, or “Becky.” Here’s my two cents on side chicks. I had this discussion with my girlfriend Colleen after the documentary aired. While this “side chick” was absolutely wrong in her part in this alleged affair– what is not okay is Beyonce’s fans going after and slut shaming the alleged other woman. Bullying is never acceptable in any form. Like my photoshop post said, women need to support other women. If Beyonce chose to stay, and forgive him– then we should all forgive too. But to all women everywhere, if we truly want to support and respect one another, for the love of God, stop making the rest of us look bad by being the other woman. We all deserve better than that. Trust me, I get the revenge part of it. I have played into that in the past. I have had horrible thoughts on how to get back at these women- how I can ruin their lives. But don’t we hold the man accountable? Why isn’t the Beyhive attacking him? Instead, they’re focused on Rachel Roy, Rachael Ray, Rita Ora. But the truth of the matter is, these side chicks don’t need other people telling them what they already know– they have a conscience and know what they did wrong. They have to live with it, and karma is a bitch. Being the bigger person makes much more of a statement.
And although I promised
That I couldn’t stay, baby
Don’t work out that way.
Three songs later (I skipped 6 Inch, Daddy Lessons and Love Drought), in a chapter called Forgiveness, we have “Sandcastles.” The portrayal of the emotions she was feeling after feeling betrayed seemed very genuine to me. Her stages of grief were ones that I understood– I have lived them. Her depiction of modern day marriage was real. There are so many conflicting emotions that arise when you go through something like this. But not all men cheat, sometimes it’s the woman, sometimes it’s neither. Sometimes people really do live happily ever after. The camera showed artwork drawn by a child– to me, this symbolizes that because of Blue, she decided to stay. When she wiped her tears away after she finished playing the piano- I had no words. You can see her feelings are real.
The part when Jay comes onto the screen literally had me in tears. That was the most relatable part for me. There was something so vulnerable watching her lay in bed with no makeup on with the father of her child, her husband, the man that broke her heart. It shows their silhouettes embracing, shows her kissing his cheek, him rubbing her leg. There is something so beautiful in the art of forgiveness. That’s why I wish she would have chosen a side. Beyonce had the chance to make a strong statement about either leaving or forgiving. I get that the “gray area” in between is what is realistic and what most people experience. But she’s Beyonce– I want more than that from her. Beyonce has the influence and star power to change societal norms and empower women everywhere. But she is presenting conflicting ideals which left me more confused than ever.
Go back to your sleep in your favorite spot just next to me
Next is “Forward,” a collaboration with James Blake, which in my opinion, is way too short of a song. The film shows the grieving mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Again, a chance where she could have made a powerful statement on systemic racism. Instead, strewn into accusations that her husband was unfaithful, it just seems forced. This was a nice segue into “Freedom,” her duet with Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick is one of my heroes, his messages are strong, his words are powerful, people listen to him, his opinion matters. This song, when standing alone is a powerful challenge to society’s ideals. But here, in the midst of her marital drama, the strong message gets lost. She exclaims, “Freedom! Freedom! I can’t move
Freedom, cut me loose! Yeah, freedom! Freedom! Where are you? Cause I need freedom too! I break chains all by myself.” We already saw her have the chance at freedom, and choosing to stay. This seems like a huge contradiction to me.
My torture became my remedy.
In the Redemption chapter of Lemonade we see Jay’s grandma giving a speech at her 90th birthday party, “I had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner strength to pull myself up. I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.” In the song, “All Night” it is clear she has forgiven Jay. It’s a happy, upbeat song showing clips of happy couples, it’s the first time in the film we see a white person, we see same-sex couples, we see Jay-Z chasing Blue around the Superdome. I strongly disagree with this film from a mother’s perspective. I do not have children, but Emily does, and I talked to her about it. She disagrees too. Her belief is that you protect your child, at all costs. Even though I’m not a mother, I am a daughter– a daddy’s girl. If I saw this film about my dad when I was younger, I don’t know if I would be the person I am today. Beyonce has taken this extremely vulnerable moment in her family and capitalized on it. She has forever immortalized the father of her child as a cheating pig. She is teaching her daughter that this is acceptable, that this is the norm.
So was this whole thing an entire publicity stunt to get us talking about them again? Maybe. Are they both profiting from this by coming clean? Absolutely. She can say that the whole thing shows her “journey.” Which I can’t argue. I’ve been there… I’ve been through those stages: Intuition, Denial, Anger, Apathy, Emptiness, Accountability, Forgiveness, Hope, Redemption. But what I want from Beyonce, someone that SO many women look up to, is to be that strong woman that I never had the guts to be. I wanted her to actually leave. But she didn’t. Instead of giving women a voice, I think Beyonce actually did the opposite. She took my voice away. She made me afraid to say what I really feel about the matter because I’m a “white woman.” I feel like she played into her own stereotypes. But you know what, I am not entirely white. My people were oppressed too. I have been a woman scorned. And where the hell was my “hive” when all of that was going down? I wish I could have made millions of dollars off of each of my heartbreaks.
Even after this entire rant, which was extremely cathartic, I still bought the entire album, I’m sitting here in my Ivy Park hoodie, I think Beyonce has never looked prettier, I am kicking myself for not buying tickets to her concert, I am running around singing “tell em boy, bye!” God damn it, Beyonce. You win…again.
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Ashley, I loved this. Keep writing what you’re passionate about. It shows and it’s amazing.
Thanks so much Rach!
Great article, but I’m left heartbroken after reading. My husband of almost 20 years had a brief affair that just about destroyed me. I always was the girl that said I would never give a second chance and I would kick him to the curb so fast and never look back. Well, I ended up staying, working on my marriage (tons of therapy), and I’m really, truly trying to forgive. I fear that many see me as ‘weak’ for staying…. no, I’m not weak. I love my husband… he f’ed up, yes… sometimes good people make really, really, REALLY bad mistakes. I understand why B is staying and choosing forgiveness… however, I do agree that putting this laundry out for all to speculate on is sad. Smart business decision- yes. Anyway, just wanted to voice my feeling that just because someone decides to stay and fix a broken relationship, doesn’t mean they are weak. We can’t judge anybody until we truly walk in their shoes.
I am so sorry to hear that about you and your husband. I think it’s great you guys decided to work it out! I didn’t mean to say that anyone who chooses forgiveness is weak. I think that is actually harder to do. And I think there is so much grace and humility that comes with forgiveness. I just wish she would have shown that more in her movie– instead of choosing violence and destruction. I would have loved to see more of the process of choosing to stay. I wish you guys the best and thanks so much for reading!