Beyoncé’s new album is not only refreshing in an increasingly stale and samey pop music industry, but also a boost to feminist discourse. Some feminist discussion around the singer has characterized her (unfortunately and mistakenly) as “the wrong kind of feminist.” However, at least one song on Beyoncé’s new venture is inspired by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “we should all be feminists” TEDx talk, which suggests the pop star is doing more than just churning out fabricated female-empowerment singles such as Katy Perry’s “Roar.”
Adichie’s TEDx talk and Beyoncé: The Visual Album both recount journeys of self-discovery to reclaim the word feminism. Both women, who are met with the perceived derogatory meaning of the F-word (“Feminists are women who are unhappy because they can’t find a husband,” Adichie was once told—so she decided to describe herself as a “happy feminist”), progress in life to identify themselves as defenders of equal rights.
Refreshingly stepping away from the “strong woman” role on her new album, Beyoncé discovers her own feminism, contradictions and all. She unapologetically celebrates her femininity in “****Flawless,” for example, but simultaneously critiques a world where women are only valued for their looks in “Pretty Hurts.”
Adichie’s TEDx talk also criticizes the need to identify as anything other than what you are. Adichie tells her audience of her first time as a lecturer, when she rejected the “girly skirt” she really wanted to wear in favor of an “ugly, very manly suit” because that’s the only way she thought she would be taken seriously. She later banished that suit from her closet, no longer apologetic for her “femaleness and femininity.”
On her album, Beyoncé talks about love and her vulnerability as a mother and a wife. She is open about her path to strength when singing about her miscarriage: “I fought for you / The hardest, it made me the strongest.” Adichie agrees: It’s obvious to her that feminism is not only about equal rights but also self-discovery. It is our weaknesses and mistakes that make us “strong women,” and it’s useless to pretend we are simply born unbeatable.
Beyoncé explored the dynamics of successful relationships in the songs “Countdown,” “End of Time” and “Love on Top” on her previous album, 4. Her new songs still reveal a woman who is deeply happy in her marriage, yet it explores the difficult and complex parts of that relationship. Adichie says that marriage is still seen as ownership as opposed to partnership, and that this must change. Beyoncé echoes that in “Flawless”: “I took some time to live my life / But don’t think I’m just his little wife / Don’t get it twisted, get it twisted … ” She might be married, but she is still doing her thing.
Yet, Beyoncé is honest about her flaws and mistakes, singing “And I love making you jealous but don’t judge me / And I know that I’m being hateful but that ain’t nothing / That ain’t nothing / I’m just jealous / I’m just human.” In her TEDx talk, Adichie says it is always women who make sacrifices for their marriage, because they are taught it is the most important thing in their lives, but Beyoncé pleads with her partner for a joint effort to fix things.
The song “Rocket” includes perhaps the most sexually explicit lyrics Beyoncé has ever sung: “Let me sit this ass / on you / Show you how I feel / Let me take this off / Will you watch me?” This is not a forced “sexual maturity” stunt, as so many young female artists pull, but a song about genuine sexual satisfaction and a grown woman’s love for pleasure and pleasuring her husband. It echoes back to Adichie saying that girls are taught not to be sexual beings like boys are, and that it’s still shocking for a grown woman to seek sexual pleasure.
Beyoncé’s path to self-knowledge has been met with a puzzling amount of hatred: In the eyes of some, she’s the “wrong kind of feminist” because she wears thongs on magazine covers, dances suggestively and claims her sexuality on stage, pampers her husband, wears high heels and tells men to “put a ring on it.” But, as Adichie says and Beyoncé obviously agrees, feminism is personal.