Recently, there has been a surge of “feminist” videos and lyrics in pop culture. This effort to incorporate messages surrounding the role of women in society into mass media has been received by an audience far broader than the traditional women’s studies set. These videos can also be viewed as a commentary on women’s lives and development – and a statement on the impact of women’s growing participation in the workforce on women themselves.
Some recent “feminist” videos have focused on body image and perceptions of beauty. John Legend’s “You and I” uses clever lyrics and distinct videography to invoke emotional intensity – ‘empathy’ – while also depicting a sense of commonality and empowerment.
His video’s portrayal of women – ranging from girls, to young women in the workforce, to a breast cancer survivor – is a powerful reminder of the depth and complexity of a woman’s life; and how women can’t simply be characterized or defined by physical beauty. The video also manages to portray an important reality of the female experience – insecurity (and the realization of self-worth) that persists throughout a woman’s life –across ages and across activities like going to school, applying for a job and preparing for a date.
The music video for Beyonce’s “Flawless” also includes powerful visual images about power and self-ownership – two concepts that are backbones of most feminist ideologies. Notable lyrics from her songs are her chorus in “Flawless” – “I woke up like this…flawless” and the lyrics: “I took some time to live my life, but don’t think I am just his little wife.” This first comment again engages with the pressure in society for women to conform to certain beauty standards while the second is an apparent response to public narratives that Beyonce’s career was being subsumed by her roles as wife to Jay Z and mother to Blue Ivy.
Even more striking and empowering is Beyonce’s inclusion of words of famed Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi, who stated: “we raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or for accomplishments…but for the attention of men.”
Beyonce and John Legend are rewriting the script for women’s perceptions of themselves and telling women that to succeed – you don’t need to fit a mold; rather, you can change the mold altogether. These videos and lyrics provide a refreshingly critical perspective of the standards the media has set for women and girls – inside and outside the workforce. It has been documented through numerous studies that the way women view themselves and their capabilities directly affects their performance at work.
The way women think and behave in the workforce is impacted by their confidence and perceptions of themselves. For Beyonce, her work requires her on a regular basis to carry herself with confidence – and rise above any previous failures or disappointments. In a recent interview with GQ magazine, she said “I’ve worked harder than probably anyone I know, at least in the music industry. So I just have to remind myself that I deserve it.” Her rise to becoming an international powerhouse clearly demonstrates that to climb the ladder and truly achieve success at work – you must not only be excellent at what you do, but you must also have the confidence to back it up.