“You know, equality is a myth, and for some reason, everyone accepts the fact that women don’t make as much money as men do. I don’t understand that. Why do we have to take a backseat?” she says in her film, which begins with her 2011 decision to sever her business relationship with her father. “I truly believe that women should be financially independent from their men. And let’s face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what’s sexy. And men define what’s feminine. It’s ridiculous.”
This is the most-quoted segment of the GQ interview with Beyoncé that is flying around the internet right now (3,500 likes and counting on Facebook so far).
I agree with this statement, but I hope it isn’t always true.
Look, it’s important for women to have money. Money means that you can do what you like in the superficial sense — buy clothes, go out with your friends — but also means that it’s easier for you to exit a relationship, change your life (move), and further your education. All things that reflect the independence/actualization/whatever of a woman.
But it’s also an incredibly superficial way to measure equality, especially in relationships.
We’ve all heard the trope “behind every great man there is a great woman.” It’s obvious that presidents and CEOs, power positions traditionally and overwhelmingly occupied by men, couldn’t do what they do and have quality of life or a family without their wives on board. And chances are, the woman has to forfeit her career and career ambitions to support his. (Remember in the early days of the Obama administration when everyone talked about what Michelle had to give up?) In many of those marriages I’m sure there is a great deal of internal equality that perhaps cannot be measured, and definitely can’t be measured by money.
Furthermore, emphasizing economic power marginalizes women who choose less lucrative careers or who choose not to work. I would never dream of not working, but I know that I will likely never make more money than my boyfriend. However, because I work in media and he works in IT, I have a different kind of power in that I write and publish articles that people who don’t know me read. If I build up a body of work that is somewhat respectable, I might even one day be considered an “expert” or an “influencer” on a subject. The economic power in those kind of positions is way less tangible but equally relevant, I think.
What I think Beyoncé is really talking about is the value of money to women when dealing with the external world and external relationships. As I said, women need money to have autonomy in their lives, but it also creates a level of respect in the people around her. Money is one of the few ways we have of assigning value to things, so if a woman makes more money, she is more valuable as a person in that situation. The female VP is less expendable than the female secretary and is treated accordingly within the company.
On the whole, I hope we get to a point where we don’t associate income with empowerment because it will mean we’ve moved past many of our patriarchal ideas about women and autonomy. Conversely, I hope we get to a point where we don’t applaud men for being “good guys” because they don’t mind that their wife or girlfriend makes more than them. I hope we recognize the intangible contributions that the person brings to the relationship and how that affects equality in the relationship.
In the mean time, I’m just glad Beyoncé is talking about equality in GQ. It’s great to see a mainstream pop artist talk about feminism (even if she doesn’t use the dreaded word) in a publication for men. It’s great to see a pop artist bring these concepts to the average person who maybe doesn’t spend their free time wondering about the nature of oppression (it’s exhausting; pick something else). Especially since we live in a world where Taylor Swift is basically launching daily wars on other women and people fall for it and I just get so mad.