Beyoncé Knowles started her music career at a very young age with a group compiled of her childhood friends. Her father quit his job in the cooperate world to help manage the group. After reaching some success; Beyoncé later broke off from the group and started the path for her own solo career. Her platform increased, and her fame exploded. The singer, dancer, entrepreneur, and actress never looked back and throughout her success she instilled in her fans from the beginning the importance of feminism and the importance of race. Many of her songs dictate just that, Beyoncé’s song “If I were a boy” is the most significant of her songs because it reiterates to the gender binary, gendered bodies, gender performance, intersectionality and gender inequality.
The song “If I were a boy” is an incredible example of gender roles and how they are presented. In the beginning of the music video, the couple express key components to their ideal relationships. Beyoncé answers with the masculine stereotype, her first phrase being “intimacy”. Her partner, who expresses the feminine stereotype answers with “honesty”. In this video, the typical gender stereotypes are reversed. Beyoncé’s husband cooks her a homey breakfast, she takes a bite and proceeds to leave, showing no degree of gratefulness. She goes to work and flirts with her partner throughout the day, while her husband goes to work, and proceeds to search for gifts for her.
Attractive women invite him out and he declines and ignores the obvious attention. She goes out with her friends, does not tell him and ignores all of his calls as he stays at work late. Days later, the couple goes to a party and she is dancing with an intense degree of sexual tension with her partner. Her husband gets upset and upon returning home they have a blow out and she responds “why are you so jealous, it ain’t like I am sleeping with the guy. He responds “what?” silence is met and the roles are reversed.
The husband answers “I said it ain’t like I am sleeping with the girl”. The next morning, we as an audience see the roles revered. She makes him a lavish meal, he takes one bite and leaves for work, and flirts with his partner. The song then ends with the powerful lyrics “but you’re just a boy”. Upon describing the video, Beyoncé (2008) states, “It’s kind of like Freaky Friday. In the beginning of the video, my husband makes me breakfast and he’s excited about it, and I kind of don’t have time to eat. As a police officer, I have a male partner and the video goes through our days. My husband’s at work and has attractive girls flirting with him but he declines their advances. I have a guy flirting with me, and I flirt back.
“Beyoncé added that the video depicts common things that men do to hurt their significant others, such as not answering their phone. She explained: “It’s about all of the little things that mean so much in a relationship. At the end of the clip, you realize that I was acting out his life, and it all starts over again. He was a cop and everything that happened was really him doing the same thing to me.”
Gender binary, is the concept that there are only two types of people. Male-bodied individuals that protrude masculinity and female-bodied individuals who embody femininity. The gender binary separates both genders and puts them into two very opposite sections of a plane (Wade and Ferree, 2015). Beyoncé enforced the gender binary in her song, and her music video in a multitude of ways. The beginning of the song states “If I were a boy, even just for a day. I’d roll outta bed in the morning, and throw on what I wanted and go.” This statement shadows the idea that women must take longer to get ready and look more put together and groomed than men do to fully function in society. This ideal has been incorporated throughout society for a very long time, and makes women seem like their only purpose is to be presentable for the viewing purposes of those around them. She also states “(If I were a boy) I’d put myself first, and make the rules as I go. ‘Cause I know that she’d be faithful-Waitin’ for me to come home.” This statement enforces the male stereotype that men are unfaithful, careless and selfish.
Male and female bodies scientifically are similar but not totally alike. Janet Hyde a psychologist combined 7,084 studies done by various researchers who looked at 124 alternative aspects to fully map out the difference between men and women in thoughts, feelings, behavior, intellectual abilities, communication styles and skills. “Hyde found no differences between men and woman for 30 percent of the traits examined. On an additional 48 percent, there was evidence for a small gender differences” (Wade and Ferree, 2015, pg. 37). Wade and Ferree mention these differences throughout their book, there is a statistic found that men are more likely to engage in heroic helping behavior than woman. Beyoncé portrayed this well, when portraying masculine stereotypes, she single handedly wrangles a criminal from a convince store, and aggressively slams him into the cop car, showing bravery and heroism.
Gender performance can be seen as anything that has to do with sexual identity. This can mean, the type of clothes males and females watch, type of body language, the prefix before your name (Mrs. Mr. Miss, etc.). This does not have to correlate with the biological aspect of gender. Gender performance is mental and willingly. Beyoncé expressed this throughout the video. The husband worked in a cooperate setting, and seemed fairly clean cut and groomed. Beyoncé worked for the police department and wore a little less clothing, and embodied her physique. When the roles were switched and Beyoncé was more feminine she remained timid, and wore a significant amount of clothing compared to her husband.
She wore pants, a blazer and a blouse that was buttoned to the top. The interpreter; wither it was the husband or Beyoncé, of femininity seemed much more passive, the body language was gentle and soft, and their clothing was very modest. When the interpretation of masculinity came to par, the body language was very aggressive and confident. As Nandini Seshadri (2013) stated; “Almost all gender expression is performed. That is to say, almost every way in which you communicate your gender to others around you is a culturally determined performance of gender rather than an innate biological expression.”
Intersectionality is the indifferent levels of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. Black women are often seen as less feminine, and more on the masculine side of the plane then feminine because during the time of slavery they would do equally hard of labor as the men. Black women are often discriminated for wearing their hair natural, and having darker skin because white women have invaded beauty standards (Wade and Ferree, 2015). Beyoncé fights this discriminatory outlook that women have color have pervaded through. She is known for loving her skin color and her heritage. In If I were a boy, Beyoncé made sure to have a variety of different races in the story plot. She wore minimal makeup in the beginning of the video, and wore her hair natural, which was relaxed and slicked back. As if to say “I am proud of my features”.
Gender inequality is prevailed heavily throughout this song. Beyoncé plays onto many of the different stereotypes for the different genders. When she protrudes a masculine outlook, she is very aggressive, and unfaithful, and ungrateful. She seems more concerned with herself, and too self-consumed to genuinely care for her spouse. The feminine presence stays with the masculine regardless of the terrible ways he treats her.
He ignores her, and leaves her unappreciated and out right allows the sexual tension between his partner to get so monstrous that he dances sexily with his partner at a party in front of her friends and acquaintances and in front of her. Throughout this all, she continues to remain silent and stays with him. Both genders are viewed in a negative light. The male perspective is unfair; Beyoncé uses “boy” in a loose sense making it sound that every man acts this way. And yet, the male presence is still superior to the female. He treats her horribly and knows she will stay and remain faithful.
In conclusion, If I were a boy by Beyoncé enforces at least one aspect in each category of: the gender binary, gendered bodies, gender performance, intersectionality and gender inequality through subtle hints, tasteful lyrics, and well executed music videos.