Who Run the World? Girl-powerment and Sexual Politics

Beyoncé’s video for “Run the World (Girls)” borrows heavily from the aesthetics of the protests and revolutions in the Middle East, particularly Egypt. Nineteen Percent put together an enjoyable video on some of the ways in which the song itself falls short of empowerment. She notes that the song is a part of a sporadic “girl power” movement that “isn’t really getting the job done.”

As grating as the girl-powerment message is already, the context of the Egyptian revolution makes the song’s suggestion that women wield power through their earning potential and their ability to influence men with their sexuality seems especially ignorant. This is the same environment as “virginity tests” and Lara Logan’s assault.

An article at The New Statesmen confusedly suggests that the video uses the aesthetic of revolution for the sake of “cool” while covering up the real pain, suffering, and violence in revolution. I’d add sexual violence to the list.

Did Helen of Troy have any actual power? Sure her face launched a thousand ships (that were sent to recapture her) but the freedom her beauty might provide her is lost in the question of who gets to own her. Beyoncé chants that her “persuasion/ can build a nation” which provides “endless power” because “you’d do anything for [her]“. Despite extolling “financial freedom”, Beyoncé’s “Girls” don’t run the world, they manipulate the men who do. They “persuade” them using a type of sexual power that doesn’t exist.

Anti-Feminists have long argued that what women lack in political and financial power they recoup in personal and sexual power: that women control the supply of sex. Issues like “virginity testing” expose the flaws in this argument. The testing was justified using measures that presumably protect women from sexual assault. The power that Beyoncé describes depends on her previous assertion: “Disrespect us/No they won’t”. They will, and chanting that women hold extreme power over men reinforces the comfortable myth that we are separate but equal.