Maybe Rush Limbaugh is jealous because Beyoncé, according to Forbes, is more powerful than him.
Get real: No one with a basic understanding of the English language could actually think that Beyoncé’s new song has anything to with the pop star “bowing down” at her husband’s feet (and then entreating her female fans to do the same). But on a recent edition of his radio show, the conservative commentator goes on and on to this effect: “She’s done a 180,” he chirps with undisguised joy. (After all, she’s not only married, he points out, she’s also “been impregnated,” a turn of phrase that says it all right there.) After years of telling women to take a stand, Limbaugh says, Beyoncé “married the rich guy, and now she understand that it’s worth it to bow down, and now she is passing on this advice.”
Perhaps Limbaugh bowed down headfirst into a brick wall (just guessin’), but this is the most idiotic interpretation of a song that is clearly directed at the women who cast judgment on Beyoncé’s personal and career choices. The most clear-cut examples from the lyrics: “I know when you were little girls/you dreamed of being in my world/Don’t forget it, don’t forget/Bow down …” And there’s this one: “I took some time to live my life/but don’t think I’m just his little wife.” (And really, Rush, married “the rich guy?” Last time Forbes checked, Beyoncé was the 16th most powerful celebrity in the world. And that’s three spots higher than you.)
But let’s set aside the guy who wants to bring Beyoncé to heel for his own purposes. Her new song does tell an important story about the pop star and her complex role as a feminist icon, especially to her young fans. The song is getting slammed for pitting women against each other, for “sabotaging” the star’s “female empowerment efforts.”
Yet again, her detractors say, Beyoncé is sending mixed messages: If she believes in girl power, why does she pose half-naked on magazines? If she is even “a feminist in a way,” as she put in an article with the Daily Mail a few years ago, why is she calling her new tour the “Mrs. Carter” show. As feminist activist Rahiel Tesfamariam argues in a Washington Post blog: “The release of Bow Down suggests that the pop icon only adorns the feminist label when it suits her – dangerously straddling the line between female empowerment and subjugation.”
But ultimately, that's Beyoncé’s strength: She represents the complexity of feminism and the challenge of being a powerful woman (and mother) who wants to do what she wants. (Come on: Doesn’t that whole Mrs. Carter thing feel like an intentional jab?) Feminism has often made the mistake of assuming that one definition can speak for half the population. Yes, it would be nice if Beyoncé would unequivocally say she’s a feminist. And despite its anthem vibe, the song Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) did feel like a regressive version of a property transaction that some 1950s mother would tell her daughter (milk, cow, why buy when you can get it for free?).
But this song, Bow Down, is ultimately about feeling powerful in the face of those who want to tell you otherwise. And you only have to glance briefly at the Steubenville rape case to know that women can be just as guilty of judging and victimizing women as are men.
Imagine a young girl sitting in the dark after a day of bullying from mean girls telling her she is not pretty enough or popular enough or good enough to be their friend. She doesn’t fit in the box the world has designed for her. She puts on this track and hears Beyoncé, confident in her own choices, telling her critics to back off. If this young fan is humming the chorus line in the hallways of school the next day, maybe those words help drown out the rest. And as for Rush Limbaugh – the Beyoncé her fans know and love would tell him to put a muzzle on it.