Although seemingly a wonderfully intriguing and audibly pleasing song, “If I Were A Boy” by Beyonce Knowles mixes many interesting and thought-provoking ideas with a bit of raw, unabashed sexism.
First of all, I like the sound of this song and will likely enjoy listening to it in the future. That said, I feel it’s important to point out the sexism in a song like this. Secondly, the idea of being a boy with a woman’s brain, emotions, and feelings is an important issue that many men would do well to think about. However, it is this broad and false generalization of ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ that makes this song especially sexist.
The first stanza:
“If I were a boy
Even just for a day
I’d roll out of bed in the morning
And throw on what I wanted and go
Drink beer with the guys
And chase after girls
I’d kick it with who I wanted
And I’d never get confronted for it
Because they’d stick up for me”
I like this idea. It shows the inherent privilege involved with being male in a male-dominated world. It’s often said that men don’t have to worry about what they look like, what they wear, how they smell, etc… Men often get to spend time at the bar while their partners are at home taking care of the children or the home. Men are supported by other men who may hold positions of power within society, thereby allowing men to “stick up” for one another effectively. And even though many individual relationships frown upon it, society in general allows men a certain amount of leeway when looking at or “chasing after” women. The success of female models in advertising attests to that. So, the overall idea here is a good one, one that highlights some differences due to privilege that really shouldn’t exist.
She goes on to sing:
“If I were a boy
I think that I’d understand
how it feels to love a girl
I swear I’d be a better man
I’d listen to her
cause I know how it hurts
when you lose the one you wanted
cause he’s taken you for granted
and everything you had got destroyed!
If I were a boy”
This, the chorus, is also an important idea to think about. And it goes far beyond men understanding women and vice-versa. Here, Beyonce sings about the empathy she would have if she were a man. Because she knows the feelings described well, from direct experience, she would be able to know those feelings as a man and then be a “better man” from it. She would inherently know how to treat a woman if she were a man because she would know how she wants men to treat her. With this empathy, she would be a better man. And interestingly, with this kind of empathy, many of us could be better people. Wouldn’t it be helpful if all of us attempted to have this type of empathy with others that we interact with?
“I would turn off my phone
Tell everyone that its broken
so they think
that I was sleeping alone
I’d put myself first
and make the rules as I go
cause I know that she’ll be faithful
waiting for me to come home (to come home)”
Again, men have privilege to be able to turn off their phone and not care about missing calls. Well, that’s the privilege Beyonce is trying to suggest that men have. In reality, men are slaves to their cell phones as much as women are. That’s a technology issue. The idea of putting oneself first is typically associated with men, though. The idea of being selfish, every man for himself, to each his own, etc… that kind of thing. Assuming the woman in the relationship will be faithful isn’t smart, but it’s something that society suggests is safe to do. I think these ideas come from some rerun of a fifties sitcom or something. After all, it’s those filthy, mean, cheating husbands and boyfriends that women are told to watch out for, yet encourage to lust after.
The song continues to the point where the focus switches from Beyonce in the man’s point of view to someone she’s talking to as being “just a boy.” Overall, it’s a nice sounding song, as I stated above. But the ideas of boys doing this and girls doing that, these broad and often false generalizations, along with the use of the terms ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ instead of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are sexist. It’s unfortunate that the many enlightening points in the song are overshadowed and essentially eclipsed by the sexist oppression created from these generalizations. I can picture listeners getting the need for empathy but then realizing their place in the song, as men or women, and acting out those roles accordingly instead of practicing empathy. It’s unfortunate. The idea behind this song has potential. If one could be another, then the whole world would be different … better. But, according to Beyonce, “You’re just a boy” who acts like a boy, and you’re just a girl who acts like a girl … the two will never be the same.