In the music video for Beyonce’s 2009 song, If I Were A Boy, Beyonce switches gender roles with her boyfriend for one day.
She becomes a police officer who ignores her partner’s breakfast in the morning and flirts with her co-worker. Meanwhile, her partner sits at his desk job looking at wedding rings and refuses an invitation from his female co-worker to go out with her. Ultimately, the two figures fight because He calls Her out for not remaining loyal to Him in their relationship. It is during this fight that Beyonce switches roles again, becoming herself once more.
The song (and the video as well) alludes to the varying degrees of mobility and flexibility within male-female relationships. With its title, as well as the line, “But you’re just a boy” (which Beyonce soulfully sings at the moment of re-becoming herself) the song positions Beyonce and her partner along archetypal gender lines, each figure a metonymic stand-in for men and women more generally. The role of man, occupied at different times either by Beyonce or her partner, is afforded the capability of being disloyal and of ignoring the attempts of his partner to be sweet and caring (i.e. making him breakfast in the morning before work). Simultaneously, the role of the woman is left in the dust, unloved, unappreciated, and endlessly trying her best all the same.
This video relates to bell hooks’s Oppositional Gaze, as she imagines an alternative genre of filmmaking which black women, who have been forced into an oppositional gaze by a white-dominated, phallocentric mainstream film industry. The success of Beyonce’s video to place a black woman in a normally male-occupied spot, and thereby to reconfigure our imaginations of gendered relationships more broadly, remains debatable. As hooks writes, “the power of black women to make films will be threatened and undermined by that white male gaze that seeks to reinscribe the black female body in a narrative of voyeuristic pleasure where the only relevant opposition is male/female, and the only location for the female is as a victim” (219).
First, Beyonce’s video does indeed play along a strictly male-female line. One could argue that this is similar to Crenshaw’s understanding of a single-axis framework, which ignores the simultaneous intersections of multiple identities. Furthermore, the video does contain voyeuristic shots of Beyonce undressing alone, with nobody around her to interfere with the objectifying white male gaze. And finally, the video does ultimately position Beyonce as a victim, who is forced back into her role as a woman in this unequal schematic — she is, once again, helpless and voiceless, either left alone or forced to assimilate.