“I woke up like this.” So sayeth the 2013 Beyoncé anthem “Flawless,” a song that also features a speech by feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. When it was released, the lyric caused some grumbling among feminists who took it literally, but in my experience, fans understand it how Beyoncé almost certainly meant it, as an ironic joke. We do not wake up like this. Feminine presentation, in particular, can be a lot of work, with heavy investment in hair, makeup and clothes. Plenty of folks feel like genderless puffbags when they wake up, until they groom and doll themselves up.
In other words, Beyoncé boiled down reams of Judith Butler-style feminist theory for the masses: Gender is a performance. It’s an idea that caused much angsty academic debate for years. But when you put it like Beyoncé does, it starts to sound more like common sense.
“Flawless” has been rattling around in my head for months now, […]