The Beyoncé Dilemma

One of the most beautiful things I have seen in recent years is Beyoncé’s visual album, ‘Lemonade’. I can’t forget the image of Bey, standing by the ocean, motionless against the reflection of an afternoon sun:


Female Empowerment and Sexual Propriety

Much of the controversy over Beyoncé and similar artists centers on whether their use of sexy outfits and sexual themes empowers women or not. For some, breaking taboos of feminine modesty demonstrates that they are also willing to disregard cultural norms of women being quiet and undemanding. Others feel like a good friend of mine: “We’ve now gone into the territory of teaching that sex appeal is the most important attribute a woman can have. Or that if she doesn’t have that, everything else she does is useless.”

Sexual Intimacy and the Sacred

Yet it is possible to take sexually explicit art too lightly. We all know that few experiences in life are so powerful or poignant as sexual intimacy, both for evil and for good. We severely punish the sexual molestation of children because the scars created by such abuse are often lifelong. The same applies to sexual assault as an adult. Fortunately, the reverse holds true as well — though most of us prefer to keep our sexually intimate experiences private, it is widely agreed that such experiences can be among the best in life.

Sexual Intimacy and Joy

Still, there is another fact which works against privacy in sexuality: joy. Sexual intimacy is, for many people, among the most joyful and euphoric of experiences. And human beings love to share their joy — as a Swedish proverb says, “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow.” Thus to share the joy of sexual intimacy, through music or film or literature, seems a natural impulse. And to express one’s sexuality in dress or language is a way of referencing the powerful, joyful experiences which one has experienced or anticipates.

In Defense of Beyoncé

So we come back to that same question, this Beyoncé Dilemma: How public should sexuality be? Its sacredness and poignancy indicate that it should, to some extent, be kept private. Its joy indicates that it is appropriate, in some circumstances, to share.

“I do not understand one thing in this world. Not one.” — Marilynne Robinson, ‘Gilead’

“I do not understand one thing in this world. Not one.” — Marilynne Robinson, ‘Gilead’