If You Liked It Then You Shoulda Put A Ring On It: Beyonce and Socially Conservative Ideology.

by guest contributor soltrane, cross-posted from blackscientist.

Let me say upfront that Beyonce is my choice poison. If I had to choose one musical artist with a crappy message who I could listen to for the rest of my life, it’d be her (beating out weezy f baby only because of her music videos). I love Beyonce. She is my favorite overachiever. You can find me any day naomi campbell walk-ing back and forth in my bedroom to “Freakum Dress” or trying to shake my derriere to “Single Ladies”.


Beyonce is like the feds when it comes to promoting a conservative social agenda. She alone is policing social behavior like bill o’reilly is paying her do it. The whole time I’m getting down to her jams I’m just like “dang b! thats jacked up!” The messages in her songs almost always encourage patriarchy, female subservience, and heteronormativity like a mug! –pretty much conformity overall (including gender conformity) to the socially conservative status quo. In her songs, Beyonce celebrates the oppressive power dynamic that exists between men and women, while simultaneously trying to imply that women can utilize the subordinate position in a heterosexual romantic relationship to empower themselves. If he doesn’t marry you, step! That’ll show him who’s boss. She perpetuates this entanglement of systems of inequalities, such as marriage, with other concepts that have been socially constructed such as love and gender.

And i understand she’s talking to her audience and that many girls and boys can relate to what she’s saying, circumstantially. But I just wish there could be some critical analysis of her implications, and maybe the tweaking of a few words here and there. The fact that she legitimizes only certain expressions of ‘love’ (commitment), masculinity and femininity, and what that means for young girls and boys who are trying to shape their identities, as well as for grown folk who are expressing themselves in alternative ways. Also how those particular expressions that she endorses are part of the larger structure that keeps people in their places, acting as productive bodies for the economy. I want whoever is on her team to at least consider these ideas, and how they could alter her message to communicate a more progressive politics on gender, sex, sexuality, and certain institutions.

Now for kicks, I want to highlight some lyrics that have stood out to me as being particularly annoying and as leaning right of center. Please, add some if you have any! or argue with me about how Beyonce made “Independent Woman” or whatever.

Lyric: If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it.
Translation: If you liked it – “It” most likely refers to a woman here, and perhaps one’s relationship with her, or her sexual abilities. If you liked the woman you were with, you should have married her because not only is that the only way to keep a woman but it is the only legitimate form of recognizing love.

Lyric: Pull me into your arms. Say I’m the one you own. If you don’t you’ll be alone. And like a ghost, I’ll be gone.
Translation: This is why you put a ring on it. Marriage has historically been about who has property rights over women. So tell me you own me, it makes my heart warm.

Lyric: You need a real woman in your life. Taking care of home and still fly. And Ima help you build up your account. When you’re in those big meetings for the mills, you take me just to compliment the deal.
Translation: I’m a trophy wife. When you make business deals, you tote me along like a new car. I’m your favorite prop. Oh, and I can clean the kitchen, wash clothes, cook your dinner, AND put your durag on, all in monolo blahnik heels.

Lyric: I can do for you what Martin did for the people. Ran by the man but the women keep the tempo. It’s very seldom that you’re blessed to find your equal. Still play my part and let you take the lead role, believe me. I’ll follow, this could be easy. I’ll be the help whenever you need me.
Translation: I’ll validate your masculinity by letting you take the ‘lead role’, because the only way I know how to support you is by ensuring that you feel control over me. I’m comfortable fading into the background and being your hot assistant sidekick.  You’re the block, but I’m the lights. You’re the diamond, and I’m the little glimpse of light that makes you shine.

I can’t even start on “If I Were A Boy”… that’s like a whole nother blog in itself.

These are just a few examples trying to illustrate why Beyonce is one of the biggest, albeit flyest, proponents of a retrograde conservative ideology that is restrictive to everyone’s expression, normative and non-conforming alike. It either traps you within (with limited options of expression and often oblivious privilege) or marks you outside (in what is sometimes a more intimately liberated but nonetheless socially and politically marginalized space).



Jalen is a writer and DJ based in Los Angeles, California.

Latest posts by JC (see all)

  • How is Beyonce any different in this respect from all the other mainstream hip-hop chanteuses out there (Rihanna, Ashanti, Mya, Ciara, et al.)? None of them promote anything approaching a socially revolutionary agenda either; Beyonce is really only the most salient proponent of the long-standing conservative status quo in female RnB. To get beyond that you really need to take it to Lauryn, India.arie or underground sistas like Jean Grae and Sistah Souljah—people you rarely if ever hear on MTV or “urban” radio.

  • dfree: You may be answering your own question here. Beyonce’s prominence is exactly why she matters. For various reasons, no one is checking for those other artists you named (Lauryn, India.Arie…) Their voices — and I would take issue with the assertion that they are not problematic in the ways she iss — are not the voices that people are hearing or actively consuming.

  • Yeah, well, anyone who places Lauryn and India in the same boat as Beyonce may have somewhat unrealistic expectations when it comes to the substance of pop music. They might not be perfect, but many non-traditional young women of color I’ve known look up to them. I think it would be hard to dispute that their presence in the pop music world is a net positive from a social-message standpoint.

  • Dfreelon: I don’t think anyone is arguing the merits of India.Arie or Lauryn vs B. The point is that Beyonce, arguably the world’s biggest R&B/pop star, the one that “traditional” (??) women of color, and everyone else listens to, is someone who pushes a heternormative agenda. We could talk about a hundred different artists who are “better” than her, but no one gets the level of airplay and coverage that B does.

    Frankly, I think her take on male-female relationships and gender roles are why she’s so popular.

  • dfree: “non-traditional”? oy. (we could go pretty far afield with this, but those artists are conventional in every way aside from the way they’ve been packaged.)

    If Beyonce is the biggest music star in the country and Jean Grae has never gone gold, Beyonce is way more influential. That’s all I was saying.

  • G.D., you should just make a thread called: “Lauryn Hill and India.Arie Suck.” I think that would be better than letting this one devolve…

  • Grump

    Sounds like somebody would rather listen to Ne-Yo’s “Miss Independent” b/w “She Got Her Own”, which is fine with me.

  • shani, you may be on to something…

  • Man, mom always told me I should just walk away, but sometimes I just can’t help myself . . .

    You’ll have to forgive me for mistaking this:

    and I would take issue with the assertion that they are not problematic in the ways she iss

    for this:

    arguing the merits of India.Arie or Lauryn vs B.

    Moving on . . . yes, I understand Beyonce is popular, and agree that her message is reactionary. But I’ll challenge you once more to think about the degrees of artistic difference that we’ve been allowed to see (by major labels) in 20th/21st-century American pop music and about whether those differences actually matter, apart from whether they’re “different enough” for your or my tastes. All I was saying is that some younger folks I know have noticed significant differences between Beyonce and some of the artists I mentioned, and they certainly haven’t embraced the conservative culture that Beyonce glamorizes—which is what I meant by saying they’re “non-traditional.” In judging what is or is not “conventional” I would look to the perceptions of the target audiences rather than my own aesthetic/cultural outlook. I mean, I’m ancient (in music marketing terms) and all I listen to is rock and hip-hop from the 80s and early 90s, so what the hell do I know, right?

    Anyway, I’m done now. Nice blog by the way. ~D

  • Big Word

    Sounds like the guest contributor wishes Me’Shelle Ndegeocello ws big corn fed white girl like Beyonce…or that her videos were as fly.

  • ladyfresshh

    ok this went completely off track…
    (i’ve been guilty of doing so myself sorry g.d.)

    but to the statements posed in the original post

    I can’t say I disagree can’t say i listen enough to care, nor can you get me to listen to beyonce’s music with any goal or care in mind.

    It is what it is light and fluff and best left to the pop world.

    I’d rather argue on a lighter level but at the same time more impactful level that her music, along with her ‘message’ will not stand the test of time and in 10 years there will be a new beyonce.

  • Jane

    I have no profound thought to share but I do have an article in case you haven’t seen. Here’s New Yorker pop culture writer Sasha Frere-Jones’ take on selected Beyonce music:


  • soltrane

    dfreelon: Mya who?

    big word: or do i wish beyonce were bisexual with a caesar? hmm.

    ladyfresshh: i wouldn’t be surprised if in ten years beyonce was still around. i almost expect her to be. but regardless i see no harm in taking a look at what’s being said in her songs.

    i find her particularly compelling (as compared to me’shell, india, or lauryn) because of her prevalence, and because of the facade that her songs are about strong independent women. (I could write a similar blog about india.arie and her unabashedly heteronormative lyrics, but, after all, when’s the last time her name came out of anyone’s mouth?). i think B has inspired the neck rolling choreography that we see on dance floors everywhere when one of her songs about kicking a man out, demanding a commitment, or being the financially stable trophy wife come on. part of her image is that she’s a role model of sorts for young girls, and the themes of many of her songs are about female empowerment. but what does that mean when you’re insinuating that power is only accessible through certain lifestyles and institutions?

    i know it is what it is–pop music. and i don’t expect (nor do i want, for that matter) beyonce to pick up a guitar and start singing songs about leg hair. however, i don’t think it’s unrealistic nor a waste of time to acknowledge that beyonce (being who she is) is promoting a conservative agenda that is targeted at young females, and to suggest that we all take a second gander at her lyrics in between the weave pats. we could argue all day about shitty messages in popular music, but today it’s beyonce, whose message is not the usual be violent, use sex as a weapon, gold dig, etc but instead looks to marriage, patriarchy, and other components of a traditionally conservative ideology as solutions to a black girl’s problems with love.

  • Roxie

    I couldn’t agree with your analysis more!
    I’ve felt this way, not only about Beyonce, but about Destiny’s Child…Especially with the “Cater to You” single. I just could *not* sing that song.

    If you’d like a more feminist minded dance pop, go for the Sugababes. Sure, they have your standard fair pop stuff (love, sex, loss), but they ALWAYS talk about how good they are with or with out a man, encourage independence, self love and self confidence as well.

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  • Hannah Mae

    Oh man, this video – weird Fosse-ripoff choreography, the most bankable woman in pop music wearing a one-shoulder leotard with ruffles on the ass (when does she get to dress like the boss lady she is?), that Robocop glove thing with the giant diamond on it – and yet I can’t stop singing the song.

    I’m tempted to say that the gloss is what makes her songs attractive, rather than any particular politics – that it’s the production, the catchy melody, the celeb-magazine lifestyle, and it doesn’t actually matter what she’s saying – but the attraction is probably precisely the politics you describe – the combination of lip service to independence (everybody wants to be a strong woman, right?) with the undercurrent of being taken care of (ah, so comfortable not to have to be responsible for one’s own life) is so seductive. Sigh.

  • ladyfresshh

    @ Hannah Mae weird Fosse-ripoff choreography

    i don’t know what keep stopping me but it’s awkward
    i’m thinking because of the sexy aspect but fosse moves are sexy but this is i dunno awkward

  • ladyfresshh

    @ soltrane – i actually don’t find her compelling, no harm, just lack of interest why look for substance when there is none, it has it’s place and is best left there.

    I’d be quite surprised to find beyonce in the same position in ten years, top of the charts singing about the same ole same ole in loud tight outfits. i’d hope she’d mature a bit

  • lf: what’s with all these weird ‘i don’t find this interesting’ responses?

    ‘you mean another post about The Wire?’ why not just not respond? Sheesh.

  • ladyfresshh

    G.D. – in depth speculation on beyonce …why do it?

    it’s fluff, i’ll comment on her outfits, her style, the latest video but meh i can’t be moved to go further and find it odd that anyone would to, if it’s a broad spectrum look at pop culture sure, but as an individual she’s simply not compelling enough of a figure to seek depth, there simply is none to me

    as for ‘the wire’ i was teasing

  • Ron

    Her dad in the past had a pretty heavy influence on her writing. I think she’s not exactly the most cultural gal in the world and so, she’s probably just using “what she knows” to write and her mom has never really faded to the background and surely that can’t help.

    She probably thinks it’s good for little girls to hear it, in contrast to what they’re hearing in other songs, which don’t “tell them” to value themselves at all.

  • lf: you can’t be moved further, but soltrane (and a lot of of other people, obviously) can. seriously, why not just K.I.M.?

  • ladyfresshh

    for the same reason you are finding my responses ‘weird’ G.D.

    it’s an opinion i would think i’m entitled to it

    it seems like you want to begrudge me mine

  • no one’s begrudging you your opinion, but you have the odd habit of popping up in posts and saying, in essence, “why is anyone talking about this? it’s dumb!”

    but do you.

  • I enjoyed this post and agreed with nearly everything that was said.
    What I’ve always found interesting about the Beyonce machine and its effects is why her actions are condoned (the overt sexuality, super sexy dance moves, glamor make up), you see the same looks and costumes worn by video models in countless videos. Yet when video models do it they are considered loose/ho-ish, etc.

    But thinking about that now in the context of the blog it is because Beyonce (of the conservative social values and scandal free past) represents a sexuality that is regulated by the men in her life (society’s good girls), while sed video girls use their sexuality in the service of several men in the video (thus they are society’s loose women/bad girls.)

    Thank you for the pop culture lesson.

  • I love me some Bey, but I can’t listen to ‘Cater 2 U’ without choking. ‘My life would be purposeless without you…You’re all I want in a man, I put my life in your hands.’
    Analysis: This is going to be a co-dependent relationship from hell for her and him.

    And ‘Bonnie and Clyde’. Lyrics like, “I got my thoroughest girl wit me” “you dudes treat the one that you lovin’ with the same respect that you treat the one that you humpin”
    Analysis: I’ve always hated the indication of all his girls/hoes (as they are called in Jay-Z’s other rap songs), you should be proud because you’re his most loyal chick.

    Also, Beyonce’s only verse in the song is dedicated to how hard she will work to be make him her boyfriend: “And so I put this on my life
    Nobody or nothing will ever come between us
    And I promise I’ll give my life
    and all of my trust if you was my boyfriend
    Put this on my life
    The air that I breathe in, all that I believe in
    I promise I’ll give my life
    my love and my trust if you was my boyfriend”
    Analysis: **blink, blink**


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  • YP-poeta

    Ok. So I guess I’m gonna be defending Beyonce. One can look at that song as pushing women towards an affirmation of self. It is telling them that they deserve to be committed to. “It”, is most likely referring to sex. That cannot be something that is taught up by Beyonce. Its a fact of the society we live in. In the beginning of the feminist movement sex was an expression of power. It was a moving on from the patriarchical views of sex. Then guys caught on, and it just made easier conquest, they turned a feminist movement into sex. It is saying in a way that marriage and indepence no longer have to be dichotomous, but can be mutual. Have you ever heard “behind every good man is a good woman”. Its kind of how people think. The job of an artist is kind of supply and demand. She is giving a little change (showing you that you deserve someone who loves you enough to spend their life with you), and the traditional albeit convoluted message of women being the support system.

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  • Beyonce is a lovely woman, and she wears the sexually-liberated vamp archetype very well without crossing too deeply into the vulgarity zone. The song attempts to redefine what is acceptable in black culture by holding down the institution of marriage. A lot of her music deals with relationships and commitment, it’s just that she singing about it while half naked and working her booty. By bending the definition of what constitutes a “good girl”, she shows us that it’s okay to flaunt our vibrant style and still have integrity and values. How can that be wrong?

  • Young_

    Great, thoughtful post! There are obviously many counter-examples that could be used to support other arguments, but you (and some of the commenters) have provided more than enough evidence to raise troubling questions about her (or her writers’) views on gender equality and gender relations.

  • While I have to agree with you on the heteronormative aspect, that would describe pretty much any artist that gets played on the radio these days. I mean, how often do you hear any song positively mentioning or even alluding to gay, lesbian or bisexual love or relationships…and no “I Kissed a Girl” does not count as positive.

    However, you have to give B props for “Listen.” That sound was for me, and perhaps for others trying to get out of controlling or abusive relationships, an anthem!

  • yes, yes, and yes! thank you for putting into words what I have been thinking this whole time. I must say, the one song that REALLY ticked me off was “Cater to You”…I miss Bugaboo and Bootylicious

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  • laurakeet

    I must say, why not do the whole “If I Were a Boy” post – or a mini one? I’m having a hell of a time putting into words why this song isn’t progressive/feminist/what-have-you, to a coworker (progressive/feminist/Master’s in women’s studies herself). The part that bugs me is equating “boy” with this super-tough misogynist persona. She (coworker) is all “butbutbut it’s about oppression”…

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  • spxave

    hm. i understand it’s important to realize music nowadays is heteronormative, but i feel like most artists are heterosexual so what can they do about it? as a straight person, i wouldn’t be very comfortable speaking about a gay person’s experience because i don’t know. it’s be presumptuous of me.

    and maybe i am old fashioned, but i don’t see a longterm loving relationship like marriage as threatening. i know her other songs are problematic, but in this one, i just feel like she’s saying, if you liked me so much you would’ve commited to me. which is fair enough, because lack of commitment can really screw someone over if they have plans of having children or a family. it doesn’t represent the range of relationships, but it doesn’t represent a specific concern a lot of women have. if they want the choice of marriage, they deserve someone who’s not going to be wishy washy. and isn’t femininism about choosing the relationship you want? if I choose marriage, am I less of one?

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  • noobie

    It’d be a better song if the lyrics were:

    If you liked it then you shoulda put your thing in it.

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  • I have to say, I love “Single Ladies.” But I think part of my love stems from encountering the song at a queer dance party, with a room full of queer women shaking it to the sounds of heteronormativity. It was amazing. And totally subverted the song’s message.

  • Melissa81

    Maybe I’m one of the few, but I think “B” is full of shyte. This is the twenty first century, not the Victorian Age. : P I am making a sweeping generalization but why does it seem like anyone who’s into R&B, so conservative and backward?? All the people I grew up with and a lot of the media I was exposed to as a child… were “modern” types and spoke about men and women as “equal.” Anyway, as far as my opinion goes – I don’t feel women need to be married in order to enjoy sex (I am a woman btw… a very modern Aquarian : ) When I think of Beyonce’s lyrics… “if you liked then you shoulda put a ring on it…” to me means – “if you liked sex, you should marry the person.” Personlly, I don’t believe in marriage. I don’t mind serious relationships but signing a piece of paper is just ludicrous to me. Unless the woman is broke and a “gold-digger”, there is no need for a woman to be pressed into marriage. : ) Whoopi Goldberg made an interesting statment on a View episode. She said how she’ll never understand why some people feel they “need” to be married. Hasselbeck mentioned how she never moved in with her boyfriend till he married her because she felt he wouldn’t… if they moved in before hand. She probably felt “if he can get the milk for free, why buy the cow??” lol Whoopi simply didn’t understand why Hasselbeck was obsessed about marriage. Everyone wants different things, so that’s understandable. Oh and random but don’t get me started on Tyra Banks… I (admit) I love watching her show but she seems so old fashioned and pretty much a prude. They both look alike and seem to have the same values (against sexual liberation and for that stupid idea of “purity rings” that seems to be popular with (some) of the Gen. Y crowd… not that they are but I wouldn’t be surprised 😛 ) They’re probably best friends.

  • Totally late to the party here but loved this blog post. =)

  • I’m too late to the party as well, but I’m totally feeling this post.

    I am from Houston (aka Beyonce’ land) and people look at me like I’m losing my religion when I bring question to her lyrics

  • laafrodescendiente

    great post

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  • totally agree with a lot of what you’re saying here. one minor quibble, I think the lyric in Single Ladies is “say I’m the one you want” not “the one you own.” I always heard it that way and it makes more sense lyrically than “own” which is pretty intensely sexist even for B. now write something about Rihanna and how her “I’m a fight a man tonight” image was run through the wringer during all the Chris Breezy beat-down bullshit.

    • It’s definitely “own.” You can look up the lyrics. Also “own” rhymes with “alone” which is what she says the line before.

  • :)))

  • Tim

    Appreciate these remarks. This stuff will keep women barefoot and pregnant.

  • ehbikki

    Is she still managed by her father? And produced by her husband? Independent woman my asssssssss….