What Madeleine Albright Could Learn From Beyonce

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As a 50-something feminist, I love Beyoncé. When Bruno Mars sang, “Stop. Wait a minute,” those flares shot into the sky, and the TV camera swung to reveal an all-female, black-clad drum line on the Super Bowl field, my heart rate zoomed into a whole new zone.

“Alright, ladies, now, let’s get into formation,” Beyoncé commanded.

 Yes, I would’ve given both ovaries to fall into line behind Queen Bey and slay it with her and her dancers. The music completely owned me.

After the performance, I Googled “Formation” for another look at the dance moves and found the video’s imagery provocative. I had to have a little help with the words (why is it that no one tells you the ability to understand—much less remember—popular music lyrics pretty much disappears with age?), and tumbled down a rabbit hole of essays dissecting the message behind the entertainment.


I learned there was quite a bit of depth to what I’d been superficially enjoying. Beyoncé had roped me in with a fabulous half time performance to teach me something about being Southern, Black, and confidently female in America.

Later that week, Madeleine Albright failed to take a page out of the Beyoncé playbook when she urged us feminists to fall in formation behind Hillary Clinton. Or else.

What the former Secretary of State actually said is something I generally agree with. Here’s her message (which is much better read than listened to as an edited sound bite):

We can tell our story about how we climbed the ladder, and a lot of you younger women think it's been done. And it's not done. You have to help. Hillary Clinton will always be there for you. And, just remember; there's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other.

What was missing is Beyonce’s masterful delivery. No, I’m not saying Albright needs to have fabulous dance moves or provocative costumes to woo women toward a political position. Absent from her comments was Beyonce’s pitch-perfect awareness of the milieu in which her message would be received.  Albright seemed completely tone deaf to the reaction her words might arouse.

Unlike us oldsters, today’s young women have grown up believing in equality. They see female performers own the hyper-testosteronated arena of Super Bowl half times. They know female CEOs and politicians and sports idols. Right or wrong, they feel that a woman someday running the greatest country on Earth is a slam-dunk. They want to pick that Madam President based on her qualifications as a candidate – and womanhood is simply one of the many characteristics they consider.

Albright telling today’s feminists to fall in line behind Clinton because she’s a woman feels anachronistic, a step out of time. It smacks of Mom nagging you to eat your vegetables. Sure, you know they’re good for you and she’s probably right (you actually even LIKE kale), but damn if anybody’s mama is going to tell you, a grown woman, what to do.

What did Beyoncé do differently in delivering her message of Southern Black female empowerment? She teased it out in a breathtakingly captivating method, by presenting a tailored excerpt for the masses to enjoy, with the more in-depth, political version readily available for all to digest.

I don’t know how much of a hand Beyoncé (and Mars) had in the Super Bowl choreography, but the visual symbolism of that dance-off was so cleverly crafted I could’ve cried. The women’s formation echoed traditional band half time shows, a subtly referential nod to the event’s history; the two performers called and received, “say my name; you know who I am” as they came face to face, measuring one another up; they extorted “don’t believe me, just watch” before strutting with bravado straight into the camera. They slayed half time.

Oh, yes; I had fallen into formation. I so wanted to be powerful, confidant, and secure in my body that I was on board with whatever Beyoncé was selling. Queen Bey took my proverbial horse to the water and watched me drink.

Unfortunately, Albright’s message was cased in the ugly tone we’ve heard honed this election cycle. Voters are being hectored and browbeaten by fear to further a negative message. I'd like to believe there's a different tack. I want to believe that issues can be discussed in depth, topics that shape government policy debated, and experience rather than personality is the valued currency.

Think how differently that feminist message could have been received if delivered in a medium of “let’s celebrate these amazing female figures who’ve gotten us where we are today,” presenting a variety of strong, powerful, inspirational women of all generations and backgrounds who are continuing to take us forward into a brave, new world. That field would include Albright, Steinem, Clinton, Beyoncé, and many, many others.

Why not simply celebrate a strong female as candidate? Women don’t need shame or guilt when there’s so much good to celebrate. Let’s build a spirit and a passion amongst strong females to join forces and be fabulous together, reveling in our feminist bond.

We dream it, we work, we grind ‘til we own it.

 Who can deny that power? And don’t you want to share in it?