• Sat, 13, Jul, 2019 - 5:00:AM

Authenticity is a sexist myth

For my money, the best piece of cinema to come out of 2018 was the opening minute of Beychella. My partner and I watched the Beyoncé Coachella performance a few hours after it happened, on a laptop screen, in bed with snacks. We hadn’t necessarily planned to watch the whole thing. We’d probably planned to skip through the songs we didn’t know, or watch the first half hour or something. I don’t know. I don’t fully remember my pre-Beychella life.

What ended up happening is we watched the almost-two hour performance in near-silence, save for the odd mumbling of ‘this is historic’, ‘this is excellence’, and ‘she has no peer’, as popcorn kernels fell from our open jaws.

In the same year, Beyoncé performed a duet with Ed Sheeran, while wearing an elaborate mountain of magenta taffeta. Sheeran, as is his custom, wore jeans and a tee.

This prompted A LOT of chatter on social media. For the most part, it seemed like people were making a none too serious joke of the juxtaposition. Meme-makers analogised the disparity between what was expected of men in the workplace, versus that of women. Others expressed faux-outrage, positing Sheeran be ‘locked up’ for dressing like that in front of the queen. But these were two artists wearing the uniforms they were known for – no one was honestly THAT pissed off. It only got my goat when I read a complaint about Beyoncé’s  ‘fake-ness’, as compared to Sheeran’s ‘authenticity’.

Here was an artist who’d given the world the most stunning live-performance we may ever be privy to, a year after giving birth TO TWINS no less, being called a try-hard because of – what – a few ruffles? With Beychella, Beyoncé took us to the moon – and all it took was a picture in a pink dress to bring her crashing back down to earth.

The edge women live on is razor-thin. The world-at-large doesn’t like it when we purport to try. (But it doesn’t really like us when we don’t try, either.)

Men, of course, are free to try hard – at business, sports, their jobs, their hobbies. But when women really try, it quickly crosses into being too much. This is particularly in play when it comes to our presentation. It’s a scam, really, how women have been taught to care about our face, to worry about our size, to think hard about our fashion choices – only to be told we’re silly for caring. To quote The Sex Pistols, do you ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? (And speaking of, would any women get away with performing like this?)

Of course, there are women who don’t wear a lick of makeup and dress quite like Ed Sheeran does, but these women are rarely afforded the same respect a dude is given for making these choices. And I can’t think of many women who would get away with headlining a concert without any makeup, in jeans and a tee. Even the most ‘authentic’ woman would probably have to put a little more effort in.

Authenticity just doesn’t exist for women the way it exists for men. And that gets to the core of what ‘authenticity’ means. The word authentic is defined as ‘something being real, true, or original’, and that’s helpful when it comes to defining authentic Italian food or art, but when it comes to people, the word has been co-opted to mean masculine.

Think about it: who are the women out there who garner mass-respect. Not just the women you like; the women who are largely respected by the public-at-large. I can think of a couple, one of them being Ellen DeGeneres.

And Ellen DeGeneres is authentically herself. But she’s no more authentically herself than Beyoncé is authentically herself. Ditto Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Janelle Monáe and Rihanna. It’s just – Ellen’s true self is coded in a way the world respects.

Authenticity is not supposed to be a stick with which we beat women into submission. Authenticity should allow all people to be their most true selves. If that means wearing five kilos of magenta taffeta, so be it.


  • Authenticity /
  • Music /
  • Sexism /
  • Culture /
  • Double Standards /
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