Beyoncé‘s new album has been an enduring topic of conversation as of late. I myself LOVE the album. I am obsessed with it. I am obsessed with it as a musician, as a young woman who grew up listening to Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé, and as an academic.
One of the most intriguing songs on the album, “Flawless,” has received a lot of media attention, arguably not because of the music itself, but because of the samples taken from portions of a speech at TedxEuston delivered by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer, and in her talk she calls for all of us to be feminists and she calls for reform in the way we raise and teach both boys and girls, among many, many other things.
Recently, I was in a situation which confused me on several levels, and called into question how I am seen in the workplace as a woman. What seemed like a compliment initially was actually quite ignorant and back-handed. I was at an event for an non-profit organization in which both staff and donors would be present. As a staff member, I had a duty to walk around and attempt to converse with those in attendance (both with some of the colleagues who I don’t come into contact with often, as well as with donors). At some point in the night, I was speaking with a colleague for quite awhile, and when our conversation had subsided and we both started talking to other people, another staff member approached my colleague and asked about me. She was curious as to which donor I “belonged to”… eventually, she made some gestures toward me which caught my eye so I turned and acknowledged her and my colleague corrected her and told her that I was a staff member, to which she said, “Oh! I thought you were a trophy wife!” The group laughed it off, and as I chuckled I said, “I don’t even know if that’s a good thing,” and she said, “Oh it is, you’re pretty enough to be a trophy wife.” She then went as far as describing my outfit and my hair, focusing on the visual cues which she felt clearly indicated my position in the world.
Great. But do I also look smart and successful enough to be the person with the money to donate to the organization? Very rarely do we use the term “trophy husband,” and in fact, it is not really a term in and of itself. The connotation of a trophy wife is inherently negative, evoking images of a gold-digging, stupid, narcissistic woman, whose appearance and mere presence is meant to supplement a man’s social status.
In this high-pressure situation to please donors and seek out millions of dollars worth of donations, that particular staff member seemed to be concerned with making sure she singled out the wives of those who would be donating, never once considering that perhaps the money was earned by the female half, or from an equal and/or combined effort, or even that some of the donors were not married.
What made me the saddest was that it came from another woman, and ultimately I feel that she should have regarded any of the women in the room with more respect and consideration. I can only assume that she did not mean any harm by it, but what that means is that she has rarely, if ever, thought about the implications of what she was thinking and dared to say aloud to another woman and also to my male colleague.
Certainly, this is not the most tragic thing to have happened to me or any other woman on the planet, but I think it’s relevant to add the conversation.
Hearing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speak is a treat, and I implore you to listen to what she has to say and the way in which she chooses to say it. At about 13:00, she begins the first of a few clips which are included in the track “Flawless.”