Music Videos that Shaped Me: Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy”

“If I Were a Boy,” a post-breakup ballad, was Beyoncé’s follow-up single to 2008’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” the definitive girl power anthem of the late 00s (and, let’s face it, still one of the best). It bolstered the contrast between Beyoncé as herself and as Sasha Fierce, and displayed her range as an artist. Fans and critics alike heralded it as a powerful performance, and it followed in the footsteps of “Single Ladies” as a feminist song. While both are reactions to a failed relationship, one is an upbeat battle cry from a woman who rises above a jealous partner, while the other is a hurt reflection on being cheated on and how society views male cheaters (somewhere on the “boys will be boys” spectrum) versus female (expected to be faithful and committed). Yet double standards can’t only be viewed on the surface level, and “If I Were a Boy” tackled that, too—in its music video.

The song came out when I was in high school, and I was at a prime age to latch onto its message of the double standard between men and women. Having heard the song a number of times before seeing the video, my teen self accepted it as calling out male cheaters and jerks and whatever else. At that time, I believed women to be the only victims of double standards, the only victims of cheaters in relationships.“If I were a boy,” Beyoncé croons, “…I’d kick it with who I wanted, and I’d never get confronted for it, ‘cause they’d stick up for me.” Righteous fury blazed in my girl power heart as I sang along.

Jake Nava, who’d directed the “Single Ladies” music video, helmed the video for this single as well. It was also shot in black and white, but where “Single Ladies” focused strictly on costumed choreography in front of a blank background, “If I Were a Boy” was filmed as a mini-movie and created a narrative to complement the lyrics. The concept was a role reversal, in which Beyoncé played a married cop who flirts with her partner while on duty, turns off her phone to hang out with her friends without including her husband, and mocks her husband when he calls her on her flirtatious behavior by making it seem as if he’s overreacting. Her husband, played by Eddie Goines, cooks breakfast that goes uneaten, rejects advances from female coworkers, and gifts Beyoncé expensive earrings which she wears to a party where she dances with her partner instead. The end of the video reveals that in actuality, Beyoncé is the faithful wife while Goines is the cheating husband. The hypothetical title of the song proves to be true: Beyoncé only imagines what life would be like if she acted like “a boy” as her immature husband does.

When I first watched the video, I initially thought, Ha! Serves him right, this is how men treat women all the time. With every passing scene, though, I felt worse and worse for Goines’ character and angrier and angrier with Beyoncé’s. You swore in your own lyrics that you’d be a better man! I thought. You should know better.

Teen Me realized, to her horror, that she had double standards of her own. Why should one gender automatically “know better?” What made women, half of the world’s population, completely innocent, the better half that never cheats? What protected men from being cheated on?

On top of that, at the video’s conclusion revealing the true roles of Beyoncé and Goines, my conflicting feelings drained out. I wasn’t surprised in the least to see Goines was the real cheater, nor was I surprised to see Beyoncé stay with him anyway. In fact, I was angrier with her for staying than I was with him for cheating. Why? When it had been a woman cheating on a man, I thought she should know better and he deserved appreciation. In reverse, I thought him “typical” (complete with eye roll) and her weak.

The older I get, the more this video stays with me, and I’m grateful for it. It forced me to look at my own limited understanding of feminism, to grow from the narrow idea that it was “Yay women, boo men!” It opened me up to realizing that by thinking men couldn’t be cheated on or that men couldn’t understand the hurt of a failed relationship the way a woman could, I was being unfair. In putting my own gender on a pedestal, I was bringing women down, being harsher on women who defied my unrealistic expectation. The lyrics of “If I Were a Boy” aren’t just a girl lamenting society’s double standard, they’re a reflection of the ingrained double standard of “boys will be boys” as seen through a negative lens.

If I were a boy, I could cheat and people wouldn’t hold it against me.

If I were a boy, nobody would consider the possibility that I could get hurt, too.

I might have gone years only believing my initial interpretation of the lyrics and ingesting the surface-level double standard they address, if I had never seen the music video. It helped me to understand gender dynamics better and improved my beliefs and behavior as a feminist. If Sasha Fierce’s “Single Ladies” spoke to my self-confidence and self-worth, Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy” spoke to my compassion and maturity.

The next time you hear someone claim not to be a feminist based on the misconception of feminists as elitist, angry man-haters, direct that person to this music video. In fact, use me as an example: this girl used to be like that, and now she’s not. This girl used to be selfish about gender equality, only acknowledging what benefited her, and this video was a turning point in making her more conscientious of others.

I will be 95 and cranking the volume when “Single Ladies” comes on, or belting out “GIRLS!” when Beyoncé asks who run the world. Even so, “If I Were a Boy” will always be my first thought when it comes to the Queen Bey and feminism. That’s the difference a music video can make.

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Paige Sammartino

Paige Sammartino

Paige reads, writes, and rallies for the power of kindness and optimism. She is a part-time superhero and full-time Slytherin.

2 thoughts on “Music Videos that Shaped Me: Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy”

  1. Huh. As I recall from early 2010 (…we’re all getting so old!), Todd in the Shadows put this song on his Worst Hit Songs of 2009 list, and he hated it…using the exact same reasoning you did. He stated the same things you just did, e.g. “Men can be cheated on, too”, and disliked it completely. Maybe I’m misremembering it and Mr. Shadows didn’t draw that the song itself wasn’t actually portraying it? Either way, weird.

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