This week, pop superstar Beyonce launched the music video for her newest single: Run The World (Girls).
The song itself practically screams Female Empowerment Anthem with its repeating chorus of “Who runs the world? Girls!“
Empowering? Absolutely! Fun song to add to your workout playlist? Definitely!
But the message isn’t exactly accurate – and this poses a problem.
Here are some sobering facts about the true state of women when it comes to ‘running the world’:
- 30 of the world’s 195 countries (roughly 15%) have female monarchs, governor generals, presidents, or prime ministers.1
- Within the United States, only 4 of the 15 Cabinet positions – a little over 25% – are currently filled by women. This is actually an improvement over previous administrations. George W. Bush, Clinton, and George H.W. Bush’s Cabinets were 18%, 17%, and 14%, respectively.
- 3% of Fortune 500 companies are currently run by women.2
- Even when women do achieve management positions, these positions are typically “riskier” and they are typically under more scrutiny than men.3
I’d love to live in a society where both women and men have equal opportunities to achieve success, at home and in the workplace. And as a woman, sure, it’s fun to hear a song proclaiming that my gender runs the world. It’s a powerful message, and generally, people like feeling powerful.4 But let’s face it – in reality, women clearly do not “run the world.” We’re quite far from it; we haven’t even hit equality yet.
There’s a potential danger in propagating false messages about women’s status in politics and management. The ‘glass ceiling,’ the term for the invisible barrier that women face when trying to advance in their chosen careers, is not due to any innate biological difference that makes women somehow ‘inferior’ to men – rather, it is a ‘function of systemic cultural sanctions, educational barriers, legal restrictions, and corporate practices.’5 Our cultural standards create barriers for women, and it’s the culture that needs to change in order for the barriers to go away.
With that in mind, one would think that Awesome Female Empowerment songs like Beyonce’s would be a positive force for cultural change! However, my concern is that it will have exactly the opposite effect. If too many people hear these messages and internalize them, it becomes far too easy to pretend that everything is now okay. In order for the glass-ceiling culture to change, we must actively challenge it. And women can’t exactly challenge the glass-ceiling status quo out of one side of our mouths while we’re singing that we run the world out of the other.
EDIT: I didn’t see this until after I had published this post, but there is a very interesting post published today by Bernd Debusmann at Reuters about many of these same ideas! Here is the link: Power, Sex and Conventional Wisdom.
3 Ryan, M., & Haslam, S. (2005). The Glass Cliff: Evidence that Women are Over-Represented in Precarious Leadership Positions British Journal of Management, 16 (2), 81-90 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8551.2005.00433.x
4 Keltner, D., Gruenfeld, D., & Anderson, C. (2003). Power, approach, and inhibition. Psychological Review, 110 (2), 265-284 DOI: 10.1037/0033-295X.110.2.265
5 Adler, N. (1993). An International Perspective on the Barriers to the Advancement of Women Managers Applied Psychology, 42 (4), 289-300 DOI: 10.1111/j.1464-0597.1993.tb00745.x