Who runs the world? Not girls.

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.


1 http://www.guide2womenleaders.com/index.html

2 http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune500/2010/womenceos/

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

5 responses to “Who runs the world? Not girls.

  1. I’m not sure the message is to be taken literally. I’m sure if you asked Beyonce’ if women had actually achieved a literal dominant status, she’d probably lament that the answer was no. There might be a danger to a “false” message, but there is also such a thing as character modeling and empowering younger women to believe there’s no reason they couldn’t run the world if they tried. I don’t know. You might be right.

    • Agreed, and I think you make a really good point! Of course I agree that empowerment is important, and I have no proof that the song is actually detrimental – that part was simply conjecture. I merely wanted to point out that it might not be 100% helpful to make proclamations like the one in the song, because there may be some issues that go along with it.

      I wanted to keep the post short so I didn’t address this, but a lot of my feelings about this particular song’s message are also related to an ongoing trend I’ve seen in pop culture that ties female empowerment to the (often manipulative) effect that women can have on men (like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, where one character says “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants.”) A lot of people take this “Men look like the powerful ones, but women are the ones who control THEM so really they win” message to be empowering… I happen to think it sets women back more than it helps. I totally agree with you that in general, empowering messages and strong role models are good and important. I think I just didn’t love that this “empowering message” felt (to me) like it had a weird undertone – women saying (to men) “you’ll do anything for me” or that we’re “strong enough to bear your children/then get back to business” (quotes from the song) keeps the focus on what women can do to (or for) men, and makes me feel a little “ehh” about calling it particularly inspiring.

      Anyway, thank you for your thoughtful response!

  2. eh. while i am sure these kinds of songs have significant backlash, the complacency kind of it is not the kind that comes to mind: bitter men going “that is so true, those manipulative women run everything, while we men get shafted! We are expected to work for everything and die in war, while women take our money for sex and cheat on us as soon as someone richer shows up.”

    whether that is something to care about, i do not know. personally, i automatically am wary of anything that sets its pride as being better than others, because it tends to be like a very unstable construction that easily comes crashing down at whoever has been placed underneath, hurting them if a minority, or if a majority bouncing back and hurting the miniority (e.g. sexism, racism, nationalism, trans-hate, sexuality-hate)
    In short: if it would hurt coming from someone with more power than you, then it is not nice coming from you either: one does not have to push others down to feel great about oneself or whatever.
    …by the way, i have not heard the song and have only made assumptions based on what has been mentioned on this page.

    [BLOG AUTHOR’S NOTE: I edited this comment slightly for language. – M.T.]

  3. Jennifer Shewmaker

    I love when psychology and pop culture intersect! Your posts are fun, relatable and research based all at the same time. Thanks for sharing.

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