Naomi Schaefer Riley is no Beyoncé fan. According to Riley’s New York Post opinion piece, not only does Beyoncé have no business being a goddess, but there is only one way Beyoncé should view her pregnant body, and that’s with embarrassment.
Riley has lots of opinions about celebrities. In the past, she’s called Jay-Z a “poor excuse for a husband,” scolded Mark Zuckerberg for wanting to raise a JewBu and, now, scoffed at Beyoncé for her “Virgin Mary/Sun Goddess routine.”
What’s missing from these conservative rants is an actual argument backed up by facts. She offered no evidence Zuckerberg and his wife were planning to raise their daughter “JewBu.” She has no idea what Jay-Z is like as a husband. And she doesn’t seem to understand that a performance isn’t the same as a What To Expect guide.
Whether you view having a baby as miraculous or not, or pregnant women as goddesses or not, the pregnant goddess ideal has a long history spanning across many cultures. There’s still a lot we don’t know about pregnancy and childbirth, so we hold onto the view of it as something of a feat because it’s still not always possible or even survivable.
There are so many feelings and desires that we project onto pregnant women, and Riley undoubtedly knows all of that. So what is it about Beyoncé’s performance that is so especially troubling? Riley doesn’t even say much about the performance itself, so I guess it’s just that Beyoncé had the temerity to present herself as a goddess in the first place.
Beyoncé isn’t telling women to be just like her. In case you haven’t been paying attention, you can’t just be Beyoncé and you probably shouldn’t try. When she announced this pregnancy — she’s having twins — the entire internet practically lost its mind.
Yes, Beyoncé was celebrating pregnancy and even herself in that moment by riffing off the pregnant goddess ideal, but it’s silly to interpret performance in a literal or prescriptive way. You don’t have to feel like a goddess during pregnancy. I sure didn’t. And I’m sure even Beyoncé will feel lousy at some point during her pregnancy too.
There are plenty of celebrity moms who are prescriptive with their parenting opinions and they are a far more worthy target of Riley’s scorn. Gwyneth Paltrow tells parents to avoid foods with GMO ingredients despite lacking scientific evidence for such advice, Jessica Alba hawks a line of natural baby products (use at your own risk), and Kristin Cavallari recommends a recipe for homemade baby formula (also not recommended). Model yourself after these celebrity moms and you’ll waste money or even put your kids in harm’s way.
Riley asks, “why is it that in an era when women are constantly insisting that they should not be defined by their traditional, biological roles, we have fetishized motherhood to such an extent?” As a feminist, I don’t think women need be defined by traditional, biological roles or that we should fetishize motherhood, but I don’t think Beyoncé thinks so either. You need look no further than her 2014 Grammy performance with her husband to see a very different mama Beyoncé. But Riley already knows about that performance because, at the time, she complained it was too sexual.
So, according to Riley, Beyoncé is an awful role model for being a sexually provocative performer and wife and she’s also an awful role mode for celebrating a traditional view of motherhood. Huh?
In Riley’s view, celebrity women would be better off not saying anything at all. In that same piece, she pillories Adele for saying she found some aspects of motherhood challenging because many other women have it harder. Of course they do but Adele wasn’t saying she has it worse than anyone else, just that she found it challenging. And, really, who hasn’t?