Beyoncé, Hillary, and ‘The Good Wife’: The Power of Women Scorned

IMG_3270First, Hillary Clinton was talking about carrying hot sauce in her bag at the same time that “I got hot sauce in my bag” became a catch phrase, thanks to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl song, “Formation.” Then Beyoncé put out an entire album, Lemonade, about enduring a husband’s cheating and eventually, if very publicly, forgiving him.

Beyoncé and her husband, Jay-Z, have been prominent supporters of our current president—with whom Clinton worked closely during his first term, as she reminds us every chance she gets. But perhaps it’s Hil’s inauguration at which Bey should be singing. Beyoncé and Hillary have more in common than it seems on the surface: They both have deep southern ties (hot sauce in bag), they’ve both fought their way to immense power in the particularly sexist worlds of politics and music, and they’ve both now become poster women for sticking with a marriage after a partner’s infidelity. (We can debate whether Bey embellished or fictionalized for her art, but it doesn’t matter—this narrative is part of her image now.) But their spiritual similarity on that last issue goes one step farther: They have reached new, dizzying heights of power after, possibly even because of, their decision to “stand by” their very powerful men.

That said, their version of standing by is hardly the one espoused in the Tammy Wynette song. Their version flips the script on the trope of the pathetic doormat who suffers through her man’s infidelity silently. Granted, Hillary Clinton was forced by media coverage (to put it lightly) to face her husband’s indiscretions publicly. But her eventual ascent in politics on her own terms, while continuing to stay married to former President Bill Clinton, showed their partnership was based on more than monogamy. Was it, and is it, strictly mercenary and power-driven? We’ll likely never know. But there’s no doubt, when you see Bill campaigning for her now, that they’re true partners. Hillary is far from a sad, scorned woman. She is, in fact, likely to be our next president, the historic first woman to hold the office.

Beyoncé, for her part, has always signified power. Even as far back as her Destiny’s Child days, she was singing about “Independent Women” and “Survivor”s. Now, even on an entire concept album about a husband’s infidelity, her most vulnerable work ever, she has still managed to maintain the power position. In the full-length film version of the album that debuted on HBO last weekend, she smashes car windows with a bat and gathers powerful women around her constantly, as if men aren’t necessary. She’s clear that he—whoever “he” may be—is the idiot here. From “Don’t Hurt Yourself”: “Who the fuck do you think I is? You ain’t married to no average bitch, boy.” From “Hold Up”: “Let’s imagine for a moment that you never made a name for yourself … Never had the baddest woman in the game up in your sheets. Would they be down to ride?” And, true to her standard style, she gives us plenty of gloriously empowering catch phrases, and even physical gestures, that we can use to invoke our own power when we’re feeling wronged: “Boy, bye.” “Middle fingers up, get them hands high.” There are few better moments in pop music than when she spits, “Suck on my balls, I’ve had enough.”

The Good Wife will conclude in a little over a week with its May 8 series finale, and that seems suddenly, oddly, perfectly timed, given the ascent of Hillary and Beyoncé. Main character Alicia Florrick borrows liberally from the real life of Hillary Clinton: The show’s premise was inspired by the string of cheating scandals that has continued to bring down politicians since the Clinton-Lewinsky days. It imagines what happens when you make that wife, the one dutifully standing behind the disgraced politician, the center of her own narrative. We’re finding out, after seven excellent seasons, that Alicia is hardly the sad woman we may have imagined her to be if we’d never seen the story from her perspective. Even in the most recent episodes, when her husband finds himself embroiled in another scandal after she told him she wanted a divorce, we understand that when she agrees to “stand by” him as the news comes out, she’s the one doing him a favor. She’s the one with the power. Whether she stays married to him is her decision, and that decision does not change her status as a smart, successful, powerful woman.

Any chance of a joint Beyoncé-Hillary cameo on that series finale? Probably not, but I think those three would have a lot to talk about.

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