Beyoncé, the woman we all wish we could be, the wife we all aspire to emulate, that muse behind all of our secret kitchen dance moves, has recently come under fire for calling motherhood her greatest achievement.
In an interview with Garage, Beyoncé revealed that for all her successes in life, nothing has given her so much pride as motherhood. “Out of everything I’ve accomplished, my proudest moment hands down was when I gave birth to my daughter Blue,” she said.
And while many of us may (rightly so) applaud Beyoncé for speaking her own motherhood truth, some have criticized her for placing motherhood on a pedestal above her other “real” accomplishments. For example, Mic.com wrote:
“Giving that Beyoncé has frequently emphasized the role family and parenthood play in her life, it seems fitting that she would highlight Blue’s birth as one of her top successes. And certainly, she’s entitled to feel that way. But the fact that Queen Bey lists motherhood as her greatest triumph in spite of all other successes speaks volumes about the way domestic achievement are supposed to rank in women’s lives — that is to say, above the rest.”
Listen, I get what this writer is trying to do here by saying that even being Beyoncé doesn’t give you a free pass from rising above a past where women’s greatest worth lay in our wombs.
However, let’s be clear: women are more than the children they bear and women do not have to have children to matter. But choosing motherhood proudly does not take anything away from feminism. Heck, even falling into motherhood accidentally when you’re 21 and in college doesn’t take anything away from feminism. Being proud to be a mother is allowed. Celebrating motherhood is allowed. Counting motherhood as a superpower is allowed. And in no feminist handbook is it written that “domestic achievement” is somehow less of an achievement than making the entire world’s collective jaw drop anytime you open your mouth.
Let’s not get so caught up in focusing on women’s accomplishments in a world largely created by men, that we forget to see that there is power in motherhood. There is power in giving birth. There is power in becoming a parent. There is power in loving someone more than yourself. There is power in being defined by moments that can’t be put on a resume.
Let’s not forget that material gain, success, and accomplishments are only as good as their worth to the one achieving them. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all of that, except in this case, success is in the eye of the beholder. After all, it was a man’s world that created many of our definitions of “success” in the first place, so if Beyoncé wants to define her own idea of success, that’s her right. Because true feminism is a beautiful thing like that.
So many influential and powerful women of the world do not have children, many of them by choice — Oprah, Elizabeth Gilbert, Mother Teresa — and certainly no one would begrudge them or look down on them for not being physical mothers. At least, I hope they would not, although I’m sure it still happens somewhere. (And to be clear, I only say “physical” mothers because my hero Elizabeth Gilbert has pointed out that all women are mothers in some sense, physical or not.)
All this is to say that it is OK to say that motherhood is an accomplishment in its own right. It’s not the only accomplishment that matters and most importantly, it’s not an accomplishment that has to be judged against other accomplishments, in that particular mother’s life or other mothers’ lives. It’s not like Beyoncé saying she feels freaking proud to have given birth to a human being takes away the fact that she also happens to slay in literally every other aspect of her life, including turning a stumble into a gravity-defying dance move.
Additionally — and this is key — Beyoncé counting motherhood as her greatest achievement does not take anything away from other women who do not.
It’s a dangerous line we walk upon when we start stacking accomplishments and successes in the world as if they are in a direct competition with parenthood. It’s not helpful to women or feminism when we judge a woman based on what she is able to “accomplish” in a worldly sense. It’s not helpful to judge Beyoncé on a different level than the rest of us mere mortals because she was nominated for a Grammy as a teenager. (Side note: did you know that Auto Correct actually has its own entry for Beyoncé? Word knows who Beyoncé is, that’s how important she is.)
My point is, Beyoncé gets to choose what makes her life worthwhile. She gets to decide what matters most to her, not us. She still gets to decide if motherhood or her awards or her money or her marriage or her beautiful little girl is her greatest accomplishment. She still gets to decide if she has lived a life worth living and if her life’s accomplishments should be seen as a whole or in pieces, one more significant than others.
Maybe they can all be her greatest accomplishment, all at once.
Maybe, like the message that she conveys in almost every song she sings, being a woman is a multi-layered, complex thing, and maybe we get to be a lot of things all at once. Maybe you can be proud to be a mother and proud to have a career and a husband you love. Maybe you living your life and being proud of your own accomplishments, motherhood included, doesn’t have to take anything away from another woman.
And if anyone can accomplish all of that it’s gotta be Beyoncé, right? I mean, she is Beyoncé after all.