Timing is everything, or so they say, and the planets aligned this week for two women in the spotlight to shine – Kelly Ripa and Beyonce. While their stories are not related they have something in common – raging against the machine, the one with the grinding gears spun by men who will call them divas and other derogatory terms. Alas, that is because what both are doing is shining a glaring light on the social inequity that still exists between men and women.
Let me say I have never watched Live! With Kelly and Michael nor do I regularly listen to Beyonce’s music, so I am not a “fan” and my perspective is rather unbiased. I am aware of both women by default – most recently hearing these stories about Kelly’s problems on her TV show and seeing Beyonce perform at the halftime Super Bowl show.
Kelly’s story was both familiar and unique in that her work drama became national news. How many women suffer similar inequities on a weekly basis cannot be discounted, but Kelly’s played out on a national stage. The basic points of the issue were that her co-star on Live! (former football star Michael Strahan) had taken another job behind her back with the obvious blessings of her superiors. The suits forgot to mention this in advance to Kelly, so she learned basically when the rest of the world discovered that Strahan was moving full-time to Good Morning America.
Kelly’s reaction to this news, according to press reports, was to explode with rage and have a tantrum that included her walking off the set and calling in sick for a few days. For his part, Strahan apparently played the good soldier and went on air with guest hosts while it was said that a livid Kelly went off on a “scheduled” trip with her family.
The story here was more about Kelly’s meltdown than what happened to her. Her hysteria was the focus of reports; she was a woman scorned who reacted in typical female fashion by exiting stage right in a huff. Listening to pundits after the fact only exacerbated “the overreaction” by Ripa and downplayed what happened as a common workplace situation that she should have handled differently. She’s making so much money; how dare she behave that way!
In Beyonce’s case she shocked the world in a different way – by releasing videos of her album Lemonade on HBO. Fans had to digest quite a bit of information to be gleaned from the songs’ visual and narrative messages – most of them a rage against something or someone who has wronged her. Fans immediately reacted with shock and sadness at the prospect that Bey’s husband Jay Z may have cheated on the singer.
The purposefully provocative lyrics only fueled the Jay Z rumor flames, especially these lines from the song “Sorry” : “He only want me when I’m not there / He better call Becky with the good hair.” A viral firestorm erupted after this, identifying fashion designer Rachel Roy as “Becky” (and in some circles TV chef Rachel Ray and singer Rita Ora as well). One thing’s for certain, Bey has a loyal fan base who are fanning the flames, and their outrage is notable because this is another case of a woman going up against what is considered business as usual – men cheat on their wives and the wives are supposed to accept that.
Watching Beyonce’s videos will clearly put that notion to rest. Consider the lyrics of her song “Freedom” when she sings “Freedom/Cut me loose” to a montage of pictures of her and Jay Z. There is no subtly here and this could become this generation’s “I Will Survive,” a song that embodies a woman’s right to live her life and go on without her man.
Which brings us back to Kelly Ripa who, in essence, is being forced to go on without her man – Strahan is, after all, leaving a show with Kelly and Michael in the title. Some of Beyonce’s lyrics certainly could be sung by Kelly – happily married in her private life but jilted in her TV one.
People invest a great deal into believing they “know” famous individuals they are watching on screen. It’s easy to think that we know someone we watch every day, as many people do with Ripa; it is also understandable that fans digest every word of Bey’s songs and look for meanings hidden and otherwise. I come from a generation who played a Beatles’ record backwards in order hear a secret message, so I understand this.
Yet we never really know celebrities – we only think we do. Kelly on TV is not the Kelly at home with her husband and kids, nor is Beyonce the same person strutting triumphantly through those music videos when she’s home with Jay Z and daughter Blue Ivy. What we think we know is cultivated by the celebrities themselves, and we all are guilty of buying into that.
So when writers and pundits were saying Kelly was always hard to deal with, caused Regis Philbin to leave the show five years ago, was in danger of losing the show itself, and all sorts of various nasty rumors, we have to take it from where it is coming. Whatever messages Beyonce is sending out in her songs may just be creative license and not necessarily a road map to divorce, but nothing gets people who are fanning the flames to want to put out that fire.
Was something wrong done to Kelly Ripa? Absolutely! The suits at ABC took her for granted, expecting her to accept whatever it is they are shoveling. This is a typical male executive perspective regarding a female employee. You will notice that Strahan is not talking – obviously he knew and his bosses knew (perhaps for a long time) and they were going to inform Ripa on their own schedule.
Beyonce is a female in a male dominated industry. Male musicians can get away with most anything – the rock star mentality – and the executives not only condone it but welcome the behavior as good for business. When female singers like Miley Cyrus dare to break the mold they are not supported in a similar fashion. What Beyonce is doing with Lemonade is a statement way beyond her marriage – she is highlighting the discrepancy between what’s acceptable for males and females. She may have been wronged by her man and the other men in her industry, but she is having none of it. Good for her!
So while the pundits were expecting fireworks upon Kelly’s return to Live! yesterday, she actually turned the tables on everyone. After coming on stage to a deserved standing ovation, Kelly was not some hysterical, out of control female as many predicted; she was calm, cool, and stated her case with clarity and dignity. She noted that what happened “started a much greater conversation about communication and consideration and, most importantly, respect in the workplace.” Yes, she is absolutely on point here – ABC thought she didn’t deserve to know or get an explanation, but she has proven them to be wrong.
Kelly Ripa and Beyonce have nothing yet strangely everything in common. This is about women getting respect, being treated fairly and equitably, and having empowerment. Kelly took a stand against her bosses and Beyonce made a statement in her songs about the way a woman should be treated by men. Life gave her lemons and so she made Lemonade.
Kelly and Beyonce – two powerful women have put men on notice that business as usual doesn’t work anymore. As a man who loves the women in his life, I can only say it’s about time!
Photo Credits: ABC, CNN