We’re all gasping for some Lemonade

I’m a mess. A complete and utter, incomprehensible mess. A swirling mass of emotion that’s desperately trying not to burn London to the ground while listening to Lemonade on repeat. I don’t really want to see the city in flames, but there’s a fire inside me, and a recognition of my power as a woman that’s bursting to come out.

It’s desperately trying to claw its way to the surface because it’s been supressed for so long, and that’s exactly what Beyoncé’s new album has just done. It’s unplugged the stifling dam of oppression and the floodgates are finally open and running free.

Her album is layered and complex, with messages hidden at every turn, but mostly, and most importantly, it’s about being a woman. It’s an hour-long visual history of womanhood, the struggle of becoming a woman, and the power we women have. The raw, incredibly courageous, female power we’re all bursting with. As women, we have the power to discontinue the human race should we so choose. We give life. We build up men who build up cities. We create kings and leaders and rulers. We thicken communities and mother more than our blood. We nurture boys and create men. WE did that. The delicate hands of women, hands that have ben labelled weak, they’re the hands that have created this world.

Yet for some reason, power is something we very rarely step into, and my god do we need to. Beyoncé has highlighted just how much we need to. Her album hit every chord in my aching body and gave me a punch in the gut that I didn’t even know I needed. As I reeled in shock from Lemonade, I realised it was something I had been craving for years. I was parched dry for it, and Lemonade felt like taking a long, cool drink on a boiling day. It felt a lot like relief. Like I could breathe again.

We’ve been waiting for a woman to come along and voice our pain, struggle and glory for such a long time now. We like to think that that when it comes to feminism and equality, we’re doing a good job. That we’ve come a long way, that things are getting better. But that’s just something we say to help ourselves sleep at night. All you have to do is look around at the powerful women in our public domains and realise we’ve got nothing. Who did we look up to as we grew from girls to women? Those spaces are empty. I was exceptionally lucky in that I had a mother who was, first and foremost, an avid feminist. Who gifted me the words of Germaine Greer and Mary Wollstonecraft. Who handed me Virginia Woolf on my tenth birthday and recited Maya Angelou at night. Who taught me about Rebecca West and Nawal As-Saadawi. Who tirelessly pointed out the small injustices that made up a woman’s day. As a girl, I thought she was being pedantic, causing problems with men for no reason. As a woman, I realise she was opening my eyes to the oppression that would characterise my life, while physically pulling me out of a system that was based on female complicitness. She taught me to have a voice in a world that wanted my silence.

But I am not the rule, and not everyone has my mother. Growing up, our entertainment, politics and art gave us no symbols of female power to encourage a generation. West, Angelou and Greer have laid foundations, but they’re not a product of our time. For the twenty-somethings out there, we grew up starved and hungry for some kind of inspiration.

Listening to Lemonade and feeling the hurricane of emotion race through me, it became clear, that above everything, we needed this. We need our culture to feature women like this. To guide a generation of girls into womanhood, because the hardest thing we’ll all ever do, is become a woman.

It’s a never-ending cycle of discovery, a journey with no end point that’s full of challenges. We never had anyone to tell us it was okay to be angry, that the desire to smash everything around us was normal, and would pass in time. No one ever mentioned how very bone weary sad it would feel when the men in our lives walked away. They also forgot to mention that trying to forgive a man back into your heart, would be one of the hardest things you would ever experience, and more importantly, it was okay to do that. It wouldn’t make you less, or diminish your womanhood. They just didn’t tell us this stuff. We’ve been stumbling around in the dark, breaking our own hearts and backs in an attempt to be everything this world required of us.

The mothers raising feminists aren’t enough to drown out the noise of the patriarchy. Even I, a strong woman of this world, have bent my knee and faltered. I have lowered my voice and hidden my opinions for fear of the consequences. I have made myself smaller, to seem less of a threat. I have forced myself to laugh when my boss tells a stupid joke, because I, have been taught that when you make men feel good, you get what you want. And I have hated myself for it.

I have stopped myself from uttering sweet sentiments to men because I need to be a badass woman. I have laughed with the boys to be one of those girls. I have refrained from sending more then one message a day because I’m not the ‘needy’ type. I have pulled and twisted the very seams of my flesh to be more appeasing to men. I have dropped everything because he has crooked a finger. I have hidden lies and tears and much more that only the dead of night saw, but I did it because being ‘that woman’ was never an option. I have felt sorrow when they sought comfort in arms that weren’t mine, and I have felt neglected and ignored because I refused to tell him it wasn’t okay. I have been a contortionist to fulfil his pleasures, and became a manifestation of his fantasies. I, like Beyoncé, have forgotten my own name at times, all because I was staring at the back of his head.

I am guilty, of letting the world I live in, influence the way I behave as a woman, and that’s fundamental, unequivocally not okay. I needed Beyoncé then. I needed a woman to show me that my anger was justified and didn’t equal ‘crazy’. I needed a woman to show me that love and forgiveness weren’t weaknesses. I needed a woman to encourage me to step into my power and stand in my truth. Lemonade feels like you’re sitting down with all of womankind and having a conversation about this stuff. It feels refreshing. Over the last few years we’ve had the likes of Lena Dunham and Caitlin Moran who have gained more exposure, yet we’ve never had a woman of Beyoncé’s reach and fame scream out the things we all worry about at night, and so bravely lay bare the surging mess that female power can often feel like. Female power wasn’t even discussed, hell we still don’t even incorporate it into our curriculums. We’ve hidden our power for too long and now, finally, someone is shouting it from the rooftops.

Beyoncé is leading a generation of women who are proud to put their middle fingers up high, proud to embrace every facet of their womanhood, whether that’s anger, pain, love or forgiveness. Because being a woman isn’t binary, black or white or easy. It’s a lot like walking through fire and floods to be yourself, while an entire world tells you no. Today is the time we need Lemonade more than ever, for our own generation, and the one to come.

Salma El-Wardany