Tomorrow night, Beyonce's Lemonade will have been alive and working its way through this world for exactly one week. And while there is no official count for how many think pieces have arisen from the release of this particular item of music history, I don't think it would be wrong to assume that they number in the hundreds, perhaps even thousands. It's a wonderful thing — to think provocatively and thoughtfully and meaningfully about the message behind this record, which may or may not directly resonate with the artist's personal life. The intention was surely to create a stir, and give fans and critics something to talk about. In that way, Lemonade has already been a mega success. But there is one thread that's unraveled in the last seven days that really needs to be snipped, and that's the Becky vs. Beyonce narrative, which not only pits women against one another, but lumps us all into two groups and two groups only: Madonna and whore. On social media and on women's websites across the web, voices have ventured forth to declare themselves Becky or Beyoncé — women who have been cheated on or cheated with, spurned lovers or willing sidepieces. It's an old story and an older duality: Betty vs. Veronica, Marilyn vs. Jackie Kennedy. Darkness vs. light. Today, XOJane posted an essay from former video model Karrine Steffans-Short on that same subject. "A woman is all things," she writes. "She is your Becky. She is your Beyoncé." From there, Steffans-Short offers up details of a brief sexual encounter she had with Jay Z, 15 years ago, before he became Mr. Carter to Bey's missus. She then recounts her other former partners and lovers, and defines the periods when she was either a Becky or a Beyoncé, borrowing the language of this newly discovered metaphor. "I have been the other woman and I have been the wife. As the other woman, I have had more privileges than the wife, knowing all the secrets, the lies and truths," she writes. "As a mistress, I have known more about a man than I have ever known as a wife. As a wife, I have been lied to, I have been betrayed, and disrespected. As a Becky, we saw it all."
We are not all Becky with the good hair. We are not all Beyoncé — no woman can be contained by these two terms.
If you're confused by the way this piece winds around itself, you're not alone — and you're not wrong, because whatever case is being made falls victim to literary allusion about three-quarters through. "It is staggering how many wives are still sides, and how many sides become wives, only to realize they are still one of many. Will we ever be happy?" she writes. "Will the world ever accept all our cries and not just the ones of pop icons who blur the lines between reality and entertainment?" Who is we? What do "we" want from the world? The more passionate the plea becomes, the more difficult it is to understand what's being asked. Steffans-Short's piece culminates with the assertion that she is both Becky and Beyoncé, all at once — and that furthermore, so are all women. "I am the keeper of secrets, the betrayer of women, the confessor of my sins, the owner of my secrets, lies and salvations," she says in closing. "I have traded in my Scarlet A for a Scarlet Bey. Because we are all Becky with the good hair. Every last one of us." It's poetically persuasive. But purple prose aside, the fact is this: We are not all Becky with the good hair. We are not all Beyoncé. And — as Steffans-Short admits in the beginning — no woman can be contained by either of these two terms. But that conviction is quickly abandoned when the writer starts to compartmentalize and dichotomize her whole adult life into how she has functioned in the context of her relationships with men. Women have far more gradients than we are often given credit for. And so, if you have been cheated on, if you have ever stepped out on a partner, if you have ever wondered if you deserve better, if you have ever thought you deserved what you received — you still cannot be contained by a simple duality. We are not Becky or Beyoncé. That is not a sufficiently nuanced way to talk about the experiences of women. Life is messy. In the end, we are only ourselves.