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Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran’s latest outfit choices spark gender debate online

by Jennifer McShane
04th Dec 2018

Beyoncé and Ed Sheeran are two vastly different artists. Both are respected for their individuality; we tend to know what we get from Ed Sheeran will be extremely different to the work Beyoncé brings out. Sheeran is a low-key artist. The epitome of a traditional singer/songwriter; on stage with little more than a guitar and a microphone, in what seems like the same, slightly ruffled T-shirt and jeans combo every time. And that’s fine, it’s his MO. Beyoncé, on the other hand, is much more curated; she thinks ahead, strategically planing her music, her album drops, her elaborate stage designs and what she wears.

Nothing feels spontaneous, unlike Sheeran. At the same time, you can see the effort she goes to presenting herself as an artist. There’s care and attention to detail, as we’ve come to expect from the woman who has reached the heights of global superstardom. She seems perfect (excuse the pun!).

This is what has stemmed an ongoing viral debate about the different gender standards we adhere men and women to.  In fact, we’re so used to looking at Beyoncé and Ed Sheeran individually, that we totally forget the different standards we constantly expect from them. Last night, the two of them performed Perfect together at the Global Citizen Festival in South Africa and both went as was expected of each other.

And maybe that’s the issue we’re too eager to turn a blind eye to. That we almost demand that of Beyoncé; that unattainable perfection – but never of Sheeran

Ed Sheeran wore his uniform of a pair of baggy jeans and a t-shirt on stage, while Beyoncé wore a vibrant pink, designer dress. If there was a memo for a more formal dress code, it looks like Sheeran missed it. The stark contrast was obvious and many felt as though this encapsulated a double-standard for men and women.

A debate was sparked online after Shon Faye, a U.K.-based writer noted the contrast, writing, “Ed Sheeran is a 27-year-old man. The fact that we’ve enabled him to feel it’s ok to dress like this at all, let alone next to Beyoncé really boils my p**s. ”

And maybe that’s the issue we’re too eager to turn a blind eye to. That we almost demand that of Beyoncé; that unattainable perfection – but never of Sheeran. Because equally, Sheeran is a man at the top of his game, yet we don’t demand the same standard of perfection. You could say, that yes, it’s great that both artists can be individuals and express themselves via clothing of their choice as they deem fit. We don’t want everyone a copy of each other, we want to see a unique performer.

But there is a deeper issue at play here. There’s almost no way any female pop star would reach the level of success Sheeran has, going around in a t-shirt and jeans. Beyoncé might be able to do it now if she chooses (she’s earned that right) but even in her early days, there was always a sense of the theatrics, the costumes – the visuals were a key element to her appeal – at what we assume was sometimes her choice, sometimes not. But it forever seems unfair that’s expected of women in the public eye; the societal double standard. Look at Lady Gaga, for example. She’s stripped back and low-key in A Star is Born (this fact made headline news) but in her early days, she forged her fame on the dresses made of meat, on wearing elaborate headpieces that covered her entire face. She frequently spoke of coming out of record company meetings in tears because she was told  her album covers “weren’t sexy enough.”

Views are divided; some wholly agree that this is a problem, others not so much. But regardless it has reminded us that we rarely see men and women as equals – it’s still a battle we’re fighting in 2018.

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