I felt a slew of emotions watching Beyoncé’s Lemonade release on HBO. I was excited and in awe and, at times, slightly confused. I felt understood, as someone who's been cheated on by a significant other and worked through the pain of a backstabbing betrayal. I didn’t, however, expect those feelings to flourish in the days after Lemonade’s release, when a woman suspected to be "Becky with the good hair" got cyberbullied relentlessly while Jay Z — the other half of the alleged infidelity Beyoncé alludes to throughout Lemonade — remains unscathed. While Rachel Roy (and, unfortunately, Rachael Ray) were targeted in the hours and days following the Queen's visual album release, the one thing about Lemonade no one is talking about enough is this: Why aren't we blaming Beyoncé's husband as much as his alleged mistress?
If Jay Z really did cheat, which, let's face it, we'll likely never know for sure one way or the other, he's just as guilty — if not more so — than the person he cheated on his partner with. Yet in the rush to place blame on the woman (or women) who played a hand in hurting Beyoncé, we've forgotten the man involved. The man who vowed to his wife that he would be faithful. What about him? If that man did break the vows he made to his partner, "Becky" isn't the only one we should set ablaze in a fire of victim-blaming.
But that's the way it's played out. As a result, Jay Z hasn't felt compelled to cancel any events at the last minute, fear for his daughter following the haze of threats made on social media, set his Instagram page to private, or make a flurry of public statements denying that he was the inspiration for Beyoncé's hour-long visual album. Maybe because the end of the film features positive Jay Z imagery, he's emerged from the entire thing relatively unscathed.
This post-Lemonade need to blame someone is something I can relate to. I'm not excited about it, but I do feel understood. When I found out my boyfriend of over a year was sleeping with our neighbor — at times, in our shared condo — I turned my hatred and anger and vindictive need for revenge not on him, but on her. Like so many Beyoncé fans, I scoured the internet for clues as to who she really was — someone besides the tall, stunning blonde girl next door who apparently didn’t care that she was ruining a relationship, someone with faults and flaws I could latch onto and exploit.
I forbade him from talking to her, thinking that if we could just get rid of her, his wrongs would right themselves. I was willing to reconcile with the man whose infidelities broke me, and I blamed her for all the things he'd willingly done to destroy me with. I could look past his betrayals and absolve him of his sins, yet I hated her deeply and wholly. He could be forgiven, and I wanted nothing more than to burn her at the stake.
She successfully avoided me in our relatively small town, knowing the consequences of her actions, and I sought her out with a speed and desire I didn't know I possessed, hoping like hell to stage an “accidental” run-in that, in my mind, would begin with me yelling and end with her apologizing and promptly telling me that I was far better than her. I wanted to hear her admit to the ways she'd done me wrong. I craved her shame so badly as a means to soothe my own, ignoring the fact that the person I should have been blaming with white-hot fury was in the room with me all along.
Even my meager and ill-advised attempts to rekindle our lost romance hinged on the other woman in our relationship. I forbade him from talking to her, thinking that if we could just get rid of her, his wrongs would right themselves. I was willing to reconcile with the man whose infidelities broke me, and I blamed her for all the things he'd willingly done to destroy me. I could look past his betrayals and absolve him of his sins, yet I hated her deeply and wholly. He could be forgiven, and I wanted nothing more than to burn her at the stake.
My partner slept with another woman. But that was his choice. And it's taken me a really long time to figure out what that meant.
Looking back on the entire situation now, I know that, deep down, I didn’t want to believe someone I loved was capable of such heartlessness. Blaming her, and casting her as the evil seductress he couldn’t help but give into, allowed me to paint a fictitious picture that made my reality a much smaller, easier pill to swallow. I wanted to pretend he had no part in the process of dismantling our already dysfunctional relationship, so I threw my ailing heart into blaming her for his actions. I slut-shamed her — hard — when I should have been angry with him. I told a man that the person responsible for his decisions and his choices — especially the horrible ones — was a woman. And I won't ever forget that.
The anger I felt then and in the weeks and months that followed is probably the same anger fueling Beyoncé’s die-hard fans (aka the #Beyhive) to relentlessly look for, find, punish, and destroy whoever “Becky with the good hair” really is. It’s easier when you have someone to blame your pain on, someone you don't entirely know, someone you think you're better than. And in a culture where rape victims are regularly blamed for their rapes, and where high school women are shamed because their wardrobe choices make it "hard" for a high school man to concentrate, blaming the woman or women Jay Z allegedly cheated on Beyoncé with is nothing if not par for the course. Our society has told men time and time again that sexual women are not to be trusted, and that women men perceive to be sexual are heartless seductresses. And we've taught women to internalize those same values.
I hated her, but blaming her for what he'd done made me no better than my then-boyfriend. Instead of dealing with what was falling apart right in front of us, we wanted to hang blame on everyone else in the room.
I, for one, can’t judge. I understand how easy it is to blame someone for the choices of another, especially if it makes a particular situation easier to digest or understand or to look past and forget altogether. I understand because I did it once, and I haven't forgotten how that felt. My partner slept with another woman. But that was his choice. And it's taken me a really long time to figure out what that meant. In this case, Jay Z allegedly chose to be unfaithful. If that's true, then he's just as responsible as whoever else was involved. Though I couldn't have admitted it at the time, I was responsible for my horrific and and short-sighted reaction to my partner's infidelity, all those years ago, and I see now that the way I dealt with such a deep hurt was no better than what my partner and our neighbor had done to me. I hated her, but blaming her for what he'd done made me no better than my then-boyfriend. Instead of dealing with what was falling apart right in front of us, we wanted to hang blame on a third party.
Bullying women online who some believe took part in the alleged affair is likely the opposite of what Beyoncé intended. The message that I took from the moving visual album was how we move through the challenges, ups and downs, and marathon of love. How we find ourselves, even in our darkest moments. There's no telling who Beyoncé was talking about exclusively. Was it her father? Her husband? Was it anyone at all? There was no moment — at least, that I saw — where Beyoncé begs us all to go forth and pillage the women guilty of their alleged crimes.
What happens between Beyoncé and her husband behind closed doors is none of our business. Maybe he did cheat. Maybe she forgave him. Maybe they're working through what their marriage means now, not looking to the past to guide them. If the rumors of Jay's infidelities are true, then let Lemonade serve as a testament to the way they've healed and coped. If "Sandcastles" is a reflection of their union, then what happened between Jay and Bey shows they turned inward to fix whatever had broken. Maybe "Becky with the good hair" is just a line in a song. And if she's not, her identity is irrelevant. It didn't matter who she was when she came into my life six years ago, and it definitely doesn't matter now — because it's not the other woman who hurts you the most.