ANY OTHER NAME
Thanks, Beyonce: Being a ‘Becky’ Just Got So Much Harder
The hunt is on for the ‘Becky’ in Beyoncé’s song ‘Sorry.’ Is she a real nemesis, a composite, a euphemism for white women? Whatever, the name has a big history of trouble.
This week, it isn’t so great being called Becky, and even if you’re not called Becky, you could be suspected of being “Becky,” or even considered a “Becky.”
Right now, “Becky” is possibly a real person’s name, possibly a masking name, possibly a composite name for multiple women, or possibly a classification of a type of person. By tomorrow, hopefully, there will be a support group.
The Becky pile-on began after Beyoncé sang about a “Becky with good hair” in her infidelity anthem “Sorry” as someone/or some people in a relationship of some kind with “he”—presumed to be her husband Jay Z. Cue the speculation: So far Rachel Roy and Rita Ora have denied being the “Becky” in question.
(And poor Rachael Ray, innocently posting pictures of burger sliders, suddenly became a scarlet woman on the strength of Internet trolls’ appalling spelling.)
This is no gentle parlor game: It’s Becky-hunting season.
Iggy Azalea began the latest round of Becky-izing, when she posted on Twitter that she thought it a reference to the black use of “Becky” as a word to denigrate white women.
“Generalizing ANY race by calling them one stereotypical name for said race. i personally dont think is very cool, the end.” Azalea tweeted. “I don’t care. Don’t call all Asian women ‘Ming Lee.’ Don’t call white women ‘Becky.’ Don’t call black women ‘Sha Nay Nay.”
Azalea is not alone in her criticism.
However, Azalea has been criticized, for example by Lincoln Anthony Blades in Ebony, for being “clueless” about the nature of systemic and engrained racism against black people.
Chrissy Tiegen thinks the Becky blow-up is absurd, for different reasons. (Although, a longtime Dallas fan, I do care who shot JR. Bonus points for who shot Bobby Ewing? Bonus bonus points for who shot Phil Mitchell?)
Bette Midler is upset too.
According to Urban Dictionary, “Becky” is a reference “to the act of fellatio.”
The dictionary cites Plies’s 2010 song “Becky,” and references the singer makes to getting blow jobs. This links to the female name Becky “because of the widely held notion and/or stereotype that Caucasian women are somewhat more sexually liberal in terms of frequency of encounters, random partnering, and overall lasciviousness.”
In Sir Mix a Lot’s “Baby Got Back” (1992) another “Becky” is the silent, nodding white listening ear to another unnamed white girl bitching about a black dancer’s butt: “They (rap artists) only talk to her because she looks like a total prostitute… her butt is so big. She’s just so black.”
USA Today, in their romp around the “Becky” bases, encapsulates her thus: “a woman, who is bland and generally white, who may or may not be scheming to further her social success and wealth, likely by using her beauty and sexual acts to do so, all while having a narrow world view.”
Whatever or whoever Becky is in “Sorry”—until Beyoncé clarifies what she meant, the supposition will continue—it must be noted that Beckys, Beccas, and their proper-named antecedent “Rebecca,” have long been eyed with suspicion.
The original “bad” Becky was Becky Sharp, the anti-heroine of Thackeray’s mid-18th century novel Vanity Fair: her very name has become synonymous with ruthless social climbing.
As Sebastian Faulks noted of Sharp, in a Telegraph article: “Our interest in Becky Sharp lies in the fact that she is a hero with no morally good qualities. She fulfills all the narrative requirements of the hero, but Thackeray has jettisoned the idea that such a person must be ‘good.’ The strange thing is that it seems to work. Function trumps goodness.”
In Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel Rebecca—if you have not, you must watch the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock movie—the title character is not present, but the ghostly interloper in the marriage of the second Mrs. de Winter.
Interestingly, while Rebecca is never seen, she has a name, where the alive and visible Mrs. de Winter, who—oddly—comes to occupy a much more perilous position, does not have a name.
The supposedly promiscuous Rebecca, we come to learn, was just as sexually stigmatized as the Beckys of today. Of the sex she had with other men, Mrs. Danvers says: “She would take them bathing from the boat, she would have a picnic supper at her cottage in the cove. They made love to her of course; who would not? She laughed, she would come back and tell me what they had said, and what they’d done. She did not mind, it was like a game to her. Like a game.”
“Love-making was a game with her, only a game,” Mrs. Danvers remarks. “She told me so. She did it because it made her laugh.”
And, of course, Mrs. Danvers had her own deep feelings for Rebecca (and perhaps Rebecca for her): “She looked beautiful in this velvet,” Mrs. Danvers tells the new Mrs. de Winter. “Put it against your face. It’s soft, isn’t it? You can feel it, can’t you? The scent is still fresh, isn’t it? You could almost imagine she had only just taken it off. I would always know when she had been before me in a room. There would be a little whiff of her scent in the room.”
The ghostly Rebecca, the unseen Rebecca, is the central, sexually and emotionally destabilizing presence in du Maurier’s novel and Hitchcock’s film: She drives everyone nuts.
There are good Beckys and Rebeccas: the Rebecca (also Rebekah) of the Bible was a good, resourceful brave woman, who nevertheless gave troubled birth to Esau and Jacob, whose conflicts went on to shape the conflicts between nations and races. Oops.
In Dallas, Rebecca Barnes Wentworth was morally upstanding, but she gave birth to the constantly revenge-seeking Cliff Barnes, the saintly Pam, and the devilish Katherine. A classic Rebecca mixed bag. (Later, her granddaughter Pamela, using the name Rebecca, appeared in the rebooted Dallas: her moral compass also orbited good and bad.)
Becky Thatcher was Tom Sawyer’s unimpeachably lovely, if weepy and a little dull, love interest. Even his getting a whipping is made easier by her all-too visible devotion: “Tom stood a moment, to gather his dismembered faculties; and when he stepped forward to go to his punishment the surprise, the gratitude, the adoration that shone upon him out of poor Becky’s eyes seemed pay enough for a hundred floggings.”
There are also misguided and comic Becky/Rebeccas, such as Kirstie Alley’s character in Cheers. First, this unfortunate Rebecca is tasked unenviably with replacing Diane (Shelley Long) as the female fulcrum to play against Sam (Ted Danson).
The writers also make her into an unsympathetic castrating shrew, who—as time went on, and Alley played her so brilliantly—became her own many-shaded neurotic, and sexually frustrated.
In Roseanne, Becky was the very “basic” daughter—not crotchety and side eye-focused like Darlene, but forever mooning over her obnoxious partner Mark.
The most memorable thing about Becky was her discordant blonde perkiness, and that the sitcom itself made a joke of her literal change of face when the role was recast.
In the British soap opera EastEnders, it was a Becca who became unhealthily obsessed with best mate Stacey, and who eventually—her scheming exposed—threw and smashed poor Stacey’s dead husband Bradley’s cask of ashes against the wall. (A new Rebecca in the show is a good-hearted, musically-minded Goth, so there is hope.)
There are, it must be noted, Rebeccas, who are brilliant at what they do, like actresses Rebecca Front, Rebecca Hall, and Rebecca de Mornay (who, oh dear, stigmatized the side again by playing the criminally insane nanny in The Hand That Rocks The Cradle).
It is, it seems, never safe to be a Becky or Rebecca. Just today, the actress Rebecca Romijn picked a fight, then retreated from it, by claiming Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid were not “true supermodels.”
Later she addressed both young women on Twitter claiming she had “never talked smack about you.”
Where there is a publicly known Becky or Rebecca, trouble can all too often follow. But the condition of “Becky” this week—invisible to the public, her crimes unclear, and suddenly set upon by social media jackals—is all too familiar. We’re all Beckys now.