The Sexist

Sexist Comments of the Week: What Is Beyonce’s “It”?


Last week, my post on the Top 5 Pseudo-Feminist Anthems inspired a spirited discussion over what the meaning of "it" is. The "it" in question appears twice in one pronoun-heavy line from Beyonce's "Single Ladies": "If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it.

What is this "it"?

In the song, Beyonce uses the line to taunt an old flame who wouldn't make Beyonce his wifey. Beyonce shows this guy what he's been missing by dancing "up on" another man in the club as her ex watches on. That scenario is followed by the it-heavy verse:

If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it
If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it
Don't be mad when you see that he want it
If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it

Beyonce's man wouldn't ring up; ergo, he is no longer treated to Beyonce's love in the club. The "it" refers to Beyonce—and more specifically, to Beyonce's sex. Even kids today know what doing "it" means; what else could a random guy in the club "want" from getting "up on her" while she's "up on him"?

But that's not all "it" signifies. Beyonce uses the dual "its" to objectify herself on two levels: first, as a sex object; second, as a wife. Beyonce asks her man to mark his territory by putting a "ring on it." Later in the song, Beyonce implores her man to "say I'm the one you own."

But that's just my opinion. Your theories are below.

Iris thinks "it" means "ring finger":

The “it” refers not to Beyonce as a person, but to her ring finger. You put a ring on a finger, get it. In a relationship, a ring also signals commitment. Otherwise, we wouldn’t symbolize engagement/marriage with rings, as a society in general. I suggest that you read the lyrics or listen to the song again. Because Beyonce is saying that she’s moving on with her life, even though she still has some feelings for the guy. But she is going to leave him because he won’t seriously commit to her. She’s telling the guy he had his chance, and he blew it. The song is not only a feminist anthem, it’s kick ass and infectious as a song can get.

Dave thinks "it" does not mean "ring finger":

So Beyonce is really saying “If you like my finger then you should have put a ring on my finger”? What does that mean? Is Beyonce’s boyfriend some kind of finger fetishist? Does he have photos of physically perfect fingers on his bedroom wall? Does he subscribe to Finger Monthly magazine?I think your interpretation of the pronoun subtext here is a little shaky.

Richard thinks "it" is beside the point:

On “Single Ladies”, I do not think what the pronoun refers to really matters. You can take the lyrics literally or not, but the point is clearly that the person should have committed to marriage or faced losing “it.”

I’m sure why this song would necessarily have to be considered feminist or anti-feminist. Its just about a guy who was unwilling to commit to the relationship and now is regretting it as the woman moves on. It might be misunderstood as feminist because a lot of women really empathize with and like this song.

Also just for fun to throw another interpretation of the “it” out there, I always thought “it” was the relationship. With the “put a ring on it” as a simple metaphor for committing to the relationship.

Gabrielle thinks "it" means "the relationship":

I take the “it” to mean the relationship or the woman’s ring finger. Regardless, it’s all about the guy should’ve committed to the relationship if he wanted Beyonce to stay in his life. Feminist fall in love and when a relationship isn’t working for them they get out it. I think that’s a very feminist approach to relationships.

gkorein thinks "it" is him:
i interpreted it as being addressed to her boyfriend’s ex though. hence “all my single ladies, put a ring on it!” not “all my single men, put a ring on it!” it’s saying “women, if you don’t put a ring on the man you love, eventually you’ll break up, and then you could end up watching him dance all sexy-like w/ someone like me and you’ll be steamed.”

Jenga thinks "it" is intentionally vague:

I don’t really see how this song works as “anti-feminist” unless you are talking about separatists or going out of your way to be obtuse about the interpretation of the lyrics. Yes, she says “it” by that’s for flow of the song and is really a vague pronoun (given the fact that it’s being discussed). Though I suppose one could argue about the usage of the “ring” as a symbol, but I think given the context of the song, it’s not marriage per say that she is looking for, but rather real commitment, and well…. It’s just cleaner to say “put a ring on it” than to say, “I don’t want to be married, but I want this relationship to have serious commitment”

Dave thinks "it" is the new "Lola":

I’m so glad I’ve inspired this lively discussion about pronouns!

This proves that Beyonce is a very grammatically challenging (not challenged) songwriter. The last time I heard a song where punctuation played such an important role was “Lola” by the Kinks.

“I’m not the world’s most masculine man/but I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man/and so is Lola. L-O-L-A, Lola.”

Is Lola also glad the narrator is a man? Or is Lola, herself, also… A MAN!?!?!

Sorry for just blowing all your minds there.

  • Matt Dunn

    Beyonce, clearly, eats, shoots and leaves.

  • gudbuytjane

    Using 'it' to describe trans people, even if it is done in the spirit of an ironic comment about "Lola," is pretty tired. You can't deconstruct sexism by turning to transphobia.

  • Eddie

    The "it" refers to her finger.

  • John Dias

    Amanda wrote:

    But that's not all "it" signifies. Beyonce uses the dual "its" to objectify herself on two levels: first, as a sex object; second, as a wife. Beyonce asks her man to mark his territory by putting a "ring on it." Later in the song, Beyonce implores her man to "say I'm the one you own."

    Bingo. I agree with Amanda's analysis of the song's intended meaning. Beyonce is acting like she is the forgone prize -- she is the "it" -- because her primary value (in her own eyes) to a man, her sexuality, is now supposedly off limits to him. We know this because she's now "up on" another guy. She's saying, "Look at me, Guy-That-I-Don't-Care-For-Anymore! See, I like this OTHER guy now. Won't you acknowledge me? Yes, I don't care about you anymore, but pay attention because you could have had all this! (It!)" In psychological terms, I would call this obvious neediness "attachment." I would also call it self-objectification, because Beyonce is putting total emphasis on her sexuality and body as though these are her sole attractive qualities.

    The last thing that I would call this song is an anthem, unless you want to refer to it as an anthem to neediness. I also find it amusing at that because many people are calling it a feminist anthem. She's saying that if the man in question had only taken interest in her, he could have owned her by marrying her. Owned what, exactly? Her sexuality: monogamy means ownership of one's sexuality. Marriage therefore indicates a form of ownership by the husband of the wife's sexuality, and this is why I believe feminists have such an antipathy against marriage.

  • Kelly

    "Using ‘it’ to describe trans people, even if it is done in the spirit of an ironic comment about “Lola,” is pretty tired. You can’t deconstruct sexism by turning to transphobia."

    gudbuytjane - Was "it" used to describe Lola in either the original song, or in Dave's comment? Or... am I missing something?

  • Comrade Al Gonzales

    Modern Americans are so fucking stupid I predict mass extinction w/in ten years. Anybody who said "it" refers to B's finger should be immediately sterilized to prevent them from passing on their idiotic genes.

    It's good many of these American idiots are eating themselves to death. I hope they eat even more, even faster.

    2/3 of Americans are obese. & about 2/3 are raving idiots. So let's hope that 200 million Americans kill themselves ASAP.

  • K


    (Soylent Green...?)

  • gudbuytjane

    @Kelly In the comment. To use 'Lola' as an example when discussing what "it" might mean is at best kind of clueless. 'It' is often used as a tranphobic slur, to mis- or de-gender trans people. Whether or not he meant it in reference to punctuation, then using an example in which the gender of a trans person is questioned is really poor judgment, and I'm not sure why it is worthy of being reprinted here.

  • Emily

    It could be any number of things. As a single lady, I hear Beyonce loud and clear. I liked my clit; I put a ring on it.

  • John Dias

    Thanks for sharing, Emily.

  • Emily H.

    I missed this whole discussion, but I've figured out the answer. "It" means different things in different parts of a sentence. The first time it's used, it refers to the speaker/her hot ass/the hot sex they were having. The second time, it refers to her finger. "If you liked my hot ass, you shoulda put a ring on my finger." It's a zeugma. Like "he shed his clothes, and his manners."

  • Jenga

    Gonna lob a stone gudbuytjane's high horse, wish me luck.

    No one ever brought up the word "it" and Lola as being used how you seem to insist they are, but rather as both being examples where the punctuation and cadence of the song can have different meanings. Well, no one except you, so where does that put us?
    You're trying so hard to turn everyone here into transphobs because we disagree with your mistaken assement that "it" was refering to Lola. Here is the thought process:
    Discussion about what the word "it" means in relation to the song "Single Ladies" --> Discussion moving to parsing meaning through punctuation --> Bringing up of Lola as another example of punctuation being important --> RAAAAAGGEE!!!!11 from gudbuytjane --> Conclusion: Everyone is transphobic for continuing the discussion.

  • mdesus

    The "it" I'm proud to sya is actually my cock, and the ring is of the vibrating variety. She wanted it, but I just found it too restrictive. What can I say Beyonce is just insatiable.

  • Imp Lee

    I confess I was disappointed when I actually read the lyrics and finally understood anything beyond the refrain.
    The first few times I listened to it, I interpreted it as Beyonce's advice to women on how to improve their partner's stamina and stop them straying in clubs. Apparently nobody else thinks it's womanly advice about cock rings though.

    (At least it would be more grammatically correct? Maybe I can say that it was the only 'it' I could think of which would be kept by using a ring...)

  • Brad V

    "Conclusion: Everyone is transphobic for continuing the discussion."

    The real conclusion is a few miles back, Jenga.

  • Abi

    Is the song that good to be analysing it ?

  • Rita

    @Abi: The beat, yes. The lyrics, no.