Friday, February 8, 2013

Feminism, Beyonce, and the SuperBowl

Did anyone else feel their heart sink while watching Beyonce's half-time show at last week-end's Superbowl? Did you think "ugh, I hope my daughter doesn't think THIS is what constitutes a smart, savvy female in today's world" then start a conversation about how self-worth shouldn't be completely predicated on one's 'hotness' quotient while Beyonce gyrated in the background, in what looked like a posher version of Borat's thong? Or did you do like my hairdresser and pump your fist and say "that chick ROCKS"?

I know, I am taking a very antiquated position on Beyonce. I know everyone thinks she's cool and smart and beautiful. I also know that a number of young women think she is a Good Female Role Model, but I put that down to the fact that they are still in the stage of life where being Really Hot is all there is, because there is no way I can call what Beyonce did at the Superbowl (ie: stripping, preening, posing) something I'd admire seeing my daughter doing at ANY point in her life. I wouldn't tweet about how proud I was to see her do it either (cough - Michelle Obama I'm talking to you - cough). And I won't get into how Beyonce crouched on the stage and whipped her hair at the fans...oh hell, why not: what was THAT all about? Do we really attend concerts so we can gaze at a woman's (practically naked) crotch while she whips her (fake dyed) hair in our faces? Are we supposed to shriek out loud while watching a woman rip off a piece of her costume to reveal, well, even less of her costume? I'm all for nudity and sex and good times, but getting on a podium and gyrating in front of a crowd? Isn't that what strip clubs are for?


I'll end this brief rant with a quote I'm particularly fond of. It's from Caitlin Moran's charming How To Be A Woman:

One doesn't want to be as blunt as to say, "Girls, get the fuck off the podium—you're letting us all down," but: Girls, get the fuck off the podium—you're letting us all down.

Get off the podium, Beyonce, if nothing else than for your daughter's sake. Girl Power, and it's older, crankier cousin Feminism, should be about way more than continuing the Sexual Objectification Game.


Becky said...

I watched it on my own last weekend, since my husband and kids were delivering hay bales to a neighbor. Yes, very disheartening. Even more disheartening is that bumping and grinding has come to be expected -- it seems to be the argument that "owning" one's sexuality is "empowering". But it's a thin line between owning / empowering, when it looks like the half-time show, and exploitation by others. What sort of a scam has society perpetrated when we burble on about "Girl/Woman Power" and "owning it", when we really getting a free pole dance on live television? Interestingly, this year's official half-time theme was "The Woman/Female Empowerment". Convenient, eh?

What I find just as disturbing as the pretty-much required overt sexuality is the fact that a black woman needs to be blond and barely black.

True girl/woman power, I suppose, would mean a celebrity wouldn't have to rely heavily on a sexed-up, highly manufactured image. Could they make a go of it without the sex and everything else? Possibly, but at this point in the music industry, its corporate leaders don't believe that women can make it on their talent alone, or at least not with comparable market share and $$. Sad.

And the power to do what? What is all this talk of power and empowerment? The power to be a celebrity, to entertain, to make people dance to catchy tune, or make men respond to booty pops? What sort of actual influence is involved here, and to do what? Yes, you will make more money in life with a Beyonce career than a Hillary Clinton career. But I don't want my 12yo and 13yo sons to think a powerful woman is one who gyrates to music for their entertainment. The only power demonstrated last Sunday was by the NFL and the network, and all the money made. Everything, including Beyonce's performance, was in service to that corporate power. So the real lesson for my sons and daughter is the age-old one that in business, sex sells. This is true for both consumers and companies. You may as well learn that lesson while you're young...

(It does occur to me that if Beyonce was as "powerful" as she is supposed to be, she could have, um, afforded to be considerably more generous to her two Destiny's Child pals in terms of stage time, costumes, and make up.)

I wonder what sort of a half-time show Alicia Keys would put on, and will we ever get the chance to find out?

Anonymous said...

Well said. I didn't see it (no TV) and am glad to miss it!

lackless said...

I think you're taking feminism and "Girl Power" out of context. Feminism is not about conforming to other people's expectations about how a "nice" girl should act, or a proper girl, feminism is about personal power and the ability to do whatever you want. If Beyonce wants to dance sexily on TV, then another woman complaining about her personal choices is what /really/ sets the feminist movement back about a hundred years. Woman should be able to have masculine jobs, yes, and they should certainly not /have/ to act in a sexualised way for money, but I think there's an assumption being made here that Beyonce was somehow coerced into behaving in this way, when as far as I know she has been creating this image for herself for years, back since she was in Destiny's Child. This is a career choice that she has made for herself and is successful at. There are of course other musical artists who have chosen to take their careers in other directions, and have also been successful in images of a "purer" type, but I find it odd that anyone would begrudge someone the opportunity to perform at an event like the Super Bowl in a style of performance that they have evidently chosen to do as a career.

If you think it's damaging to children to watch these things, then as a parent of course you have the right to steer your child away from these things, just as in every other area of the media. It's not Beyonce's responsibility to make sure your children are educated about so-called sexual objectification, it's your own. Additionally, I find it odd that Beyonce is being complained about here when in general the demographic for her music is teenagers and adults (who can form their own opinions about the media just fine, thank you.) Beyonce is not a role model for young children, and I can't think of any point in her career where she has marketed her music at them. Most of the young children I know are completely uninterested in her music because she doesn't appear on the Disney Channel (where, I might add, most of the actors have far more perverted and disturbing personal lives than Beyonce has ever displayed.)

(By the way, responding to the existing comments, it should be noted that the exact opposite of feminism is complaining about someone else's dyed hair or that a black woman with blonde hair is "disturbing.") I don't really want to get into a big discussion about the negative impacts little racist comments like that can have on our society and small children (a far greater negative impact than someone prancing around sexily on a stage), but as someone who has dyed hair, I feel the need to point out that having a hair colour not necessarily associated with your ethnicity does not mean that you want to be a part of that ethnicity. I have red hair and am Asian, but I have absolutely no desire to be of Irish descent, and likewise one could argue that Caucasian women who dye their hair black are "disturbing" because that is rarely a natural hair colour for them, but I'd have my head bitten off right away if I said that.

If you want to complain about "sex selling," then that is the fault of our culture and media as a whole, not of one specific person. Whether it's Beyonce or One Direction wearing their obnoxious skinny jeans and shouting "Let's Get Some," sex has become a large part of our media and culture and the fact that people are more open about it is rather encouraging in terms of personal expression, I think.

sheila said...


I appreciate your comments, but I don't think I am taking anything out of context. Feminism is not about "being able to do whatever you want" - it's about women and men being equal in all arenas: politically, economically, socially. Which is why I suppose I was so disheartened about seeing another popular female singer doing the stripper thing on such a public forum as the Superbowl. And yes, I realize that she's always been doing this; what I don't appreciate is how she is lauded (and lauds herself) as being a strong black female role model. Is that what young black girls should be aspiring to? Being rich pole dancers?

Perhaps you're still young enough (or naive enough) to think that it's okay for people to do whatever they want out there in the public arena. I am too old and evidently too cranky - I don't think it IS okay for women to delude themselves about selling sex that way, or to think that it's empowering.