Let’s talk about Beyoncé. I love Beyoncé. My good friend Erin taught me (and some other friends) how to really dance to Beyoncé at dinner in the seminary cafeteria. Since her days as the anchor of Destiny’s Child (sorry Kelly & Michelle), she’s been a favorite of mine. And I have nothing but admiration for the lady who can snag Jay-Z.
Then came her halftime show.
Then came the response to her halftime show.
Even though I couldn’t hear the audio very well, her performance was stunning.
I abandoned a game of Uno Roboto at the church Super Bowl party to catch Beyoncé’s show (at first also hoping for a cameo by Jay Z, then, surprisingly relieved when it never came). I’m a sucker for a good halftime show – the mashups, the choreography, the “surprise” guests, the fireworks – and this was no different. And yet this was different.
I had a hard time putting my finger on why.
Then I read this post on Patheos, shared by a number of Facebook friends Monday morning.
The Super Bowl is already sexist enough. Organizing church events – or even youth group specific events – centered on this sporting event runs counter to a lot of my idealistic ethical bars. But I suppose the allure of cocktail weenies, monkey bread, queso, hot wings, brownies, bacon explosion, cookies, salsa, etc., etc., has numbed my call to higher standards. Just drown out the sexism and violence with gluttony, that’s my tack.
The appropriate response to our own unease at seeing Beyoncé – a strong female performer – in less clothing than we would like, or at choreography than reminds us of (shhhh) sex – is not to lock her away, drape her in more layers of clothing – it is not to deny her sexuality at all. I think that the conversation is a good one, and it is a revealing one. Are we really okay with adults embracing their sexuality (Beyoncé is after all, an adult), or is any form of sexual expression a violation of our latent puritanical weak stomachs? The difference between an over-sexualized culture – think of any number of ads that run during any sporting event – and Beyoncé’s performance, is that her sexuality is clearly her sexuality. She owns her body, her strength, her voice – it is no one else’s but her own. Which is why, although I love Jay Z, I was glad he didn’t cameo. She doesn’t belong to him. She doesn’t need him on stage with her to control the stage, the arena, herself. Quite the opposite. And think of the message that gets communicated with most female performers who dance around with men – Christina Aguilera, Madonna, Britney Spears, etc., – they are dancing for the men, or they are play-acting some sort of sexualized dynamic where they control the men – through their sexuality. The women in this case are valuable only insofar as their sexuality can manipulate or subdue males.
So should Beyoncé’s performance set some kind of model we should show off to our daughters. Not necessarily. As my friend Jon pointed out on Facebook: “Beyoncé is not 3 years old; she is in her 30s, married, and a mother.” It’s a false dynamic on any level to hold up an adult human as a perfect role model for a child – especially a young child. There are lots of things adults do that children should not imitate, but that doesn’t make those things wrong. Just because we don’t want our young children imitating sexualized behavior (and this is not exclusive to choreography – though have you seen the kind of dance moves high school – or younger – dance teams perform? “Dance Moms,” anyone?) does not mean adults embracing sexuality as part of mature and appropriate adult identity is wrong. Jon went on to say this: “What should be emulated from Beyoncé, in general and among others, are her singing talent, her athleticism, or dancing talent, her choreography, and her song writing, along with all the hard work it took to be as good at those things as she is. Focusing simply on her body, the way she moves and the images it creates in our minds, is missing the point.”
I would also add to that, that to throw the burden of responsibility for how we respond to adult sexuality back on the individual (i.e. to blame Beyoncé because “she made me think dirty thoughts”) is just all kinds of twisted. What I wrote on my original Facebook post was this: “For her to show her body, move her body, own her body, does not necessarily turn her into a sex object. I appreciate Beyoncé because she so clearly owns her body, her curves, her sexuality and sensuality outside of any man’s claims on that. She cannot or should not…be held accountable for how men look at her. It’s the whole trouble with a culture that would rather tell young women not to get raped than to tell young boys not to rape or violate females.” And this same kind of motif gets played out over and over again.
In many ways it’s a good chunk of the reason young girls and young women make some of the questionable clothing choices they do: we as a culture have communicated to females that the primary – or perhaps only – source of our power is in our bodies, our sexuality. And not in how we claim that for ourselves and celebrate it as a piece of our whole identity, but in how we use our bodies, our sexuality, to manipulate, to woo, to seduce.
The whole thing is twisted.
So. Was Beyoncé’s halftime show some kind of apex of wholesome family entertainment? No. Of course not. But neither is professional football. Or most of the commercials that are as much part of our entertainment. We celebrate and embrace violence, hyper-masculinity, the civil religion of first downs and special teams, and then turn around and flip out because a woman knows how to move her hips. We laugh at commercials that play into the dumb-girl-who-doesn’t-know-football stereotype, and shrug off the bro-talk about babes and beer – all of that is innocent, right? (wrong.)
Did I feel a little odd watching the halftime show in the church fellowship hall surrounded by at least three other generations? Maybe. But if so, I should have also felt as odd for watching the whole thing at church, surrounded by at least three other generations.
One more video for good measure: