Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Beyonce, Sex and Power

As is my custom, when there is an interesting live event on TV, I take to Twitter to follow along with a couple hundred of my dearest friends (whom I don’t know).  In 140 characters at a time we can voice our opinions and one-liners about the Super Bowl to our hearts content.

A few of my Twitter friends took to Twitter to participate in #notbuyingit, which challenged the sex and violence that permeates Super Bowl ads, and I was looking forward to reading their perspectives. Everyone acknowledged the tasteless and the sexist commercials, starting with a particular commercial that we all will be trying to forget for as long as we live.

Once the halftime show began, the tweets came to a halt, presumably because the halftime show isn’t technically a commercial. We were reminded, though, that it was Pepsi sponsored, thanks to the prominent graphic at the bottom of our TV screen.

Beyoncé sang and gyrated in front of a stadium and nation mesmerized by the fact that she is now a “hot mom”. Fans of Destiny’s Child got to relive their youth for a few minutes as the reunited band belted out a quick medley in matching skintight leather. Beyoncé seductively blew kisses, licked her lips, gazed towards the camera with her bedroom eyes and I thought to myself, “Surely people will call her or Pepsi out for this hyper-sexual performance.” 

A quick check of my twitter feed revealed no such thing. In fact, she was being celebrated for “looking so great after having a baby” and praised for being fierce and talented, all of which she most certainly is.

The game resumed, along with the tasteless commercials, most notably, an ad for a popular TV show. The shows stars were decked out in even tighter, shorter versions of their already tight, short waitress outfits, dancing in very much the same manner Beyoncé had (albeit with a pole) 30 minutes before. The same people who thoroughly enjoyed Beyoncé were disgusted by the pole dancing waitresses.

What changed? Why was one set of women suggestively dancing on stage in skin tight costumes considered fierce and talented while another set of women doing the same thing are considered objectifying and sexist? Many of those previously mentioned Christian bloggers I follow found the ad disgusting, yet had nothing but complementary things to say about Beyoncé.

My husband suggested that perhaps Beyoncé’s sexuality wasn’t as overt as in the TV ad, and on some levels it wasn’t. She wasn’t the one with a stripper pole, after all. A stripper pole in and of itself lends more sexuality on its own than even Beyoncé herself does. 

I suspect, though, it is because we are more willing to overlook Beyoncé, the “brand”, because many of us have either grown up with her or watched her grow into her current stardom. Her music, her dancing and her costumes are more familiar to us, thus easier to dismiss.

The reality is, if we are really concerned about the hyper-sexuality of today’s culture and the effects it has on women, Beyoncé, and others like her, are as much a threat as the pole dancing TV stars and distasteful Super Bowl ads. Possibly even more so because we can overlook their overt sexuality in favor of a snappy pop songs in the first place.

Since Sunday's game the praise continues for what was, undoubtedly, a powerful performance. Few people who saw it could (or should) deny Beyoncé's talents. After complementing her singing and dancing ability, they would go on to say how sexy she was, that she exuded powerful sexual energy or that she embodied raw sex. Basically, without actually saying it, they were saying that it was her ability to be so sexy that made her powerful.

We reject the idea that men should or could use sexuality to be powerful, so why would we even entertain the idea that women should or could gain power through sexuality? Suppose for a minute that we do believe it's ok to be powerful as a result of our sexuality - why do we perceive one display of sexuality (the pole dancing waitresses) as demeaning, but another (Beyoncé) as powerful? There is no denying that in both cases the women in question have power over the viewer. 

In a day and age where sex slavery is a real and ongoing problem, one where Sacramento is among the nation's top five human trafficking cities and the Super Bowl is the "single largest human trafficking incident in the US", we have to be willing to rethink how we view sexuality. At 2010's Miami Super Bowl Forbes cited that 10,000 prostitutes came into the city just for the event. In the 2011 Dallas Super Bowl there were 133 arrests for underage prostitution. New Orleans, already a city with a partying reputation, is not likely to have better numbers.

Looking at the dirty underbelly of the Super Bowl and the overt sexual imagery it produces, be they demeaning or powerful, it's easy to want to swing the pendulum the other way - towards purity and modesty, both good things. But, like most good things (sexuality being one of them) we have a tendency to pervert and distort in our desire to control our minds and hearts to avoid sin.

In the next few weeks I'd like to spend some time talking about sexuality, how it's portrayed in the media, lust, modesty and purity, what the Bible says about these things and how we are to live modestly and with pure hearts in a world that worships sex. Will you pray for me as I take on such a difficult topic?

Other Chronicles of Claire posts about sex:

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