Despite the storm of charges and counter-charges over this past week, I conclude that it isn’t racism, or prudery, to find yourself appalled at the Super Bowl halftime show last Sunday. You just have to be a decent human being.
I know, I know. Lots of clever people are defending the Shakin’ Shakira and Jumpin’ J. Lo show with all sorts of pseudo-feminist claptrap. These two, we are told, are strong women making vital political points while being empoweredly body-positive, et cetera. And critics of this high-class burlesque supposedly are racist white Trump-supporting misogynists who insist on policing women’s bodies while hypocritically ignoring Adam Levine’s shucking off his shirt in last year’s show.
Let’s just say this about that.
First, there are regimes in the world today that really are policing women’s bodies. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran come readily to mind at one end of the scale. France and Quebec come to mind at the other. The Muslim-majority countries demand that women wear more, while the secularist governments insist that they wear less. All of these regimes truly police women’s bodies with…police.
To equate those nightmares with mere disputes about how American women freely comport themselves in public serves only to divert our attention from real and significant abuse to honest disagreements about taste and propriety.
Second, I can appreciate that many heterosexual women and gay men might revel in the undeniable beauty and athleticism and precision of the dance team. But speaking for all heterosexual men everywhere, what Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, and their female troupe were doing pretty obviously elicited a determinate reaction from such men. And that reaction was not, “My goodness gracious: What fierce, empowered, autonomous females those are there on the TV, assertively moving about like that. I respect them more than ever.” If you want further elucidation as to how straight men typically respond to such dance moves, ask your husband, father, brother, or son. Let’s get real, please.
Third, yes, the show offered some political commentary on Puerto Rico’s vexed relationship with the United States. And the message was…uh, well, I’m not completely clear what it was, but I remember flags and spangles and Spanish. So no doubt the needle was decisively moved on the questions of Puerto Rican statehood and disaster relief and the significance of Latinx culture in the United States. Or maybe not.
Fourth, I grew up in Canadian fundamentalism and it had some dumb, sexist rules. I recall studying Bible school regulations that forced women to wear dresses even in freezing prairie winters. Women’s bodies were indeed policed in unhelpful ways, and I’m sympathetic with women who bristle at any hint of such interference.
But those same communities also insisted on modesty, and honorable courting, and virginity for both sexes until marriage. Do we really want to back down on any of those in the name of women’s freedom?
I’m a feminist and I stoutly resist the false feminism that resists slut-shaming. If you insist on dressing and making yourself up like a prostitute or a stripper, then you can’t rightly object when people mistake you for one. I resist the false feminism that refuses responsibility for what we wear. If I sport a shirt with a Nazi slogan, I am in part responsible for how people respond to it, am I not?
In sum, I resist exchanging one extreme for the other. The solution to prudery is not promiscuity. The solution to men reducing women to sex objects is not for women to reduce themselves to sex objects, resorting to the coarsest of showbiz clichés: pretty women taking off their clothes to pose provocatively before the stupid male gaze.
And as for Adam Levine’s taking his shirt off last year? That was silly and vulgar also—just for the record.
Maybe some year the Super Bowl can offer simply talent and fun, beautifully and tastefully presented.
Or, if that’s too much to ask of a football game, maybe the too-clever pundits can at least leave off defending the laughably indefensible.