Last night Beyonce did her usual song and dance at the Super Bowl halftime show. People went crazy, as they always do, and she just might have caused a major blackout. (At least that’s what Twitter seemed to think.) She certainly wasn’t lipsyncing and I thought the Destiny’s Child reunion was pretty great – I really respected her for that.
But the most visually obvious part of the whole thing was that she took off half of her already scanty outfit, did most of the performance in lingerie, and danced like a stripper the whole time. To me, it seemed like yet another brick in the wall keeping women locked in as sexual objects and not much more. But so many of my intelligent, capable, female friends felt that it was so empowering. (Including Welcome to the Motherhood, whose opinion on just about everything I respect and usually agree with, and also many others.) It forced me to analyze my own feelings.
I will say, before going into anything else, that she’s said some really right-on stuff about birth, parenting and motherhood since having little Blue Ivy. Including this quote that I think about sums up the amazing experience of motherhood: “I feel more beautiful than I’ve ever felt because I’ve given birth. I have never felt so connected, never felt like I had such a purpose on this earth.” I really respect that. But her role as a mother really has nothing to do with her role as a performer. So let’s get to the meat of the issue: Was that performance empowering to women?
First, let’s just state the obvious. Beyonce has managed to build herself a media empire and become incredibly wealthy based entirely on her own efforts. No matter what else, that IS empowering to women. The more independent and strong women around, the better. And I won’t argue with that. But it’s not her as a person that I have a problem with (I don’t really know anything about her and wouldn’t presume to judge) – it’s her public performance that bothered me.
Some women feel that Beyonce’s use of her sexuality is empowering. She’s healthy, in shape, and she owns her curves. She takes her body and uses it the way she wants to. For what it’s worth, I agree. I think there’s something incredibly wonderful about a woman who’s willing to say, “This is my body. I love it and I’m comfortable in it and screw you if you don’t like it.” And to the extent that an impulse to want her to cover up comes from some kind of puritan feeling that any sexuality is inappropriate, I’d say eff that. But there’s a difference between being confident in your sexuality and in using your sexuality to make men want you because you think that’s the most important thing. I don’t know how Beyonce herself feels about it, but I do know that many young girls watching her are getting the wrong message. They watch her and they get the message that the most important thing in life is to be so sexy that men fall all over themselves to get to you.
On a related note, I saw many women saying that Beyonce made them want to kick-start their workout routine. Which is great, if it’s really just about wanting to be healthy and in shape. But it’s something else if she makes you feel insecure and therefore motivated to change because you think your physical appearance is all that matters. Which is, at the very least, suggested by what I saw several men saying. Things like: “Hey ladies – look at Beyonce and then go look in the mirror. Time to go to the gym.”
I also saw women saying that her songs themselves empower women. At first blush, this might seem true. “Single Ladies”? That must be good for women. Honestly, I hate that song. “If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it”? Because all that matters is getting married or else going back out to the club to find some other guy to dupe into marrying you? And it’s especially good if the guy who failed to “put a ring on it” is at the club, too, and notices that now you’re dancing with some other guy: “Decided to dip and now you wanna trip/ Cause some other brother noticed me / I’m up on him, he up on me / . . . / Ya can’t be mad at me.” It’s not a song about being single. It’s a song about making your ex jealous. (Which, not to get into a whole other post, but is why even though Adele has an amazing voice, I hate her songs.)
What about “Crazy in Love”? Here are some key lyrics: “Cuz your love got the best of me / And baby you’re making a fool of me.” It’s fun and it’s true: in the heat of first love we do act like fools. It’s not a bad song. But I wouldn’t call it female empowerment, either. Same with another song she sang last night, “Love on top.” It’s a love song. Fine. I have no problem with that but it is still just another song about a woman finding a good man. Yeah, that’s important, but that’s not all that matters. And when the only songs that girls hear are about falling in love, then they start to think that finding a man actually is the only thing that matters. (I will say that her song “To the Left” is more on the empowering side. But I don’t think she sang that last night. Correct me if she did.)
Now don’t get me wrong. I know that there are many other songs by many other artists that are much, MUCH worse for women. (Do NOT even get me started on the Rhianna/Eminem song, “Love the way you lie”, where she sings about why it’s ok that Chris Brown hits her.) I’m not saying that Beyonce is the worst thing that ever happened to women. In a lot of ways (as I said above), I think she is a good role model. But I also cannot agree that the Super Bowl Halftime show was empowering. I just can’t get there.
So let’s hear it: tell me why I’m wrong!