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What Beyonce’s Halftime Show Reveals about the Evangelical Love/Hate Relationship with Human Sexuality

Beyonce silhouetteBeyonce is like mushrooms – people either love her or hate her. My Facebook and Twitter feeds lit up as soon as Beyonce appeared on the Superbowl XLVII halftime stage.

I had visual whiplash as “Beyonce sucks” scrolled by immediately before “Way to go Beyonce!” Some complained that the show wasn’t family-friendly and compared the performance to soft-core porn and stripper shows in Vegas.

Two of my favorite responses to this were this from my friend Matthew: “To all of my friends who are suggesting that Beyonce’s halftime show was basically 10 minutes of softcore porn… you obviously have never seen softcore porn.” and this satirical sarcasm from Jake: “Bob Dylan would have given a better half time show. I would have rather had my ears and mind stimulated instead of my loins.”

It fascinated me to contrast what admirers said with what critics said. Consider these:

  • Halftime show equals all women. #girlpower
  • I have a Beyonce hangover.
  • I stand in awe of Beyonce. WOW. (literally, I stood through halftime. slack-jawed.)
  • I screamed out loud *only* during that half time show.
  • Wow. Beyonce just killed it dead. Amazing. There are no questions about whether she was lip synching that one. you go girl.
  • Being a preacher and speaker, I really appreciate the time Beyonce puts into sharpening her craft!!
  • I loved this amusing video of some Amish dancing to the halftime show:

Source

I watched her entire performance this morning, and I was impressed. She is a strong, beautiful, talented woman who works to empower other women – note the all-female band and cast. I also think that the conversation her performance has sparked is much-needed.

Just this morning, one father explained that while he appreciated her talent, the show displayed false ideas about authentic womanhood. He said he talked with his boys about how Beyonce has so much beauty and talent, but how do you steward it? Those of us who admired and enjoyed the performance pressed him to explain what he believes to be authentic womanhood. He said:

Real values of how to be a woman, I guess. Not fake, not hair extensions, fans blowing hair, flaunting power and sexuality…not beyonce on a stage designed after her image. Not idol worship. Not fake and shallow.

I’m just commenting on what seemed to be a “girls can receive a positive message and good values about womanhood through this half time show”. It was indeed a performance, and I would say the values portrayed were negative when it comes to girl power. And yes, violence, aggression from football also portrays negative values about manhood, correct! I would never tell my sons “hey look at these players! THAT is a man there!

As I think through all of these reactions and conversations, I conclude two things.

One: the Superbowl is just as inauthentic and showy as the Superbowl halftime show. You’ve got muscular men wearing massive padding and skintight reveal-every-ripple spandex running around, dancing, tackling, chest bumping, and more. This is just as much flaunted power and sexuality as the dancing and costuming of the women performing at halftime.

Two: Why are we more comfortable with displays of masculinity and sexuality than we are with displays of femininity and sexuality? Why do we not have a problem watching football with our kids, but we attack and belittle the halftime show. Why is female sexuality so offensive? Why is male sexuality NOT offensive?

Is this a manifestation of the modesty wars, in which women are made responsible for men’s lust? Is this our societal discomfort with strong women? Or does this rise from a deep-seated Gnosticism* that views all that is physical to be evil? Perhaps evangelical views of sexuality are heavily influenced by this heresy?

I’m going to delve into this subject more deeply this month. I think we need an open conversation about sexuality and faith, about purity and pleasure, about manhood and womanhood. I don’t have answers, but I’d love to have a conversation. So let’s start here – what do you think the polarized reaction to the halftime show reveals about our views of men, women, and sexuality?

*Gnosticism is the thought and practice, especially of various sects of late pre-Christian and early Christian centuries, distinguished by the conviction that matter is evil and that emancipation comes through gnosis (knowledge).

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Comments

  1. So I admit that as I was watching the halftime show the sexuality of it didn’t even really occur to me. I didn’t enjoy the show but that’s simply because I don’t really see the appeal of the type of music Beyonce makes. It doesn’t hit me in the same way that music made by musicians does. The music itself, not the performance perse, but the music feels canned. It has no soul. It’s all flash and pop and Beyonce’s voice doesn’t do anything for me either for the same issue. But that’s just my opinion as someone who makes music myself.

  2. Whew. Nailed it, sister.
    Hännah recently posted..Commonplace Links 1/31My Profile

  3. this has been weighing on me, too, and i might write on it as well.

    as for the “real values of how to be a woman”–i wish he were kidding. i’d love to deconstruct the racial assumptions implicit in his beauty ideals and derision of “fake” hair. and God forbid a woman be powerful or sexual at all! smh
    suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter} recently posted..tragically hip: privilege & the emerging churchMy Profile

  4. I think it’s really, really telling that the guy you quote says Beyonce was “flaunting power.” There’s a lot of assumptions caught up in those two words, and I think, oddly enough, Joshua Harris enlightens us as to why. In “Lust is Not the Problem,” Harris frames female lust as not physical in nature (as it is for men – the desire to use others to gratify a physical need), but as a desire for dominance over the man, for usurping the power he should have to dictate the dispensation of power and pleasure. In other words, a warped woman is one who seeks power, because women should be submissive and cowed to what men want. (I disagree with Harris intensely, in case that isn’t clear).

    I think that sort of thinking is what sits behind a critique of Beyonce as “flaunting power and sexuality.” The idea of a woman taking control of her sexuality and strength as Beyonce did last night challenges the patriarchal power structure that says women must be meek and demure and pretend they are not sexual beings lest their lusts for power usurp the man’s rightful place as dominant. Not to mention, she did so as a black woman, as a member of a group traditionally seen as nothing but sexual and yet powerless in their sexuality.

    That we would object to a woman because she “flaunted power” is telling indeed.
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    • Dianna, thank you for this insightful response!

      I remember very distinctly the first time I responded to the idea “your body is powerful and you should keep it under wraps” with the thought “wait, what’s wrong with me having power?”

      It drastically changed this paradigm. I realized that the goal isn’t that I attempt to make myself powerless as some sort of humility contest or out of fear; the goal is that I learn to celebrate my power without abusing others. I don’t run from the idea of power as a woman, but that I embrace it and invite others to see their own power. I am in the process of learning to take responsibility for my life, my sexuality, and my power. And I’m admitting my giant fangirlness here, but for me Beyonce represents this tension well. She or I won’t always get it right. But that’s not the point.

    • excellent point about flaunting power.
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    • I think you are right on with your thoughts about… “flaunting power”
      It threatens men, especially men who buy into the idea that women are a notch or two below men.
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    • I disagree that she flaunted power but I do commend you on your expert ability to manipulate the conversation from sexuality to a conversation about power.

      She didn’t have to be 3/4 naked to flaunt female power, unless of course you link a female’s ability to arouse a male to a female’s ability to manipulate a male. If that is the case then we are not talking about a female flaunting her power. We are talking about a female being manipulative in order to gain an advantage over males. And that would be a sexists goal.

      Speaking on the term “flaunting power”. I would posit to you that a woman in her position has absolutely no need to flaunt her power. She’s a super star and has been ever since she broke away from Destiny’s Child. Her power lies in her talent as a performer, not her talent as a “jiggler of the junk”. And to excuse her jiggling as an expression of her power (on the most watched television broadcast in history) is to excuse behavior that wasn’t necessary in the least. She already has/had power, she had just performed at the Presidential Innaguration and then was performing in the halftime show of the Superbowl. How much more power does she need? In addition, I’m not sure I want someone shaking that “power” all in my face while my daughters sit next to me and think that that is how a woman exerts her womanhood.

      • Jeneral Thoughts says:

        Guess I’m confused, because part of her “talent” is that she can “jiggle her junk” as you would call it. I call it dancing. And she’s good at it. Whether or not one finds her DANCING offensive, necessary, overtly sexual, etc… is the topic here, but make no mistake that she’s a talented dancer, which is part and parcel of what makes her a talented performer. Perhaps your argument is that she has enough talent to share on stage without the need to dance provocatively?

        So far as having your daughters watch, that is a personal decision that can be viewed in many different ways. My husband and I decided we would allow our girls to watch and then explained that while we can appreciate a grown up woman performing her art, it would not be appropriate for them to dance like that because they are girls. We also appreciated that God made our bodies so we can master and move them in such wonderful ways. And we appreciated the hard work that it took to do so. We also took the opportunity to point out the female musicians. My youngest was particularly awed at the guitarist because until now, she’s seen playing guitar as a “male” thing to do. So while Beyonce’s dancing may not have been something some of us would wish for our kids to emulate, we’d be remiss if we failed to see the bigger picture and message about female empowerment that was the Super Bowl Half Time Show.

        • I do agree with almost all of your reply.

          That show was in no way female empowerment. Female empowerment was Alicia Keys’ performance of the National Anthem. She didn’t have to get up from he piano and not only did I shed a tear, I was glued to the set in awe of just how powerful a performance can be when a talented singer lets it all go. It was so powerful that I am choking back a tear right now as I relive it.

          My oldest daughter is 15 and subjected to intense influences and pressure to conform right now. (Disclaimer: I AM NOT CALLING YOU A BAD PARENT!) I would be hard pressed to look at anyone as a good parent who didn’t want Alicia Keys’ performance to be the standard by which we tell our daughters to empower themselves while at the same time looking upon the performance of Beyonce as a poor example.

          • Jeneral Thoughts says:

            You may not be calling me a bad parent, but you are thinking it!!! No offense taken, seriously. I don’t agree with you that Beyonce’s show wasn’t female empowerment, so we will agree to disagree. But, I guess it depends on how you measure empowerment. For example, her refusal to bend to culture’s stereotype body of a beautiful woman (she’s got way more curves than your average “model”) was empowering to me. She strutted across that stage in defiance of that stereotype. I could probably rattle off a few more examples of how I found her performance empowering. On the other hand, if you looking at it in terms of how to behave in everyday life with me, then no. Not empowering, but then I wasn’t expecting that of her.

            But I will agree that Alicia Key’s performance was as well.

          • But why does female empowerment just have to be a talented singer sitting at a piano? Beyonce is doing the dance moves that are popular today. Other dances in ballroom or other styles can be deemed sexual. Beyonce does the dances in the currently popular style in a skillful athletic way to music that is popular to many. I was super happy to see her perform because I like some of her songs and can relate to her more than the Super Bowl performers the past few years. I think it is empowering for women to have a choice, to be able to choose between pianist, scientist,president, or dancer. My sister has done dance shows for her school where she and other women danced to Beyonce’s song Single Ladies. My sister wanted to do the dance and enjoyed the dance because she loves to dance. She may have felt sexy doing it, but she wasn’t doing it to *be* sexy. How you say you were in awe when a performer lets it all go, I think that’s what many saw when Beyonce performed with all of her athleticism and vocals, and why we say she is positively powerful.

  5. I thought the discussion last night about this that some of us had on twitter was helpful. I think comments that say ‘of course it wasn’t sexualized’ aren’t helpful. As well as the comments about ‘this is so horrible, how can anyone watch this.’ Now that I’ve thought about this for a little bit, it just brings up questions for me.

    What does healthy female empowerment look like?

    Does context matter in this? My reaction still tends to be that this is probably inappropriate for teen boys to see, unless they have had a healthy view of sexuality and women modeled to them, which I think is rare.

    Was this performance wise? Say this was Beyonce owning who she was, and not selling out to anyone. Is this a wise way of portraying herself? Can a strong woman own a stage without taking off most of her clothes?

    People mentioned that she is an adult and in charge of herself. How is what she did, different than what Danica does in GoDaddy? That is another woman who has established herself in a male dominated field, who has the money and authority to not shill a website. If she is autonomously making that decision to sex it up for a company, is that the same thing?

    The points that various people brought up last night really made me stop and think, because my initial reaction was that this was just another sexualized show. And I can see how that was only one side of the story. But to really flesh this out, it only seems fair for the other side to acknowledge that yes, she is being overtly sexual. We can talk about if that is good, healthy, or wise,and talk about the various ways that healthy female power can look like.

    I’m glad that people are going to be talking and writing about this, because it’s a really important topic. My husband and I talked about it for a long time last night. How do we want our daughters to grow up thinking about their own bodies, their sexuality, their humanity. How do we teach our boys to honor and value women for their humanity.

    And it’s a nuanced discussion, that probably won’t look the same for everyone, or look the same in every context. And reducing examples like this to ‘this is excellent’ or ‘this is horrible’ isn’t helpful to anyone. I think the answer to this specific incident probably lies somewhere in the middle.
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    • also, going along with this – “Why are we more comfortable with displays of masculinity and sexuality than we are with displays of femininity and sexuality? Why do we not have a problem watching football with our kids, but we attack and belittle the halftime show. Why is female sexuality so offensive? Why is male sexuality NOT offensive?”

      I don’t personally see football as masculine sexuality. But also, is there a way for a person to live as self-empowered without reducing it just to sexuality? Obviously sexuality is a bigger target than it needs to be and is focused on too much – but when things like this crop up, the means that people choose to say ‘this is who I am through’ tend to be sexual means. Why is that, is that good and healthy, and is there a way to be an empowered singer by being more than sexual?
      Caris Adel recently posted..Bold: One Word Update (January)My Profile

  6. While I dislike American football as a sport and its hero-worshipping culture, there’s a lot more to it than just “running around, dancing, tackling, chest bumping”.
    Rinu recently posted..‘This too shall pass’My Profile

  7. I’m still thinking about these issues…and I imagine that any comment or blog post of length would be more reactionary than thoughtful…

    But, this VERY intriguing article should be included in our Superbowl experience:

    Prizes and Consumables: The Super Bowl as a Theology of Women
    (subhead: The way we consume iconic national events like the Super Bowl better depicts what we really believe about women than does anything else.)

    Written by Matthew Vos
    “Women are depicted in the Super Bowl and other televised mega-sports in ways that proclaim, “This world is for men, about men, and because of men. You women may participate, but only in forms that are pleasing to men.”

    Full article:
    http://theaquilareport.com/prizes-and-consumables-the-super-bowl-as-a-theology-of-women/

    • Lisa: That excerpt from the article sums up the whole issue perfectly. Her performance was directly intended to excite men through the open display of excessive sensuality but she also excited women by being the example. I’ve found myself wishing I had Brad Pitt’s “beauty” once in a while, fantasizing that it would make things easier for me in the long run until I realize that we want it until we have it, then all the majesty disappears.

      To be honest I would say that it is laziness. Gone are the days where the idea of sensuality is paramount. In fact I would posit that sensuality has been replaced with sexuality. I truly think that the largest problem is that women who appear to be empowering eachother (for the most part…this is a “large portion” not an “everyone” statement) are still operating within the limitations of societal gender roles. If Beyonce wanted to empower women, she would have wore more clothes and did less genital gyration. I have three daughters and I want them to see women who can bring the house down with jeans and a sweater on. Not because women should hide their bodies but if a performer can do that, then I don’t have to fight my 15 year old when she tries to walk out of the house wearing a low cut shirt that is one stumble away from a wardrobe malfunction.

      • I’m probably biased, not being a huge fan of Beyonce’s style of music in the first place, but I was mostly bothered by the “my power is in my sexuality” nature of the concert. I don’t know about anyone else, but my power is about a lot more than my sexuality. One of my favorite performers can easily rock her power fully clothed, without “gyrating her genitals,” and she still manages to be incredibly sexy while doing so (and maybe BECAUSE she does so). She’s someone I can definitely consider as a role model, celebrity and all, for myself and my sons (I don’t have daughters, but I’d be cool with her being a role model for them, too, even though I’m not totally hot on the idea of celebs as role models). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5ZHT-zUd2c

        I don’t think it’s ok to trash another woman for being sexy, being overtly sexual or for taking control of her sexuality in a patriarchy-approved way, but at the same time, I am not about to praise her as some model of feminism for doing it, either.

        • I didn’t want to come out and spoon feed people this one. Instead I wanted to allow them to come to that conclusion on their own through common sense and logical thaught. But, due to other threads here, I had to come out and say it.

          S: Your response is a PERFECT setup to draw a comparrison between Alicia Keys’ performance of the National Anthem and Beynce’s performance. Alicia didn’t even need to stand up and she brought the house down. THAT is female empowerment.

          • I don’t think that’s a fair comparison. Unless the performance is botched, our national anthem is going to bring down the house simply because it is our national anthem. Personally, I thought Ms. Keys dragged it out. (But I’m not a fan of the over-embellished “sports edition” version of the anthem sung by anyone.)
            The Superbowl is a pageant, and that includes the halftime show. I love Tom Petty, but he was barely audible in that setting. I don’t care for Beyonce’s music, but her show was spectacular. She had more clothes on than most women at the beach. I thought her show was sexual, but it was not a sexual invitation to men – it was incredibly fit women dressing up and dancing. Was it at the invitation OF men because the NFL asked her? Of course. So was the entire evening.

    • That article really articulated a lot of my issues with the Beyonce show – as much as I enjoyed it (and the litany of tumblr gifs that followed), Beyonce wasn’t breaking so much ground in that ultimately, all she was doing was gyrating around in a corset and heels in a show that was all about celebrating testosterone. Which is exactly how patriarchy works – men are the main heros, involved in all the properly ennobling activities of shoving people into the ground and chest bumping, while women stand around as the accessories, sexually empowered or not. (and I have issues with how the image of female sexual empowerment is explicitly, overtly sexual. Not that I think Beyonce was that in the superbowl.)

  8. DisneyCyndi says:

    I went on a tweet rant this morning about this very same subject. Where are the complaints about the cheerleaders who show up half dressed and dancing at each of these games? Better yet, have you been to the beach lately? And for everyone who says they were offended because it was a family friendly half time… Umm, has it ever been? As a parent I’m more concerned with teaching my children who should be an influence in their life and its my responsibility to make sure Beyonce (or any celebrity) is not the main influence in their life. For some I think it was more a matter of taste in music so the line up probably didn’t do it for them. I don’t recall this much controversy during Madonna’s performance at a game. Although I’m not a Madonna fan so I may have missed it. lol I wish more of us who call ourself a Christian would spend less time criticizing the world and spend more time trying to influencing it for the better. Kids today need some real life heroes that will be a bigger influence in their life then any “super star” ever could be. Maybe it’s time we do less talking and complaining and more time in some of the inner city’s where kids are dying on the street each day because there are no role models to show them a better way!

  9. I was one of those people squealing giddily with Destiny’s Child showed up on stage with her. I love these questions you’re asking, Joy. I’m going to be thinking on them all day…

  10. where does the video come from?

  11. I thought the show was alright. Kind of like Mike noted in the previous comment, not my style of music — the Super Bowl halftime shows that I’ve enjoyed the most were Bruce, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty (though my wife can’t stand him), but that is strictly based on musical preference, nothing related to sexism.

    I did notice that there were no men on stage, and eventually figured that there was an underlying theme that “we’re women, celebrating being women”, and that was all fine and good. (ie, I didn’t have a negative reaction, but I didn’t get excited about how great it was either.)

    The one idea that popped in my head…. Beyonce owned the stage, definitely, and her power stemmed in part from her sexuality, being sure of herself, alluring, etc., and that’s fine. I just don’t want to think that is the only way a woman like Beyonce can establish that she’s powerful, know what I mean? Guys at times try to establish power in sexual relations, but they also attempt to do so through athletic domination, through board room domination, political domination, etc.

    Let me illustrate with a comparison…. I think it was 6 years ago that Springsteen did the halftime show. Bruce being Bruce, he owned the stage, put on a great show. Sexuality? I suppose a lot of women find Bruce sexy, but that’s not what the show is about. Last night’s show with Beyonce? Owned the stage, but the power in large part stems from wielding powerful, sexual images. Ok.
    I’m not saying it’s wrong for Beyonce to use her sexuality to show herself to be a powerful woman. What I’m saying is, it would be nice if she didn’t have to. I’d have been just as impressed with a kickass musical show that didn’t have to use sex to sell it, know what I mean?

    I’m happy for Beyonce, I think she did a good job, and it was cool to see an all-woman band rocking it out. The most telling line to me? “Welcome to the Super Bowl XLVII halftime show, produced by the NFL, featuring Beyonce.”

    In the end, Beyonce was showing herself to be powerful, but it was still on the NFL’s terms.
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    • PS – totally agree with you about the Super Bowl being completely inauthentic and showy. I’m a football fan so I enjoy the game, but I also recognize that the NFL produces events, particularly the Super Bowl, that are as much an “idol” and false god as anything this side of Sodom and Gomorrah.

      One time years ago, my mom came to visit and go to church with us on a Sunday morning. “Where’s Dad?” “He’s attending the church of the NFL today…..”
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  12. “Forgive them, Father. For they know not what they do.”~Jesus
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  13. I love Beyonce’, partly because she is a real woman with real proportions but also and more importantly she is not afraid of who she is and of her own feminine power. I watched with women but I thought it was the best half-time show I have ever seen. Was she sexy? Yes. Was she provocative? Yes. But Like people have said, she OWNED THAT STAGE, women owned that stage and for 14 minutes the world were focused on women and men had no voice.
    How can men approve of a power that so obviously usurps and overshadows any that they wield? How can men not try to tamp out a power and focus that brings the powerful to their knees? Women have been shackled and gagged for so long that it is offensive to many when one has FINALLY thrown off the shackles of her oppressors and ripped out the gag to cry out to other women “See my freedom, free yourselves!” We as women would do well to emulate Beyonce’ and follow her lead.
    Free ourselves! Be true to who we are and stand up and walk in our inate feminine power!

  14. I’ll jump into this discussion. Be gentle on me if I say something off. :) I’m trying to figure this stuff out.
    A couple things… While I can see how the game of football displays male sexuality in a way, I don’t think it is overtly sexual. We see strong bodies in motion. But, they are not calling to the crowds “come and get this”. This would be the same as watching a woman olympian. We can see the attractiveness of her strong body, but she is engaged in a sport of skill, not soliciting people.
    I think the same can be said for most dancing. It is beautiful & displays skill, power, flexibility, etc. But, dancing can become overtly sexual when the dancer engages in “come and get this” moves. I think this is common in most half time shows, whether from a woman or man. There are a lot of pop singers whose music I like and listen to, but I don’t like to watch them on stage. Why all the pelvic thrust from the guys? Or the laying down on the stage moves from yesterday’s performer?
    The other thoughts I have are about sex and power. Sexuality is powerful. Everyone pretty much knows that, I think. But, sex does not equal power. We get into all heaps of trouble if we view it that way. The wrong of a man viewing sex as power is not the whole story. Is the other side of that wrong when women try to hold power over a man with their sexual attractiveness? I am not making a judgement as to who is doing that. But, the quote from the father who described Beyonce as “flaunting power and sexuality.” made me think of this. Do we view someone who is sexually attractive as holding power over us? Is that because we have a wrong equating of sex and power?
    The context in which I have been considering this is actually more within marriage. Many, many marriage books treat sex as power, instead of sex as unity and love. The women are basically told that the way to achieve happiness is by using their sexual power to manipulate their husbands into giving them attention and then there is mutual happiness. That is all backwards and messed up. Sex is not for power over another, whether man or woman, in marriage or out. But when we view them as one, this is when we tend to blame the attractive woman as flaunting power. A woman can believe she has power over men, due to her attractiveness and bask in that & use it to manipulate. But she can also believe that she has power over men, due to her attractiveness and believe that she has to run away, or hide herself, in order to not be a seductress. In struggling with that myself, I realized that perhaps the belief that sex is power is the misleading core.
    I’m not sure it that makes much sense, or if others see the correlation her. Don’t make fun of me in When in Comments. ;)
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  15. Great post–thanks for opening up the discussion. I watched my 14 year-old daughter and two of her friends–all three of them very talented singers and actors themselves–watch the show and say how GREAT Beyonce was. They saw talent and power in what she did, and I could see it too, while at the same time thinking to myself that I hope I don’t ever see my daughter or her friends performing in that way. I honestly feel very torn. As a half-Swede who lived 10 years of my adult life in Sweden, I can often think what’s the big deal? Why are Americans so freaked out over the human body? But as a Christian living in the Bible belt I can also think: “That’s wonderful, now, bless your heart, put some clothes on.” Looking forward to more on this subject.

  16. I have only ever watched the superbowl once whilst living in America, and I’m sorry Rinu, I only saw the “running around, dancing, tackling, chest bumping” and it looked pretty silly to me not sexual at all. Having said that I can appreciate what Joy is saying about the sexuality of the game, when people are brought up with the sport then it is different. I do appreciate this discussion though on sexuality and whether and how much men should be responsible for their lusts. I really related to Krissy’s comment ““That’s wonderful, now, bless your heart, put some clothes on.” I am still trying to work out what is acceptable and why.

    Today I sat in a car repair shop waiting room in Latvia where I now live and on the smart coffee table were two magazines amongst a pile of magazines with scantily clad women on them. I wanted to cover up the magazines and was a little shocked when my husband told me later that the women who had been sitting near the table had actually been flicking through one of them. So much of our reaction is obviously cultural.

    • For men playing football, it’s not about sexuality, it’s about playing out a male gender role through football – strength, territory, wide shoulders. The women showing up and expressing sexuality says a lot about how we view female gender roles when there’s a male audience. Beyonce expressed a lot of other things, too, talent and commitment to excellence, but that women not expressing sexuality weren’t a part of the night is telling.

  17. It’s kind of interesting… because I’m married to a really strong, driven woman (and I love that in her). Much of her ministry and life will be empowering women to do and be who God’s designed them to be… so first of all, I’m all on board with that.

    Here’s what’s awkward and distorted:

    “I watched her entire performance this morning, and I was impressed. She is a strong, beautiful, talented woman who works to empower other women – note the all-female band and cast. I also think that the conversation her performance has sparked is much-needed.”

    As a Christian brother (I’ve never met you, Joy, but as I looked around I began working under the assumption you are a believer in Jesus… and for the record, I honestly do appreciate the level of candor in your post), I cringe when I see my sisters settling for false distortions of empowerment, strength, and beauty. Beyonce may carry images of these things, but why do Christian women look to Beyonce for their examples of self-worth, power, talent, and beauty. I won’t even take away anything from her performance (which was obviously a pretty stellar display), but it literally saddens me to see Christians point at Beyonce and say: “Look! Strength, beauty, talent, and empowerment!”

    Frankly, I’ll never place that sort of burden on my wife or daughters (and Lord I hope I’m blessed enough to have a daughter of my own someday). Never will I point them to any performer for that example. That would be a horrific distortion of the beauty, sexuality, and power that women were created to thrive in. It’s settling for mud pie when God offers luscious apple-crisp (which is weird, because I personally hate apple crisp. But you get the point).

    Fact of the matter is, many women today want and long for our Christian society to embrace womanhood (the beauty, sexuality, confidence, talent, and gifts among other things), but embracing Beyonce’s performance as the example of that is merely crawling from one mud puddle to another. It’s a GOOD THING to long for women to have a voice, to be embraced for who they are and who they’re designed to be. I love that and will always advocate that.

    Bottom line: There’s no way in hell I’m letting my wife settle for that garbage. A husbands call to his wife is lift her up, exalt her, cause her to thrive, and to do that for a lifetime at ANY cost to him or his ego. Honestly, it’s a scam if I (or any husband who’s a child of God) look at the example Beyonce’s performance and say, “Babe, what a great portrayal of the imago dei in women.”

    To the ladies (single or not… no pun intended), don’t settle. Please don’t settle. Jesus has more joy and you were created for so much more than embracing the seeming “power and beauty” that our world has to offer you. And his design for you does not look like what was displayed for you on national television last night. I promise you that.

    Lastly, the comparison between the sexuality of the football players and Beyonce is absurd. Sorry if that’s rude, but come on… In the same way I’d never point my daughters to Beyonce, I’d never point my sons to Joe Flacco or Lebron James. I L-O-V-E my sports, but they don’t exemplify what it is to be a man (or to have power, beauty, strength or a host of other things). Beyonce, Lebron, MJ, Nicki Minaj, “fill-in-the-blank” aren’t pictures of the imago dei…

    But there is One who offers us true image bearing, and I challenge you to discover what that would look like… because that’s what our world needs on this issue.

    • Hi Matt. You said:
      “I cringe when I see my sisters settling for false distortions of empowerment, strength, and beauty.” First of all, it’s not a false ‘distortion.’ Beyonce is talented, beautiful and strong. Period. There’s no distortion there. She really IS all those things.

      “Beyonce may carry images of these things, but why do Christian women look to Beyonce for their examples of self-worth, power, talent, and beauty.” I look to ANY woman who so strongly and beautifully OWNS her talent, beauty and strength. Beyonce did that last night.

      “embracing Beyonce’s performance as the example of that is merely crawling from one mud puddle to another. ” Beyonce’s performance last night was ONE example of a woman owning her talent, voice, beauty, body and strength. The fact that you use shaming language like ‘crawling from a mud puddle’ actually says to me that your real problem is with a woman who is unashamed of her beautiful–and yes! sexual!–body.

      “Please don’t settle. Jesus has more joy and you were created for so much more than embracing the seeming “power and beauty” that our world has to offer you. ” Beyonce’s performance and our applauding it has NOTHING to do with ‘settling.’ It has EVERYTHING to do with us APPLAUDING what Beyonce’s voice, talent offers to US. She’s fully embodying her talent and THAT is what was beautiful and empowering.

      • Elisabeth,

        It’s really ironic that so many women refer to that as “owning her talent, voice, beauty, body, and strength…” when the Super Bowl is literally one of the largest venues for sex trafficking in the entire world.

        If women are so bent on stopping our culture from objectifying the ladies, then why would Beyonce respond with such a sexual/sensual act like that… playing right into the hands of so many men who DO objectify women. It’s counterintuitive. It makes no sense.

        Please… with the “it’s not sexual” stuff… I don’t know what licking your finger and slowly dragging it down your torso means (not to mention all the hip thrusts), but if that isn’t sexual, then goodness sakes… what is?

        P.S. I’m married to unquestionably the sexiest woman alive, and I absolutely love the hell out of her embracing her body, sexuality, and womanhood. In fact, nothing revs my engine more… So again, you’ve missed the point.

        There is SO MUCH MORE to a woman’s embracing of her sexuality, her body, her personality, her womanness, her beauty… than dancing up on a stage in a leather (swimsuit?)… THAT’S NOT TRUE BEAUTY (or strength, womanhood, or sexuality)… and I see true beauty in my wives wholehearted embrace of who she is (which NEVER involves a response against anyone… because true beauty and comfort in ones skin needs not defend against the faulty attacks of others… rather, it flourishes as it is)… that is beauty.

        A statement on stage that needs to prove her worth and beauty is NOT true. It’s insecurity.

    • Matt,

      As a Christian woman, thank you. I personally think you nailed it. I was not at all impressed by Beyonce’s “empowerment of women.” Yesterday, a huge #Notbuyingit campaign was protesting the sexism in Super Bowl commercials on Twitter. Some of them were awful and completely degrading to women and I proudly joined that campaign. But then Halftime came along and barely anyone found that offensive. I personally don’t see the difference. Women were made for more than being looked at. And what happened on that stage was sexualizing women just like the commercials were. Why the double standard there? I can find a role model in Mary, Deborah, Junia, Esther, Ruth, and ultimately Jesus Christ. But Beyonce? No way.

    • Matt,

      Thank you for writing this. Thank you for standing up and being a gentleman. The very small glimpse I got of the half time show did not make me feel empowered in anyway. I watched the guys who were with me watch the show and I saw the attention they gave it and I wondered how in the world I was to get their attention without provocative body moments and wearing little clothing.

      Women are created equal and not supporting the half time show is not degrading women its supporting femininity.

      I agree the football players wear very tight clothing, but they do not spend those four hours prancing around in front of the camera doing steamy body movements and steamy looks.

      There is a context for such things, but as a single girl I’m not in that context and in no way do I feel that my sexuality is being oppressed. I’ve not been brainwashed or lied too. Read the Song of Solomon. Women were created to be beautiful and its not a bad thing, but I’m afraid Sunday night Beauty was made to look ugly.

  18. I saw a woman who was not being defined by the male gaze. I saw a woman who was not being objectified. I saw a woman who is powerful-beautiful-strong-healthy-talented and, yeah, sexy.

    Watching last night, it did not occur to me that people might find it offensive. I found it empowering. (Plus, she is so pretty, y’all.)
    Kari recently posted..where you come from.My Profile

  19. As an African-American evangelical woman, Beyonce’s performance last night was pretty bittersweet for me. Quite simply it was both exhilarating and excruciating. Exhilarating because as a black woman on a worldwide stage surrounded by a plethora of black women, Beyonce and Co. were making history. (Even Janet Jackson had to share the spotlight with Justin Timberlake a few Super Bowls back. And Nipplegate is the only reason why anyone even remembers that she was also on stage with him.) In a world in which white males almost always hold the mic (and thus dominate public discourse), black women are finally getting their chance. Yay!

    At the same time, Beyonce’s performance was also excruciating because the circumstances under which black women are finally being handed the mic are oppressive. (And yes, Beyonce was HANDED the mic; anyone with a sociological imagination knows that Beyonce was on stage only because powerful people – e.g., the white males who produce the Super Bowl – decided that it was in their best interest to grant her access.) Ever since the days of slavery, black women have been almost entirely evaluated based on their ability to sexually arouse white men. The black women who were light-skinned and/or possessed European features were deemed attractive/valuable and became “house niggers,” more “powerful” slaves who worked closely with the master in his home. Of course, this was a false power because the beauty associated with it was entirely determined by the white master and because those who held it were often subjected to rape and other forms of abuse. Hello sexism, meet racism. This racialized sexism continues today. Both racism and sexism have interacted to produce a society in which only a certain type of black woman, one that overtly appeals to white men, would even be granted the mic at a Super Bowl half time show. It’s no coincidence that Beyonce’s “fake” hair was blonde (a color that is atypical/unnatural for black women) and long (a length that is atypical for black women), that her skin color is lighter than average for a black woman, and that she has European features. Lauryn Hill, she is not.

    As “powerful” as she appeared on stage, Beyonce was still subject to the stringent rules and standards that white men set for black women. All other things (e.g., talent) being equal, she was only given “power” because she happens to be the kind of black woman that white men like and because she was sure to “perform” in a way that would be pleasing to them. To be blunt, she was treated like a 21st century “house nigger” whose value will never outlast the duration of an erection.

    I’ll cheer whole-heartedly when black women get the Super Bowl stage on their own terms. Until then, I’m ambivalent.

  20. Thanks for opening up this discussion, Joy. I’ve been so torn by Beyonce’s performance and I don’t expect my thoughts to be entirely clear on this yet but here are some initial reactions. I think our culture has spent so many years denying women the opportunity to have any other kind of power that we’ve developed a default setting that says if, as a woman, I want to show that I am powerful, the best way to do that is with sexual display. I think this is less true as a woman ages and her sexual attractiveness is diminished, which informs some of the push to retain the appearance of youth (which is a longer conversation for another day).

    I think our cultural and religious ideas about what is acceptable and what is offensive have primarily been established by men since they’ve historically held the power and leadership positions within both arenas. With that in mind I think men generally are not intimidated by their own sexuality, so they don’t find it offensive, and that has influenced our cultural and religious presets toward a greater acceptance of male sexuality on display.

    I’m looking forward to seeing where you go with this topic this month.

  21. My thoughts exactly. While I love what Beyonce tries to communicate about being comfortable with our women-selves, it think she pulls up short. As a Mom of dancers, there is so much more that she is capable of in the form of dance along with vocally. I love the idea of an open conversation about the double standard. It needs to happen.

  22. I simply loved Beyonce’s halftime show. I think she is an amazing dancer and singer, and I think the production itself was amazing. When her former Destiny’s Child singing partners came out, it was so fun and such a “ah-I-should-have-known” moment. It’s been hard for me to understand all the angst surrounding the performance; but then again I am gay, so my own personal reaction was not one of sexual desire. I do understand the intense SHAME of feeling sexually aroused as a Christian (the shame was doubled because it was a “sinful” desire for other men). I am glad that you and other bloggers are taking up the subject of human sexuality. For instance, what do we do when we feel sexual shame? How do we negotiate and change our culture of objectification? So many items to think about and talk about.

    • Jeneral Thoughts says:

      Kevin,
      I like your question about shame. Shame has to do with “who I am”. Guilt has to do with “what I did.” When we experience shame about our sexuality (who we are), something is wrong.

  23. I think I must be missing something here. I watched the superbowl yesterday for the first time in years and years. It’s not my thing, never has been. But we’re sort of trapped in a hotel room right now, in between meetings, and my husband picked up a nasty cold. We’re resting and killing time. So we watched the game. I was preoccupied with my computer and didn’t watch every single minute of anything, but I did look up and appreciate Beyonce’s spectacular show. And it was spectacular and it was a show. Yes, it was sexual. And yes, she went over the top at times with those moves. But good grief! The woman is talented, whether you’re a fan of her music style or not. The lights were fun, the shadow dancing was intriguing, and it was amazing to see all women up in front. She and all her cohort had on more clothes than most people I see on the beach in southern CA. And she has a real-looking body, not an air-brushed one. Personally, I found the commercials more offensive at points (and I didn’t even see the worst ones, apparently.) I guess I’m wondering what people expected to see in the halftime show of the biggest ‘spectacle’ in our culture. Folksingers? Not likely. No, it’s not my particular cup of tea and I will never attend a concert. But for what it was, I thought it was dang good.
    Diana Trautwein recently posted..The Heart of It All: Word CandyMy Profile

  24. While I was not particularly impressed by the half-time show, I thought it was great for what it was. I was surprised to find the sexuality critiques I saw this morning, and now reading this article. I went back and watched the show again to make sure I hadn’t missed something (maybe an butt slap or full split), and the only conclusion I could draw is that these comments where coming from people who had never seen her perform. Beyonce did what she’s been doing for the past two years (which is why I wasn’t impressed), but it would be silly to discount her talent.

    2 Things for Critics:
    -The key word in half-time show is “show.” Just like the Super Bowl itself, the half-time show is not supposed to serve as an example of what a woman is or how a woman should behave. She demonstrated what a powerful and talented entertainer is, and if you do let your children watch (which is nothing people are making parents do) you should explain that. What bothers me the most, and to the power point, is this greater problem with a woman in control of how she is displaying herself (versus the cheerleaders), than with players on the field. Did no one catch the F-bomb at the end?

    -Beyonce is an entertainer who is about her money. In case you missed the world tour announcement, that half-time show was little more than a 12min promo for her to continue her pop reign around the world doing what people love to see her do. Personally I am not a fan because I believe Beyonce cares about few people outside of herself, and certainly not anyone bashing her half-time performance- surprise, it wasn’t for you. It was for the league of people who will support her no matter what and already dig what she does.

    At the very least, I do believe that Beyonce does recognize her position as a role model, and does a good job at uplifting other images, such as female musicians, and not completely debasing herself (her whitewashed image is unfortunate). People see this as female empowerment, and is one type. I prefer a more holistic brand that focuses more on intelligence than gyrations, but that is why we have FLOTUS. :)
    Nefer Iman recently posted..Beyoncé and FLOTUS Get All the LoveMy Profile

  25. You are kidding me right, Joy? Men are turned on by women visually. That’s what revs their engines. Women are turned on by men emotionally. That’s what revs our engines. Men playing football in tight spandex does NOT turn women on the way it would turn men on if they were watching women play football dressed in tight spandex. Your comparison is so ridiculous it’s laughable.

    Jay Z and Beyonce Z, aka Sasha Fierce, sold their souls to satan. That’s the source of her power. How is that anything worthy of praise? During her disgusting halftime performance, she portrayed herself as Durga, she held up the sign for the Illuminati and seductively placed her hand by her vulva, among other unladylike, unChristlike gestures. Almost the entire show, her eyes radiated evil, and she proudly danced in the flames of hell, in open rebellion towards and rejection of Jesus.
    Ginny Bain Allen recently posted..Dr. James Dobson, Abortion and the Sandy Hook MassacreMy Profile

    • If this comment is religious satire, then STANDING SLOW CLAP. This is amazing. Who knew the staff of The Onion read your blog, Joy?

      If this is serious, then I’m going to back away slowly because my brain is about to explode.

      • Explode away, Jason! Fortunately, it won’t be too messy since there’s not much wisdom in it, apparently.

      • Jason, I owe you an apology for not intercepting Ginny’s offensive and derogatory reply to you when it landed on the blog. It was completely inappropriate, and I should have deleted it immediately.

    • Uh, Ginny, I’m female. What “revs my engine” is hormones and visual appearance, at least for passing crushes and pure lust. For sure, an actual relationship requires emotional investment, but it requires emotional investment from both parties.

      For example, the guy I’m married to? We were both coming off bad break-ups when we met and it was a lust-fest right at first. He thought I was “darkly cute and sexy” and I thought he was incredibly sexy. Neither of us wanted a long-term relationship. It obviously matured into something way more than “let’s be rebound f*ck-buddies”, but that’s where it started.

      Your experience might be that you get all hot and bothered by emotional connection and don’t feel passing lust. That’s totally cool. But your experience is not that of all women and to speak for them all by saying “women feel …” and “women want …” is arrogant and silences women who’ve had very different experiences from yours. ESPECIALLY when you use your personal experience to slut-shame other women. That is not acceptable behavior.
      Feminerd recently posted..Dev Journal: Go for the ThroatMy Profile

      • Nerd, it matters not what your opinion is. Facts don’t lie. There IS a world of difference between men and women physiologically. There is NO comparison between the way males view the female body and how females view the male body. The difference lies in a little thing called testosterone. Males have it and females don’t. When you get down and dirty about it, women like to show themselves and men like to look!
        Ginny Bain Allen recently posted..Dr. James Dobson, Abortion and the Sandy Hook MassacreMy Profile

        • Actually, females DO have testosterone, just not at the same levels as men.

          • That’s all the response you can muster, Krissy?
            Ginny Bain Allen recently posted..Respecting Women is Respecting LifeMy Profile

            • I have already commented here, and have just been enjoying reading and learning from what others are saying. But your comment was a combination of both rude and ignorant, which is something I can’t stand. I can’t do anything about your rudeness, as it seems to be something you embrace and celebrate, but I can help you on your ignorance in this area, so there you go. You just learned something new about your hormones. You’re welcome.

              • What about my comment was rude and ignorant, Krissy? Please enlighten me, for I do not embrace rudeness. You, on the other hand, obviously do embrace disrespect and condescension.
                Ginny Bain Allen recently posted..Respecting Women is Respecting LifeMy Profile

                • Well, let’s see… You told Jason that there’s not much wisdom in his brain, you told “Feminerd” that her opinion doesn’t matter, and, in your first comment, you judged Beyonce’s heart, which is a job for God and ONLY God. That’s how you’ve been rude here. The ignorance I as referring to was in your statement that women don’t have testosterone.

                  • The truth is those who have not surrendered their allegiance to Jesus are not afforded His guiding wisdom, and their thinking is convoluted. That’s a fact. It’s true that nobody’s opinion matters. All that matters is what God says about anything and everything! Ummm, concerning Beyonce, are we not taught by Jesus in God’s Holy Word, “Ye shall know them by their fruits?”

                    I know women have a bit of testosterone, but it in no way compares to the amount men have coursing thru their bodies.
                    Ginny Bain Allen recently posted..Respecting Women is Respecting LifeMy Profile

            • Ginny, this is inflammatory and insulting and not welcome here. Disagreement and debate is one thing, insults and mockery is quite another. If you post another comment of this sort, I will delete it and block you.

        • Females do have testosterone. Men and women actually produce testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen, though not in equal amounts. Sociology and science have proved time and time again that gender is a social construct. Yes, we have biological differences, but sex and gender are different things.
          I personally believe the idea that women are responsible for men’s lust is an insult to women, perpetuating a cycle of abuse, and an insult to men and their ability to control themselves. Americans, especially evangelicals, over obsessed with sex and terrified of at the same time. We over-sexualize everything because we do not know how to safely and securely express our sexuality. And if you think practicing abstinence until marriage is a cure for it, you sorely boil down the issue to simply.

    • Question. So her dressing up as Durga offends you as a Christian?

  26. I am not a fan of beyonce but this post is really awesome. Thank you for sharing!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] A number of my male friends scoffed at Beyoncé, posting insults like “worst halftime show ever” and “get this crappy excuse for music off the field.” One simply labeled the entire performance “Breasts of the Southern Wild,” a decidedly racist and sexist quip. My friend Joy has even more here. [...]

  2. [...] battle” and a clear misrepresentation of what it means to be a strong and successful woman. (Joy Bennett has a good reflection regarding this line of [...]

  3. [...] lots of other people have written about this. But I just need to riff on it a [...]

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  5. [...] Contrasting man’s sexual dominance over woman, were the conversations about Beyoncé’s Half Time performance.  Some folks praised her as she “claimed and owned her power during the misogynist, consumerist celebration known as the Super Bowl”. Others decried it as a misguided misuse of sex and power.  From what I could tell, opinions were not divisible along the predictable lines of gender or faith. Both men and women, Christian or not, either loved her performance and it’s message of female empowerment or they didn’t love it and didn’t get that message. In light of the love/hate responses to Beyoncé’s performance, one blogger wondered if it was in part a result of culture’s comfort with masculinity and male sexual expression and discomfort with femininity and female sexual express… [...]

  6. [...] A number of my male friends scoffed at Beyoncé, posting insults like “worst halftime show ever” and “get this crappy excuse for music off the field.” One simply labeled the entire performance “Breasts of the Southern Wild,” a decidedly racist and sexist quip. My friend Joy has even more here. [...]

  7. [...] have much more to say (obviously, since this is a monthlong series). This topic is nuanced and deep and broad, and people much smarter and more immersed in it than I [...]

  8. [...] Joy Bennett, What Beyonce’s Halftime Show Reveals about the Evangelical Love/Hate Relationship with Human Sexua… [...]

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  10. [...] post on sex (I’m writing a bit of a series on sex this month.) is featured on The Guardian’s US op-ed page, Comment Is Free. Here’s a [...]

  11. [...] have already been some amazing critical essays examining underlying sexism and racism in the backlash from her performance. These essays examine the negative responses that [...]