The conservative backlash to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl show: Objectification and slut-shaming go hand-in-hand

http://youtu.be/1rbnikVO1rs

The predictable conservative hand-wringing about Beyoncé’s Super Bowl show is exactly why the recent “feminist” slut-shaming of Beyoncé bothered me so very much. In general, if you find yourself agreeing with the right-wing modesty police concerned about “the children” (and, weirdly, also “old people”?), it’s usually a red flag.

It’s interesting–and telling–that every conservative critic I’ve seen who took Beyoncé to task for “gyrating in a black teddy” acknowledged that, aside from all that awful sexiness, she’s a great performer. Kathryn Jean Lopez says that she “is talented, has a beautiful voice, and could be a role model” if only she wore “another outfit, perhaps without the crotch grabbing.” S.E. Cupp–who is no stranger to slut-shaming herself–notes that some performers need to rely on their sex appeal, but Beyoncé is “immensely talented” so it’s odd that she “would choose to make her sex appeal the main attraction.” Though “Single Ladies” is an “ode to female empowerment and self-worth,” Cupp writes, “humping the stage and flashing her lady bits to the camera” is “sad.” Rich Lowry says her performance “was stunning and athletic,” before going on to add, “as well as tasteless and unedifying.”

But flaunting her sex appeal automatically undermines Beyoncé’s talent and credibility as “role model” for these conservatives. (Just as it did for Freeman, too.) Since there seems to be some sort of superficial agreement between feminists and conservatives that “sexual objectification” is bad, let’s pause for a second to talk about exactly what it is and why it’s bad. For conservatives, it’s generally because of the sex. For feminists, it’s generally because of the objectification. And, importantly, objectification is not about presenting yourself as as sexual being–or even as an object of sexual desire. After all, that is a normal and fairly universal human urge–who doesn’t like to feel attractive sometimes? Objectification is about being dehumanized by being reduced solely to a sex object.  

In this way, objectification and slut-shaming are intimately connected and mutually reinforcing–as we can clearly see in this case. Step #1 involves looking at a woman and instead of seeing a full, complex, and multifaceted human being, all you see is ALL TEH SEXXX. Say, for example, by watching Beyoncé’s show–where she demonstrated enormous professional skill by singing live, with an awesome all-women band I might add, while dancing her ass off in front of millions of people–and not being able to see anything besides her sexy outfit. Step #2 is deciding that women who display their sexuality in any way (and remember, you were the one who in Step #1 reduced them to their sexuality) are not worthy of admiration for all the other aspects of who they are.

These twin dynamics support a culture in which many people seem to believe that women sacrifice their right to dignity–and, ya know, basic bodily safety–if they are at all sexual. (And I do mean at all–if there’s one thing we know about slut-shaming it that it can target basically anyone. Posted a picture of yourself on Facebook? Slut.) It’s a culture in which, to paraphrase this year’s Super Bowl ad from GoDaddy, “sexy” and “smart” are considered mutually exclusive–as are “sexy” and “innocent” or “marriageable” or “self-respecting.” And it’s a culture in which too many people seem to find it difficult to understand that it is possible to simultaneously find a woman sexually attractive and treat her like a full human being deserving of basic respect.

After all, if sex is shameful and a woman is out there–up on the stage, in the bar, on the street–being all sexy, she’s already given up her “self-worth.” As S.E. Cupp asks, “Doesn’t she know that she’s too good for that?” And if not, why should you?

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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