Sexy vs. sexism. It’s an interesting and eternal debate spurred today, in part, by some of your comments on my comments on Beyoncé and her fierce as fuck halftime show at the Super Bowl last Sunday. It is a debate that in its various incarnations basically goes: Why did Beyonce dance around in skimpy clothes? But, really, it could be any woman anywhere with Beyoncé as our proxy. Why can’t you just dress more modestly? Which, with all due respect, I have to say – really?
Now I expect this kind of reaction from the more conservative among us. In fact, it already has been aired – ever so predictably – on the heels of Queen Bey’s spiked heeled dominance of the Super Bowl. National Review writer Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote in a piece subtly called “Put a Dress On:”
Why can’t we have a national entertainment moment that does not include a mother gyrating in a black teddy? The priceless moment was Destiny’s Child reuniting to ask that someone “put a ring on it.” As I mentioned on Twitter last night, perhaps that case might be best made in another outfit, perhaps without the crotch grabbing. It seems quite disappointing that Michelle Obama would feel the need to tweet about how “proud” she is of Beyoncé. The woman is talented, has a beautiful voice, and could be a role model. And she is on some levels — on others she is an example of cultural surrender, rather than leadership.
So we can’t be proud of women unless they dress appropriately? Women can’t be good role models if they show off their bodies? Women expressing their sexiness is the surrender of our culture? So I guess we’ll all just put on turtlenecks and ankle-length skirts and tend to the children as intended. Let me get right on that.
But for those making the more feminist argument that a strong women shouldn’t have to show off her body to be a strong women, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of your concern. I agree, women should not HAVE TO show off their bodies to be strong, successful, sexy. No, they should not have to, but they should also be allowed to. And the key question for me in these cases is always choice, intent and control. Who is in control of the imagery? What is the intent of the imagery? Who made the ultimate choice in the use of the imagery? A hot model in a bikini washing a car selling a hamburger is different than a hot performer in a revealing outfit dancing in her self-produced halftime show.
We could argue, ad nauseum, about whether our culture of objectification really allows for a choice at all. If women, even when choosing themselves how to dress, ultimately have a choice because of our commoditization of the female form. And it is true, look only to what I like to consider Beyoncé’s opening act – the Super Bowl itself and its ads – to see women used as objects instead of individuals with their own agency to sell everything from luxury cars to website domains. But I don’t think it’s possible to look at Beyoncé and see a cultural victim.
Beyoncé clearly has control of her own image. Beyoncé clearly decides how she wants that image to be presented. Beyoncé is clearly making her own choice. And what she chose to show at the Super Bowl was a strong, talented, sexy as hell performer in command of every single aspect of herself from her voice to her dance moves to her hair flips and tongue licks and enjoying herself while doing it. While it was sexy, I would actually argue it wasn’t overly sexual. Hell, remember a few years ago when Prince ostensibly stroked his own dick, by way of his guitar, all through halftime? Here Beyoncé was using Beyoncé to sell Beyoncé. And, girl, did it ever work.
Women can chose to dress sexily or women can chose to dress more modestly. Choice is the key. Our choice. We shouldn’t be shamed for whichever choice we make. We should be celebrated. When we look as spectacular as Beyoncé while doing it, a little worship doesn’t hurt either.