Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The ABeyCs of Sexy

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.

22 comments:

Rosie said...

You got it girl! I totally agree with you.Beyonce's performance was super sexy and not grossly sexual because she is classy and in control and workin it. I don't see anything wrong with how she or the other women on stage were dressed or how they danced and come on...have a little fantasy people! Get jump started. She totally had me and ALL of the straight women with our hairs standing up on end because she is TREMENDOUS!!! Now of course she is a perfomer and she brought it and she brought sex appeal in a hot way,not disgusting and dirty like some other perfomers who don't have what she has.Big difference.So everyone should relax a little and let people express their talents and being sexy is something that not everyone possesses.Don't you think?

E.T. said...

Interesting points D. It is indeed a matter of choice and we can all see what choice she ultimately made.
There is no doubt in my mind that stereotypes are the primary reason behind that choice, without however implying that she is not a strong woman.
Do I think she is sexy?Hell yeah! Would I still think she is sexy with more clothes on?Defininitely.
I wholeheartedly support the freedom of choice but it is sad how the need to feel sexy dictates that a woman should conform to such stereotypes and yes put herself out there for objectification purposes.
That being said I think Beyonce is awesome :)

Leigh said...

I was the original "anonymous" post from yesterday, and I have to say this blog response was good to read. It brought up a few points that opened my eyes a little. Though, I do still feel that there is a difference between owning your sexuality in your performance and objectification, and it's a shame that society impresses on people as amazing as Beyonce that they aren't amazing if they aren't scantily clad and crotch thrusting.

Kristan Hoffman said...

"Do I think she is sexy?Hell yeah! Would I still think she is sexy with more clothes on?Defininitely."

Exactly.

I was one of the commenters yesterday, and I think your post today makes some good points, which are very much in line with some of the responses I got when I asked my question on Twitter. (See here for more: http://kristanhoffman.com/2013/02/04/super-bowl-xlvii-post-game-analysis-of-the-non-sports-variety/.)

However, I think it's worth examining (not arguing ad nauseum) who is defining sexy and how that impacts women's "choices" in owning their sexuality. Because, as the commenter above implied, sexy shouldn't have to mean scantily clad. It CAN mean that, if we women want it to, but it shouldn't have to.

And to be clear, having that discussion doesn't mean taking anything away from Beyonce's talent, nor her right to dress and dance in any fashion. We're asking questions, not criticizing. There's HUGE a difference between that and the "slut-shaming" that other people may be doing.

Leigh said...

Agreed Kristan, well said! I (commenter Leigh above) am not shaming anyone either. Nothing, in my mind, but positive can come from a bunch of opinionated, respectful, intelligent women discussing a current issue that effects us all, and the future generations of intelligent women!

Anonymous said...

WHO is really in control, that is the question!

http://vigilantcitizen.com/musicbusiness/beyonce-to-sasha-fierce-symolic-occult-rebirth/

PD

Anonymous said...

We aren't the only ones talking:

http://www.thenation.com/blog/172664/michelle-beyonce-and-fruitless-politics-respectability#

I've concluded I don't like any performances because they seem so very far from authentic. So I don't watch...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I like your blog for the pop/celeb stuff but I appreciate when you also put down some of the strong political sentiments too.

Anonymous said...

Eye of the beholder, clearly. Her outfit and performance = a major turn off for me. I guess I prefer more subtle sexuality - and that is not a criticism of Beyonce, whom I respect for her talent and apparent overall "goodness" as a human being. She can dress and perform any way she wants, of course, but if the intent was to be "sexy," it was not a universal success.

Anita said...

You go and tell them, I agree with every single word you wrote. She's sexy as hell and classy at the same time, few can tell that they do as well as her. Proud of queen B and her sexy outfit.

Feminista Cabreada/ Pissed-Off Feminist said...

Beyonce is not "owning" anything. She is acting "sexy" because she is expected to. That's how she makes her money, by being sexy. All women entertainers do the same, because that's what the patriarchy tells them. And also, you can't make up "sexy" because it is a highly personal word, what is sexy for one person is not for another. My butch girlfriend does not look at all like Beyonce, and she is very, very sexy --to me.

Anonymous said...

This post and video from the Sociological Images blog is very relevant to this discourse: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2013/02/02/the-sexy-lie-a-ted-talk-by-dr-caroline-heldman/

Anonymous said...

That is the kind of shit I call gross not sexy in the least.

Anonymous said...

stentsse 347

Anonymous said...

sexy Beyonce yes! Her show at halftime sexy not so much - sterotype of sexy was all I saw and I thought it was a boring sterotype to sell cars and football and beer. That ain't sexy that's capitalism.

Amanda Morrell said...

I thought it was bad. ass. She owned that whole stadium. That's classic girl-power right there, however you dress it. And you know she works hard for that body, so clearly she wants to show it off. So good for her. And good for her rock'n band.

Amanda

egghead said...

Whew, that gif you put up is revealing. Now that is . . . that's a hot mess. Madly. Queen Beyonce I crown thee.

No cover-ups please. Her attire is completely tasteful, artful, entertaining. Success is the best equalizer against those who would rag on about this. Really.

Kristan Hoffman said...

@Anon 5:48 PM-
Thanks for linking to the TED talk. I'm really enjoying it.

Anonymous said...

That Lopez lady really annoyed me with her 'mother gyrating in a black teddy' comment. If she wants true equality, she should be celebrating Beyonce for all she is (please! can we only respect women if they dress in a frumpy way?), and *demand* that next year, there is 'a father gyrating in a black teddy' performing. That day, when there is such a man and nobody blinks an eye, we will have truly evolved as human beings.

canodiva1 said...

Bet you a million bucks that the people bitching about Beyonce not wearing enough clothing would never bitch about a dude going shirtless or something similar. They'll keep policing other women to the ends of the earth, but they'll still treat other women totally differently from the way they treat men.

SMH.

No one gets to decide what clothing other people do and don't wear. BYOB, complainers.

Anonymous said...

Although it was incredibly hot at times to watch.. I was also feeling bored. Perhaps its that the projection of a sexy image or emotion when performing is just so overdone.. not really that its inappropriate or vulgar. Across all gender.

maya said...

I like how you dissect and articulate complicated issues so that I don't have to. I will just point the haters to your post... I grapple, myself, with these issues, but ultimately, as you said, it comes down to choice and agency.

I the problem we need to address is that of supporting and promoting ladies that don't trade on sex appeal. Maybe you could have a Frumpy Fridays, Miss Snarker?