Super Bowl halftime, sexuality, girls

The Standard February 12, 2020

The buzz last week surrounding the Super Bowl halftime show rivaled that about the game itself. Supremely talented Jennifer Lopez and Shakira performed what was, in part, a joyful and energetic celebration of Latin culture. Two remarkably talented women skillfully demonstrated some terrific choreography and exceptional athleticism, all while belting out strong vocals in their Miami-infused performance. The dancers, instrumentalists, back-up vocalists, lights, fireworks displays and multiple uses of the Venus symbol as an homage to women and girls all combined for a spectacular production.

Two polar opposite perspectives have emerged regarding this halftime extravaganza. One was that this pair of beautiful performers, incredibly fit at their ages, sent an empowering message to women and to people of color and that the dancing was true to Latin culture. The other was that the overt sexual nature of the show objectified women and that it conveyed a statement antithetical to the #MeToo Movement and to the “It’s a Penalty” global anti-human trafficking campaign surrounding Super Bowl Sunday.

While there is definite overlap between reactions of friends of different faiths and those with no faith  who fight sex trafficking, certain secular feminists and many Christians there is one aspect which sets apart followers of Christ. It is expressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians where a central focus is that Christians have many rights but should sacrifice them if it means advancing the gospel or helping fellow believers. “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say – but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’ – but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)

The NFL and Pepsi have the right to put on the halftime show they did. J.Lo and Shakira have every right to the hundreds of millions of dollars they each have earned in this business. The U.S. entertainment industry has the right to send this kind of message, of which the Super Bowl is just a tiny glimpse. Consumers have every right to question if this is the healthiest portrayal to project to girls and to evaluate what we want our spending to promote.

After the show all I could think of were those young girls who performed on that stage and what messages they took home from their many practices. That a woman’s power comes from her sexual appeal? That her value lies in her sexuality and how her body looks and moves? That talent and hard work are not enough? That a woman must add provocative dress and insinuations when using her talents in order to get the most attention? That your sexual allure defines you? That you are an object at which the public should gawk?

I wonder if the show’s producers felt it had to be so sexually explicit in order to appeal to popular culture.  Would the production value have suffered if Shakira did not tie ropes around her wrists or have a male rapper bending over her while she was on the ground?  What would have been lost if it did not include J.Lo repeatedly grabbing her crotch or bending over for a man to slap her derriere multiple times? Did we really benefit from the close-up of her sliding on her straddled knees towards the camera or the bumping and grinding? Many dancers showcase fabulous talent and choreography being neither prudish nor extremely sexual. Surely, we all can agree there are some things better left away from the eyes of children. There must be a line between what is best for public display and what should be reserved for private situations. We have to determine approximately where it lies.

A recent UNICEF study notes, ”The objectification and sexualization of girls in the media is linked to violence against women and girls worldwide. … when women and girls are repeatedly objectified and their bodies hypersexualized, the media contributes to harmful gender stereotypes that often trivialize violence against girls.” A report by the American Psychological Association states, “Consequences of hypersexualization for girls and women include anxiety about appearance, feelings of shame, eating disorders, lower self-esteem and depression.”

Those forced into the sickeningly lucrative sex industry and those helping them escape are all too aware of the dangers of turning sexualized bodies into profitable business. Of course, Jesus modeled treating women, children and men with dignity and respect. He saw value in each person. He and Paul taught about healthy sexuality.

“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20)

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