Crotch grabbing, unparalleled athleticism, wiggling booty shots, peak female sexuality, pole dancing, BDSM, feminist symbols, the 2020 Super Bowl Halftime Show is a celebration of female power for some and for others, it's all that's wrong with feminism.
A headline of an article recently published by Catholic media outlet ChurchPOP reads, “Jennifer Lopez Blasphemously Mimics Jesus on Stripper Pole at Super Bowl Halftime Show.”
The Twitter account of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, founded by William Franklin Graham Jr, a prominent evangelical American Christian known internationally in the late 1940s, tweeted this.
It's an iconic performance that set the stage on fire, I felt my body moving with the charismatic magnetism of both performers, jaw dropping in awe of such talent and energy, they put on an unforgettable show indeed.
The Latino as well as older women visibility resonated with some.
Others didn't think so.
"I am embarrassed for my kids to watch this halftime show," tweeted one person. "Stripper poles, crotch, and rear end shots...no dignity."
A similar tweet read: "The show was beyond vulgar and having stripper pole dancing, crotch grabbing and rolling on the stage half naked being brought into living rooms across America filled with families and children is abhorrent! The Super Bowl is for everyone and should not be rated XXX."
In response to this criticism, several people came to J. Lo and Shakira's defense. Among them was Rachel Wright, M.A., L.M.F.T., a psychotherapist and marriage and relationship expert. In a thoughtful post on Instagram, Wright shared her thoughts on the criticism, saying she felt "incredibly compelled" to comment on the matter.
"Human beings wearing what makes them feel sexy and empowered is a good thing," Wright wrote in her post.
Of course, as a general sentiment, commenting on anyone's body, overall appearance, and/or clothing choices isn't cool—full stop. It's their choice and their business. That said, as Wright points out, there are so many double standards for men and women, especially when it comes to physical appearance. Case in point: Remember when Adam Levine took his shirt off in the middle of his 2019 Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show performance?
"[Levine] was up there completely topless," Wright tells Shape. "Don't get me wrong, it was beautiful. But he had his nipples out, and no one felt that wasn't family-friendly. So, why are these two women, [who are] showing off their talents, considered inappropriate, even though they were fully clothed?
Plus, if you look closely, J. Lo actually appeared to be wearing multiple layers of leggings underneath her outfit, notes Wright. Shakira, on the other hand, only exposed her legs and midriff, which is no different than wearing a swimsuit on the beach, says Wright.
"They're wearing just as little clothing as women in the ballet," she adds. "But ballerinas are considered classy and are appreciated for their athleticism, whereas these women are not. It's actually the association we, as adults, put on performances like this that is problematic, not the performances themselves."
It's those associations that made so many people feel uncomfortable with the pole dancing aspect of the show, Wright wrote in her post. "Dancing on a pole is a challenging, athletic and beautiful form of dance," she shared. "It’s called POLE DANCING."
I'm torn myself, it reminds me of what I dislike about liberal feminism, which in my most uncharitable secret moments, I call passerby feminism. They swing by feminism, skim the surface, cut corners, they build a shabby house of cards that topple themselves instead of the patriarchy. I never gained any value from a conversation with them, I end up bored out of my mind at their shallowness.
Talking to them fed my disillusionment about the state of things instead, a painful tiresome task that I rather not bother with. Overwhelmed by how many women needed feminism, ashamed about how I don't always feel courageous enough to keep on taking hits, sometimes I want to run and shelter myself in self denial like them, the reality is no matter how much I want to care and do care, I cannot afford to care too much, because no one care as much for me back in return.
Women have died because of BDSM taken too far, not to mention this segment lacked artistic flair, it was a piece of random rope that didn't fit into the larger performance, it was pointless controversy without artistry.
Grace Millane, the British backpacker, died accidentally when consensual rough sex "went wrong", a court has heard.
The defence told the court Ms Millane had been a member of two BDSM dating sites. The accused, who had denied any previous experience with BDSM or choking, choked two other women on dates in November 2018, according to their testimony.
Earlier in the trial one of them told the court: “He had grabbed my forearms and put all the pressure on my arms so I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t move my arms. I started kicking, trying to indicate I couldn’t breathe. I was kicking violently. He would have felt me fighting … I was terrified.”
As hard as I try to appreciate their efforts and I do try hard, as hard as how Wright is trying to be suitably sisterly to the level of bending over backwards to doormat-ish, "If you look closely" really got to me.
If I have to look closely, I know I'm trying to convince myself of something inauthentic, being overly apologetic is a sign I haven't figured something out, I would be forcing myself to accept a narrative I genuinely didn't believe in.
Pole dancing for middle/upper class or first world women is seen as a form of exercise, detached from the reality of strippers where they're expose to potential johns, grooming pimps and seedy clientele, it's not hard to imagine what that world looks like and the risks these women take to be in that environment.
Normalising pole dancing is normalising men going to strip joints, participating in pole dancing as a form of sport seems like a kind, even non-discriminatory thing to do, when these ideas have the largest impact for women in the trade as well as everyone else up the female pipeline.
I now understand why I cringed when I saw my friends post photos of them pole dancing, I couldn't pinpoint my discomfort earlier, so many were oooo-ing and aaahhhh-ing at them, I just kept quiet, unsure what to do.
It influences public sentiment that it's normal for female sexual activities to be up for purchase, it buys into the commodification of female bodies, it feeds the idea that female bodies are currencies, to be bought or sold on the male gaze auction block.
It trickles down to daily objectification of women who do not offer these services, we're bombarded by subliminal sexual advertisement all the time, from ketchup to burgers to ice cream, we do not need more of it.
Sex trafficking, porn, sex work, stripping and escort services is a billion dollar industry, it has existed for centuries, from the time when women were traded in return for property, we're been mistreated for generations and sometimes the same people who form these outwardly altruistic organisations that is suppose to make life better for them, are the same people who campaign in order to continue exploiting them.
Lesbian feminist Julie Bindel writes, in 2010, having observed the growing influence of the International Union of Sex Workers, I decided to look into its background and membership. Launched in London in 2000, the union calls itself a “grassroots organisation” standing up for the rights of all those working in the sex trade. I discovered that its modest membership appeared mainly to consist of academics studying the sex trade, men who buy sex, and the odd person running specialist services – hardly representative of Britain’s sex trade.
One of its members, and a spokesman, was Douglas Fox, who has been active in the Conservative party and Amnesty UK, and co-owner of a large escort agency. He proposed a motion for blanket decriminalisation of the sex trade at the Amnesty International annual general meeting in 2008. Seven years later, this became Amnesty policy.
Another moment that gutted me was Shakira wiping the floor with her body, the levels women have to bend to, it's inhumane, this was in contrast with male performers who came out in hoodies, unshaven faces and baggy pants, they weren't even as famous as them yet they could be covered from head to toe, to perform on the same stage. I noticed this in many co-ed performances, how women have to reinvent themselves constantly with their hair, make up, costumes and men focus solely on their talents, there're no such demands placed on them.
I was instantly repulsed by Jennifer Lopez's crotch grab, to my surprise when I unpacked it later, it reminded me of Micheal Jackson's crotch grab, I felt indignant instead, if he can do it, there is no reason why a female performer should be scrutinised differently. Damn it, it even became an iconic moment that cemented his place as the King of Pop
Miley Cyrus did it
Lady Gaga did it
Rihanna did it
Lil’ Kim did it
This is the hair thin intersection between feminist hypocrisy and feminist ideals, are they reclaiming Trump's grab the pussy or are they buying into the axis of patriarchal power?
On one hand we tell girls to be ambitious, they're just as capable, "you can do anything a boy can". On the other hand, we know as women our consequences for doing the same things are totally different. We're torn between portraying a naive false reality that lacks reasonable caution and spreading a sense of hopelessness that robs them of optimism, both these are driven by our worries for their safety, it also ends up pressuring them so much, they feel too deflated to hold the people who created the environment accountable.
When Michael Jackson did it, he was seen as an outrageous barrier breaking performer, he reclaimed manhood as a rare black talent, when they do it, they're seen as sluts first and creatives later. Whenever I talk to women about body shame and negative self image, it breaks down into uptight punishing moral correctness or a laid-back laissez faire you do you mentality. I find myself swinging from one end to the other as well, we haven't developed enough feminist language that ride the roller coaster between comfortably supportive and harshly punishing women who're already suffering.
What's always missing within the conversation are basic needs, the need for financial security. Maybe because serious feminists think these topics are too commonplace, unworthy of discourse, I seldom watch mass media myself so I understand to a degree, how lame it is, yet I find these topics desperately need feminist discourse, body image issues, objectification and body shame is something that affects millions of women, as is the basic need to achieve financial freedom.
As a budding creative myself, I know how hard it is to carve a place in the literary world, I'm constantly torn between honing my craft in fiction and writing about non fiction that gets me far more criticism than it's worth, I do worry about my financial future, moral correctness is a luxury I cannot afford, when I have my long term survival to think about.
I'm constantly attacked personally, I haven't heard one word of constructive criticism in the last 4 years. My social media following is taking a slow painful crawl, I see less competent non confronting writers speed ahead, I see passerby feminists who focus on promoting themselves stereotypically get further faster, I see people rewarded for political correctness, not for speaking truth to power, holding onto their happy shiny flower power thinking and I sometimes want to be like them.
Just for a while.
Not be so dutiful, not be so responsible, not care so much that I start depressing myself.
Rest my feet in water, empty my mind for a while.
I get sick and tired of people criticising my writing, reminding me of how they will support "equally competent"writers or "equally competent" feminists, when I know full well that white male writers are the first pick, then it's white female writers, so I need to work twice as hard. If I wanted to dedicate myself fully to it, then I cannot do any volunteer work, I most definitely cannot write about controversial topics that have a limited audience, I must go mass, even if I feel reluctant to, what choice do I have?
I also have to work twice as hard to be seen as a competent feminist as well, so this equally competent idea is anti-feminist as far as I'm concerned, it's total bullshit, some women are set up for success and some women aren't.
Perhaps the saddest thing is I would think Lopez and Shakira no longer have to pimp themselves this way, they're already successful, it's a pity that it's so ingrained in many women that it's normalised, even when they're finally in a position of power to shape their own narratives, there is still a sense of helplessness within it all, that they must be perfect, they're never enough, none of us are ever enough.
But on the other side is abused women in recovery being unhappy with me, accusing me of abandoning them, young lesbians on the verge of transition wanting to learn about feminism then there's everyone else who idealise my situation, telling me if I have certain skills then I must help them.
Like as if I had the luxury of a free private coach to see myself through my own restoration or I didn't have to pay for my own education, buy books, take women studies classes, independently fall and pick myself up, explore and fail multiple times, feeling lost, battered, strangled with no one to guide me.
Sometimes it's just too many points of conflict, too much negativity, too many reminders of my situation as a woman in this world, too little comfort, too little open heartedness, too little support and too many conflicting ideals that my inner self sabotaging perfectionist want to live up to but find impossible.
I find myself taking a break from the harsh barren seriousness of radical feminism where comfort is rare and cynicism is large, escaping to the comforting even if temporary sanctuary of liberal feminism, deny myself the cruel realities of this world and not care about the people at the bottom all the time, give myself enough bandwidth to spend some time focusing on my wellbeing instead, be stubbornly self indulgent, stupendously competitive, for my wellbeing.
I bet this is how Shakira and Jennifer Lopez felt many times over, that sex sells, we cannot ignore larger forces at work within the patriarchy, sexuality can be a superpower when done right as much as hypersexuality can be our demise if done wrong.
You cannot really tell if a woman own it from the outside, there have been times I felt free by sexualising myself for once, it's a new experience for a camera shy person who prefer to not take center stage, then there're times I did unconsciously hyper sexualise myself because of trauma.
You might not do that to others or want it for them but you sure can do it to yourself, because you lack self love. Kill off your sexuality because the policing of our bodies makes us so grossly uncomfortable with any form of outward expression, feel so disconnected from our bodies that we live in permenant self defence mode, that any kind of sexy from yourself or from someone else is taboo.
So I see some truth in what Wright said, there's a possibility that it is from the perception of the viewer and nothing to do with what we see as well.
Sometimes we're so conditioned, it's hard to set it down even after it no longer serves us, we're all unlearning the bullshit we took on, more dialogue is indeed necessary so I'm glad Wright started it, even if I disagree with her.
Eshet chayil, God is a She.