- The Gospel Coalition Blog - http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc -

Beyoncé: Power or Bondage?

Posted By Trillia Newbell On February 5, 2013 @ 10:00 PM In Arts and Culture,Commentary,Opinion | 34 Comments

Bold, black, and beautiful, Beyoncé took center stage at halftime of Sunday night's Super Bowl. Commanding the stage in a black leather swimsuit (?) and boots, she strutted as she sang several familiar pop tunes.

[1]

She certainly grabbed attention. But what was the message? Writing for the Progressive Christian channel of Patheos, David Henson argued [2], "If what you saw was an offensive, inappropriate hypersexual display of legs and barely covered unmentionables, let me suggest you saw only what you were staring at, not what actually happened on that stage." So what really happened? He writes:

Beyoncé's performance Sunday night in New Orleans wasn't about sex. It was about power, and Beyoncé had it in spades. In fact, her show was one of the most compelling, embodied, and prophetic statements of female power I have seen on mainstream television.

I agree that she powerfully embodied strength and boldness as the world would see it. But I could no longer ignore the sexual suggestiveness of her performance when she licked her finger, drug it down her body, and wrapped her hands around her head. However you interpret such an act, we can't deny that Beyoncé's performance carried a message that sexuality and sensuality are powerful and attractive.

Women say they want men to stop objectifying them, yet I wonder. Are we helping our cause with hyper-sexual performances such as Beyoncé's? I do not fault her alone. I believe she is a product of her environment, the pop music industry. Sex sells, and she's a smart businesswoman. I don't deny Henson's general premise, either, because sexuality is also powerful. Beyoncé wields power in her decision to use only female performers and musicians [3] and celebrates it in her song "Run the World (Girls) [4]."  Even so, I can't help but ask: How are we supporting women by celebrating when they flaunt their sexuality in public?

Equality and Empowerment

Some third-wave feminists have sought to liberate female sexuality in an effort to achieve equality and empowerment for women. In the book Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future [5], authors Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards explain that they wrote to bring "down the sexual-health double standard, which will require better sex education, distribution of free contraception, and elimination of the potential shame and embarrassment associated with the consequences of sexual freedom." They decry the "false perception of immorality" and speak specifically of eliminating unplanned pregnancies through abortion.

At one time, the authors observe, the images we regularly see on television would have incited feminists concerned about objectification. Now these images have become signs of liberation and power.

Historically, women's bodies in ads have always been conflated with the product, something that feminists worked hard to identify and critique. . . . But consciousness of sexist imagery has changed for the better, as have the rights of women. . . . Whether or not you believe, as Camille Pagalia and others do, that showing herself in sexual ways makes a woman feel powerful and men powerless, there are positive examples of women's "subjectification." These women aren't objects, because they hold the power.

Writing more than a decade ago, the authors cite several examples of this newfound empowerment: pop pioneer Madonna, hip-hop diva Missy Elliot, soccer pinup Brandi Chastain, and movie star Angelina Jolie. "All have parlayed their sexual selves into power in feminist ways," the authors argue. "These women aren't exploited. They are whole women—both confident and conscious."

Freedom and Power?

Year to year, the visual standard of conscious confidence changes. The skinny-cocaine model look that swept the 1980s is out. Now the sexually provocative, forward, "free" woman is in. Each shift has consequences. Ubiquitous images affect adult women [6] as they struggle to compete with porn stars for the attention of men. And according to a shocking recent article in The Telegraph [7], girls as young as 13 years old feel the pressure to perform in an increasingly sexualized world. The article cites the devastating case of a young girl who died when she slipped out of a window. She threatened to jump if a young boy didn't delete a video he had recorded of their sexual encounter.

Is this the freedom and power we seek? It's naïve at best for women to believe the widespread acceptance of sexual imagery will not objectify them. And how has such empowerment aided women in practical terms? If women rule the world, why does there remain a wage discrepancy among men and women in executive positions? If women rule the world, why do sex trafficking and slavery claim more victims today [8] than any other time in history? I don't believe this is what feminists really want [9] for women. Sexual images sell, but the cost is high.

Even so, we Christians do not merely separate ourselves from our neighbors who believe sexuality will liberate them. Instead, like Jesus, we share the truth about the consequences of sin that leads to death. Isn't this how we love our neighbors as ourselves? All of us identify with the tax collectors and prostitutes who enjoyed the company of Jesus. We have sinned greatly in our hearts. And now we know there is a better way. The gate is wide, and the way is easy that leads to destruction. But there is a gate, even if narrow, that leads to eternal life.

We warn, we share, and we fight, for the sake of others and the sake of Christ. When our neighbors see power in Beyoncé but we see bondage to our over-sexualized culture in this fallen world, we seek to guide them to the Father who promises security and healing, whose Son claimed glory through humility. 


Article printed from The Gospel Coalition Blog: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc

URL to article: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/02/05/beyonc-power-or-bondage/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/files/2013/02/Beyonce-Halftime.jpg

[2] David Henson argued: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson/2013/02/a-prophetic-dance-of-power-not-sex-beyonce-the-super-bowl-and-durga/

[3] female performers and musicians: http://www.starpulse.com/news/index.php/2006/06/23/beyonce_has_choosen_the_members_of_her_n

[4] Run the World (Girls): http://www.directlyrics.com/beyonce-girl-lyrics.html

[5] Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future: http://www.amazon.com/Manifesta-10th-Anniversary-Feminism-Future/dp/0374532303/?tag=thegospcoal-20

[6] affect adult women: http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/trends/n_9437/

[7] shocking recent article in The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/sex/9828589/Children-and-the-culture-of-pornography-Boys-will-ask-you-every-day-until-you-say-yes.html

[8] claim more victims today: http://www.enditmovement.com/

[9] what feminists really want: http://www.amazon.com/Female-Chauvinist-Pigs-ebook/dp/B000FCKCDS/?tag=thegospcoal-20

Copyright © 2009 The Gospel Coalition Blog. All rights reserved.