Monday, February 04, 2013

Death by Snu-Snu: Football, Beyonce, and the Power of Sex

I've written a lot on this blog about the implications of an accurate understanding of Genesis 3:16 on women, Christianity, and culture (here and here). The Gospel-Centered Woman deals with it in depth. Sunday's Super Bowl gave me a very large petri dish to observe the interactions between genders in a male dominated forum. I don't mind that football is a male dominated sport by the way. I like men, and I like football. I am one of three girls, the daughter of a cotton farmer. We did our fair share of girly things growing up, but there wasn't a line of demarcation between things girls did and things boys did in our family, probably because there weren't any boys to compare ourselves too. I watched Sunday NFL football every week with my dad. To this day, the best Sunday afternoon naps I have are those with the sound of an NFL game in which I'm only marginally interested playing in the background. I tell my husband I'm going to take a football nap. Can't beat them. But I digress.

No, I don't mind that football is a male dominated sport. I do mind that the women they invite to have visible roles are clearly chosen as eye candy. The cheerleaders for sure. But even the sideline female commentators, except for maybe Michele Tafoya, seem designed to be eye candy rather than legitimate contributors of meaningful information. It will be a cold day in you-know-where before they have a female commentator sitting with Troy Aikman or Joe Buck in the booth (I love that pair). But I can't say that I necessarily would enjoy a female commentator either (unless it was me). It's not that she'd be female, but just that she wouldn't be male. Change is hard.

The Super Bowl is the pinnacle of the NFL's culturally acceptable middle class misogyny. And in the midst of this massive crowd willingly watching men tackling men while ogling women in skimpy outfits on the sidelines (and commercials), in walked a single, fierce woman who took control of the entire conversation. She took control visually. And she took control verbally. We're not talking about John Harbaugh or Joe Flacco today. We're talking about Beyonce.

One article called her performance a “defiant act of power, not sex.” Oh, it was powerful. But she most definitely used sex as the conduit for her power. Her performance reminded me of an episode of Futurama in which Fry and the gang are captured by Amazonian women who condemn them to death by snu-snu (i. e. sex). Fry is both excited and horrified. 50 Shades breaks records in sales for its portrayal of BDSM with a submissive female. Then Beyonce, cultural icon, gives a powerful, woman dominated performance in the middle of a male dominated sporting event. I was struck by the female guitarist – I guess that's when I figured it out. Beyonce was making a statement. There was not a single man on the stage. Women kicked it on the drums and the fire spewing guitar. Oh, she made a statement all right. I wonder if the NFL even realizes it. There was a lot of fascinating sociology at play in that game.

Yet submissive or dominant, Beyonce's performance still centered around sex. Was she incapable of making her powerful feminine statement without leaning heavily into sex? Could she have been modestly fierce? I doubt it. Oh, she could have dressed modestly, but sex was a large part of her power. In fact, I think it was the foundation of her power. She knows it, which is why she uses it. 

What you had Sunday was a battle of the sexes. I think Beyonce won. But the prizes are slim in that battle, which is why I believe God has called us to a third way which transcends both options. We can put off the 50 Shades submissive, probably the dream of a large portion of the men on Sunday ogling both the cheerleaders and Beyonce. And we can put off the Amazonian dominatrix, who uses sex for power. It's not that our third way offers a different view of either gender or sex. No, it transcends gender and sex. What Christ offers is a different view of POWER.

The Bible definitely talks about power, and it talks about it specifically with women.
Proverbs 31:17 She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.
But the Bible gives us a distinctly different avenue toward strength and power. And, furthermore, that power looks different when we wield it.
2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 
Matthew 20:25-28 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
I think it's valuable to look a little deeper at the issues in these cultural moments. Simplistic, moralistic descriptions of the problem result in simplistic, moralistic answers to the problem. The issues are deeper than our knee-jerk reactions usually account for, and the answer in the gospel is profound. All of life resonates with these truths. Christ turned the world's notion of power on its side, and the implications for both genders are life changing.

14 comments:

  1. very interesting analysis. thank you. I'll admit I didn't watch the game or show, but have been following the love/hate reactions to it with curiosity.

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  2. I'm a Christian man who loves football but was offended by Beyoncé. Perhaps it was a power trip but a sad one seeing how she had to use her mostly exposed chest, butt and crotch (in gyration) to dominate- especially with a voice like that.

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  3. I think this is great. I do want to say that, although obviously I was not oblivious to the sexual elements of the performance, what really stood out to me was her incredible physical abilities. Man, I can't imagine being able to dance, walk, sing, smile- all at once, with that kind of power. And she looked like she was having so much FUN! I really enjoyed watching her, and it was neat to see that kind of athleticism and ability alongside that of the men playing football.

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  5. I was hoping you would lend your insight to this. Well said.

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  6. I didn't watch the halftime show during the game because we had little kids present, so we turned it off.

    I think you offer some interesting insights. I found it perplexing that the article said it wasn't about sex and demonstrated that she didn't need men, but one of the first lines she sang said "I need you" and many other lyrics were about relationships in that regard.

    Like Leslie, I am impressed by her athleticism. The concert stage is one of the only stages women have to demonstrate their physical abilities in American culture, outside of the Olympics. No women's sports get coverage like the NFL, NBA, MLB.

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  7. You always provoke deeper thought and inspire maturity while doing so. Thank you for writing this and everything else you post and print! As a "rescued from many sad years in legalism" woman, I'm relieved when other believers aren't screaming "practically pornographic" at any and everything while smugly announcing that they didn't watch the Super Bowl because its so ungodly.

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  8. Thanks, Tana! You encourage me.

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  9. Thanks for your insight. I hadn't thought of it quite so deeply, but I did find the dichotomy interesting.

    Beyonce actually isn't single - she is married and just had a daughter. To me, this makes the third option so much better. Beyonce is slapping everyone in the face, both a sex-crazed male-dominated football culture and her family too. It's sad!

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  10. I should have used a different word than single. I know she's married to Jay-Z. Just meant that one individual accomplished all that.

    I think the fact she got Jay-Z to put a ring on it is ... interesting. Perhaps a testament to her power.

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  11. Read this two days ago and still pondering on its implications for how I raise my three daughters. You really nailed it in terms of sex and physical beauty being the red herring, and a sinful desire for self-contained power being the root. We get so hung up on teaching our girls physical modesty, but so often miss this root issue of finding our real strength and power in Christ. Thanks for this.

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  12. Loved this, Wendy. I recently read an essay about James Cameron movies (by David Foster Wallace) and it cited Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in Aliens and Linda Hamilton in the original Terminator as two fierce, feminine women whose femininity was rooted in more in their maternal nature than their sexual one. I watched them both recently, and it's true! It's still not the answer, but a welcome relief from the typical on-screen idea of feminine as sex-kitten or dominatrix. Those movies (generally) left the whole "sex" theme behind while not making the women seem androgynous.

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