Kristan Hoffman - Writing Dreams Into Reality
Mon Feb 4 2013

Super Bowl XLVII: Post-game analysis (of the non-sports variety)

Although I am a football fan, this isn’t going to be a sports post. Last night’s game was surprising and exciting in many ways — Har-brothers?! Jacoby Jones?! Blackout?! 3 TD comeback?! — but what I want to talk about today are the commercials. And Beyonce’s halftime show. And the way we perceive each of those things.

Basically I was monitoring Twitter the whole night, and aside from superb owls and Puppy Bowl, I noticed a lot of chatter about various ads. More so than the game, in fact. And a lot of this chatter was focused on girls and women.

There was the good…

amy poehler best buy
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And there was the not-so-good…

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Which made me wonder…

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Here are video and pics from Beyonce’s performance, if you missed it.

To be clear: I like her, I like her music, and as a Houston girl, I’m practically required to like Destiny’s Child. My liking the halftime show is not the issue.

Instead, I’m trying to examine why so many folks were unhappy with the way GoDaddy (for example) portrayed a woman’s sexuality, but then cheered for Beyonce’s parading of her own. Why does one stand for misogyny and the other for “girl power”? Is an attractive woman French-kissing a nerdy guy more provocative (offensive?) than an attractive woman dancing in a black leather leotard?

A few friends offered responses to my inquiry — though none of us were trying to claim our comments as definitive answers:

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TLT 01
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Personally, here’s what I think it comes down to:

response 01
response 02

Restated for emphasis: Who defines “sexy”?

tlt 05

In other words, did Beyonce decide that 4″ heels, lace, and long wild hair were sexy? Or did she absorb that definition from the male-dominated society she grew up in? (Note: It’s entirely possible that the answer may be both.) While her lyrics boast of “independent women” and “single ladies,” was she gyrating her hips to model sexual empowerment for us? Or to excite the thousands of men watching in the stadium, and millions more on TV? (Again, the answer may be both.)

I don’t ask these questions to make or start an argument. I simply want to examine the issue. And I’m curious, what do y’all think?

PS: As I was finishing up this post, Karen (@TLT16) sent me a link that underscores the importance of asking ourselves these questions, because the work of feminism is not done by a long shot, perhaps especially not when it comes to the world of sports.

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12 Comments
  1. T. S. Bazelli says:
    Mon Feb 4 2013 at 6:48 PM

    I wondered what kind of answers you might get. Thank you for sharing those.

  2. nighttimenoises says:
    Mon Feb 4 2013 at 7:09 PM

    Exactly! Who gets to say what is sexy and how do we know if we’re even making a choice? My favorite writer on this topic is Ariel Levy, who wrote Female Chauvenist Pigs. She argues it has everything to do with pornography , its popularization, and how feminism sort of left us hanging on ths one, from a historical perspective. (Excuse phone typos here and a bove. Sorry!)

  3. nighttimenoises says:
    Mon Feb 4 2013 at 7:13 PM

    Oh, and also, what is the difference between expressing ones authentic sexuality and desire for sexual.pleasure and just doing what we think we should be doing? What does the former even look like anyway? Done for real this.time.

  4. linda says:
    Mon Feb 4 2013 at 9:06 PM

    Ooh, interesting. I didn’t watch the Super Bowl, so all the commentary on commercials and stuff just went over my head, haha. As for when sexy is misogynistic and not, maybe part of it is that commercials are there to sell things, using actors and stories as tools, whereas a performance is closer to self-expression? I didn’t see the commercials, but I’m guessing in some cases the “sexy woman” was an object of desire and a prize to be won, and that’s the part written for them. But in Beyonce’s performance, I’m guessing she likely had more of a choice in how to portray herself (hopefully). So yeah, I’m with Karen — it’s ok for women to want to be sexual/sexy in the way that they choose (yes, there might be “conventionally sexy,” but people also have different ideas of what’s sexy to them personally), but not ok for men to portray women as sexual objects who are there only to reward men.

  5. Anthony Lee Collins says:
    Tue Feb 5 2013 at 7:41 AM

    “Single Ladies” has always made me laugh. It sounds like some sort of pro-woman anthem, but it’s all about getting some guy to marry her (to put a ring on it).

    I’ve known quite a few fierce and independent single women (“ladies”), and not one of them was ever concentrating her primary attention on getting some guy to put a ring on it.

    But that seems to be Beyonce’s thing — to appeal to as many constituencies as possible and not to run any possible risk of offending anybody. Guys like scanty clothes and writhing around? Okay. Gals like empowering anthems? Cool.

    The only song of hers that ever really caught my attention was “If I Were a Boy” (which she didn’t write). That’s a song that rewards some time and attention. But I like Reba McEntire’s version a bit better.

  6. Kristan says:
    Tue Feb 5 2013 at 9:50 AM

    nighttimenoises-
    Thanks for the reading recommendation, I’ll look into it! (Sidebar: While I do think there’s lot of problematic pornography, I don’t think it *has* to be that way.) Great questions, and I appreciate your chiming in, because I know you’re more informed about a lot of these issues than I am. :)

    Linda-
    Choice/agency does seem to be the line — or at least a key component of the line — between the two. But I have to assume there are women at these ad agencies. Women who have creative input, or approve the budget, or work the cameras. So where do their voices go, you know? What are they even saying? That’s part of what I’m wondering too.

    Anthony-
    Oh, sorry, I’m gonna have to disagree with you mightily here. “Single Ladies” isn’t about wanting to get married; it’s about saying, “I’m not going to sit around and be your arm candy. Be serious — be into me — or get lost. Because I am sexy and free and can do whatever I want.” It’s the principle of wanting (deserving?) someone’s focus and dedication — commitment as a metaphor — not literally marriage. And if you don’t get it, then you’ll walk away — a choice that women didn’t always have.

    Now, as for Beyonce’s “thing” — mainstream appeal — that might ring true. And it’s a smart tactic, business-wise, it you can pull it off!

  7. mmd says:
    Tue Feb 5 2013 at 12:06 PM

    It’s a really interesting question. I think most people say it is the choice thing – are you choosing to do something for yourself or did someone force that on you?

    That said, is your “choice” on these things really yours in a society that is male-dominated? Is Beyonce choosing to dress sexy or does she feel pressure by our society to dress like that to be accepted as sexy/pretty/etc? I think about this with marriage/kids and names, too – when you marry, do you take your husband’s name because you chose to, or because a male-dominated society pressures you to do so? Do you give your kids your husband’s last name by choice or due to societal pressures?

    I guess every person has to decide for themselves if they think they are making a choice or caving to societal pressures on things, but it isn’t always obvious.

  8. Kristan says:
    Tue Feb 5 2013 at 12:31 PM

    Oh yeah, the name thing is a good question too. But of course, not every society does things the same way. Spaniards (and some other Hispanic groups, I believe) retain the last names of both parents, for example. Women in China (and some other Asian countries, I believe) usually don’t change their last name.

    I agree with you that in the end, everyone has to choose what makes the most sense for them and their family, even if that’s easier said than done.

  9. Tom Morgan says:
    Tue Feb 5 2013 at 12:56 PM

    Everyone gets to define “sexy” in his own way. (“Confound you and your sexist grammar!” remarks may be warranted, but in high school, I was systematically victimized by women in state-sanctioned positions of power, so neener-neener.)

    Who defines “sexy” isn’t the important part of the question.

    Empowerment is all about the right to play to whichever audience you want, whenever you want, subject to change with or without reason. The fact that there’s ambiguity, diversity, and debate is a pretty clear signal that you’re in a comfortably empowered position.

    (Invocation of Godwin’s Law: “You know who was unambiguously empowered and didn’t respect diversity or debate? Hitler.”)

  10. Anthony Lee Collins says:
    Wed Feb 6 2013 at 7:23 AM

    Apparently this “Is Beyonce a feminist?” thing has been going on for a while. I saw this article on Slate (about why her new tour is going to be the “Mrs. Carter Show” tour), and it’s got a lot of links to different opinions: http://tinyurl.com/asaofpr.

    The thing that really got my dander up, though, was this article about the Danica Patrick ad for GoDaddy: http://tinyurl.com/ald8wup. I’m sure I could see the ad on Youtube, but I don’t think I will. I even read something from GoDaddy before the Super Bowl saying that their ad would be less sexist than in the past. (And I’m familiar with the attraction of sports where women and men compete directly — that’s one reason my ex-wife was an equestrian.)

  11. Kristan says:
    Wed Feb 6 2013 at 5:22 PM

    Anthony-
    Thanks for sharing the links. I was struck most by Beyonce’s own words about whether or not she is a feminist (although, to be clear, that was never the point of my discussion):

    quote // “I think I am a feminist, in a way. It’s not something I consciously decided I was going to be,” she said in 2010. That statement seems right on the nose. She has toured with an all-female band since B’Day in 2006. (“I wanted to get together a group of fierce, talented, hungry, beautiful women and form an all-girl band,” she told MTV.) // end quote

    As for Danica, all I will say is that I found that article very interesting, because I know so little about racing. Had NO idea there were so many other women who participated — and I do find it very cool that racing is the only (?) sport where men and women don’t get ranked separately.

  12. Juliann says:
    Thu Feb 7 2013 at 5:09 PM

    As a feminist, I wish I could contribute to this conversation, but I missed the game, and the performance, and all the commercials. Shoot!

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