Hey, Let's Not Slut-Shame Beyoncé for Her Super Bowl Outfit

beyonce at the super bowl

Sports pundits are still be trying to make yesterday's Super Bowl all about the actual game (and yes, that 108-yard touchdown was pretty impressive), but let's be honest with ourselves—the real winner of the game was Beyoncé's halftime performance. And not just because she didn't lip sync or because of the holograms, but because of the fact that for the first time in recent memory, women of color were the main focus of the show. Women who could dance. Women who could sing. Women who could play instruments with sparks shooting out of them

And yet, still, predictably and sadly, there are people (many of them women) who want to make the show about the fact that Queen Bey wasn't wearing saggy denims and an ill-fitting University of Somewhere sweatshirt. Instead, she wore a dominatrix-esque boydsuit that got rapidly smaller as the performance progressed. In a thread on the Binders Full Of Women Facebook community, the slut-shaming began with a speed that could make Oreo's head spin.

It was a strip-tease! Why do women always have to be taking off their clothes! This does nothing to advance the position of women because there was too much skin visible!

Really? Didn't we just have this conversation like a week ago when she was on the cover of GQ?

Sure, there were some problems with the performance—like, as Slate points out, how very little airtime bandmates Kelly and Michelle got, during which they sang a song that wasn't even by Destiny's Child—but the outfits? The outfits weren't one of the problems. 

Just like the outfit that Beyoncé wore on the cover of GQ wasn't a problem because, in the interview, she actually had some pretty great stuff to say that advanced the ideas that women can be powerful. To quote Feministing's excellent piece on the Great Panties Debacle of 2013, "feminism is totally cool with Beyonce posing in her underwear." 

Because, dear readers, that is part of being a lady in America. We have the choice to show off our thighs or keep them covered. We have the option to be sexy or to not be. And I'm going to be honest: If I were Beyoncé, I would never wear pants, ever. Because have you seen how strong and muscular and amazing her legs are? 

Instead of going immediately to extremely tired lamentations of leather and exposed skin, let's try to focus on the fact that yesterday, the world witnessed a captivating all-female performance during what is typically a brief intermission during an all-male sporting event.

Photo of Beyoncé via Mashable

Comments

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Subjectivity in the Halftime Show

I totally agree with your thoughts on all the slut-shaming that has happened in response to the halftime show. Your line, "If I were Beyoncé, I would never wear pants, ever," made me laugh. I feel the same way.

But I also thought that the way the camera focused on Beyonce's body, and not her face, was also worth talking about. Here's a blogpost I wrote in response to this: http://clairemariedavidson.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/subjectivity-and-bey... I wonder anyone else noticed the same thing. And if so, what did you think about it?

middle ground?

OK. I hear what you're saying, and probably I have a little bit of work of my own to do. However, what's the middle ground here? I am feeling challenged. I agree that Beyonce is a grown-ass woman who can do what she wants. But, as someone in a comment on the Binders Full of Women page, "women have been dancing on stage in front of men for centuries, what makes that empowering?" Where is the space for the critique? How do we make that critique without the slut-shaming?

Not just dancing for men this time.

I realize that the Superbowl may have a heavily male-skewed audience, but there were plenty of us ladies watching too. I think it's unfair to say that "women having been dancing on stage in front of men for centuries" because in this case she was dancing for an audience of men and women.

The real question is this: is there an expectation that a female performer at the Superbowl has to wear a skimpy outfit?Probably. Is there the same expectation for a male? Probably not.

I agree with Middle

I agree with Middle Ground.
Beyoncé is a grown woman, but I don't think she needs to show that powerful women have to look like a dominatrix.

Moreover, the line: "If I were Beyoncé, I would never wear pants, ever. Because have you seen how strong and muscular and amazing her legs are?" is problematic. I have seen her legs, but I don't see why that gives her more of a right (or less shame) in wearing that outfit than someone whose legs (or body) isn't deemed "beautiful" by our culture/society.

Does she need to be shamed? No. Does she need to cover up? No.
Would it be useful to feminism and women the world over if "powerful women" were not just recognized as such if they are beautiful and dressed in a way that men can forget that women can be powerful and not be seen as sex objects?

Sure it gets hot performing, but alas, this is early February and I didn't think that my 5 year old son needed to see her wearing that. I didn't need to see her wearing that. Her voice and power could otherwise be demonstrated and seen.

Agreed. Slut-shaming isn't

Agreed. Slut-shaming isn't helpful to feminism, but neither is being totally Polyanna about things and pretending that women aren't still commodified, objectified and treated as nothing other than their legs/breasts/hair/butts/outfits. Sure, Beyonce has the choice to wear skimpy outfits, and she's obviously taking advantage of it regularly. But as someone pointed out above, isn't there a middle ground between dominatrix unitards and wearing jeans and a sweatshirt? And if that choice really exists, then why aren't more supposedly famous, powerful women taking advantage of it?

I have no desire to criticise Beyonce for what she wears. What I do insist on the right to criticise is a society that means even a woman with her talent and alleged power inevitably ends up reduced to yet another writhing, pornified body in order to make a record company or a TV station or a sponsor more money.

I ain't shaming B - but if she really is so empowered, she could put that to better use by not mirroring exactly the tactics that disempowered women have had to resort to for millennia.

I don't think the people

I don't think the people pointing to a middle ground were talking about the clothes themselves.
Beyoncé can dress in how little fabric she wants to - That's not the problem.

I think the problem with

I think the problem with wanting a "middle ground" is that a middle ground still implies control over a woman's body. Also, I don't really buy the "but my 5-year-old" argument. Honestly, your 5-year-old has likely been exposed to sexuality already. And if they haven't, they will. It is pervasive in our culture. I assume you're afraid of the sexuality being implied by Bey's outfit and dance, which is why I bring it up. (I can't imagine seeing powerful women being the thing you object to, but who knows. I have heard worse). Children learn about things you don't want them to know about whether you like it or not. (I recommend reading "Dude, You're A Fag" by CJ Pascoe for more on how this develops.)
I was sickened by the slut shaming, and am tired of the narrow view some women (feminist or not) have on the issue. The answer, I think, lies in working with a mixture of reclaiming our sexuality and our bodies, as well as demanding our liberation through advocacy, trying to lead revolutionary lifestyles, etc.

Those are the right

Those are the right questions! There has to be a middle ground. Or a both.

I think that the middle

I think that the middle ground exists, and it lies in attacking the systems that create sexualization of women, as opposed to attacking the women who choose to participate in those systems. Saying, "Beyonce looked amazing, and also it's too bad that our male-dominated culture requires completely unattainable standards of beauty," is NOT the same as saying, "God I wish Beyonce would put on some clothes, she looked so skanky." In my opinion, the middle ground is about uniting women to fight against the real and common enemy, as opposed to fighting each other and dividing ourselves.

Alicia Keys was the perfect example of Middle Ground

I completely agree that there has to be some middle ground in the land of feminist ideals about female empowerment. In my opinion, Alicia Keys represented exactly that last night. I think that she and Beyonce are equally beautiful, passionate vocalists and where Beyonce lacked in class last night, Alicia Keys nailed it. All I could do during the Halftime show was compare the two women and their performances and consider how classy Alicia's look was for the Star Spangled Banner in contrast to Beyonce's entertaining, yes, yet overly sexual (in my opinion) performance. I watched the show with two four year olds in the room and couldn't help but cringe as Beyonce stripped layers of clothes off and repeatedly directed our attention to her vagina (with tons of help from the camera angles.) Alicia, on the other hand, wore a classy dress, was (and is) never afraid to rock (beautifully) a stunningly short 'do and played and sang a phenomenal version of our nation's anthem. An amazing representation of what it means to be a classy, yet empowered woman in America today. Kudos to her as I hope and pray that she is what those four-year olds remember and not Beyonce.

I don't think pitting two

I don't think pitting two women--with profoundly different professional styles--against each other amounts to a middle ground. It's simply the same old patriarchal game of placing obedient, wholesome, god-fearing, decent women on a special pedestal above, well let's just say it, the handmaids of Satan.

I'm not surprised that so much of Feminism, Inc. intertwines neatly with fundamentalist Christian ideologies that represent the female body as something (intrinsicly shameful) that must be covered up least it brings out the ugly lust deep in the hearts of menfolk. After all, the ideology surrounding feminine sexual norms does date back to the earliest origins of Western Culture; within this paradigm, women can never gain full autonomy of their own bodies because male desire must supersede everything else.

Beyonce doesn't just sing (or play an instrument) like Alicia and Jennifer; she is simultaneously dancing a full on performance. If we look at every dance genre from ballet, Broadway musicals, cheerleaders, and continue onward, the women dancing do not typically wear a full dress or anything approaching being "covered." Beyonce is wearing costumes that are not only part of the stage persona she invented but also normative for the amount of dancing that she includes in most of her shows.

The question: Is there a way for any woman--inside Western Culture--to be sexy or even sexual without being portrayed as the enemy of decent women everywhere?

Saggy jeans-shaming and naïveté

Huh. I really didn't like this blog post.

Not that I care what Beyoncé wears or doesn't wear when she performs.
But "saggy denims and an ill-fitting University of Somewhere sweatshirt"? Wait, is that the alternative? Or what exactly are you trying to say with that description? I'm sensing the tiniest bit of "Just because you're a feminist doesn't mean you have to let yourself go" here. Ew.

And to say it doesn't matter that so many successful women feel the need to strip for half of the photo shoots they do seems a bit naïve to me. Of course you can dress however you want. But do ALL women want to dress like that? And if that's the case - why? Why do men get covers where they look intelligent, funny or strong and all women get is... sexy? Possibly cute or beautiful. I still think we need to ask these questions. The way you described the matter is just making it sound a lot simpler than it is. Though, the part about getting to dress however you want without being called a slut (which shouldn't even be a word anyway) really is that simple, so at least I agree with the title...

Susan Bordo

Bordo time! Her essay "Material Girl" could have been written in response to this post.

"...the content of fashion, the specific ideals that women are drawn to embody (ideals that vary historically, racially, and along class and other lines) are seen as arbitrary, without meaning; interpretation is neither required nor even appropriate.

...When we look at the pursuit of beauty as a normalizing discipline, it becomes clear that not all body transformations are the same. The general tyranny of fashion--perpetual, elusive, and instructing the female body in a pedagogy of personal inadequacy and lack--is a powerful discipline for the normalization of all women in this culture."

Which is to say: Beyonce being sexualized as a performer isn't meaningless. It happens in a context, a context which includes enormous pressure on women, from all sides, constantly, to meet a cultural standard of sex appeal.

Look at this line again: "Queen Bey wasn’t wearing saggy denims and an ill-fitting University of Somewhere sweatshirt." Why is that image so absurd? If her fashion choices are strictly voluntary, why is it ridiculous to imagine her choosing something different?

This. So much this!

"If her fashion choices are strictly voluntary, why is it ridiculous to imaginer her choosing something different?"

Exactly what I was trying to say above. If female pop stars really are as empowered as we're told they are, how come their 'choice' to empower themselves always seems to include sexualisation and skimpy clothes? We're constantly inundated with slogans like 'Rihanna's most outrageous video yet!', and what that really means is 'More samey porny stuff'. The most 'outrageous' thing a female pop star could do these days would be to wear something that didn't look like it came straight out of a strip club.

And that's not me slut-shaming - dressing like a stripper's fine, but feminism means nothing if it's the only sartorial option, which it increasingly seems to be if you want to sell records or make money. 'Choice' means nothing if your only choices are between skimpy and skimpier.

"Beyonce being sexualized as a performer isn't meaningless. It happens in a context, a context which includes enormous pressure on women, from all sides, constantly, to meet a cultural standard of sex appeal."

Couldn't agree more.

Yes.

Thanks -- I think this is the 'middle ground' that I was looking for in our discussion. Maybe it's that focusing on the person and their individual clothing choices is not the point -- but that we can't remove the socio-cultural context in which these choices are made. I think I'm surprised that the original post above at Bitch -- a feminist response to pop culture -- skimmed the surface of these larger contextual issues. I think it smacks of "I choose my choice" feminism -- as in, Beyonce chooses her choice, full stop.

We never said that

As the founder of the Facebook GROUP Binders Full of Women (not be confused with the page)
We do not slut-shame beyonce. We thinks she's pretty awesome

Hypocrisy

I'm not sure what's going on lately, but coming from a similar debate on Jezebel on the appropriateness of Beyonce's costume for the half-time show, I'm seeing more and more of these double standards that placed on women of color in the eyes of modern pop culture feminism than are on white women doing similar acts. Lady Gaga shows wears just as little clothing as Beyonce did during her performance and I have little doubt that it would be as big as a blow up about it as this is. Of course Gaga is seen as progressive since many of her outfits are the more "freakish"side of the theatrical.

Last year she presents herself in nothing but skimpy underwear all for the cause of a "body-positive" revolution, even though there's not much about her that goes against the white, thin, able-bodied beauty standard that reigns supreme. Lena Dunham presents her naked or barely clothed body almost every episode on Girls, but that's also seen as nothing but progressive (of course it is to some degree because she's often criticized for her "average" looking body). But I've seen no real criticism from feminist circles (that's I'm aware for) for the amount of sex and nudity displayed on her show.

Clutch Magazine posted an article that I wish was more highlighted that debates of Beyonce's clothing choices. Beyonce wrote a note on her tumblr addressed to Alicia Keys, Kelly Rowland, Jennifer Hudson, and Michelle Williams that said it was a "proud day for African-Americans women, and I'm inclined to agree with her.

Black women were front and center for this year's Super Bowl and all the performances were amazing (the mic issues and short time Kelly and Michelle were on stage not with-standing), and it saddens me that all that can be talked about in feminist circles is the judging of how she has chosen to present herself.

http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2013/02/why-the-superbowl-was-a-historic-...

P.S. Saying all of this is not to say that the continued objectification of women in pop culture and the music industry is something that isn't a problem, but from the controversy of Michelle Obama not remaining a lawyer after Barack Obama was elected to the earlier backlash against Beyonce's GQ cover, it seems as though more white feminists (not all feminists who are criticizing her are white btw) hold women of color to a higher standard when the concerns of woc were and are still barely addressed or acknowledged in the first place.

fair point. curious to hear more.

Thanks -- just want to say that I agree that race is very pertinent to the discussion, and has probably been glossed over by many of us in this comments thread. I think the Lena Dunham comparison is interesting. I have never seen an episode of Girls (but did watch her film 'Tiny Furniture') -- but I am curious to hear more of your thoughts. Is it not progressive that average, everyday sexuality is being portrayed on TV? Is it the same type of objectification and sexualization that we saw in the halftime show of the Superbowl, and in many Beyonce music videos? My gut tells me that it is not the same thing (and not only because of race), but I'm genuinely interested to hear other perspectives.

I have to say that reading

I have to say that reading these comments has left me with very mixed feelings. Firstly, I agree with who made the comment saying that Beyonce and Alicia Keys cannot be compared, having extremely different styles in terms of music and therefor presentation. In fact, saying that Keys was the perfect middle ground by wearing a dress disturbs me. Why should wearing a dress be the acceptable norm for any woman in society? She could have been wearing pants and that could have been equally "acceptable". But I won't go further than that.

I see that people could be upset with Beyonce's wardrobe choice, however, I feel as though the fact that women are upset about this poses just as big of a problem... Who are they to criticize what Beyonce chooses to wear. Hell, if I were her and looked like that after having a child, I would wear the same thing. One of the things that I have always admired about her as a person of public interest is that she has never conformed to what society thought her body "should" look like. She is not stick thin. She has curves. She has the confidence to feel comfortable enough to have her body the way SHE wants it. I say good for her.

Not about the clothes

I don't care what Beyonce wears, at her concerts or other places that people pay to see her do whatever it is they pay to see her do (I phrase this that way because, while I'm sure the majority pay simply to experience first hand the performance of such a prodigiously gifted artist, there are inevitably those who pay just to see her dance in the suggestive manner she does, in outfits which would be deemed bedroom or beach attire and inappropriate in general public on the majority of women). I do take issue to her clothing and style of dancing at what is supposed to be a family friendly venue, where at least some of us were actually watching for the football. I did not appreciate the pole dancing on the 2 broke girls commercial either. It's not about the clothes, dancing on a stage half naked is her buisness, do it where my young children can see you and you make it my buisness. I don't know any mom who, if she was at a local family event and someone jumped up on a table in a swimsuit and started dancing like Beyonce was at the Super Bowl wouldn't be outraged. I shouldn't have to leave with my children, or turn the channel, just because some people believe there is nothing wrong with children viewing highly sexualised performances, i can only assume Beyonce must since the incident with Janet Jackson's performance a few years back made ot perfectly clear that the super bowl was to be considered a family friendly venue. Family friendly, means children friendly, children friendly means keep it pg-13 folks. there are plenty of venues out there where sexualized performances are perfectly acceptable, this was not one of them. No shaming needed, it was just Inappropriate, Ill-advised, and unnecessary.