Empowerment or Objectification?

“They told her she had to text a naked picture of herself to a boy if she wanted to stay in the ‘cool’ friend group.” This is what the mother of a 13-year-old girl told me last weekend during her daughter’s Confirmation retreat. When her daughter refused to send the nude, she was kicked out of the group and has been struggling with bullying and depression ever since.

Whether they are liberal or conservative, Christian or Jewish, Republican or Democrat, white, Latino, black, or any other race or creed, most logical adults agree that 8th graders should not be sending naked pictures of themselves to anyone. The psychological and sociological ramifications of sexting (both for people who participate and those who are ridiculed for not participating) are devastating.

Why, then, do we glorify pole dancing and normalize crotch grabbing during a Superbowl halftime show? Why did we applaud Beyoncé’s scantily-clad performance a few years ago or Miley’s twerking VMA performance a few years before that?

What message does this send our girls? A preteen girl watching that show would internalize a few messages loud and clear: That her value comes from her body. That empowerment comes from how shockingly she can show off that body. That men can wear sweatpants and hoodies and be famous, but women must bejewel their vaginas.

It’s no wonder young girls feel compelled to text suggestive photos. Pop culture has become increasingly vulgar in an attempt to shock a society that is already saturated with pornography. I guess if you have a stadium filled with men who view pornography on a regular basis, you figure scantily clad cheerleaders and gyrating pop stars are the very least you can do to get their attention. Then what do our girls feel compelled to do? Take off their clothes in order to be seen.

On every Confirmation retreat, my husband and I give a chastity talk. We speak to the young people gathered about the dignity of their bodies, the sacredness of the sexual act, and true beauty communicated through modesty. I speak to the young ladies particularly about desiring to be found beautiful for who we are and not just for how our body parts come together.

Thanks, Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, for completely undermining that message. Both women are beautiful and physically strong. Both women are good singers and phenomenal dancers. They had an opportunity to communicate to every viewer that a woman is more than just a collection of body parts by putting on a show which highlighted their talent. Instead, they allowed the cameras to zoom in on their nether regions, their hands to appear tied up in ropes while gesticulating (this brought to my mind all of the victims of human trafficking for whom bondage is a devastating reality,) and their bodies to be groped by fellow dancers and the crowd. Their bodies were on display, not their talent.

Before you write me off as an old-fashioned prude, let me just say that I love being found sexy by my husband. I think (and marriage counselors would back me up) that marriages thrive on a passionate sex life. I think that parents should have open communication about sexuality with their children. But notice how this differs from culture’s perspective. Parents should educate their kids about sex, not pop culture and certainly not a pubescent peer. My husband should find me sexy, not 102 million viewers.

I’ve heard people say that the halftime show was simply a display of cultural pride. Traditional Latin music is energetic and fun. The art of dancing and in this case Latin dancing is beautiful and impressive to watch. However, is laying on the ground humping the air beautiful? Is grabbing your crotch and pole dancing cultural? Can’t you argue that these motions are meant to mimic the sexual act in a vulgar way? The virtue of chastity knows no cultural boundaries. Chastity isn’t for one race only, it’s a universal truth that could lead to universal respect. No matter what a woman’s ethnicity, her body is a temple.

The 2020 halftime show and any performance like it, bring to my mind this quote by Archbishop Fulton Sheen,

“When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”

Noble character and devotion to goodness. This is how women can change the world. This is how women raise the bar for culture. Unfortunately, this isn’t what we see from center stage.

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