Super Bowl Halftime Show: sexy or sexist?

Although it beautifully displayed Latin culture, the halftime show ultimately serves to perpetuate women's role as objects in the performance industry

NFL

By Samantha Powers, McCallum High School

The 2020 Super Bowl Halftime Show featuring Jennifer Lopez and Shakira was extravagant, to say the least. Audiences were on their feet for an energetic performance by two strong, talented women that celebrated Latina culture and exhibited a medley of the performers’ greatest hits that you couldn’t help but dance to. But what stood out to me the most about this performance was the way that these women were being objectified.

It’s true that this performance wasn’t the first halftime show that exploited women’s bodies to generate viewers, and it certainly won’t be the last. Scantily-clad women performing sexual dances from a camera angle that can only be described as up-close and personal is nothing new. However, this pattern only serves to dismantle the achievements of the #MeToo era and other women’s movements.

Some might argue that this performance is a display of women reclaiming their sexuality and exhibiting power, but to that, I would urge them to look to the target audience of the Super Bowl itself. The game is a nationally televised display of oversized men inflicting violence on one another for astronomical amounts of money. To me, the realization becomes instantly clear that this program is aimed towards men hoping to gather around the TV with their buddies and a bag of chips for some quality bro-time. When given the context of the target audience for the halftime show, that up-close shot of J-Lo’s thong-clad rear end doesn’t seem so empowering.

When given the context of the target audience for the halftime show, that up-close shot of J-Lo’s thong-clad rear end doesn’t seem so empowering.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for female empowerment. While watching J-Lo exhibit insane amounts of core strength on the pole, I couldn’t help but be impressed. I also appreciated the array of culture that was demonstrated through some of Shakira’s Latin-inspired choreography, and I was dumbfounded by her effortless belly-dancing abilities. And of course, I was awed at the physical shape the 43- and 50-year-old performers were in. This 15-minute long performance was certainly impressive.

However, the nationally televised Super Bowl Halftime Show is not the place or the time for this particular performance. I had to sit through it with my horrified mother on my left, mumbling under her breath about J-Lo’s bodysuit, and my embarrassed father on my right, looking anywhere but at the TV. It was, simply put, an uncomfortable experience.

For some families watching at home, it was even worse. A video has gone viral of a young toddler watching Shakira’s halftime performance with his jaw dropped and his eyes wide. Many parents of young children have taken to social media to express their disapproval of this performance being marketed as a family show. After all, gathering around the TV with your family to watch a game of football is supposed to be a wholesome experience, right? Not this time. This halftime show had many parents sharing alarmed gazes above their children’s heads as the female performers on the TV steadily lost more clothes throughout the show.

The way that J-Lo and Shakira were portrayed in the halftime show illuminates a sad truth: women are constantly pressured to exploit their bodies and their sexuality in the performance industry. You didn’t see featured male rappers J-Balvin and Bad Bunny baring all for the audience. In fact, their attire was so bulky, it was impossible to know what their bodies might have looked like under those layers of fabric. In contrast, J-Lo and Shakira’s skimpy costumes left no mysteries behind.

It saddens me that these strong, beautiful, and talented women might feel any pressure to exploit their bodies to boost their performance when male performers simply don’t feel the same pressure. I am reminded of the infamous 2004 Halftime Show featuring Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. Jackson paraded around in tight black leather while Timberlake stalked behind her in a tan-colored outfit that resembled a parachute. That performance ended with a horrifying violation of Jackson’s privacy and dignity, but who’s to say it won’t happen again? If women keep being portrayed by the media as sexual objects, who knows what might happen next?

Although it had its merits, the Halftime Show earlier this month ultimately serves as a reminder that women are exploited all the time in an industry that caters to the male gaze. It may not be directly clear at first, but it is evident that the way women were portrayed in this performance reflects a larger theme in the entertainment industry. There is ample institutionalized pressure for women to exploit their bodies in order to boost their value as performers.

The performance, which may have had intentions of empowering women, actually has the opposite effect. It further cements women’s place in the entertainment industry as sexual objects, and it works backward in an era of progress for women.

This story was originally published on The Shield Online on February 14, 2020.