Objects Don’t Have Sex

by Sarah Over The Moon

I didn’t watch the Superbowl, this year (or…any year) but conversations about Beyoncé’s halftime show caught my eye. On one hand, many felt that Beyoncé’s display of all-women power and sexuality was inspiring and empowering. David Henson even went so far as to call it prophetic (and I agree):

It was a dance of defiance.

For 14 minutes, women were owned by no one. Instead, for those few prophetic and powerful minutes, Beyoncé and the women onstage with her owned the night.

Last night, men, misogyny, objectification, or sexism didn’t win, even though they got most of the airtime.

Rather, last night, thanks to Beyoncé, women owned Super Bowl XLVII.

Others brought up valid criticisms, saying that they did not feel empowered by the performance and questioning what displays of power are allowed in the Super Bowl. Could a woman artist get on stage and display a less overtly sexual type of power? Probably not, and I think we do need to talk about other ways that power can be expressed.

What I can’t stand, however, are people who call themselves feminists or progressives who spent the next day shaming Beyoncé, and I saw plenty of that as I watched the Twitter response pouring in. Many said that Beyoncé objectified herself because of the way she was dressed and the way she danced.

Though I think we need to have a conversation about how few images of women are presented in the music industry, right now, I just want to talk to those progressives.

Women have bodies.

No, women (like men) are bodies.

These bodies were not made for men to conquer, steal, and objectify but for women to be.

Many, if not most women have sex from time to time using our bodies. Often we are sexual with our bodies or we use our bodies to be sexy.

This does not make us objects. Objects don’t have sex.

Men are often seen as more human, as REAL men when they are sexual, while women are accused of objectifying themselves.

But I repeat: Objects don’t have sex.

Objectification does not happen when a woman like Beyoncé decides to use her sexuality to be powerful. Objectification happens when Audi commercials show a teenaged boy kissing a teenaged girl without her permission and displaying that as bravery. Objectification happens when men doing something sexual to a woman is put on the same level as a man driving an awesome car–when women are seen as nothing more than a product to be owned as a mark of manhood (note: women often objectify men and same-sex couples objectify one another. I’m speaking about the context of the Super Bowl and patriarchy, though often the situation is more complicated).

Objectification is something one person does to another person.

Objectification is treating someone as less than human, as if their body is nothing more than a thing to be claimed or conquered or bought.

Beyoncé went on stage last night and showed the world what a talented and powerful woman she was. She sang lyrics about independence and men not being ready or able to handle her body.

Did some men ignore her songs about women’s power and independence and choose to see Beyoncé as yet another object that they could conquer in their fantasies? Undoubtedly.

But I fail to see how this was Beyoncé’s fault.

She shouldn’t have been dressed like a Victoria’s Secret model.”

Her dance moves were too sexual and just made men fantasize about her.”

Feminists and progressives, do you not realize how you sound?

I’ll tell you how you sound by quoting a conservative Christian dating book that I am reading for my research project on rape and Christianity:

“If you dress like a piece of meat, you’re going to get thrown on the barbeque.”

You sound like conservative Christian dating books promoting modesty culture and enabling rape culture.

You sound like the same culture that is telling women that dressing immodestly is like waving money around asking for people to steal it. You sound like the authors who tell teenage girls that they lose their value and dignity when they have premarital sex.

I’m done with this idea that every time a woman presents her body to the world, men get to assume “that was for us.” And you’re naive or willfully ignorant if you’re going to try to claim that objectification would not have happened had Beyoncé been more “covered up.” You’re wrong if you think a different outfit would have made a difference in carrying Beyoncé’s message.

The truth there’s nothing a woman can wear under patriarchy that will prevent patriarchal men from trying to control their bodies.

Muslim women are accused of submitting to patriarchy for covering their bodies. Beyoncé is accused of submitting to patriarchy for showing hers. Even as she’s literally singing lyrics about how men wouldn’t even be able to handle her body, men think they can claim it as an object for themselves. To say that her performance is what caused men’s objectification of her is the same talk as modesty culture which says that women must dress a certain way to keep their brothers from stumbling.

Having sex is not what objectifies women. Dressing in a “sexy” way is not what objectifies women. Women are allowed to have sex and perform sexually and be sexual and be sexy. That’s not objectifying. Again, objects don’t have sex.

Comments open below

Sarah Over The Moon blogs at Sarahoverthemoon.com

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

 

About Suzanne Calulu
  • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

    http://youtu.be/lTaXtWWR16A

    Madonna doing “Vogue” at the 1990 MTV awards dressed in full-out 18th century French fashion. Is she less of a supposed sex object all of a sudden for being more covered up?

  • http://www.wideopenground.com Lana

    This was a stinkin good article!!!

  • http://pasttensepresentprogressive.blogspot.com Latebloomer

    EXACTLY!!!! Thank you for expressing this so clearly!

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Honestly, I’m fed up with both sides of this debate. I don’t like the slut-shaming of Beyonce either and I hate the assumption that, if a woman is conventionally beautiful or sexy, she must also be shallow and lacking in any substance or talent. (Though, seriously, Beyonce doesn’t have all that much substance and she’s not that fantastic a singer. She can do one thing with her voice and that’s belt. Yep, I said it.) But responding to these attacks by talking about Beyonce like she’s some kind of feminist goddess who was owning her sexuality? I don’t see it.

    I saw nothing of Beyonce’s sexuality on that stage, nor have I ever in her performances. There’s a difference between sexuality and sexual appeal. Sexuality is about what you want, what you desire. There have been plenty of female performers that I admire (some that I idolize) who actually communicate a genuinely sexual–as opposed to just sexualIZED–persona to their audiences, some of them while fully clothed (Bonnie Raitt singing authentically about what she wants out of men, sex and relationships, while making her guitar and her voice sound like pure sex, Missy Elliot singing lyrics they had to censor on MTV–as a plus-size woman, no less, Patti Smith performing “Because the Night”, Tori Amos humping her piano bunch while playing, Sippie Wallace and her “bedroom blues” album) and some of them, well, not (everything Salt n Pepa ever did in the 80s and 90s–love that too). I don’t get that from Beyonce. What I get is another iteration of stereotypical heterosexual male fantasy. Where is Beyonce in there? What does she want? Oh yeah, shiny rings–”if you like it then you should have put a ring on it,” gosh what a feminist sentiment!

    I freaking love it when women are unapologetically sexual as musicans and entertainers. And I love it when they use sexuality in interesting, norm-challenging ways (Annie Lennox, the examples keep coming). But the fact that Beyonce has come to be viewed by many as some kind of icon of female sexual liberation, to me, just shows how impoverished are popular music culture really is, and how starved our popular culture is in general for women who are actually interesting and challenging and, yes, openly and unapologetically sexual.

    Beyonce’s performances tell me plenty about why she’s such a sex symbol and nothing about who she actually is as a sexual being. When I watch her, I don’t feel empowered, I feel bored.

  • ABF

    I love what you said, Petticoat Philosopher. My response to the article: first off, of course objects have sex. That’s the whole point of being a sex object… those who view you that way see you as exclusively there to meet their sexual needs, not as a person in your own right. The sex object’s sexual perceived sexual availability is part of the fantasy. A woman who enjoys her sexuality with her husband, say, and isn’t interested in you, is less appealing as a sex object. Hence why actresses in the olden days used to hide their marriages so as not to damage their careers (i.e., make them seem less available to other men).

    I love this blog normally, and I understand where you are coming from in this argument, the experiences you are bringing to it… women oppressed by a purity culture under patriarchy. But what I don’t think you understand is that gratuitous sexualization of women is the flip side of the same coin: it’s still oppression, and it’s still women being there to serve men. The classic virgin/whore dichotomy that women are often straitjacketed into.

    I’m going to coin a new phrase here and say that I’m tired of being “prude-shamed” f0r objecting to her performance. In the non-Christian-fundamentalist world, this happens all too often: a woman who objects to insults of women or crude, sexist comments, for example, is derided as “no fun” or a “prude” (see, the virgin/whore thing again. If you’re not down with men getting what they want, you’re a prudish virgin). Your article, as well as several others I’ve read seems to have this message: if a woman (and on some blogs, especially a black woman) dresses in an overtly sexualized manner and you find it offensive, you are a traitor to feminism. Because, I guess, feminism means you can never criticize the way another woman conducts herself? And you can’t even criticize when you feel she is setting women back as a whole? If that’s what people are calling feminism these days, then I don’t know that I want to be called a feminist.

    Sadly, I think the core issue for why her outfit and performance ratcheted up the sex more than other performances she’s done is that she recently had a baby. Recall what I said about actresses in olden days hiding their marriages. In our society, which views women as worthwhile only as sex objects, women who have children have made themselves moms, a uniquely desexed role. Many women bend over backwards after having a baby to prove that they are still sexy, still hip, and the pressure is even greater in show business. Beyonce doesn’t want her male fans to lose interest because they think of her as a mom and not a sexually available object. So, like formerly goody-goody teen stars to try to be shockingly sexual once they turn 18 in order to be “taken seriously as adults”, she ratchets up the shock, the sexuality, the skimpiness of the clothes.

    Instead of applauding her for showing that “she’s still got it,” what we should be doing is protesting the objectification of women in general. That applies to whether the women are told they have to be sex objects or told they have to be pure and virginal.

    • Persephone

      It seems that you’re applying your perceptions to Beyoncé, just as everyone else is.

      I didn’t watch the Super Bowl, never have, although I love to watch the commercials (I actually used to record the Super Bowl then fast forward TO the commercials; I’m so glad they’re posted on the internet), so I can’t speak directly to what she did, but it sounds like she got up on stage and said that her sexuality was her own, and she could use it as part of her power. What is wrong with that?

      Frankly, you are prude-shaming, and that is even more insidious and undermining than slut-shaming. Here, woman, fit into this box in your behavior and dress or I can’t support you as another woman or as another human with rights and liberties to control their body.

      I’m a second wave feminist, so I don’t buy into the whole “as long as a woman chooses to do it we must support her as a fellow sister” (see, e.g., Michelle Bachmann, Nancy Pearl, etc.), but I do not have the right to judge another woman who decides to use her sexuality as she chooses.

      • ABF

        WOW, that takes balls to accuse someone of something when it’s a **term that they themselves coined.** Since I coined it, let me explain what “prude-shaming” is: prude shaming is when you shame someone for objecting to something that is gratuitously sexy or sexist or whatever. What you are *actually* accusing me of doing is actually “slut-shaming,” and I heartily disagree with that verdict.

        If you didn’t see the performance, and you are making your comments that she “got up on stage and said that her sexuality was her own,” then you are relying second-hand on someone else’s perceptions, which is far worse than your claim that I am projecting my own perceptions on her. So, really.

        I’m also guessing that your comment that you don’t judge another woman who decides to use her sexuality the way she choose (and how do we know she’s “choosing” it and the choice isn’t being forced upon her, even subconsciously, by societal expectations? We don’t) isn’t very accurate. I’m guessing you’re not OK with strippers, prostitutes, or those women who participate in demeaning commercials. Those things are all ways men use women’s sexuality as toys, even if the women participating are doing so “voluntarily.” If you can’t see that, then I have a great deal of worry about “second wave feminists.”

        • Persephone

          You seem to be engaging in both types of shaming. I decided to watch the half-time show just to see. What I saw was not some great feminist show, but I did see a powerful woman who seems to be very comfortable with herself and her sexuality. Performers who only sing, male or female, don’t just stand there and sing. They make a show out of it. Why does Beyoncé perform like that? I don’t know. There’s no apparent background of abuse. She doesn’t strip off her top or fake sex or masturbation. She sings. She dances. And she has apparently taken control of her career and chooses what she does. Maybe she enjoys it. If I looked like that, I’d shake it too. And nothing she did was overtly sexual.

          You can’t lump all sex workers into one group. Do you equate burlesque with stripping? Do you equate stripping with prostitution? It’s extremely unfortunate that many women become sex workers because of abuse they have suffered or because they are trapped by circumstance. But there are many women who like the work, or they don’t mind the work, and are happy with the perks of it. If a woman chooses this type of work, that’s her business. If there is illegal behavior or treatment that is pushing her into this work, then that needs to be addressed.

          I believe that prostitution should be legalized. I lived in Nevada in a county with legalized brothels for several years. The houses run by women, as opposed to those run by men, are usually better in their treatment of the employees. The women are in a house. They are paid a percentage of their sales. They receive regular medical testing. They use condoms.

          There’s a peep show in San Francisco that is unionized.

          The most important thing in all of this is that women have the right to make their own choices. They need to have the power to make their own choices.

        • Petticoat Philosopher

          Well, I want to make clear that my issue with Beyonce is not that her performances are “gratuitously sexy.” I named plenty of examples in my own post of female performers who have very sexual personas that are very much about them owning and flaunting their sexuality. My issue is that I don’t see how any of the sexuality that Beyonce’s performances are always overflowing with is actually her own. Again, it just seems like stereotypical hetero male sexual fantasy that she embodies. Compare Beyonce’s hackneyed, impersonal display of her undeniable hotness (it did get her a career, after all) to Aretha crooning “A woman’s only human/this you should understand/she’s not just a play thing, she’s flesh and blood just like a man/If you wanna do-right, all days woman/You gotta be a do-right all night man.” Here is a woman doing what it’s still taboo for women to do: proclaming herself unapologetically to be a sexual being with sexual needs of her own that she wants satisfied, instead of just existing to satisfy the sexual desires of a man. THAT is a woman owning her sexuality. When I see Beyonce, I just see her making herself into the “play thing” that Aretha was talking about. And, well, that’s one very good way to sell records, so no surprise. And Beyonce can sell records however she wants but that doesn’t mean I need to call her a feminist for it.

          I should say, though, I that I I’m not particularly scandalized by Beyonce’s half-time show and I’m as bewildered by the people that are as I am by the ones that are hailing it as some kind of strike against patriarchy. Do these people live under rocks? I was born in the 80s. Scantily clad hot chicks have been shaking it in my face on the TV pretty much all my life; I barely even notice it anymore. Beyonce’s latest Male Gaze Theater is nothing new and I’m confused by all the people who are acting like it is, whether they’re expressing support or criticism. My problem with all this isn’t so much what she did, but the fact that people are acting like she’s some kind of feminist hero for doing it.

          Also, for the record, I DON’T have a problem, at least theoretically, with women who are strippers, prostitutes or any other kind of sex worker, as long as that choice is freely made and the conditions under which she works are safe and ethical. (I said “theoretically” because I know this is very frequently not the reality for sex workers as things actually are today.) Like I said, if a woman wants to earn a living catering to male sexual fantasy, fine, she can do what she wants. But let’s call that what it is: a job.Not a battle cry of female sexual liberation.

  • Merbie

    Are we judging here whether Beyonce meant to be sexually appealing or meant to show her sexuality? Because if we are, I don’t think we should be. I don’t think we can know what her intentions were, and just because she expresses herself in a way that meshes or doesn’t mesh with my idea of how a woman should express herself, doesn’t mean that my perception was the point she meant to make. Different people with different experiences will perceive the same situation in different ways–sometimes in opposing ways (as shown in the OP vs. some comments). We can say what her performance communicated to us and whether it was helpful to us or not in whatever our journey may be, but how can we judge her intentions?

    The OP and all the comments have good points that are challenging to me in different ways. Thank you.

  • Persephone

    And I was so angry about that Audi commercial, too. That was assault and battery, folks, and could be considered sexual assault in some jurisdictions. And if that had actually happened in real life you can bet that prom queen would have gone ballistic.

  • Persephone

    This is getting to me to some extent because I used to belly dance. You mention that to people and some people are interested and think it’s cool. Others, both men and women, give you looks that are either horrified or leering.

    I loved it. I felt beautiful. I enjoyed it. I had studied ballet and tap dance, but I never felt the joy with them that I felt belly dancing.

  • LG61820

    Here’s the thing about Beyonce that I ponder: She’s successful, wealthy, famous, considered beautiful by many, many people – yet she has a nose job.?.?. I find that sad and wonder just what it takes to make a woman happy with her appearance?

    I don’t find her particularly sexy, just as I don’t find Madonna particularly sexy-even when she acts in an overtly sexual way. It all just seems so calculated. I didn’t watch the half-time show, but I’m pretty sure she delivered what her audience expected. LG

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      It IS calculated. At this level of the industry, an entire team of people go into creating the phenomenon we know as “Beyonce,” and the faux-feminist girl-power stuff is as much a part of the marketing of her as the costumes and the dances. So is the nose-job. And the pretty obvious boob job. (Back in the day, when I was listening to Destiny’s Child, she was MUCH less busty and more pear-shaped–and just as gorgeous.) I very highly doubt she arrived at these decisions herself–they might not even have been her idea. They’s about pleasing herself the least. Mostly they’re about pleasing fans. That’s her job. Women like her make a living looking perfect for other people’s eyes, especially men’s eyes. (And women often appraise other women with the male gaze–it’s everywhere and insidious.) I don’t even blame or judge them for getting plastic surgery to meet those demands. We can’t have such impossible expectations from our pop stars and other female celebrities and act surprised when they avail themselves of all possible methods to maintain the standard to which they are held.

      But once again, none of this is about empowerment or female sexuality or feminism. My criticisms of Beyonce have much less to do with Beyonce the woman, and more to do with Beyonce(TM) the product–and the system that makes her into a product. The problem here is with the industry, not with the individual women who get picked to fill the narrowly defined roles that the industry allows and promotes for women.

  • Six

    I wasn’t going to watch the halftime show, but since I’m about to comment, I guess I need to. You’ll have to pardon me for going off on a bit of a tangent.

    I come from an American subculture that has really begun to engage in an ongoing debate about women and our place in the subculture and how we are portrayed in and by the subculture. I’m talking about the subculture that loves science fiction, plays video games, reads comic books, and obsesses about the minutiae of just about everything we love. In a word, geeks.

    In my thinking, I immediately tied the debate over Beyonce’s outfit and Super Bowl performance with the debate over female superhero characters in comic books (I kind of hate the term “female superheros” which makes it sound as if “male” were the default). Generally, women in mainstream superhero comic books are portrayed in very sexualized and unrealistic ways, either with their outfits or the way the artist poses them, usually both. In a visual grouping of superhero characters, the men will be fully (and practically) dressed and the women will be wearing what amounts to lingerie. They are not there as strong women characters to be empowering for girls and women; they are there to be sexy eye candy for men. And a lot of women and girls who read comic books are increasingly unhappy about this.

    While watching the show, Beyonce’s outfit and posturing reminded me exactly of what many of us in the geek community are complaining about in comic books and movie portrayals. Beyonce’s outfit starts out as being kind of strong and sexy, because it’s less lingerie-like, and more Xena warrior princess. And then she starts stripping. She stops after taking off one layer but her outfit becomes definitely more sexualized. Writhing on the floor? Definitely not empowering. How on earth is that powerful?

    I think the problem with equating a display of sexuality to a display of power is that sexuality and power really don’t have much to do with each other unless they are being abused. Some moments in Beyonce’s performance made it seem like she was trying too hard to be overtly sexual. Is this the only way a woman can entertain the nation? By making an enormous display of her sexuality? Isn’t Beyonce’s tremendous talent and athleticism alone enough to display her personal power? The fact that she chose to dance in what amounts to lingerie seems to enhance the idea that the Super Bowl is primarily for men – like comic books. Unless we’re playing the role of eye candy, women are peripheral.

    I pretty much agree with Petticoat Philosopher and ABF. Think about this: because of the way Beyonce dressed, instead of people talking about her amazing performance, her talent as an entertainer, and the arc of her career, we’re talking about her display of sexuality and her clothing. Does that ever happen with male performers? Do they ever present themselves in such an overtly sexual way? No, and I don’t really think they feel the need to.

    I don’t think Beyonce’s presentation conveyed women’s power and independence. I think it conveyed sexuality. And I hate the idea that the only way a woman can perform on the same level as a man when it comes to entertainment is to employ her sexuality.

    I hope you’ll read this. It’s a young girl’s reaction to an “update” that her favorite comic book character received:
    http://io9.com/5844355/a-7+year+old-girl-responds-to-dc-comics-sexed+up-reboot-of-starfire

    And another good article about the issue of the portrayal of women in comic books, which I think is entirely relevant to the discussion of Beyonce and the Super Bowl:
    http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2012/02/21/she-has-no-head-no-its-not-equal/

    • http:///krwordgazer.blogspot.com Kristen Rosser

      Yes, that’s what troubled me. In a venue like the Super Bowl, where everything is for men’s entertainment and women are portrayed as a commodity, it’s unfortunate that Beyonce’s performance appeared to support, not challenge, that paradigm.

  • Ellen

    Amazing performance? Talent as a performer? Athleticism? Sexuality? I watched the half-time show with some professional musicians, and aside from the guy who used to play with Santana, who thought the production was fantastic (I don’t know, the power went out shortly thereafter), we were all thinking (and saying)–um, Tina Turner can do this a lot better. Of course, I’m 62 now, but she’s still my role model for physical fitness, and general sexiness, and she’s a drop dead great singer, which Beyonce does not seem to be. All show and no substance. In 40 years do you think people will be saying the same things about her they say about Tina now? Or in 30 years, said about her when I last saw her in 2001?

    • Six

      In other words, “get off my lawn, you punk kids.”

      Yes, Tina Turner is a tremendously talented woman and a class act to boot, *and* she was sexy while keeping that sense of class as well. But each generation gets to appreciate their own performers. Refusing to acknowledge talent and achievement because you don’t like the package, or the style (or the youth), when those are a product of the performer’s generation, smacks of sour grapes. But then, that’s nothing that baby boomers haven’t been doing their best to dish out to Gen X and the Millennials ever since we started coming of age.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        I’m a Millenial and I will fully endorse that Tina Turner is 10 times the singer and performer that Beyonce is and, imo, also portrayed a much more authentic sexuality that seemed actually hers instead of just a reflection of dude fantasies. (What’s Love Got To Do With It…hoooooot). It works both ways. Just because Beyonce is a performer of my generation doesn’t mean I have to appreciate her and I don’t see much to appreciate. She’s just not that talented.

        But there are plenty of other performers (artists, even!) of the Millenial and X Generations that reveal Beyonce’s mediocrity for what it is, although you generally have to leave the world of top-40 radio to find them. Not always though–Mariah Carey had more singing talent than Beyonce in her little finger. Hell, Kelly Rowland, Beyonce’s bandmate in Destiny’s Child (which I listened to back in middle school) always seemed the far superior singer to me. She never had a chance at Beyonce’s career of course, because she doesn’t have Beyonce’s body. Just talent and we know how much THAT counts for when it comes to women in the pop music industry.

        Honestly, I think people act like Beyonce is so much more talented than she actually is, just because she can sing AT ALL. That’s how far we’ve fallen in our standards for music…


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