Everyone loves Beyonce. I mean, there’s a reason that one-third of all Americans tuned in to watch her perform last Sunday. Time Magazine also happened to notice Beyonce’s cultural power: she was more important than the Superbowl on twitter.
Look at her, you can understand why:
I was sitting in a very small room filled with 30 people (can you feel my introverted angst?) when the football players finally sat down and let Queen B take the stage. Every woman in that very tiny room hushed the room and all eyes were glued to the screen.
I thought it was marvelous. She is the diva–and I mean that in the best possible sense–of our generation.
But a question has arisen from that performance: where is that oh-so-indistinct indistinct line between sexy and crude?
Every person sees the line differently. Some–myself included–had a gut reaction akin to: “Heck, yes, an empowered, talented, beautiful, and admirable woman doing her thing.” On the other hand some, like Katherine Jean Lopez, whom I also admire greatly, responded “Why can’t we have a national entertainment moment that does not include a mother gyrating in a black teddy?”
The next day, I watched Facebook and the twitter-verse explode with reactions. Some of them, like the following, attacked her with blatant sexism:
This “slut-shaming”–attempting to shame Beyonce and her fans by telling them that she is unattractive–is the opposite of dialogue or logic. Stupidity shouldn’t be given a voice.
However, others began to respectfully question whether Beyonce had pushed the envelope too far for decent christian men and women. As Elizabeth Duffy over at Patheos wrote: “Performing a strip-tease for an international audience that includes millions of people is not wrong because the gal doing it might be deemed “unattractive,” but because it violates a host of other virtues.”
So, we encounter the heart of the issue: was Beyonce’s performance too sexual? Ashley McGuire and Emily Esfahani Smith over at Accultured.com both wrote excellent pieces answering the charge.
Ashley pointed to Beyonce’s positive cultural influence. Beyonce is a feminist in some of the best senses: she is pro-family, pro-child, and pro-woman. She married the man she loved (she may have even saved herself for him). They had their first child–the adorable Blue Ivy–afterwards. In addition to anthems like Independent Women, Beyonce is dedicated to providing young girls examples of strong women. Just look at her Superbowl support cast: an entirely female cast.
First Ashley and then Emily tackled the sticky issue of Beyonce’s sex appeal. Yes, Beyonce is considered one of the most beautiful women in the world. She has thighs, breasts, and a butt. And she uses them all at various points. Beyond the skin that Beyonce might show, she is a powerful–and sexual–dancer. As her foot stomped the stage, she didn’t shy away from a few hip thrusts. Ashley pointed out that Beyonce 1) is a dancer and 2) displayed limited skin: her thighs instead of her breasts.
So, yes, she was sexy. Emily’s piece answered the comments that posed the contrast between Beyonce’s positive cultural influence and her sexiness. Is it possible to be sexy and traditional?
Firstly, it is important to understand that women are sexy. We are. It’s how we were made. And art–whether it be painted, sculpted, or danced–generally includes that aspect of femininity. There is a reason that Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is both sexual and one of the world’s most celebrated pieces of art:
However, Emily brought up the distinction between sexy and trashy. For instance, there is a difference between the low-cut shirt and the low-back dress. Also, it is not the sole responsibility of women to save men from lust–the reasoning behind the Islamic burqa.
The question then is, where is the line? The extremes are easy to see: Islamic burqa vs. Hugh Hefner’s playboy bunny. One considers women’s natural–beautiful–form to be sinful and places the burden of respect for that form entirely on the woman. The other extreme doesn’t even acknowledge the sin of lust. It turns the beautiful form into an object. As JP II said:
“The problem with pornography isn’t that it shows too much, it’s that it shows too little.”
But what about in-between? Is Beyonce okay, but Victoria’s Secret show not? Must Beyonce wear pants–or a skirt past her knees–to be decent? What then should ballet dancers wear to divert the male eye? Where does the line between art and pornographic imagery diverge? Should we place the burden of chastity wholly on men while women strut the streets in whatever they please?
There isn’t a metric to answer this question. There aren’t a number of inches a tutu must extend or fine distinctions between the provocations of a hip thrust and the sensual salsa. I would answer a few questions that should be answered:
1) Intent: was Beyonce’s intent to reduce the world to lust? Na, I think she was portraying power. Feminine power to be sure, but power nonetheless.
2) Reaction: Despite intent, would men react to the display as temptation? After every confession, we Catholics renounce our sins and in that prayer, promise “to avoid the near occasion of sin.” Many of the men I know try hard to avoid temptation. Do Beyonce-like shows encourage or detour that struggle?
As much I want to leap to my favorite Diva’s defense, I realize that I can’t answers these questions perfectly, either for Beyonce or her audience. At the end of the day, no one’s perfect. Maybe we should admire what’s awesome–this song–and not be afraid to say, “maybe a touch too far.”