Guest Post by ObstacleChick
In the United States, Super Bowl Sunday is a big deal. People who rarely watch American football during the regular season will gather together to watch the Super Bowl Championship game. Companies pay millions of dollars to buy advertisement time during the broadcast, and many of the ads are quite clever, funny, or touching. The halftime show typically features A-list performers with advanced choreography, lighting, and showmanship.
This year, the performers were Latina entertainers Jennifer Lopez and Shakira. Both are women over 40 who are superstars in their respective genres. In addition to her career as a singer-dancer-entertainer, J. Lo is also an actress and a judge on the show “World of Dance”. Shakira is known for her dual Lebanese and Colombian heritage, incorporating belly dancing into her performances, and she was a voice character in the animated movie “Zootopia”. Both performers have won multiple awards during their careers.
It did not take long for the Evangelical Christian world to lose their minds over the halftime show. J. Lo and Shakira, along with their backup dancers, put on a dance-heavy performance in which many appeared to be scantily clad, though in photos it’s obvious that J. Lo’s base layer was a long flesh-colored bodysuit, and Shakira’s costumes were no more scanty than the outfits of the cheerleaders on the field. However, Evangelical Christian sensibilities were ruffled by the fact that these two women, both over the age of 40, were dancing and wearing costumes that showed some of their skin or what appeared to be skin.
Common in Evangelical Christianity is the concept of purity culture. Purity culture revolves around the way that Evangelical Christians believe their deity designed men and women. They teach that men were designed to be predatory, dominant, aggressive, and aroused by visual stimuli. Women, conversely, are designed to be passive, nurturing, submissive, and aroused by tactile stimuli, and are therefore the designated gatekeepers of all sexual activity. The belief is that if a man sees something that arouses him, he will be unable to control his urge to dominate and possess what he sees. As women supposedly are not aroused until they are touched, they have the ability to thwart sexual activity by not drawing attention to themselves and by saying no. The idea is that if a woman draws attention to herself by wearing clothing that shows her physique, by any motions that draw attention to her physique (such as dancing or swaying of her hips), even by making direct eye contact with a male or “flirting,” that means she is signaling that she welcomes sexual activity. She is therefore at least partially culpable in any sexual activity. In Evangelical Christian purity culture, I learned that it was important to be as silent and as invisible as possible in order to prevent sexual advances from men.
When J. Lo and Shakira sang and danced on stage, purity culture adherents viewed their activity as openly welcoming sexual activity. The performers were tempting upstanding Christian men and boys to desire sexual activity with them. Additionally, J. Lo and Shakira were demonstrating to girls and women how to draw the attention of men. The performers repudiated purity culture’s directive to be as silent and as invisible as possible. These two mature, successful, talented performers dominated the stage and made their voices heard. (I won’t even address the references they made to children singing in cages, the nods to Shakira’s Middle Eastern heritage, J. Lo’s use of the Puerto Rican and US flags or her daughter’s singing of “Born in the USA”, but those were all important elements in the show as well.)
I grew up in the 1980s with purity culture, but fortunately I was too old for the more slickly marketed purity culture that exploded during the 1990s and 2000s. It affected me as well to the point that I hated and was ashamed of my body and wore oversized clothing for several years. In the Fundamentalist Christian school I attended, we had a strict dress code that included rules about skirt length, sleeve length, and cleavage-covering. Prior to our senior trip, girls had to model their swimsuits in front of three female faculty members for approval. The message was that we were to be “feminine” but also well-covered so as not to draw too much attention from our male classmates and teachers. My mom did not know the extent of purity culture that I was taught at church and school, and she did not understand the source of my body hatred. When I was in my early 20s, my mom bought me a two-piece bathing suit and a suede miniskirt and told me that I should wear these types of clothes while I still “could” before the inevitable obesity that plagues females in our family set in. Eventually, I became accustomed to wearing age-appropriate and body-appropriate clothing, but the body image issues have never completely gone away.
I no longer see my body as a temptation to men, something to be covered and hidden. Life experiences taught me that people are responsible for their own actions, and I am not responsible for someone violating my consent. As I have grown older, I am a lot more vocal about what I will and will not tolerate from other people. As someone who has become an athlete later in life, I have learned a lot about what my body can and cannot do and about the signals it gives me when it is hungry, tired, or in need of care. I can still find plenty of things “wrong” with how my body looks, but I will no longer cover up just because of someone else’s rules about “modesty,” nor will I cover up because of my own insecurities, which are probably mostly in my head anyway. I wish I had known at age 18 what I now know at age 50, but I believe I have been successful in passing along to my own daughter that she should use her voice, own her space, and demand that others respect consent.
I will no longer be as silent and as invisible as possible in order to ward off actions that are the responsibility of someone else. Purity culture and all it entails can go to hell.