Dear parents everywhere, I saw Janet Jackson’s breast and turned out just fine.
Lewd. Crude. Disgusting. Nasty. Vulgar. Crossed the line. Glorified pornography. Crass. Inappropriate. Gross. Sickening.
These are just some of the comments fired across the internet following Shakira and Jennifer Lopez’s performances during Super Bowl LIV’s halftime. What many, like British journalist Piers Morgan, saw as a “semi-naked, pole-writhing, crotch-grabbing halftime show,” I saw as an energized demonstration of female empowerment, Latina culture and athleticism by two of the most successful entertainers of all time.
So, why the disconnect?
After last year’s halftime performance by Maroon 5, I saw no one criticize Adam Levine’s shirtless, exposed, tattooed torso to America’s children while thrusting his “Moves Like Jagger.” There’s clearly a double standard when it comes to how society sexualizes men and women.
At nine, I saw Janet Jackson’s breast on national television. Did it damage me in some way? Nope. I learned two important things:
- My own breasts were completely normal and natural.
- Never let a nasty boy’s tight grip define you.
I was never censored from empowering female performers like Janet, Jennifer and Shakira. If so, I would have felt ashamed of the body I was given. I would have lacked self-worth. I know how much I needed these women to admire, and I know I am not the only woman who has been empowered by women who are not ashamed of their bodies.
Despite their influence, I grew up in a society that taught me that the way I dressed could “send the wrong message,” vulgar men were considered powerful and prudish moms set societal norms and standards for women.
Today, I would like to believe we live in a better world. But I have been let down.
In an op-ed published in “USA Today,” contributor Gil Smart argued that the NFL should have warned those with children that the performance was going to be “upsetting.”
“It looked a lot like softcore porn,” Smart said as the parent of a nine-year-old boy.
I wholeheartedly disagree with his remarks.
This year’s halftime performance was an empowering cultural representation of what it means to be a Latina woman.
Shakira and her female dancers danced mapalė, a dance native to her hometown of Barranquilla, Colombia, which is widely respected for its intricate footwork, swift movements and flow with the beat of the drum and champeta.
After crowd surfing, Shakira returned to the stage, performing a “tongue wag” actually known as zaghrouta, a traditional Arabic celebration chant, as a nod to her Lebanese heritage.
Her belly dance with a rope was also criticized. In fact, one person referred to it as “bondage.” Maybe Shakira simply performed an intricate dance. Why shouldn’t she?
When it was J. Lo’s turn to take the stage, she performed a swing set with a world-champion salsa group known as Swing Latino.
J. Lo’s 11-year-old daughter, Emme Maribel Muniz, sang “Let’s Get Loud” with other Latino children in cages and a fenced background, serving as a powerful statement against family separation policies and the inhumane immigration detention centers that serve as a gut-wrenching reality of what goes on in America every day.
J. Lo then displayed a feather coat with the U.S. flag on one side and proudly revealed the Puerto Rican flag on the other side. While she sang out, “Let’s Get Loud,” her daughter sang “Born in the USA,” reminding viewers what it means to be a country made up of millions of Latino-Americans.
Many parents expressing an outcry of “inappropriateness” turned off their televisions. I have no doubt that these parents lectured their children about why the performance was “a horrible example for young girls.”
Parents are robbing their children of something valuable that could positively impact them for the rest of their lives.
Being a strong, talented woman is sexy. Being Latina is sexy. Being able to bring a stadium of more than 100,000 people to their feet is sexy. In fact, all that sexiness is actually important for young girls and boys to see. Girls lucky enough to dance along in their living rooms will understand that their bodies are beautiful and strong. Boys who watched this performance alongside parents who didn’t sexualize these women will respect women’s bodies, athletics and talent, and they may even admire them for it.
I look forward to the day when I can share this performance with my own child. We need a future filled with children who understand all of this. Honestly, I think our future depends on it.
Let’s start recognizing what female empowerment actually looks like. Let’s stop objectifying women. Let’s teach our daughters to embrace their bodies. Let’s teach our sons to respect all women. Let’s acknowledge the rarity of the NFL getting something culturally relevant and appropriate. Let’s honor the minorities who make our country so special.
Dear parents everywhere, next time — for all the right reasons — let’s get LOUD.
Gabrielle Vogt is a curriculum & instruction graduate student in the School of Education.