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Beyond Boys and Beyonce


(Thanks to Mary Durkin Piersol ’43 for the 49er’s Gear!  Sorry about that loss…) 

I was in San Francisco yesterday visiting a few of our marvelous alumnae out there.  They gave me a Niners T-shirt and cap, which I dutifully wore for the photo op.  But I retreated to the privacy of my hotel room to watch the Super Bowl so I could root for the Ravens without incurring the wrath of the 49er’s crowd in the lobby.  Hooray for the Ravens!

Football is all about the boys, of course, and the girls who love them for their brawn and violence.  But at halftime yesterday, another kind of brawn was on display — Beyoncé, all leather and legs, her considerable booty shaking for all the world to see.

I read a commentary this morning about the “sisterhood” on stage, about how Beyoncé’s athleticism was on display in her vigorous dancing and singing and prancing all over that halftime stage.  So powerful was her performance the power went out, or so the Twitterverse tweeted during the half hour after something tripped a circuit at the Superdome.

To be sure, Beyoncé was at least as much fun to watch as Joe Flacco and Ray Lewis….. and yet….And Yet.

Something about the glorification of Beyoncé — and she is a great performer — also reinforces the objectification of women in our culture.  How many girls watching the Super Bowl came away thinking that to get ahead they will have to learn to dance and sing in public wearing as little as the law might allow?   As an expression of our national cultural consciousness, the message of the Super Bowl is as old as the cavemen — boys brawny, girls “bootylicious.”  The stereotypes are unfair all the way around, but by golly, we love them from kickoff to the postgame show.

The National Football League and the broadcast networks love that woman-as-sex-goddess thing.  It really sells.  Just watch Faith Hill’s performance every Sunday on NBC before the Sunday Night Football Game.  I don’t recall any such sizzle before, say, a baseball game …. not even the World Series.

Football is a dangerous, often cruel game in which generations of men have been permanently damaged.  It’s the modern American version of gladiators in the arena.   Calls for greater protection for players and a reduction in violent hits seem to be received in some quarters with as much enthusiasm as President Obama’s gun control proposals.  (Maybe in the same quarters, actually…)

But just like controlling other violent excesses in American life, dialing-down the violence in football does not mean ending the sport, but rather, getting it back into a healthy perspective — it’s a form of entertainment, a sport, for goodness sakes, it’s not real life.  In the same way, the networks and the league could use a touch of prudence in ratcheting-back on the sex goddess use of women amid the violence of the game.  We all enjoy a good show, but the show increasingly verges on something that feels voyeuristic, not just Beyoncé but also the boys beating each other’s brains to pulp.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: