Feb 4, 2013

A Defiant Dance of Power, Not Sex? I Beg to Differ

I sit on the bus, catching my breath after chasing it down to the next stop, school and gym bag that bounced haphazardly now crammed on my lap as I try not to invade the small amount of personal space that is my neighbor's in our shared two seats. My elbows balance on my bag as I scroll through Facebook on my phone, and a shared post catches my eye, “A Defiant Dance of Power, Not Sex: Beyonce, the Superbowl, and Durga.”

I am wary, but I tap the link and read the post. The author’s intro is catchy, calling out the way we see what we expect to see, not what really is. And it’s true, stereotypes are rooted deep within each of us, grown and watered and fed before we know how to fight them. I appreciate his panoramic perspective of the stage, and I remember those long shots from the halftime show. There certainly were a lot of people—a lot of women—on that stage.

But I physically react, when I read his use of the word prophetic. Her performance was prophetic. Beyonce’s performance was a prophetic statement about female power.

"Because Beyoncé’s performance Sunday night in New Orleans wasn’t about sex. It was about power, and Beyoncé had it in spades. In fact, her show was one of the most compelling, embodied and prophetic statements of female power I have seen on mainstream television."

Did Beyonce command the attention of the stadium and viewers at home? Absolutely.

Was it refreshing to see a woman who doesn’t fit the waify supermodel image we are so used to seeing? Absolutely, yes.

Was it prophetic? No. No it was not prophetic.

Beyonce’s performance is not some predictive performance about the future of women in faith. It was not some predictive performance about the future of women, regardless of their faith, in America or anywhere else in the world.

It was sex and it was power.

Yes, sex and power taken captive and used by a woman, by many women, but for what purpose?

Sex and power are the tools of our culture, they are the tools that have been used to build up the platform upon which unreachable standards of beauty are held.

They are the tools used to build the multibillion dollar porn industry.

They are the tools that allow the Super Bowl to have the largest audience with the most sexually aggressive marketing platform.

Sex and power are no different when wielded by women.

As Audre Lorde [an African-American writer and feminist] said, as she railed against the racism she saw within the feminist movement, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master's house as their only source of support."

Please, please hear me when I say this: You cannot use the tools of those in power to dismantle that same power structure. It does not work.

If it did, Jesus would have come as a Roman centurion, wielding a Roman sword. He would have come as a Pharisee among Pharisees, rising quickly with his innovative interpretation of the Torah.

But that is not how he came here.

He did not pick up a Roman sword.

He did not stand in the synagogues or on the streets to be honored by men.

He came as the last and the least.

He was born in hole on the side of a hill, only to die on a cross atop a different hill some thirty-odd years later.

He fought, but he did not fight with sword or Mishnah.

He used the tools of the Master to dismantle the power structures of this world. He used love and justice rooted in Truth, not culturally relevant truth.

He used the lowly things of this world to shame the wise.

30 comments:

Lore said...

I sure do think you're one smart cookie.

Lori Harding said...

relevant, intelligent - good comments on touchy subject. I appreciate your thoughtfulness! Thanks.

Kelly J. Youngblood said...

I like your thoughts. I must admit I was pretty perplexed by all the comments about the commercials and not buying the products and then all the applause for Beyonce's performance. I thought, if we don't want to be known for our bodies, why are we so glad she is putting such a focus on hers?

@micahjmurray said...

Thanks for writing this. I was also not really comfortable with the original post, but didn't feel qualified to comment on it (nor were my thoughts nearly as clear as yours.)

Haley said...

@Lori, Thank you for reading!

Haley said...

@micah If it impacts you, and it does, then you are qualified to comment. Thank you for reading.

Haley said...

@Kelly, Thanks so much! Good questions to be asking.

Liz said...

I don't see how having a beautiful, fit body equals sex. I agree with the article by David Henson and I was personally uplifted by her performance. Maybe we do see what we expect to see and I expected to see a strong, talented woman perform at 100% of her ability

Max Andrew said...

i like it. thanks for writing this. particularly the part about using the tools of those in power and jesus not being a Pharisee, but rather born as the least of these. M.

Haley said...

@Liz, thanks for your comment. I absolutely agree that Beyonce is a strong, talented woman who performed at 100% of her ability. That is not my problem with Henson's article. My problem is that he is implying that by taking power is the way to fight the power of misogyny.

Power is not overcome by more power, not in the long run. We look to Jesus and we see that he overcame power through weakness. He turned the wisdom of a culture obsessed with power and knowledge and turned it on its head by refusing to play their game. That is what Henson misses.

David Henson said...

Haley,

Thanks so much for this post. I really did enjoy it and appreciate the pushback. This was a really great post. I'm always hesitant to comment on a rebuttal. There was just so much in your post that I was "amening" to that I wondered if maybe more conversation would be helpful.

I wonder if it would be helpful if there was some clarification. I am wondering if we understand the word "prophetic" differently. I might be way off-base here, but the context seems to imply a predictive nature for the future to you. If this is true, then yes, the performance was not prophetic. Maybe we understand that word differently. Or maybe not. I'm not sure. We might just disagree on that point.

Second, I'm not sure I'm talking about taking power (from someone?) or overcoming power with power. Rather I am talking about claiming one's power that already exists but is denied by a misogynist culture, a culture that sees a woman's body as an object or less-than-human.

I see Jesus as a person who understood the weakness of his body and claimed power through it and empowers us to do the same. Those oppressed by misogyny I hope would claim the power that exists already through their being images of God, not seek to further empty themselves.

Maybe I could have expressed myself in more precise language in the post. I'm not sure.

Thanks again for helping me think more deeply about this.

Preston Cox said...

This is an issue of goals, not process. If the goal is salvation, then we have to ask the process. Scripture is pretty clear on the how:

...through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth (2 Thess 2:13)

Put your trust in power (something God repeatedly takes away from people throughout scripture) and you will realize how limited it is.

Put your trust in your voice (something God on a few occasions withholds from individuals in scripture) and you will realize the danger of claiming to have influence.

Women of God (and men of God) put their trust in something they could never do, never had the power to do, nor the status to claim they did it.

In a culture and society raised on the showbread of mass influence, the people who are actually changing the world for the Kingdom's sake are giving away their crumbs.

Ryan Robinson said...

My response was similar to Kelly's, failing to see how even those who were rightfully complaining about the use of sex to sell products turned around and praised Beyonce for doing the same thing except that the product was her own art. I was really disappointed. I know Beyonce has incredible talent. I just don't think she really showed it last night, opting instead to hit as many sexual poses as possible.

To put it in the terms here, as a man I felt like it grabbed my attention but all it did was show me that women - or at least Beyonce - don't mind being seen as sex objects. If she was trying to show female empowerment by doing exactly what men want, it didn't work and I don't think it ever will. Using the ways of patriarchy reinforces patriarchy.

Daniel said...

Thanks Haley. A very thoughtful post - made me reflect on a number of things, though truth be told I despise football as much as I do misogyny so I didn't watch the game or Beyonce. That said, while I agree very much with your points - and I think you and David are perhaps understanding "prophetic" different;y - I do wonder about "Truth" vs. "culturally relevant truth". God's Truth is not relative, true, but I find that shifts in cultural perception (i.e. the equality of women; the injustice of slavery to name only two) often precede change in the preaching and theological stance the faith community takes on these issues. For instance my denomination started ordaining women in 1976, which we now see as entirely consistent with God's truth on the equality of the sexes and very few in my church would see it otherwise. However that truth was long heralded in the wider culture before the Church embraced it. So perhaps sometimes capital-T "Truth" is mediated through the Holy Spirit's work in our culture and doesn't always stand in opposition to it.

Jim Powell said...

Thank you Haley.

Oh my goodness David. Not trying to be contentious but I do have some questions...

1. Sounds like you are projecting that I am a misogynist, simply because I don't want my 8 year old kid to see an "empowered woman" exercising her freedom in such a provocative manner?

2. You're also assuming to know Beyonce's heart. Perhaps she was being empowered. Or perhaps she was emptying herself... acting out of her flesh to prove herself. It's fine line between standing up and exerting our humanity out of a place of strength or doing so out of a place of sin and insecurity. I don't pretend to know her heart and motives but you are assuming to. Without that assumption your article can not stand imo.

3. Please clarify your understanding of prophetic? It's either fore-telling or forth-telling? You imply "forth-telling," which leads me to believe you are claiming that she was communicating the truth or word of God in her performance. If that's the case you either got a bit carried away in your hyperbole, or I have a few more questions for you.

4. Based upon your understanding of culture, Jesus, and empowerment I'm curious to know what you think about a prostitute who claims to exert his or her power by using his or her body for sex? Is that fulfilling God's will? Or is the real sin with culture or the church if we deem that unhealthy, dangerous, or illegal? Just curious?



David Henson said...

1. My blog was written to adults and about adults. It was not a post about parenting.

2. I am not assuming anything about Beyoncé's heart. I am offering a critical reading a cultural event the same way I would read a film, book or television show intended for adults.

3. My understanding of the word "prophetic" is heavily influenced by the work of Brueggemann, Walter Wink and William Herzog.

4. This was not a post about fulfilling God's will. I think it inappropriate to link Beyoncé's performance to prostitution.

Erin said...

Haley,
I love your post and your thoughts here!
I fail to see how having sexual power is deemed a good thing. I don't get how sexual posing in front of others is a power to be proud of.

In the context of my own life, I see that sexuality is a powerful thing. But, that is why I have to be careful to steward it well and use it rightly.
If I use my sexuality as power over my husband and anyone else, I am wrong. My husband would also be very wrong is he were to wield his sexuality as power over me (or anyone else). It is about unity and expression of love. It is enormously powerful, but not a power to be used. It is a power to be aware of.

Erin said...

I should also specify that I am not saying Beyonce was using sex appeal for power. I cannot make a judgment on that

Haley said...

@David, please forgive the tardiness of this reply, and thank you for reading. I'm glad you enjoyed the pushback, I enjoyed interacting with your post as well.

I do think we are using the word prophetic in different ways. Can you give me some insight into the way that Brueggemann, Wink, and Herzog use the term? Perhaps that might clarify things a bit for me, and for others who are wondering about the differences, but haven't read them.

In regards to your comments about taking and using power to fight power, I think that Beyonce, while she was empowered, was still objectified, even if she was the one objectifying the power she embodied. Objectifying oneself doesn't make the objectification any less harmful, because others are still invited into that process and encouraged to see her as an object of power rather than a person who is more than her gender or her power or her sexuality.

Thank you so much for writing your post, and for stopping by here to comment. I have so enjoyed all the different ways your post made me think and wrestle.

Haley said...

@Ryan, yes, exactly. Sex, sexuality, and gender were never intended to be weapons, and using them as such only does damage.

Haley said...

@Daniel, thanks for your comments. As an avid Seattle Seahawks fan, I must point out that I don't have a problem with football. In fact I love it. I'm already looking forward to next fall.

In regards to your other statements, here is what I will say, yes, David and I are using the term prophetic differently. He said so himself in a comment here. :)

I stand by my use of Truth and culturally relevant truth. I believe that Truth does exist, and that it is necessary to use Scripture to interpret and understand our culture, not the other way around. Does the Holy Spirit speak differently to different generations? Yes. But the Holy Spirit does not speak a different message than the one found in Scripture.

Haley said...

@Erin, you're right, sexuality is a gift to be well stewarded. Unfortunately, sexuality (and sex and gender) have become weapons. We have taken these beautiful gifts we've been given and turned them into weapons. The over sexualization of our culture only serves as proof of this.

Jim Powell said...

Thank you for your response David.

1. I understand that. But you make a blanket statement about people being offended in prime time television by her performance, and you suggest that if anyone is offended it says more about them than her. That is a broad, and somewhat disparaging statement without qualification.

2. I probably shouldn’t have gone here. This is a more lengthy discussion, but its possible Beyonce was performing with her middle finger stuck up to all her critics over the past few weeks (symbolically). And to the point previously made about fighting power with power, I just don’t feel that should be celebrated by a Christ-follower as something good. Sometimes we can be right and at the same time horribly wrong. Imo, your post assumes that Beyonce is exerting her independence in a healthy way and that should be celebrated. I don’t question that she’s exerting her power, and has every right to do so, but I do question how healthy it is for her and for societal good as a whole.

3. I'm familiar with them. Actually like some of Brueggemann and Wink’s stuff. Not as familiar with Herzog. But you wiggled out of Haley's critique by saying that you had a different view of prophetic but you haven't defined it. So, I'd like to ask the question again, "Please clarify your understanding of prophetic? It's either fore-telling or forth-telling? You imply "forth-telling," which leads me to believe you are claiming that she was communicating the truth or word of God in her performance. If that's the case you either got a bit carried away in your hyperbole, or I have a few more questions for you."

4. Forgive me if this crossed the line. I wasn't linking Beyonce to prostitution at all; my point was to press your premise. You write about "power," "no shame," "claiming ownership" over her gender and body, and anyone who takes offense doesn’t get it and is a judgmental bigot (implied). I asked the question because I don't think you celebrate and applaud certain behaviors that others can also justify in the name of empowerment, choice, etc. What I'm trying to suggest that just because some people took offense doesn't mean they are a bigot or misogynists. Perhaps they just have lines that are bit more conservative than yours, and I don’t think they should be shamed for it.

I'm not trying to be contentious, forgive me if my tone is inappropriate. But you have thrown about a pretty strongly worded blog and I’m challenging part of it with what I believe to be fair questions.

Rachel said...

this is very thought-provoking. I'll admit, when I read the original post, it resonated with me in a good way, a powerful way. but I think it's because I come from a different world-view. allow me to explain, and I pray this is not too long.

I was very uplifted by Beyonce's performance because of the world in which I was raised. as we sat around the Superbowl table, feasting and conversing, comments were tossed about freely by those from my church. things such as "well, that's tasteless...why isn't she covered up?" but I was raised in the world of purity conventions that were wolves in sheep's clothing: slut-shaming events where women were blamed for men's stumblings, if we covered more, there would be no rape.

and when Beyonce danced, she danced for freedom. I believe that women are warrioresses, that we are strong and brave and that our feet belong on the ground and our arms raised to heaven. THAT is the beauty of Biblical strong womanhood.

Tom said...

Thanks for the post, Haley. I appreciate the discourse you and David have generated, and I'm happy to say that it's distracted me from far less interesting required course readings!

Reading through the comments, I am a little concerned that there's a conflation occurring between "claiming power" and "using power as a weapon". As I understand it, the concept of power is not analogical with violence (which is the broader concept I associate with weaponry). I believe one can use power in a way that isn't violent, and is indeed redemptive; indeed, the Christology I subscribe to dictates that the resurrection was the paradigmatic expression of the power that Jesus claimed.

I think (thought I may be wrong) that Haley's with me on this one. Reading through some of the comments, though, I thought it important to get the distinction out there.

With regards to Beyonce's performance: sexuality can absolutely be used as a powerful weapon bringing on violence, both to the body, mind and soul. Although we can't know her motives in their totality, I don't think this is what Beyonce intended to do here. Whether her performance was harmful to those watching, depends as much on the decision of the viewers to watch it as it does on her actions (following on Rachel's comment). Were they redemptive? We certainly can't compare her performance with the expressions of power made by Jesus in the context of the oppression of the Roman Empire.

I do think this is a less important and interesting question than that David raises re: the location of power, and how it is consolidated by some, and denied to others. Coming from this standpoint, I have a feeling Beyonce did claim something that has been historically denied to women; as such, she might - albeit in a unconventional manner - undermined the forces that perpetuate injustice.

Although, thinking back to the performance (I remember thinking that frilly outfit she was wearing looked pretty ridiculous), I'm apt to change my mind on this one. I'm going to have to put a bit more thought into it...

Joy Eggerichs said...

Amazeballs.

Wait, is that inappropriate? (-:

Laura said...

two thoughts. I think this interpretation of Lorde's words unnecessarily limits women. (They can't be powerful or sexual?) I interpreted Lorde as referencing the power that is used to suppress others; ie, I'm powerful by making you weak. So power, per se, and sex aren't the problem. The way you get/use it could be the problem. Beyonce didn't disempower anyone in her performance; she didn't objectify anyone (you can't objectify yourself). I also think this overlooks some issues I have with Jesus. I think it could be argued that he used the tools of patriarchy simply by coming as a man, and not a women. which, during that time period, would truly make him the weakest of the weak.

Haley said...

@Rachel, thanks for your response. Let me first say that the way that church culture, and secular culture, sends mixed messages to women about sexuality and their bodies and what it means to be beautiful does deep, long-term damage to men and women. You are absolutely right.

My issue is that, while Beyonce and her stage full of female back up dancers and singers, and all those female musicians may have commanded the stage for that full 14 minutes with nary a man in sight, they did so in a way that still objectified women.

Women ARE strong and we ARE brave, yes, absolutely, and amen. I just think there are better ways to go about proving our strength and bravery than using the overt objectification of women to do so.

Be strong, be brave, but let's define those things first by using the example we see in Scripture. What does Scripture say is strong? What does Scripture say is brave? Let's let that be our guide, not a Superbowl halftime show.

Hannah Glavor said...

Amazeballs is highly appropriate.

rachel.virginia. said...

I think Jesus HAD to be a man, because the culture he lived in was one that hated and didn't recognize women as sharers of power. I think Jesus had to be a man in order to humble the powers of that time, which were male. Jesus, being a man, but, the man he was: a poor, despised man that honored women. Also, Jesus wasn't going around being like "I give you authority because I'm a man", which is what men who still withhold their privileged do, but I think Jesus recognizes that each of us already do because we're image bearers. I honestly don't think Jesus being born a man had anything to do with patriarchy.