Dear Male Privilege-Check Diary: I’m Super Confused About How I’m Supposed to Feel About Shakira and JLo
I’m super confused about the responses to Shakira and JLo. I know enough to understand the generational and 2nd/3rd wave feminism tension between rooting out internalized misogyny and celebrating empowered gender performance. I get it that there’s no answer to this. How do you own or reclaim a body through objectification? How can the unique subject shine through the cosplay and choreography?
I’m also aware that as a progressive cishet man I’m not really supposed to have an opinion. Like: which feminism should I get behind? It all seems strange, because the argument is playing out in relation to the privilege I was born into. I haven’t seen any men express opinions about the half-time show, and this feels weird, as if the spectacle and its controversy are supposed to play out before the silent male gaze, as per usual.
You know what’s really gross? Whatever side I take, I can feel virtuous. I can win. If I stand with 2nd-wavers I can feel protective of women as an oppressed class. Awesome! If I stand with 3rd-wavers, I can celebrate the autonomy of women to reclaim stereotypes. Yay me! I can be any kind of feminist that suits me, or that the women I’m around want me to be. I can be a feminist chameleon, because my own body doesn’t hang in the balance.
The thing is that men can be publicly conservative/2nd wave or progressive/3rd wave on the issue, while privately, as a class, they remain the near-totally-dominant consumers of porn, and sex work. That consumption might feel transgressive to the conservative and celebratory to the progressive, but the commodity remains the same.
Which gets me out of the abstraction of politics and into the feelings around consumption and objectification. So here’s what I feel when I watch the show.
1) As a man who was exposed to porn as a boy, the spectacle hits all of that old neurology and lights it right the hell up, prompting an old fuzzy split between pleasure and nausea. I’m personally not into being biohacked anymore. I basically want to turn away when I can feel it start to happen, like someone literally flipping a switch in the back of my brain. Yet I feel guilty at turning away, because these amazing performers do not deserve my historical or projected shame. At the same time, the whole mirage through which they are doing what they do is just too proximal to imagery that for years troubled my capacity to see women as complete people.
2) I was really glad that my seven year-old son went to bed when the first half ended. He had never seen a football game. He was astounded, a little thrilled, and a little scared at the outright violence. We talked about brain injuries and what courage meant on that field, and why so many men from poor families end up playing at that level. So it was already enough for him to metabolize that end of the essentialized gender binary and its political economy; it’s not like he would have benefited from the “balance” of the stripper pole and the twerking. If he hadn’t gone to bed I would have sat very awkwardly beside him, wondering what exact models of equality and empowerment were being etched into his brain, and what he might come to expect of women — and himself — in time. It would have been way more awkward than when watching the football players smash and strut: at least I’m somewhat confident that I can help him navigate toxic masculinity.
3) I’m remembering being four and the teacher asking us to paint paintings of our parents. I produced a large, well-executed rendition of a woman dressed like a server at Hooters, carrying a huge martini glass. To this day my mother busts out laughing as she tells the story of the looks she got from the teachers at parent-teacher night while standing in front of it trying to feel proud about the brush-strokes. Needless to say, my mother never dressed like that and was never a drinker. Where the hell did that come from, so early? How was I programmed at five years old to stereotype my mother?
4) I feel embarrassed for the women I know who feel literally tortured by essentialized beauty standards. I fantasize about having a giant remote control that could turn the show off throughout the world.
5) It’s great that JLo can be 50 and command that space and move like that, but there’s also something tragic about it. How far can her 400M net worth push it? 60? 70? How will she be allowed to age or get sick? Will that shitgibbon A-Rod care for her when she does? What’s the unseen cost of that power? Nobody is truly in love with the cult of youth. That’s a stand-in for loving a person. A person is a passage of time.
6) I also feel sad that I can’t just enjoy the movement and skill and exuberance, because they really are incredible performers and life is very short. But I resent that I’m supposed to look at them, in fact I’m forced into looking through the hardwiring and chemistry of the addiction of gender construction, and by a lifetime of social programming that won’t get me an inch closer to knowing who those women are, or who I am for that matter.
7) I could have cried over the Puerto Rican flag, but it was over in a flash. And JLo’s daughter climbing out of that cage to sing. I could have talked about that with my son, if he’d been able to see it. My white son, who is unlikely to ever fear being caged.
8) I feel sad that I can’t lighten up, because lightening up is so necessary. But I wish that relief could be provided by people who seem truly liberated by performance, like any of the men-women on Drag Race.
9) So my vote for next half-time show is for JINKX MONSOON to be the lead, serving up joyful campy football-tights, helmet hair, 80s shoulder-pad realness, really showing it’s a SHOW, proving that gender is only liberating when it is fluid. I love Jinkx so much I’m going to talk with my therapist about it. I just want to be thrilled by people who perform life, not gender, who test my perception of myself and the world, people who weren’t trained from toddlerhood to conform and perform, people who don’t double down on the neurology that formed around stereotypes they’ll waste their middle age on maintaining, if they even have the money to do it.
10) Actually, strike all that because I’m not sure it’s exactly woke to want drag queens to replace women on stage. Sorry Jinkx! Okay, new idea: Please please PLEASE can we have the four Baroness Von Sketch women to do the next show, so they can punk the whole damn thing. I want to see Meredith MacNeill twist around that brass pole with sanitary wipes. I want to see the Red Wine Ladies get plastered at the 50 yard line and tackle the refs. I want them to make us laugh at all the anxious and tragic things we think we want, and that we think we want to be.
11) Who am I kidding? Jinkx and the Red Wine Ladies will never be hired by the NFL/Fox/Pepsi complex to do the show. We’re seeing what money wants us to see. We’re seeing who those guys want us to see, because their world is the world. Those guys who made it big with Roger Ailes. We’re seeing the perfect balance to the bloody scrimmage. We’re standing there on the sideline with A-Rod. He’s pumping his fist in the air, enjoying what his world can pay for. Do I want to like the world he likes? Do our children have a choice?
Here’s Jinkx Monsoon:
And here’s Meredith MacNeill: