No, sexualisation does not equal empowerment: our response to JLo

JLo has responded to criticisms over her sexualised SuperBowl 2020 Halftime performance with Shakira.

"The message was really about women and Latinos raising their voices and stepping up. And not being afraid to stand up for yourselves."

"Everything I want to pass onto my not just my daughter, but to all the little girls on that stage... [is] to be proud of who you are, to speak up for yourself, to know your worth and your value," Lopez said. "That was the message. I think for women everywhere, that was the message."

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But sexualising women and reducing them to their sexual appeal or body parts does not help women “speak out” or to have their voices heard. On the contrary, it trivialises women and their contributions by legitimising them as sexual entertainment. Sexualising women does not encourage women and girls to “know their worth”, it simply reinforces the notion that their worth is equated with their sexual desirability.

Decades of research has found that experimental exposure to sexualised and sexually objectifying portrayals of women "leads both women and men to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality, and humanity".

The performance by JLo and Shakira featured guest performers Bad Bunny and J Balvin, both men, who were fully clothed.

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Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, said “Cross-culturally, unequal nakedness almost always expresses power relations...To live in a culture in which women are routinely naked where men aren’t is to learn inequality in little ways all day long.”

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Footage of the performance, which included JLo gliding around a pole and rubbing her crotch, has been shared in full on the world’s leading porn site, Pornhub. Both JLo and Shakira were trending on the site immediately after, alongside “Latina” and “Latina MILF”. 

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There’s no doubt that both Shakira and JLo are talented performers. But this performance was not simply a display of skill, it was a highly sexualised performance for an audience that included children.

In a culture where women are routinely sexualised and objectified, and where women's value is determined by their sexual appeal, women may feel validated by being sexually desirable to men. But women do not achieve meaningful power through conforming to sexist and limiting stereotypes, or through sex industry practices. The "power" that comes from being sexually desirable to men is temporary and conditional, and determined by men. Sexual objectification does not empower women, it reduces their power and makes them more vulnerable. This is why we fight against the sexualising and objectifying treatment of women and girls- we deserve better. 

See also: 

No, feminism is not about choice- The Conversation

Whether you like it or not, pole dancing perpetuates sexism- Feminist Current


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