What I Hope My Sons Learn from the Super Bowl Halftime Show

This guest post was written by Alison Phillips, an adjunct professor at the University of Missouri Kansas City specializing in human trafficking.

Like millions of other Americans, I excitedly tuned into this year’s Super Bowl. I was especially thrilled to see my beloved Kansas City Chiefs bring home their first Super Bowl victory in 50 years! As an active abolitionist, however, my enthusiasm for the Super Bowl is always tempered with the sober knowledge that on Super Sunday hundreds and even thousands of adults and children will be sold for sex.

While sex trafficking happens 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in cities and towns of all sizes around our country, anytime there is a singular concentration of men gathered for an event like this, traffickers rush in to provide human product to meet the ensuing demand for commercialized sex.

In recent years much awareness has been brought to the concurrence of sex trafficking and the Super Bowl, so this year’s choice for a halftime show was confusing and disappointing to me.

As my family and I started to watch Shakira and J.Lo’s performance, I wondered what messages my two teenage boys were picking up about women from our nation’s most celebrated and watched sporting event. I wondered if they were internalizing subtle messages that women are sexual objects for their consumption.

That is after all, what was being offered to them. If we hadn’t decided to fast forward through the main parts of the show, my boys would have been able to fill their eyes with women appearing and performing in an overtly sexualized way. You see I don’t want my sons to consume a woman sexually (even if it is only in their minds) without having first built a safe, respectful, committed and loving relationship where consent is given (hmm, sounds like marriage doesn’t it?).

I don’t think my sons should have sexual access to women without having done anything other than sit on the couch. Not only do I think this is bad for women, I think it is bad for men too. Of course, I’m not just referring to this particular Super Bowl halftime show. It’s all around us, through pornography and much of mainstream media that we all consume every day. Food for thought.

RELATED: We’re Tackling Sexual Exploitation at Miami’s Super Bowl

No doubt Shakira and J.Lo are very talented performers. Personally, I thought Shakira’s belly dancing was amazing. I thought J.Lo’s crotch thrusting, however, crossed a line. Some of you may agree or disagree with me on different parts of the show. It is a very subjective, fine line that divides what is considered “art” and what is considered “pornography.” It is certainly no argument that will ever be won on internet posts.

Our culture’s promotion of sexual objectification and the occurrence of sex trafficking are not two independent things operating in a vacuum.

I’m not writing this blog to enter into this type of debate. I think that is something that we each can decide for ourselves. I also believe that good people can disagree about this. The purpose of what I’m sharing here today is to call us to something higher. And so, here are two things that I hope my sons will learn:

1. We should not tolerate the objectification of people.

There are real-world consequences to creating a culture that promotes, validates, and normalizes sexual objectification.

People are almost universally (excepting the traffickers themselves) opposed to sex trafficking. The thought that vulnerable women and children (and sometimes men) are forced, tricked and coerced into sexual slavery is rightly abhorrent to people. They express anger and shock, and yet it occurs in great and terrible numbers.

Watch Our Sex Trafficking Documentary Nefarious: Merchant of Souls

How can this be? Where is the disconnect? How is it that one human being could be so callous as to buy or sell another human being? Quite simply, it is because they have dehumanized that person; they have objectified him or her. One does not buy another human being if they see them in their full humanity, with value, and a personality and feelings. This has been the story of slavery throughout human history, regardless of the form it takes.

Our culture’s promotion of sexual objectification and the occurrence of sex trafficking are not two independent things operating in a vacuum.

Men buy women and girls (and sometimes boys) for sex because they see them as product to consume for their sexual gratification. They see them as product because they have adopted a mentality that validates that behavior. We should consider the ways in which a culture that promotes sexual objectification contributes to this. This is an important conversation.

2. This is not what a healthy, empowered woman looks like.

In the ongoing pursuit for equality, women today are buying into a re-branded version of age-old sexism, calling it “empowerment.” Choosing to sexually objectify yourself is not empowerment. It is false empowerment.

For ages, women have suffered greatly under patriarchal cultures that view women as the sexual property of men. The fight to ensure that women have basic human rights of freedom, safety and autonomy is an important and ongoing one. It is as important to men as it is to women. A society where women thrive, is a society where men thrive. It is a win-win!

Women should be able to pursue their ambitions, own property, participate in government, and live in safety, free of discrimination, abuse, and exploitation. Women have the right to choose who and when we want to be in relationship with and have sex with.

We have the right to wear anything we want and not be harassed or harmed. Women are not the property of their fathers or husbands or society. Their worth is not ascribed to the fact that they are someone’s daughter, mother, wife, or sister. A woman’s body is her own, and no one has a right to access it without her consent.

This is not the message that J.Lo was sending when she thrust her crotch at the cameras for millions of viewers around the world. The message arguably is the opposite; “my body is yours, freely for the taking.” Just because J.Lo chose to do so, doesn’t make it empowered. It means that she has so deeply internalized the messages of female subjugation—and this notion that in order to be valued or successful, a woman must use her sexuality—that she willingly embodies it.

Watch Our Documentary: Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution on Netflix

I can’t think of a sadder death to the feminist cause. It’s as if we are throwing up our hands to say, “you’re right, that’s all I am good for.”

The appearance of a stripper pole during the halftime show is a clear illustration of this. Many will argue that it is indeed not a “stripper pole,” but rather a prop for “pole dancing,” a variety of dance, like tap or ballet. Such logic, however, requires us to completely ignore the context from which the pole originates-the strip club.

If you knew the truth about strip clubs, you would recognize that in these places women are ogled, harassed, assaulted and even trafficked. You would realize that women who work in strip clubs have almost without exception been sexually abused as children and experienced other kinds of household and familial dysfunction which contributed to their lack of options and involvement in the commercial sex industry.

You would know that many are dancing there so their trafficker could make extra money (for himself) and that they have experienced or are at high risk for multiple forms of sexual violence as a result of their employment in these clubs.

You would also know that many of these women are single mothers, baring their bodies in order to provide for their children. When you know the truth about this, there is no credible argument for saying this is empowerment for women.

Now imagine I take that same stage and pole that the women in strip clubs dance around and move it to the middle of a football field during the halftime of the most popular, most televised event in the United States. Does that change this for you? Isn’t a duck a duck regardless of whether he is sitting in a pond or on your living room couch?

So, as for my sons, and the lessons I hope they learned from the Super Bowl halftime show…

I hope they see this as a teachable moment about true value and worth. I want them to know that sex is not free. It is not a game by which you rack up points to impress your friends. It is not a transaction in which you give something to get something. It is not a performance or demonstration of power.

It is a beautiful part of our God-given humanity through which we can express love and share in intimacy. Our subjective perceptions and judgments do not determine another’s value and whether or not someone is deserving of our respect.

As a person of faith, I believe that our value is defined by God alone, not by society, not by anything you’ve done or others have done to you, or said about you. A woman who is free and empowered can make her own choices to live her life in its fullest capacity and expression of her humanity.

You should not want a woman that is merely an object, but rather a woman that is fully alive, complete and human as God created her to be, because my son, this is what I want for you.

Watch our documentary Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution on Netflix to gain more insight on the real consequences of a hypersexualized culture.

Photo Credit
  • Jennifer Lopez performs during the halftime show at Super Bowl 54 on Feb. 2, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
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