Halftime Shows and Fulltime Violence

By Melissa Stefanec

As this column won’t run until March, most of us will have forgotten the scandal surrounding Super Bowl LIV’s halftime show. The nation will have redirected its anger and musings. “Will somebody please think about the children” will be replaced with “You’re an idiot if you don’t vote for [insert name here] on Super Tuesday.”

People like being outraged almost as much as they like being outraged by others’ outrage. It’s all part of the human comedy.

However, I would be amiss if I said the halftime show didn’t give me pause. It was overtly, blatantly and patently sexual. Those two ladies had no qualms about the message they were sending to viewers: we are Latina, American and totally at peace with our sexuality and the power it brings. At first, I wasn’t sure what I felt about the last part of that message.

• The setting

When the halftime show aired, my kids were already in bed. I was immediately glad. I didn’t want them to watch this. Then, as I try to do when confronted with my own knee-jerk reactions, I asked myself if I was being fair. It didn’t take me long to arrive at an answer — no. It was morally inequivalent for me to be fine with kids watching a bloodthirsty and aggressive sport but shun overt female sexuality. I almost immediately realized my hypocrisy, but why did I react this way?

• A trip down memory lane

With that thought, I was instantly transported to one of the most profound moments of my childhood. It took place during a film class I took my senior year of high school. At the onset of the class, my mother had to sign a permission slip stating I could watch R-rated movies. Because I wasn’t 18, the school needed signoff from a guardian. With that signature, I could watch restricted movies at school (or so I thought).

One of those movies was “The Godfather.” I had already seen it; however, watching it in class gave me a different perspective. The teacher taped a large piece of paper to the top of the television. That piece of paper was used to cover the screen during a single scene. That scene depicted one couple’s sexual encounter on their wedding night. However, later in the movie, I got a front-row seat to the man in that couple beating the snot out of his pregnant wife.

Even as a high schooler, I was enraged. How could I be allowed to watch so much senseless violence but have to be “protected” from a very tame and wholesome romantic encounter? That class turned out to be one of the most progressive courses on misogyny and sexism I have taken to date. Sometimes, life’s most important lessons are unintended.

• Back to football and dancing

After my trip down memory lane, I returned to dealing with my own hypocrisy. I allow my children to watch a violent game where people physically harm each other. In football, men use their physical power to establish dominance over each other. It’s a prime example of animal masculinity — men using their physical strength to become the victor. The payouts are power, fame and money. Whether you love or hate football for that fact doesn’t obscure that fact’s reality.

Many Americans don’t think twice about exposing their children to this game. However, some people are clearly upset by women using their sexuality for similar gains. They are even more upset if their children bear witness. A man being angry, physical and driven is widely accepted. A woman being proud, physical and driven is clearly frowned upon. How can we let our consciences exist in both of these realities?

• The takeaway

I think there is conversation to be had. We need to examine how and when we expose our children to sex and violence. However, we can’t normalize one while vilifying the other. Placed side by side, sex is the healthier of the two. A healthy sexual relationship is an important part of adult life. However, there is limited moral room for healthy aggression and substantially less for healthy violence.

Instead of worrying about the “dangers” of suggestive rump shaking and skimpy outfits, we should ask ourselves why we’re making these women scapegoats for our own failings.

How are we, as parents and caretakers, making sure our children consume media in way that encourages healthy development? How can we change our own consumption habits to ensure we don’t normalize violence and simultaneously shun sex? Do we have frequent conversations with our kids about how the media portrays sex and violence and how society reacts to that portrayal?

If we glorify violence and vilify sex, we will damage another generation. It is our burden (and opportunity) to have honest conversations that push back against double standards, even if that means engaging in some difficult introspection. If we don’t ask tough questions of ourselves, our children will recognize our hypocrisy before we can even acknowledge it.

P.S. For the record, I like football. I just don’t think children should watch much of it.