Sharon

Women and the Super Bowl

Sharon Pop-Culture, Purity, Sex 11 Comments

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Well another Super Bowl has come and gone, and while the Ravens fans are probably all celebrating this morning, I have found myself asking a lot of hard questions.

And no, I’m not referring to the power outage.

After spending my evening tuning in and out of the game, I ended the night with an unmistakeably icky feeling. Some of the commercials were so explicitly sexual, so gratuitous, so vile, that I couldn’t shake them. It was as if they had crawled off the screen and glommed onto my skin.

Now I have to admit, before I even turned on the television I was already on alert. Late last week I read a challenging post about women and the Super Bowl, so I tuned into the game with that article in mind. In it the author considers how women in our culture are portrayed and what that portrayal communicates to viewers. To help us process the culture’s messages about women, he offered several general questions that are applicable to a broad array of scenarios:

“Where are the women in any situation being investigated? If they are not present, why? If they are present, what exactly are they doing? How do they experience the situation? What do they contribute to it? What does it mean to them?”

Based on these questions, and our near religious observance of Super Bowl Sunday, the author then writes this searing critique:

I also asked myself how the scriptures depict women, and how our arena sports influence my efforts to raise my daughters in ways critically illuminated by scriptural texts. I contend that the way we consume iconic national events like the Super Bowl better depicts what we really believe about women and their so-called roles than do our formal theological statements, denominational position papers, teachings about the spiritual disciplines, and admonitions toward modesty and fidelity.

Given how many churches host Super Bowl parties, I think there is something to this assessment. While my Facebook feed has been full of statuses condemning the worst of the commercials, the fact is that we all still watched them. We watched as the media served up an extremely narrow vision of womanhood, one in which women are either nagging wives or sex kittens.

In light of my December post on lust, and how these images of women literally shape the way our brains process the female image, we Christians need to ask ourselves: should we really be consuming this kind of media–or worse, letting our kids consume it?

Of course, there is a tension here. Any time we turn on the tv, watch a movie, or go to the grocery store, we risk exposing ourselves to the sexual objectification of women, among other ills. The solution is not to hunker down and cut ourselves off from the world. Jesus lived in the world and engaged the darkness, and so should we.

Even so, Scriptural passages like Philippians 4:8-9 compel us to ask some tough questions, especially given the way Super Bowl commercials are designed to influence us. Ad companies are payed a lot of money to manipulate our senses and sell a product. These images are not neutral, and we are not impervious bystanders.

All of this begs the question: As fun as it is to watch the Super Bowl with friends, is this really an event that Christians should be endorsing?

It’s time that Christians start having this conversation and thinking seriously about the filth that accompanies the Super Bowl. What does watching it say about how we view women? We may not be ok with the objectification of women, but are we ok enough to watch it any way?

If you have any ideas on how Christians can engage the Super Bowl in the future, please share them here because I would love to hear them. I’m sure there are some creative alternatives to avoiding the event altogether, but the important thing is that we talk about it. The Super Bowl may be fun, and it may even be an American tradition, but it has a dark side that we as Christians cannot ignore.

What do you think?

Comments 11

  1. Vea in NC

    Brava! While I was invited to a superbowl gathering that we ultimately couldn’t attend b/c of a sick child, I found myself not even wanting to turn it on. My FB newsfeed kept me as updated enough.

    There are several FB groups- one in particular, Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies who is trying to reclaim childhood for both her son and daughter, she talks about this type of thing all the time because she believes we can do better for our children in this over-pornified world. And she’s right. She has so many wonderful posts about it. But what raised my hackles were the number of women who excused this, who kept saying “just don’t watch”-but you are right, we can’t ignore it. It’s largest day for human trafficking, domestic violence, etc. What once was a fun American past-time has become so corrupt…

    I think one alternative to it all, is watch the game but spend the commercial and half-time show doing something else-positive for the community. Host a party where people bring things to donate to the local community or outreach missions. During the breaks, sort what people have brought, or have a brief conversation about how to “tackle” the issues laid before us, or pray…not sure. All I know is that I’m over it. I want better for all of us.

  2. Kim Shumaker

    Sharon,

    I read all the articles pre-game as well. (Thank you! I love all the things I read because of you!) And I still went to a Super Bowl party with my church Life Group. Had we not had the party, I think we all would have watched the Super Bowl alone, but watching together we did have engaging discussion about the commercials and half-time show – and I think the fact that some in the group were offended or disapproving or expressed any sort of opposing view took others who had never even considered that some of this was inappropriate off guard. I think it was a safe place to have open discussion and plant thoughts of “Oh some people don’t agree with this view of women.” in others who had never gone there in their thoughts. I know that our youth group parties didn’t watch the commercials OR the half-time show. Avoiding or not watching the Super Bowl doesn’t seem appropriate to me. Engaging in Super Bowl viewing parties from a Christian Point and teaching other Christians how to engage from a Christian Point of view seems like
    how we should handle the Super Bowl and all of life, for that matter, right?
    Love!
    Kim

  3. Kate Sherrard

    I read a few thoughts on this before the big night and started to get uneasy about the fact that we were going to watch the game and take our kids to an event. Joey reminded me that our friends who were hosting the party had a school age son who would be watching the game and they would be very aware of making sure our children didn’t see any of the inappropriate ads. So, our evening was actually fairly void of those images. Though I’m sure they were still there in the essence of the game and scantily clad cheerleaders, making an effort to always pause during commercials that we didn’t want the children to see really made a difference in the entire experience for us. It also made me realize that in the future we will have to be intentional about what kind of Super Bowl parties we attend. I was glad that we were just with a couple of close friends that have the same Christian perspective on life and parenting as we do and therefore able to have a more positive experience watching the game.

  4. Chany Ockert

    As a football fan, I look forward to the Superbowl all season. As a female, I understand the concern. Now that commercials are online, it is easy to skip them during the Superbowl, and watch only the best (and non-sexualized) afterward. During the half-time show, we prayed over the issue of sex trafficking and then turned the channel while we were waiting for the half-time show to end. In the past, we’ve gone sledding during the half-time show. All in all, yesterday’s Superbowl party was filled with friendship, conversation and cheering for the game itself. There are creative alternatives. You just have to plan for them ahead of the game.

  5. Tim

    At lunch today, my friend told me that after one commercial his wife turned to him and said, “I feel like I don’t even belong in this world sometimes.” Probably one of the most theologically sound things I’ve ever heard about Super Bowl commercials.

    1. Post
      Author
      Sharon

      Brandon, you may have noticed that in this post I only engaged the Super Bowl commercials but not the half time show. I saw the post you linked to, and I’m still processing it all. I have very mixed feelings about it…not totally sure what to think.

      1. Felix

        Interestingly enough, the 2 other musical performances during the Super Bowl included Jennifer Hudson singing America the Beauitful with the Sandy Hook Elementary School choir and Alicia Keys singing the National Anthem. I haven’t read too many analysis connecting the halftime show to the pre-show performances. Is there anything there? If there is, it’d be an interesting mix of religion (the two “hymns”), gender, and ethnicity…

  6. Janet

    I think lots of folks saw what they wanted to see as part of Beyonce’s performance. What I actually saw was a woman (a mother and wife) who wore a very skimpy outfit and decided to relieve herself of even more of it as the performance unfolded. I saw her gyrate and make sexually explicit gestures as she sang. And the fact that there were only women on the stage, performing for men as objects of lust — well, I just didn’t get the same message of female power that some may have. It’s like the stripper on stage at a strip club — sure she has power as part of her sexuality in that men will pay to objectify her and treat her as an object rather than a person (notice that there are only women on a stripper’s stage, too) — Beyonce seemed to have that same “power”, if you can call it that, during her performance. I’m certainly not going to stand up and applaud that sort of power dynamic. Couldn’t Beyonce have chosen to display some real feminine power by refusing to objectify herself and her fellow female performers — simply by NOT overly sexualizing her performance? Did the skimpy outfit need to become more revealing and the “dancing” more erotic as the performance progressed?

    Wouldn’t a real testament of female power have been better revealed by toning down the sexual display and increasing the talent (singing/musical) aspect of the performance?

    The message I got was that women’s “power” is in their sexuality and ability to be desired by men. The display made me really sad.

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