What to Wear…

Like many of you, I watched the Super Bowl Sunday night. Even though my team (Go Seahawks!) had been eliminated in the play offs. Even though I’m a little horrified by the violent injuries in the game which lead to brain injury and trauma for these gladiators we call athletes.

But I dutifully tuned in Sunday night to watch the show, for an excuse to eat nachos, to see the commercials.

And ended up receiving the gift of Beyonce’s halftime show.

I confess, her style of music is not really “my thing”, so I don’t know her entire oeuvre. I’ve seen her on SNL. I’ve seen her in pop culture. She has always seemed to have a shrewd business mind, and understanding of how to “brand” herself and her image. She can dance. She married Jay Z. That was the extent of my Beyonce knowledge.

But you can call me her NUMBER ONE FAN after the Super Bowl. She was in control of that crowd from the minute the lights caught her silhouette.  She was beautiful. Strong. In control. Putting on a SHOW. She was generous on the stage—sharing it with musicians, with her former Destiny’s Child partners, and with all of the other dancers. There was room enough for them because there was abundance in her performance. There was more than enough awesome to go around.

As I watched the show with my teenaged sons, I was glad they were seeing a strong woman, in control of her own image, doing what she wanted to do.

And then Facebook and Twitter lit up with people who hated the show. I wondered, “what show were they watching?”

They blamed her for using too much electricity and causing the power outage in the stadium. They blamed her for being too sexy. For exposing too much flesh.  For being “un-Christian”. (what? Is the Super Bowl supposed to be Christian???)

One person said, “if she had just worn more clothing, then people could have appreciated her performance.”

beyonce copy

Tina Turner 1979 Beyonce 2013

What was wrong with her outfit? It was very similar to something Tina Turner wore in the 70s. It covered more of her “bits” than many figure skating and gymnastic outfits the Olympic athletes wear. It covered far more than the Olympic Beach Volleyball players “uniform” does, for sure.

volleyball

And as I’ve been thinking about those different reactions about an outfit, often by people I love, admire, and respect, I wonder just how many clothes she needed to have on in order to not offend people.

If she’d been wearing a turtleneck, a sweater vest, and mom jeans, would that have been acceptable?

How about one of Hilary Clinton’s pantsuits?

I love what I find in google searches...

I love what I find in google searches…

Is a skirt okay, or should her legs have been completely hidden?

What about form fitting? Would a blousy top have been better? 

I’m guessing cleavage is right out.

My take away from the “outrage” over her outfit is that the female form should, by definition, be covered up. My take away is that there is something “un-Christian” about the female body, leading men to lustful thoughts they can’t control. My take away is that if women expose flesh, they obviously want to have sex with you.

Cover up those eyes! The woman is still too beautiful.

Cover up those eyes! The woman is still too beautiful.

But here’s the thing. You could have covered Beyonce up in a burqa and she still would have owned the night. Because what Beyonce displayed on that stage, in addition to her beautiful body, was power, strength, and comfort in her own skin. And that is dangerous.

People accuse a woman of causing a power outage at a football stadium, and we think they are talking about her lack of clothing? Come on, folks.

What to wear. What to wear.

I’m no Beyonce, alas, but I face a similar dilemma—what to wear when I go to church. When I preach, I wear a robe so my clothing choice is erased from the equation. I love the anonymity of the robe, actually. But I can’t always wear the robe, and it is hot and unwieldy if you are trying to run in the foothills. I would look odd if I were to show up at the hospital for a pastoral care visit while robed.

Yesterday, for example, I was in a sartorial quandary. I was at the State Capitol yesterday at lunch, speaking in favor of legislation that would add gay, lesbian, and transgender as protected categories in the Human Rights Act in Idaho. Honored to be a part of it. No idea what to wear.

I have a suit. I could have disappeared into that outfit and become anonymous, genderless, and invisible in the halls of the capitol building.

Or I could have worn the clothes in which I am comfortable—a dress and black leather boots. I would not be anonymous, genderless, or invisible in the halls of the capitol building in my usual wardrobe.

Whatever choice I made will be wrong, of course. The people who don’t think women should be preachers in the first place will decry my immodesty, whether it is there or not. The people who don’t think the church should be supporting human rights for people who are gay and lesbian Idahoans will use my outfit to complain about my politics and my theology.

If I wear a suit? “She’s too mannish. How pathetic to see a woman trying to work in a man’s world”.

If I wear the pretty green dress? “That’s not how a preacher should look. Ministers aren’t supposed to be sexy.”

Lest you think I am paranoid and making up those comments, I am not. I have heard all of those comments directed at me.

What to wear….

If only my black-leather-and-lace-Beyonce-Tina-Turner-get-up weren’t at the dry cleaners….

This article was also published at There is Power in the Blog.

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32 thoughts on “What to Wear…

  1. This is so perfectly expressed. thanks.

    The thing is, I’ve actually not heard (and my I just haven’t been listening) this level of vitriol directed at Christina, or Lady Gaga, or Madonna, for their outfit choices. Maybe famous white girls can wear skimpy outfits to perform, and they can dance like all the cheerleaders do…but black girls are a whole other story? (praying I’m wrong and just haven’t been paying attention–that if there’s going to be ridiculous fear of our power, it’s at least equal opportunity fear.)

    • Teri, I’ve heard all that, at that level directed at them, but considering where I live, who’s surprised??? There’s a level of vitriol directed toward powerful women not experienced in other places that is considered normal here, kind of like the temperature.

      Marci, Exactly!

  2. Except… as documented by some other folks, is using the power of sexual attraction counter-productive to the message of a powerful, in control woman? Essentially, by doing so, IMO, you are catering to the whims of the men in the crowd.

    Now, if that’s not a problem, that’s cool. I’m fine with that. But then…

    …consider that the Super Bowl is the biggest sex-trafficking event in the USA for the year. Throw a bunch of folks in a stadium for several hours, pump them up with testosterone-laced adrenaline-stimulating action, fuel them with alcohol that lowers their inhibitions, and then put on a sexually titlating half-time show.

    I don’t know the answers… but this, beyond just what she was wearing, is what bothered me the most. Yes, burqa or not, she owned the stage… but to what end?

    http://abnormalanabaptist.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/what-have-we-become-2/

  3. Thanks for linking to your post. I agree that sex trafficking is a horrible problem and needs to be brought to the light so we can address it.

    But I think it just proves my point, actually. If men can’t control their urges when they see a female body, is it the female body we need to cover up? Or is it the men who need to address some issues?

    I would have had feelings similar to yours if it had been a fully clothed male singer with nearly naked women draped across him and the stage. Because in that scenario, the women do not have the power. Maybe her dance was titillating, but if so, it was just because of her beauty and awesomeness and not because there was a man telling her what to do.

    • Be sure, I’m not calling for any particular legalistic understanding of how women should dress and act. You are correct, the men should be able to control their own thoughts and actions. As a man, I take that VERY seriously and have spent LOTS of time working on those issues in myself.

      But… just like a woman dealing with issues of food addiction (or with self-image problems heading towards anorexia), it is certainly unhelpful for me to gift her with pounds of chocolate or ask her questions like “Have you gained weight?”

      It comes down to the eternal question of responsibility versus right. Sure, Beyonce can wear what she wants because it is up to the men to control their thoughts and actions. But if she’s doing something that makes it harder (scripture calls such things a “stumbling block”) , at what point does her right get trumped by responsibility?

      “Everything is permissable, but not everything is beneficial” as Paul put it. So, yeah, she can wear what she wants… but is the good that her power play is doing outweigh the bad of the impact it has on the people around her?

      • I appreciate your willingness to struggle through this issue here.
        But I still end up wondering why women are told not to be sexual and provocative. Why aren’t men told the same thing? (You, personally, might be telling men that, but I don’t see it at large in the culture). Why is this one sided?
        I’m thinking, too, of a news story recently about a Catholic school that made girls say they wouldn’t swear, but didn’t require the same from the male students.
        http://now.msn.com/queen-of-peace-high-school-made-female-students-take-no-cursing-pledge

        If it boils down to responsibility vs right, then where is the responsibility of men? Why don’t we tell them to not be sexual?

      • No arguments there, Marci. I hate double standards as well (which is why I was equally offended by the Calvin Kline ad that ran).

        The general principle of being aware of how your freedom to act impacts others is, I believe, one of the key points to maintaining some semblance of ethics and morality in a society. Freedom without responsibility is chaos. But responsibility unequally applied is oppressive. Lots of wrestling points, hence my unwillingness to give Beyonce a free pass…any more than I would give that Calvin Kline model a free pass.

      • You seem a thoughtful man, but the logical extension of your argument that Beyonce holds any responsibility for the behavior of men is when men rape a woman and say “she was asking for it”.

        I am sure that idea offends you as much as it does me. But it is a fallacy to claim that Beyonce is responsible for anyone’s behavior but her own.

        Nobody, you, me, or Beyonce can, or should, take on responsibility for the behavior of any other person.

        Take the Calvin Klein ad you mention. That was a fine body on display. But I was able to note that and then watch the next commercial. I noticed Calvin Klein was trying to sell me what was in the “package” (ahem). It was sex for sale.
        But I didn’t have to go grope the nearest man. I didn’t have to watch porn. I didn’t have to rape a man.
        Our society tells men not to claim responsibility for their own behavior and I believe we are selling men short by allowing that to be lifted up. (See catholic school article link above).

      • True, Beyonce can not be held responsible for the ACTIONS of the men… but can she held responsible for the thoughts and temptations being presented, especially in a culture that already objectifies women as sex objects? A responsible person does not serve wine as the only available drink to a room full of recovering alcoholics. Whether the alcoholics take the drink is up to them. But putting them in a place of extreme temptation where they will be tempted to and, statistically speaking, some of them WILL act on it, is irresponsible.

        You handled the Calvin Klein ad just fine. But not all women did. The morality of the ad is not based upon your reaction, but on the reactions it illicits in others. If one person after watching Beyonce was charged up to go out and rape and beat a woman, there is culpability on Beyonce’s part by contributing to the culture that gave rise to the act.

        I am not guilty for what another person does… true. But I am guilty for what I do… namely, adding to the temptation, adding to the culture, adding to the atmosphere that will ultimately culminate in an action.

        I know you’re hearing this through the lens of “Women should just cover up to keep the men safe” and I understand that. And I hope you see that I’m not trying to say that but to apply the ethic across the board. It’s a general Christian ethic of “Do not cause your sister/brother to stumble”. There are weak people out there and we who are strong (as Beyonce OBVIOUSLY was) have a responsibility towards our weaker siblings to not make it harder for them… and that applies to men AND women… as I said, reponsibility applied inequally is oppression, no matter who is on the other side of it.

        Essentially, I’m calling for a Romans 14 ethic… if I know eating meat will cause my sibling to stumble, I’ll become a vegan while they are around so as to not cause problems….

    • Robert, you claim
      “True, Beyonce can not be held responsible for the ACTIONS of the men… but can she held responsible for the thoughts and temptations being presented…”

      Is it only Beyonce who can control the thoughts of men? Or can all women do this?

      I don’t really mean to be glib, but she is just not that powerful. Nobody is.

      If men choose to not take responsibility for their own behavior, then there is nothing Beyonce can do about it. Whether in a burqua or a leather/lace get up, she can only be responsible for herself.

      The addiction analogy is apples to oranges, unless you are claiming that all men are addicted to sex? Once again, I think you are selling men short.

      In terms of the Calvin Klein ad, it is interesting to me that you see the ad as a moral issue. I would claim that people who have moral objections to advertisements shouldn’t watch tv. Men who have moral objections to dancing shouldn’t watch a beautiful woman dance. The only moral issue at stake here is personal responsibility.

      If Paul would blame women for being raped, or for inciting lustful thoughts for being beautiful, strong women, then I think I would say I disagree with St. Paul. Taking on the responsibility for another person’s thoughts seems like a recipe for paralysis. Where would it end?

      • Again, the ethic is Romans 14… I, as a responsible “strong” person, recognizing the weaknesses of others, need to consider those weaknesses when I choose to act. Everyone has power to that extent. Because I’m strong does not give me license to act in a way that will cause a weaker person to act in their weakness, even if I have the freedom to act in my strength.

        No clear answers, mind you. This has plagued ethicists for centuries…

      • Let me add that an equally responsible “weak” person would need to recognize their own weaknesses and work on them. But an ethic of Christ is that the strong submit to the weak. Isn’t that what Christ did, gave up deity in heaven to become a “weak” human so that we can learn to be strong?

        I don’t think Paul would blame women for being raped. I agree with you on that. But I would think that Paul, recognizing that there are CERTAINLY weak people around us, would ask any Christian to consider whether or not our strength SHOULD be exercised.

        Now, of course… there’s an underlying assumption here… that assumption that Beyonce would be subject to a Christian ethic. If she’s not (and I have no stance on which to make that judgment) it is not fair to hold her to an ethical standard that she does not subscribe to (1 Corinthians 5:12). At that point, we just love on her and take care of our own issues.

        But a Christian ethic of submission, of putting the weak before the strong, of giving up our own rights so that others may be free… that is what I see as pretty all-encompassing.

        Again… PLEASE don’t label me as someone trying to keep women down. I have a couple of strong daughters that I would LOVE to see be able to use their strengths. I have a wife who is a wonderfully strong woman who I see as an equal partner in my own ministries. I had a mother who was the equivalent of a bishop in the Mennonite Church (Conference Minister was her title) and held positions on executive boards, using her strengths, being a strong woman to help lead people in the Kingdom. I am, as best as I can be, an egalitarian.

        So when I say that the strong submit to the weak, for me, gender doesn’t play into it at all. As a strong man, I submit to my wife… yes, I do. “Love your wives as Christ loved the church”… and when I look at how Christ loved the church, that is CERTAINLY a rather upside-down view.

        In any case, an ethic of submission, as I read it, is how we are to approach each other… assume the posture of servant, even if we have the freedom that comes from strength, not because the weaker person is right, but because the unity of the body is paramount over the exercise of my rights.

  4. Beyonce can dress however she wants. She has the money and the power. Immodesty is immodesty period. Whether it’s beach ball volleyball, or other performers, it’s just plain immodest. And the reason they dress that way is because at that level of performing, they can influence people to like what they are doing. Do we see doctors coming into the exam room with massive cleavage? Or district attorneys who are trying cases on television? Of course not. They got over using sex as a tool to make money long ago, if it ever entered their minds at all. I was in a church once where the teen girls came in with their pants so low you could see genital hair, and no bras under see through blouses. When I approached the pastor about this, he told me that before the teens went to camp that summer, they were having a class for the boys about “averting their eyes”, so that when the girls wore thongs to swim in, it wouldn’t be a problem. I still say, “What’s wrong with teaching girls to be modest, and not have boys glare at them for sexual reasons”? How about what’s between their ears, and not their legs?

    • It would be great if gender didn’t enter into it, Robert. I appreciate you egalitarian ideal. I do.

      But the reality is, we do not live in a world where gender doesn’t enter in to it. The church, using Paul’s own words, has mistreated women for 2,000 years. Christian men have told their wives to “submit” to them. Pastors have told women to “submit” to abuse.

      In our culture, men are applauded for their virility. Women are called sluts for theirs.

      While we can work for an egalitarian ideal, it would do us all a disservice to pretend it already exists in the world around us. Too much is at stake for too many women around the world.

  5. So my question has to do not with sexuality and power, per se but with what it means for young people. The girls’ volleyball team at the high school can wear what the Olympic volleyball team wears–its the body, but its not sexualized. But if the dance team wears the same thing as Beyonce, and emulates the finger licking thing — I dunno. (Ditto for anything Madonna or Lady Gaga come up with.) Can you help me with that?

  6. Great article, Marci. And an interesting discussion. I remember an interesting conversation I once had about Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Nature and Destiny of *Man* (from the early 20th Century, egalitarian language not yet ripe for civilized discourse). His analysis about human sin being rooted in self-centeredness engendered conversation about women often being told this, and urged to be selfless, as Christ was selfless. This, of course, was in the service of patriarchy, where women needed generally to be more self-assured, not less.

    A few baseline affirmations: sex is a good thing, as is the human body, as is sexual attraction. Normal human functioning finds a way to balance and modulate concupiscence, and because some (men, in this conversation, but the same point for women or anyone generally) have a difficulty with their desire doesn’t mean that women need to be responsible for that all the time. There are always situations where modesty is appropriate regardless of the gender. There are always situations where modesty is not germane to the context (beach, half-time show). The context is important, and the demands of modesty are equally shared by all, though, again, for women who have been told that they must be modest to protect the fragile institutions of men, maybe (like the concern about Niebuhr) a little liberty is good for the soul and bad for patriarchy.

    Always love your reflections. Grateful for them. Keep it up.

    • Thanks Chad.
      Your comment “…doesn’t mean women need to be responsible for that all the time…” keeps hovering around me like a mosquito.Buzzing. Buzzing. Buzzing.
      So are there some times when women are responsible for mens’ desires?

      Your comment about context is interesting. I wonder what would happen if women got into the pulpit dressed like Beyonce. Maybe that’s the way to break patriarchy for good.

      • The implications of others upstream was that women need to be responsible in that way, all the time. I think that’s misplaced projection.

        And when you get into the pulpit dressed like Beyonce, be sure to let us know….

      • Correction. All who follow Christ should be responsible in that way all the time, not just women, not just men. It is in the spirit of not causing others to stumble and is not limited to dress code but in all things.

        Just correcting a misconception of my point, that’s all. 🙂

    • Excellent and helpful link for further reflection! So complicated to be a strong, healthy, loving, powerful person today, and frankly its different for men and for women (as the clothing example illustrates). Thanks.

  7. Excellent post, Marci. I had the same reaction to Beyonce’s performance as you did.

    And for the record, I was in the audience for Marci’s presentation at the human rights panel, and she both looked awesome and offered some of the best testimony on the panel. Her words were, I suspect, exactly what many in the room (and many others sequestered in their statehouse offices) needed to hear.

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