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What the Super Bowl Halftime Show is Teaching Our Girls

super bowl halftime show teaching girls super bowl halftime show teaching girls

When Shakira and J.Lo took the stage for the Super Bowl halftime show, my 6-year-old daughter was curled beneath my arm on the couch. She immediately perked up and yelled for her brother to move out of the way so she could watch the bedazzled spectacular that was finally breaking up the unending tedium of football. She sat wide-eyed and mesmerized, forgetting for a moment that she was supposed to be “seriously hurt” from roughhousing with the other kids at the party. The performance was rapturous.

All around her, commentary was erupting from the women in the room. There were many “oh mys” and whooping yells of approval. “Look at that core strength,” someone marveled as J.Lo swung vertically from a pole. (Yep, a stripper pole — a nod to her role in Hustlers.) “Imagine having that kind of athleticism at 50!” “I love Shakira’s voice.” “That fringe is so good.” “Look at that strength.” “Mom goals.” My daughter watched the performance with all this chatter in the background — chatter that lifted up these two strong Latina women in their 40s and 50s who were showing up on one of the biggest stages in the world to showcase the fruits of their incredible hard work.

Which is why I was so disappointed when I saw the internet reaction from other women lamenting that Shakira and J.Lo’s performances were “inappropriate” for kids. I’ve seen the words “trashy” and “classless” and even “slutty” thrown about by mothers who are concerned that the performance threatened to normalize immoral, immodest behavior for their daughters. “What is this teaching our girls?” seems to be the common theme in these posts, and I can’t help but be struck by the irony of this hand-wringing.

Is the Super Bowl halftime show really teaching our children anything at all? Sure these performances are splashy and memorable, but they aren’t exactly the most influential force in our children’s lives. We are, and our reactions to the show do make an impact on our children.

I think we’re giving the half-time show a little too much credit for shaping our kids’ world view if we believe our girls will be changed by Shakira and J.Lo’s dance moves and wardrobe choices. I can assure you that my son watched a shirtless, tattooed Adam Levine last year and has yet to start writing “California” across his lower abdomen in Sharpie and taking off his shirt at every opportunity because that’s what he now believes is the gold-standard of manhood. Likewise, the chance that my daughter has internalized that she should don a leather leotard and learn to pole dance from a single performance is far-fetched at best. BUT the chance that she’ll learn to judge and chastise other women for their “inappropriate” behavior and fashion choices if she hears me doing it? Way higher. And that concerns me.

As parents, our words and our reactions have far more power than the performance itself. I’m glad my daughter got to see that performance, because I believe that the affirmation she heard in the room will have an impact on her. I want her to know that when women gather together to watch a performance like the one we saw during the Super Bowl, we have an opportunity to raise up those female performers for their strengths, not tear them down from a moral high ground. But when we women use the halftime show as an opportunity to criticize or malign Shakira and J.Lo, that teaches our girls a lot more than the performance itself ever will.

Our kids are entertained by the half-time show. But they’re learning from us.

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Gemma Hartley is a freelance journalist and author of Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women and the Way Forward. She lives in Reno, Nevada with her husband and three young children.