Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction caused a national meltdown at the 2004 Super Bowl. Yet, the Red Hot Chili Peppers didn’t even bother bringing a wardrobe to last night’s Super Bowl halftime show. Despite the cold weather, singer Anthony Kiedis, and bass player Flea, performed their hit song Give It Away completely shirtless, gyrating and prancing as the crowd roared its approval.
I’d like to know if the FCC plans to fine this band and FOX for broadcasting nudity to a global audience? And where are those “family values” groups that eviscerated Janet Jackson, not to mention the deep concern from pundits, preachers, and politicians lamenting the decline of civilization?
I checked in with hypersensitive One Million Moms this morning, because everything offends them. According to its website: “Mom, are you fed up with the trash in today’s media? Take action now.” Yet, there was not one peep about the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s performance.
No, instead of outrage, the reaction to the sensual skin display was summed up by a headline in The Huffington Post: “Anthony Kiedis and his Abs Steal The Halftime Show.” That’s interesting, because in 2004, Janet Jackson’s breast allegedly stole the innocence from children.
The criticism was not that their performance was obscene. It was that they were too old, at 51, to be seen. For example, one man named Zack tweeted, “The Red Hot Chili Peppers are so old, they’re more like the Brown, Dried-up Chili Peppers now.”
The disparate treatment of Janet Jackson and The Red Hot Chili Peppers reveals a gaping double standard. We like to think of ourselves as modern, but in 2014, nude male performers are considered sexy, while women doing the exact same thing are called sluts. This backward, tribal mentality is wrong and shows how far we have to go until women are treated as equals in society.
The illogical system endures in the name of propriety and religion. Those upholding the status quo say they are not misogynistic and that many women support their dress codes. Yet, it has to be more than a coincidence that women are always the ones made to sacrifice and wear oppressive styles of clothing – even in the stifling summer heat. When was the last time God told a man to wear an item of clothing that approximated a veil?
As Americans we look down on social backwaters like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia where women can’t show their faces. Yet, we are only less conservative by degree. The same incoherent, underlying principle at work in these uptight countries applies, on some level, to American women: Men can let it all hang out, while women must keep their bodies under wraps in the false name of “modesty.”
There is no way to rationalize our different treatment of women’s breasts and men’s chests. A man’s chest is just as much a sexual object for gay men and straight women as breasts are for straight men and lesbians.
To prove this, all one has to do is walk into any gym in America. The most frequently encountered item in the weight room is the bench press. This chest exercise provides no useful daily function, as opposed to exercises for back muscles, which can be utilized for picking up heavy objects. The bench press largely exits for increasing a man’s sex appeal.
What is it about women’s breasts in America that are so threatening and men’s chests that are so benign? In much of Europe there are comparatively liberalized attitudes, with many women sunbathing topless or completely nude. Yet, in America we still demand that women cover up at the beach, for the exception of a handful of secluded nude sunbathing venues.
It has always baffled me that more women haven’t protested this obvious double standard. The few times I have seen this taboo challenged is at LGBT Pride parades, where a smattering of lesbians march topless. And even at these venues, too many people seem shocked, even as throngs of shirtless men stream by with little notice or comment.
The HBO sitcom, “Girls,” is one television show that is breaking down this Victorian vestige. The show’s protagonist, Hannah, played by Lena Dunham, regularly appears nude. What is strikingly different about her bare body on screen is that she is pear shaped rather than built like a fashion model. Thus the intention is not to boost ratings though cheap thrills, but to show the bodies of real, everyday women in natural settings. More shows should follow the lead of Girls, by matter-of-factly showing women’s bodies.
Super Bowl Sunday was not only a lopsided game, but exposed the lopsided view of male versus female sexuality. In a mature country, a wardrobe malfunction would not cause a national meltdown. Americans need to get over their fear of breasts, while they unapologetically fawn over men’s chests. If men can flaunt their sexuality on the global stage, why can’t women?
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”