The Chime for Change's Sound of Change concert, which took place in London on Saturday night — and aired on NBC last night in the US — is part of a global campaign to raise funds and awareness for girls' and women's empowerment. Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Rita Ora were among the performers at the event, but some found their wardrobes at odds with the message of the movement.
Emma Gritt of the Daily Mail collected some tweets from viewers, who criticized the provocative outfits. A sampling:
I am all about female empowerment in every form. I am, But why does it have to be celebrated in spike heels & knickers every time? #beyonce
JLo looks good but [slutty] in what she's wearing. How can she be singing for empowerment of women when she's dressed like that?
Huge concert promoting female empowerment… and Beyoncé's backing dancers are all wearing thongs
It's easy to blame the critiques on a few malcontents. And we don't want pearl-clutchy puritanism encouraging women to cover up. The comments section of the article contains a backlash to the backlash, with readers arguing that "empowerment means a woman can wear what she wants where she wants." Okay, yes.
But still: Aren't these women wearing what is considered "sexy" using a set of rules determined by a patriarchal society? Isn't the way that they look — showing off long hair, highlighted crotches, tiny waists, long, lean legs — the male concept of the female ideal?
There's a chapter called "Pop Cuture Gone Wild" in Jessica Valenti's book Full Frontal Feminism, in which she takes on Girls Gone Wild, Playboy and Girls Next Door, the concept of "hot" and playing with sexuality. She writes,
I think wanting to be desired is a really understandable thing. Who doesn't want to be wanted? The problem is who defines "hot" — and therefore desirability, Hint: It's not women.
And: "…If you want to show your tits just for the pure fun of it — go for it. But I do think it's incredibly important that we always be aware of why we want to do certain things."
Clearly, when it comes to objectivity versus empowerment, you can argue that artists like Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez are adult women, fully in control of their image and choosing their wardrobe choices, as they should. They always perform in slightly provocative costumes; wouldn't it be disingenuous to cover-up just this once? Still, at an event about investing in girls around the world — 60% of the children not in school are girls — it's worth applying some critical thinking to the choices supposedly empowered women make.