Last week I authored an article on Feminspire.com about Sofia Vergara’s sexist Emmy bit. About a month prior, I wrote a piece about how Beyoncé is becoming one of feminism’s most important assets. Within the past week, there has been an abundance of backlash to the backlash of Sofia Vergara’s Emmy appearance, most of which is drawing a comparison between the bit and Beyonce’s VMA performance. Many don’t understand why Beyoncé’s performance is being celebrated and Sofia’s is being criticized, especially when Beyoncé was “practically naked” and Sofia was fully clothed in an elegant gown. So I’m going to take this opportunity to clear up why these two things are different.
First of all, since when is wearing a long sleeve leotard and four pairs of tights being naked? Did it ever occur to anyone that when you’re going to be performing for 17 minutes and doing intense choreography that wearing a leotard is probably the most comfortable because it’s not going to make you overheat and allows you to move easier? Wait, this isn’t even the point I wanted to make. Beyoncé was not naked, moving on.
The difference between Beyoncé’s performance and the Sofia Vergara bit is multi-dimensional. First of all, Beyoncé was the brains behind her performance; Sofia was not. The Emmy bit was created because they needed something attractive on stage during a boring speech from the Chairman. Sofia was the add-in, not the catalyst. Beyoncé on the other hand, was being awarded. Now, Beyoncé is known for embracing her sexuality and showcasing her body in the way she chooses. But her performance Sunday night at the VMAs was not about her body. That was a big part of it because like I said, Beyoncé likes to showcase her body in her videos and her routines and is an amazing dancer to boot, which obviously requires showcasing your body. But her body wasn’t the point of the performance. If Beyoncé walked off the VMA stage and said, “I hope all you took away from that performance was my body and didn’t pay attention to the music, my superior performance skills, my dedication to my daughter, my feminist message, or any of my proud achievements, but just focused on my ass,” than I probably would have written a similar article about her as I did for Sofia Vergara. If all the people watching Beyonce’s performance had to say about it were comments about her body, than I would have written a similar article then, too. Similar, but not the same. Here’s why.
Beyoncé has said numerous times that she doesn’t want to be a sex symbol; she wants to be a legend. There is actually a difference between embracing your body/sexuality and being objectified. The whole point of Sofia Vergara’s bit was to objectify her. The whole point of Beyonce’s performance was to show the versatility of her ability, her career, and of womanhood in general. Beyoncé gyrated every which way on that VMA stage and then cried at the sight of her child. Beyoncé is a living example of the layers that make up women. We can be mothers and wives and entertainers and feminists and sexual beings. But we don’t get layers when we are given Sofia Vergara. She is presented solely as one-dimensional. She is her body.
And for those of you using the fact that Sofia was proud to do this bit as a counter argument, please don’t. To be honest, her being okay with it for me is like the equivalent of a woman being flattered when someone catcalls her. You can see the situation however you want to see it, but it’s still wrong. And what’s wrong about the Emmy bit is that some producer asked her to do it in the first place thinking it would be funny. A lot of people are saying that we need to have a sense of humor about the whole thing, but the whole point is that we’re not supposed to be laughing. This is not a thing that should be funny. Displaying women as objects and “something nice to look at” is not funny. It is objectifying. We’re trying to change that about our culture. Sofia Vergara is a four-time Emmy nominee. She’s very talented, but you would never know that because all she gets to do is the “I’m a beautiful Latina” bit. So while she’s rotating on a pedestal brushing her ass as a man in a position of power talks about the innovative world of television, Beyoncé was on stage just 24 hours prior talking about how wrong it is that we teach girls to make themselves smaller. Case in point: Sofia Vergara. People too often make her smaller. She is not just a body. She is not just something pretty to look at. Sofia Vergara loves her body and isn’t afraid to show it, which she should, but reducing her importance to two very specific parts of her body is not okay.
The difference between owning your sexuality and being objectified lies in the value placed upon you. No one talks about Sofia Vergara and the amazing work she does and the road she’s paving for Latin women in Hollywood. People talk about her boobs on the red carpet more than they have ever talked about her career. With Beyoncé, she always puts her work in the forefront. Her message is always in the forefront. Her contribution to the music industry and to female empowerment is most often the topic of discussion. Her body is a part of the story, but not the whole story. She uses her body to erase stigmas surrounding women’s sexuality, specifically wives and mothers, and what the male agenda finds appropriate. She doesn’t believe in letting men define what is sexy and what is feminine. She is going to do that for herself. And if you’re the type of person to look at Beyoncé or a Beyoncé performance and all you see is her body, than that’s on you, not her. Because you’re programmed to look at a woman before you listen to her. Beyoncé is not defined by her body. That is not her whole story. She is here to show the versatility of women and the many layers to which they exist – sexual beings being just one of them.
But when Sofia Vergara was up on that Emmy stage, that wasn’t what was happening. She was being used as a prop. She was not the active. And if it was meant to be a joke, what exactly was the joke? That the television industry knows it’s sexist, but they’re just going to keep objectifying women anyway? Because that’s just how things are? I don’t think so. It’s time to start treating women, especially minorities, with some damn respect. And even if I could wrap my mind around a justification of why this bit was not offensive, I still don’t understand it. If the Television Academy wanted to make a statement about how they are more inclusive and diverse than ever, why do this bit? Even if Vergara was poking fun at the way women are portrayed on television and in the media, why do this? Why make a joke? So many people are furious about this situation and want to see change and your answer as the head of the Television Academy is to make it into a joke, a joke that literally does the very thing people are upset about in the first place? If you were attempting satire or irony, you failed. Instead, the energy put into coming up with this bit could have been put towards actually helping the problem. Like writing words for Sofia to say. Because doing this bit as a way to show how you are aware of the sexism in Hollywood isn’t helping the problem at all. We aren’t looking for a joke right now. We’re looking for positive change. So no matter what your intentions were, Television Academy, you failed miserably.
And speaking of intentions, I think it’s safe to say that one of Beyonce’s was to bring feminism into the mainstream and hopefully educate people on the issue and what it stands for. And whether you think she’s right for feminism or just another slut showing her ass, she’s actually accomplishing her intention. See screenshots taken from Tumblr below for one example.
I am not making these arguments to be difficult or hypocritical. Trust me, I would love for this to just be a joke and not another sexist bit. I would love for you to provide me with examples of people talking about Sofia’s career and not her body. I would love to be proven wrong. But that’s just not the case. So all you people telling me to lighten up, no, I won’t. I believe that Sofia Vergara is more than just her looks. So I will not laugh this off. Because that’s how things stay the same. And I happen to be in the business of making change.