Three-thirty in the afternoon. The store is busy. Kids, hungry after school, lean hard and cranky against the shopping baskets their mothers push down the crowded aisles. I watch a middle-aged guy jump the check-out line. He sees me see him and he straightens up from his hastily maneuvered cart and does a defensive ‘who me’ shrug. Hurried myself, I bite my tongue, check my list, press on. There is a tall brunette bearing down on me. I do a half pirouette to let her by and hear a little voice, upturned, just finishing a question on the woman’s far side. As they pass me I hear her brisk reply:
“We are not here for fun. We are here for things to eat.”
I feel a flash of… something. Pause carefully on the threshold of judgment. I have always tried to avoid shopping-as-chore. We used to make food shopping an adventure, now it is at the very least a creative exercise in lunch kit supply choices. The little girl is being hustled along next to her mother, her dark ponytails just visible at the end of the aisle now. The truth is that shopping is a chore, especially at this hour, especially when your legs are little and everyone’s patience is thin.
I realize what I am feeling is an empathy wince.
Being a parent is filled with daily obstacle courses small and large. The Afternoon Meltdown hours between 3:30 and 6:30 are a particularly trying sprint. A homework hatchet hangs heavy and urgent over our household tonight, so I keep moving, wedge the freezer door open with my hip, grocery basket biting into my forearm, bottle returns clanking on my other flank. I try to smile at the kids hauling backpacks past me, and nod as we navigate the space so the parents know there is no pressure from me even if they are in the middle of a teary negotiation in the frozen waffle section.
Judgment is a withering thing under which family life does not thrive. We must allow room for each other.
The guy who jumped the line though? He needs remedial kindergarten.
I hadn’t been particularly focused on Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance except that I happened to catch it being re-watched on YouTube by the teenager on my couch. She would not likely have been focused on Beyoncé’s performance either except that there was buzz about it, and kids have exquisitely fine-tuned antennae when it comes to buzz. Which is exactly why I was still thinking about Beyoncé’s hard-not-to-watch performance when I saw Kat Armstong’s tweet the next morning. So I couldn’t help my earnest self but wade into a discussion that was already clearly well underway in the fun house hallways of social media: was Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance kick-ass, or was it just all about her ass?
Let me be clear: I have marched at midnight through the streets to defend a woman's right to wear what she wants and not be shamed or victimized for her choices. I am not judging, finger-pointing, or suggesting that Beyoncé is anything other than an extravagantly talented and very beautiful woman at the top of her cohort. There was a gorgeous, many-armed moment up there when she evoked the image of the goddess Kali. And I did love the exploding-onto-the-stage triad of divas. But most of the rest of the time, I thought Beyoncé looked like a cobbled prancing thoroughbred horse, dancing to the well-executed tune of our cultural expectations in thigh-high boots.
How many women watched Beyoncé’s performance and thought, Kali-like, about their own creative strength, and how many watched Beyoncé’s undulations while comparing themselves negatively to all that lovely, taught and thoroughly exposed flesh? How many men saw power up there, and how many saw sex?
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance was about (a fairly stereotypical variety of) sexuality as much as it was about her talent as a singer. The feminist mother and auntie in me shudders to think about what is being emotionally metabolized by our kids, our teenagers, our young men and women when this is their cultural fodder. Is this really what a sexually empowered woman looks like? It seems Beyoncé is owning it as such. And marketing it very effectively too. She certainly demanded our attention up there. But someone as powerfully talented as Beyoncé does herself no favours when we are having THIS discussion the morning after her performance.
We should be speaking about her voice, not her clothes.