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Feminism Or Sexism? Depends. Is It Beyonce’s VMAs or Vergara’s Emmys?


Guys, guys. Seriously. You won’t believe this. So on Sunday night, Beyoncé had a 15-minute medley performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. It was what you’d expect from Queen Bey these days — a stage full of back-up dancers in “naked stripper” costumes gyrating on strip poles, one of the most amazing collections of derrières I have ever seen, songs about performing oral sex in the back of a limo, a song about having a guy “tear that cherry out” (complete with the word “cherry” in big letters as the backdrop), a song that tells women who don’t respect Beyoncé sufficiently to “Bow Down Bitches,” S&M themes, intimate acquaintance with much of Bey’s crotch — you know, the usual. I mean, it wasn’t totally usual in that Beyoncé’s toddler child was in the audience to witness all this dry-humping and simulated getting-down, but other than that, your typical Beyoncé. I say this as someone who enjoys Beyoncé but might risk a visit from Saturday Night Live’s Beygency, the group that kills people insufficiently devoted to Queen Bey.

But in the midst of this performance, there was a little sermonette about “Feminism,” illustrated with the helpful prop of “FEMINIST” in big letters at the back of the stage. And the media completely ate it up. Many thought it inspiring and praised it to high heaven. I wrote that it was utterly hilarious that a cry for feminism took place between the strip club vignette and the “Bow Down” song. When I was interviewed about that piece, I said that feminism right now is an incoherent mess of double standards. Little did I know how right I was.

Not 24 hours later there was another awards show. The Emmys. You know how in awards shows there’s that bit where the guy in charge says something totally snooze-worthy about the academy or whatever group is giving out awards? This is the moment when everyone goes to refill their drink or take a quick trip to the loo. Well, for that portion of the Emmy’s, they used a trite little gimmick. Here, I’ll let Time magazine explain:

At the Emmy Awards, Modern Family star Sofia Vergara introduced Bruce Rosenblum, chairman of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Flatly, she said it had always been her dream to come to America to do such a thing on stage — but like so many American dreams, it soured on the vine. Rosenblum asked Vergara to step onto a pedestal that then rotated 360 degrees, showing off the Latina star’s famous curves while he talked about the state of the television industry.

The last thing he said was, “What truly matters,” Rosenblum said, “is that we never forget that our success is based on always giving the viewer something compelling to watch.”

While not destined to win any comedy writing awards, the bit works because Sofia Vergara is very compelling to watch. I’m a happily married woman and I find her luscious curves a sight for sore eyes. But, then again, I think Beyoncé is hott. My views on women being generally hot and this being a nice thing are well-established, but these women are particularly hot. And they know it and werk it and all that.

Sofia Vergara’s crime — “Crime?” you ask. Yes, I’m getting to that — was that her bit didn’t include the word “feminist” in large font at the back of the stage. Many in the media, sometimes the very same people who loved Beyoncé performance (!), were upset at Vergara’s bit.

I fear you may not believe me so I’m going to cite some examples:

Time: Sofia Vergara Was Literally Put on a Pedestal in a Completely Sexist Bit at the Emmys
Salon (Yes, the real one and not the parody): Sofia Vergara’s bizarre, objectifying Emmy moment: The “Modern Family” actress is put on display–literally–for you viewers at home
Vox: The Emmys put Sofia Vergara on a rotating pedestal, and it was terrible
Huffington Post: The Emmy Awards Objectify Sofia Vergara During A Speech About Diversity On Television

Guys, these are real headlines. From the same outlets that ran headlines such as “Beyonce seizes moment at MTV Video Music Awards.” I don’t know if the problem was that Vergara had yards more clothing on than Beyoncé or if it was that she wasn’t splaying her legs with all the subtlety of a stampeding herd of rhinoceroses. (Side note: A herd of rhinoceroses is apparently called a crash or stubbornness. Isn’t that cool?)

But the real fun was on Twitter. Emily Nussbaum, who is the TV critic for The New Yorker, did her very best Pauline Kael with this one:

Just beautiful! I don’t think she was trying to sound like Kael, which makes me love this even more.

Let’s look at some of the responses on Twitter.

Beyoncé good, Vergara bad

Michael Deppisch joked, I repeat, joked, about this with his tweet:

But that’s exactly what others had to say:

Last night, Jarrett Wieselman of BuzzFeed said:

Aaaannnnd what do you think he said the previous night?

That’s right. When there was nothing but headless bodies featuring butts-butts-butts and a spread-eagle Beyoncé singing a song some have criticized for its lyrics joking about Ike Turner’s domestic violence, Jarrett Wieselman of BuzzFeed could not deal with the perfection. But when a fully clothed Vergara did a little comedy bit about her rockin’ bod, sound the alarm, we got a problem.

Media literacy professor Julie Nilsson Smith accidentally retweeted the Deppisch tweet above before reminding us of the absolute imperative of having a large “Feminist” sign behind you at all times if you want to feature your booty:

I know this one’s super difficult for feminists, but being funny is a talent, too. Also, Beyoncé showed us her boobs, butt and all up in her crotch and topped it off with songs about cherry-popping, beating up your woman and fellating a dude in the back of a car. Come on. Also, technical note, that fellatio song (“Partition”) includes the line “He Monica Lewinsky-ed all on my gown.” I don’t mean to be all #YesAllWomen but the correct line would be “He Bill Clinton-ed all on my gown,” mmm-kay? Let’s get it straight.

Here was New York magazine’s contribution:

Commenters responded:


ThinkProgress’ Jessica Goldstein::

The previous night she wrote an article with the line, “The image from the night that is still giving me all the goosebumps is Mrs. Carter standing in front of the word FEMINIST, hands clenched in fists at her side.” Heh. I don’t even think her fists were actually clenched.


Vergara not in charge

The other weird charge among liberal media was that Vergara wasn’t in control of herself when she chose to do this bit. You know, more or less the same bit she’s been doing for years and the same thing that happens in pretty much every episode of Modern Family, the show that last night won its fifth Emmy for best comedy series. It’s a weird claim. Check out this exchange, which began with Daily Beast political reporter Olivia Nuzzi injecting some consistency into the debate:

ThinkProgress editor-in-chief Judd Legum, who had earlier said Vergara had been “put” on the turntable, responded:

There are other examples of this infantilizing of one of the highest paid comedic actresses on television as a weak woman not in control of her sexuality and image.

But note Legum’s view that awards shows should not feature women on turntables while men talk. And then check out this video found by Twitter user S.M.

It’s of the Grammy awards show earlier this year. It features a woman on a turntable, and even a man talking.

It’s not Vergara, though. It’s Beyonce.

Perhaps feminists would do better to apply some principled consistency to their arguments. Putting curvalicious booties on display for checking out may be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s not magically made OK when one woman co-opts the meaningless term “feminist” and slaps it next to it. And justifying your enjoyment of said booty-objectification by that measure mere hours before condemning jokes about such objectification is not helping the feminist cause.

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