January 29 2014
What do you call a man who stands there smiling and singing as his scantily clad wife straddles a chair and shakes her rear end for other men’s titillation?
I’m certain if I look through enough Jay Z song titles, I’ll come up with the right name for his role in Beyoncé’s performance at the Grammy Awards Sunday night. Rhymes with Goodyear. . . ? Well, how about I just call him a poor excuse for a husband.
For years, these award ceremonies have pushed the envelope; Beyoncé’s booty-shaking was certainly no worse than Miley Cyrus’s twerking or any number of other performances by Madonna, for instance. But there’s something particularly icky about doing it while your husband looks on approvingly.
“Honestly, I didn’t want to watch Jay Z and Beyoncé’s foreplay,” says Charlotte Hays, author of “When Did White Trash Become the New Normal?” Indeed, the happy couple seems to have completely blurred the line between what goes on in their bedroom and what happens on national TV. So much for the woman that Michelle Obama has called “a role model who kids everywhere can look up to.”
Hays says, “It wasn’t surprising to see Jay Z, looking pleased at his wife’s hyper-sexualized exhibition on stage.” After all, “he’s made a living singing lyrics that call women ‘bitches’ and ‘hos,’ so we shouldn’t be surprised that he objectified his own wife on stage.”
It is a little bit surprising, though, coming so soon after Beyoncé contributed to the recent feminist manifesto, the Shriver Report. When she complains that “gender equality is a myth,” one wonders to what extent her consent to sell sexuality has contributed to the problem.
The sophisticates will say that what we saw Sunday were just the long-established stage personas of Beyoncé and Jay Z; why should their marriage change that?
Well, for one thing, the happy couple have invited audiences to admire their adorable family, with dad even joking about his daughter’s sippy cups when he accepted an award on Sunday. So they’re suggesting to audiences that this kind of public sexual behavior is compatible with a loving modern marriage.
Which brings us to that odd mass wedding, sort of a Hollywood version of those creepy Moonie affairs, as Queen Latifah officiated at the joining in matrimony of 33 couples as part of the awards ceremony.
Asked about it, she said, “The weight of it comes down, because it wouldn’t matter if you’re same-sex couples or heterosexual couples or interracial couples, it doesn’t matter to me, this is someone’s life committed to one another, and you want to make sure you do it right.” Does that kind of commitment entail watching approvingly as your partner shows off her bootyliciousness?
Feminists will argue that Beyoncé had a career before she got married; why should marriage change how she performs? It’s a good question. How does being married change a relationship? Or, in Beyoncé’s terms, if he likes it, why should he put a ring on it?
It’s a question that François Hollande asked and answered easily: There’s not much reason for men to put a ring on it at all, as far as the French president is concerned.
Hollande just decided to trade in one girlfriend for a younger version. His now-ex was mad enough, according to some reports to destroy $3 million worth of property in the Élysée Palace, but you might reasonably ask what she expected. A ring is no guarantee (as the first wife of Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, learned), but it’s at least a suggestion that there is a permanent future for a relationship.
Still, this may simply be the state of relations between the sexes. Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, says that women today have struck a kind of “grand bargain.”
He says, “Women get contraception and the ability to limit and space their children, and the chance to fashion careers — things that sound good and are often experienced as such — and in return men get to decide just how invested in a relationship they actually have to be.”
The problem, he notes, is that “men prefer cheaper sex” — that is, they prefer not to be more invested than they have to be.
Of course, those who do make the investment typically prefer not to share the proceeds with a prime-time TV audience.