Sexist Double Standards Take Center Stage at Super Bowl Half Time Show

Over the past few days, I’ve found myself double-tapping a lot of Weeknd memes. While I definitely got a good laugh out of the lackluster effort put into the Super Bowl LV Halftime Show, I can’t seem to shake my uneasiness surrounding the entire situation. With a budget of around $20 million, $7 million of which The Weeknd contributed out of pocket, this year’s Super Bowl Halftime show felt rather anticlimactic. Whether it was the hazy camerawork, tired costume, or confusing choreography, the Weeknd’s performance lacked the zing that has animated the Half Time Show stage in prior years. 

The Weeknd’s performance fell a little short of the halftime standards established by stars like Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Katy Perry, and Beyonce. These artists all used their performances to showcase their unique aesthetics and talents, as the Weeknd did with the recurring themes of face bandages and his radio-ready vocals. However, these female artists also worked with elaborate choreography, dangerous stunts, unimaginable footwear, eye-catching costumes, full sets, and were still ridiculed to a much higher degree than a couple of harmless memes. 

I think it’s about time we acknowledge that women Half Time Show performers are expected to become lightning rods for the nastiest forms of criticism while putting insane amounts of effort into tasks that male performers can get away with easily brushing off.

While it’s an unfortunate fact that women in Hollywood — and anywhere really — are relentlessly body-shamed, slut-shamed, and shamed for existing in general, it’s a whole different problem when they’re also held to insanely high standards for performance. For female artists, it’s never just about singing. They are judged on their costumes, their dancing, their sets — the whole nine yards. 

Though The Weeknd’s stage presence and overall performance was definitely better than Maroon 5’s and Travis Scotts’s, who just kind of hopped around the stage, it was still light-years behind the likes of Lady Gaga’s building jump, Jennifer Lopez’s and Shakira’s detailed dance moves, Katy Perry’s majestic lion ride, and Beyonce’s gravity-defying high heels. 

Artists like Justin Timberlake and Coldplay are consistently held to a much lower standard, as they are allowed to perform in T-shirts and sneakers, and perhaps be turned into memes. Meanwhile, their female counterparts are expected to wear glitter and dance in high heels and then face criticism for being “too sexual,”“untalented,” and “fat”. 

Whether fancy sets and intricate choreography make a performance better or not is beside the point. The point is that over the years, we’ve been lowering the bar for male artists further and further while simultaneously making dangerously unrealistic demands of female artists. While there have been some exceptions, it seems overwhelmingly clear that female artists are putting far more effort into their Super Bowl Halftime performances. 

To be clear, there was nothing especially terrible about The Weeknd’s performance. The criticism and jokes he has received are all valid. The bar for him was low, and I think he managed to stumble across it. A female artist would have been held to much higher standards, and the punishment would have been far crueler than a few memes.  

The double standards surrounding the Super Bowl Halftime show are obviously only a symptom of a much larger issue, but as the show is one of the more flashy and international visible manifestations, it seems noteworthy. Even when broadcasted to an audience of over 100 million viewers, there seems to be some trouble acknowledging that women must put more work into the same tasks or risk being discarded.

When we hold women to such impossibly high standards, we are playing an active role in excluding them from the very industries that they helped shape. By placing such unreasonable demands on such talented and hardworking women, we are demeaning their work and misusing their talents. Simultaneously, we keep lowering the bar for men, allowing them to get away with doing the bare minimum. 

If we just allowed women to exist without constantly berating them for things that men don’t even think about, women would be able to contribute so much more to society. Men would feel the need to step up rather than discarding female competitors entirely. Overall, society would progress. The current system that we live in is a dangerous one; this imbalance of power hurts us all because it’s neither sustainable nor profitable.

Art by Nicholas Regli for the UC San Diego Guardian.