There is no bigger microcosm for sexism in America than the 2004 Superbowl halftime show.
That’s the year Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake performed together. At the end of the performance, Timberlake ripped off a piece of Jackson’s top, revealing her breast covered by only a nipple shield.
People freaked. 540,000 complained to the Federal Communications Commission.
FCC chief Michael Powell said, “Like millions of Americans, my family and I gathered around the television for a celebration. Instead, that celebration was tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt.”
Sure, a bunch of guys trying to crush each other into a bloody pulp is good old fashioned family fun. But a breast? Fetch me my fainting chair.
Now, surely Timberlake would be held as responsible for the stunt as Jackson. He ripped off her top. He sang “bet I’ll have you naked by the end of this song”.
But Timberlake was quick to divert attention, blaming it on a “wardrobe malfunction”. Somehow, he escaped the backlash.
Jackson did not.
Entertainment companies, including MTV, blacklisted Jackson. They refused to play her singles and music videos. She received virtually no radio play. Sales for her next three albums dropped. Her invitation to the Grammy Awards was withdrawn.
Funny enough, Timberlake’s invitation was still good. He even performed the event.
A few years later Timberlake expressed regret about the scandal. He wished he did more to help Jackson.
“If there was something I could have done in her defense that was more than I realized then, I would have.”
Hint: try taking some responsibility and don’t let Jackson take all the heat.
“I probably got 10 percent of the blame, and that says something about society. I think that America’s harsher on women. And I think that America is, you know, unfairly harsh on ethnic people.”