Did the Emmys take it too far with Sofia Vergara bit, post-Beyoncé feminist performance?

Aug 26, 2014 at 2:46 p.m. ET
Image: Apega

Watching the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday night and watching the Primetime Emmys last night proved to be a wildly different viewing experience. And, hey, we get it — the VMAs are known for pushing the envelope a bit (hello, Nicki Minaj!), while the Emmys by nature are a more austere affair. Still, this year's telecasts could easily have come from entirely different decades.

To cap off the VMAs, Beyoncé took the stage for an epic 15-minute song medley. She performed "Flawless" as part of that medley, at which point she stood in front of a huge screen reading "FEMINIST." And, yes, looking every bit a feminist, and a fierce one at that.

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She also recited part of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's stirring speech about young girls and feminism (just as she does in the video for "Flawless"). At the end of the spirited performance, Jay Z — looking ever so proud and supportive — took the stage with the couple's adorable daughter, Blue Ivy, to present Queen Bey with the show's highest honor, the Vanguard Award.

You could practically hear the charge in the air — an electric current of pride and strength and power. The collective consciousness of badass women and the men who respect them.

Meanwhile, last night at the Emmys, the only thing you could hear when Television Academy chairman Bruce Rosenblum took the stage was a pin drop. Not because people were captivated by what he was saying but, rather, because he roped Sofia Vergara into a shtick that still has us scratching our heads.

I mean, really... what were they thinking?

Here's how it played out. Vergara pokes a little fun at the old American dream by joking that she had always dreamed growing up of coming to this country to... introduce the Academy chairman. Rosenblum then takes the stage, at which point the bit took a decidedly seedy turn.

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After pointing out the tremendous impact television has had this year, Rosenblum asks the Colombian beauty to step up onto a spinning pedestal. And, let's be honest, nobody heard anything else Rosenblum said, aside from his parting words. "What truly matters is that we never forget that our success is based on always giving the viewer something compelling to watch."


Cue Twitter pandemonium. Everyone from Katie Couric to musicians Tegan and Sara chimed in to point out the seeming sexism of the skit.

For her part, Vergara insists it wasn't sexist. In fact, it was anything but. "I think it's absolutely the opposite [of sexist]. It means that somebody can be hot and also funny and make fun of herself," she told EW. Does she have a point?

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Clearly, she wasn't offended by the skit. Rather, she claims that is part of feminism: the fact that women are now in on the joke, rather than the butt of it. But does complicity make sexism OK? Just because it didn't ruffle Vergara's feathers doesn't mean it didn't piss everyone else off. After all, she may have been dealt part of that hand, but it's not as though the rest of us were holding any cards.

Another argument to be made in Vergara's defense, however, could be that Beyoncé's performance also put her body on display in a way designed to call attention to it. Where does embracing one's feminist wiles cross the line from feminist to sexist? If you take the man out of the equation, would what Vergara did be nearly as offensive?

Still, in contrast to Beyoncé's VMAs performance, Vergara's Emmys skit feels like a throwback to the days when women weren't four-time Emmy and Golden Globe nominees (as she is) and were rather just "pretty faces."

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Perhaps it is particularly frustrating to see this today, on national Women's Equality Day. Women have worked so hard to get to the point where we're taken seriously and where our roles carry the same weight — and often more — as our male counterparts. Aren't we doing ourselves a disservice if we let anyone marginalize that or use it as part of a cheap parlor trick?

Women like Beyoncé and Sofia Vergara deserve to be put on a pedestal because they are smart and funny and immeasurably talented — not so men can ogle their asses.