It’s time to call out Justin Timberlake



Justin Timberlake on Beale St. (Creative Commons)

Sophia Maltese, Editor in Chief

The phrase “Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction” always struck me as wrong. At the end of her 2004 Super Bowl performance with Justin Timberlake, he reached across her chest and pulled at her outfit, exposing her right breast.

Clearly, it was not an accident. Need more evidence? Timberlake’s action coincided perfectly with lyrics about undressing.

Yet, Jackson was lambasted in the media, uninvited to the Grammys and blacklisted from TV. Headlines about Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” saturated media, but hardly a word was uttered about Timberlake’s purposeful and obvious action.

When I first watched the video, I thought the slip might have been planned. It was expertly timed, and the shirt came off effortlessly. But Jackson’s shock was not feigned. In fact, it created a sizable roadblock in her career and, not to mention, violated broadcasting guidelines.

In other words, there was no way Jackson approved Timberlake’s grab.

Despite being a victim of sexual harassment and public humiliation, Jackson’s career plummeted from a previously steady incline. Meanwhile, Timberlake went on to have numerous hits, becoming a force in Hollywood. And the story was painted as a “malfunction” — a mere accident that was somehow still Jackson’s fault.

I’m disgusted.

The amount of blatant sexism and delusion necessary for the widespread acceptance of this false narrative is astronomical. Any person who watches the clip can see Timberlake’s glaring movement. And yet, my first thought when watching it was, “Am I wrong? What am I missing?”

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you herd mentality at its finest.

But it’s not just herd mentality. It’s sexism and male privilege and the hatred of strong, influential women.

Why did Timberlake walk away unscathed while Jackson picked up the shards of her career? Why, even if it was a “malfunction,” did we blame Jackson?  

It’s because viewers wanted to think that she did it. Everywhere, but in Hollywood particularly, women are sexualized. Meanwhile, men like Timberlake get to write their own narrative. They aren’t, by default, sexualized.

This is eminently clear in the wardrobe choices of the two performers as well. Jackson donned a full face of makeup, black leather outfit and combat boots, while Timberlake sported a solid green t-shirt and tan pants. He might as well have gone to a barbeque.

Jackson needs justice. It frustrates me that I even need to say this — that I need to write a column where my take is: women should be respected.

Yes, we deserve that and so much more. It’s time to set the story straight and remove toxic men from positions of power. And that’s just the start.