I wasn’t sure if I should watch. But curiosity made it hard to look away.

It felt confusing. Our culture shouts that women are strong. Our culture says women can do or be anything they want to do or be. Everywhere I look, people declare that women in 2020 are empowered.

And yet, the biggest television event of the year told me a very different story. Women are objects. Women are to be praised when and if they can (at age fifty) still shake their nearly bare rear ends for a camera.

I wonder: Is this what female empowerment is all about?

I’m glad my soon-to-be twelve-year-old daughter found jumping on the trampoline more exciting than football. She missed seeing the scantily clad Jennifer Lopez and Shakira Super Bowl Halftime spectacle. What messages would the close up crotch shots and pelvic thrusts have sent to her about a woman’s value?

Does pole dancing for an audience of millions make a woman strong? Has female empowerment morphed into nothing more than a code word for sexual promiscuity?

Empowerment, according to Webster, is the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.

Jesus empowered women. He didn’t treat them as second-class citizens. He was the first rabbi to allow them to study with the men. He respected women, acknowledging them in a culture that often didn’t.

But, in our culture, we’ve redefined empowerment as autonomy. To be empowered means to be master of one’s own destiny. She has the “right” to choose what’s “best” for her, with no regard to what’s best for anyone else. She has the “freedom,” like actress Michelle Williams, to rationalize choices like abortion if she can reason the result will be career success.

Empowerment, freedom, and control are destructive without boundaries. Dictators, harassing employers, and wife-beating husbands all remind us that boundless freedom without moral self-restraint is more harmful than helpful.

To take this one step further, when someone with a great deal of power exerts that power in a harmful way over someone with less power, we aptly call it abuse.

And this is where women’s empowerment becomes a myriad of madness. If empowering women means women have the “freedom” to behave however they like, with no expectations of negative consequences, no matter how harmful or destructive their behavior may be, then we’ve missed the point. We’ve enabled women to do the very thing they’ve accused men of doing for decades. It’s not empowerment. It’s abuse.

We laud independence as a higher good. We love our freedom. We fight for”¦demand it, even.

Yet, intrinsically, we all understand that too much freedom can be dangerous. Unless submitted to a higher authority, the selfish assertion of freedom creates chaos. I must submit to the traffic laws, and trust you’ll do the same; otherwise, our roads become a very dangerous place. I must surrender my desire to “get there faster” to the authorities that placed a red light in my path.

All freedom must be submitted to a higher authority, or others suffer. When letting my selfish desires control my behaviors, attitudes, and actions””I do harm to those around me. God sets boundaries for both women and men, sexually, for our good and for our protection. Without these boundaries, we hurt others, our society, and ourselves.

Likewise, when the abortion activist advocates that a woman’s “right to choose” is a form of female empowerment, it defies the truth that abortion leaves victims in its wake. If abortion empowers women, then what about the more that 30 million girls who have been aborted in this country? Where was their empowerment? Where was their freedom?

If empowerment is nothing more than unbridled sexuality, women will suffer, not thrive. Objectification devalues women who are made in God’s image and created to bring glory to him. If female expression is limited to a Halftime strip tease, and if a woman’s value based on the tightness of her rear end, we’ve missed an opportunity to cherish””and genuinely empower””women like Jesus did.