FYI (for girls and boys)

So in the wake of one lady’s attempt to get her son’s Facebook friends to cover up (complete with bonus pictures of her topless sons), as well as one friend’s wife’s attempt to bring a little clarity to what it feels like as a Christian teen trying her best not to be seen as a hussy temptress, I’ve been thinking a lot about what responsibility women do have to their bodies.

Here’s the thing:  women have heard it all.  “Don’t be a stumbling block.”  “Don’t cause your brother to sin.”  “You have a responsibility.”  “If a guy sees your breasts he won’t respect you, you’ll forever be an object to him.”

I can’t help but remember one time when I was wearing a pair of hole filled jeans my brother had given me, and a band tee that was two sizes too big.  I remember walking around at a (Christian) music festival feeling pleasantly asexual, when one leering guy loudly said to one of his friends, “girl tries to hide it but I bet if you peel away the layers there is one sweet body wrapped up in there.”

God, I was so embarrassed.

I never wanted to be a sexual object.  When I was young, a so-called friend of my brothers grabbed the neck of my tshirt and pinched my ass and ogled my breasts.  It scarred me in a serious way.  Some girls, after something like that, choose to be sexy to feel in control.  I chose to be asexual until I was in college.  I’d dress in baggy clothes and keep my body hidden and blush for any attention at all.  Yet, guys still talked about my body.  Guys still asked to see my breasts.  Guys still obviously lusted for me.  So what was I doing wrong?

I would be openly, violently opposed to any male advances to the point that guys called me a lesbian.  Yet once, one drunk friend got me pinned in a corner and kissed me.  What was I doing wrong?

I was being female.

I realize now that it was all I ever did wrong.  I was a girl in a world that tells girls that their bodies are a problem.  Yet I cannot stop being a girl.

Here’s the problem:  when you tell a girl to cover up her body to keep men from stumbling, you are telling her that her body is a stumbling block.  Her body, which you also say was made to glorify God.  You give her conflicting messages, saying in one breath that her female form is a source of shame but also telling her that she should glorify God through childbirth.  As if the end result is holy (she will bear children) but the function itself is vile (she has an attractive body which she will give to a man in order to conceive.)

It simply doesn’t make sense.

Women cannot control men’s attraction.  Even by covering up.  The knowledge that the female body is possessed of breasts and a vagina does not fade just because they are out of sight.  Pure attraction, involuntary attraction, the longing of one body for another to touch, doesn’t fade no matter what clothing is involved.  The only responsible way to handle that primal, human, urging is by teaching our children what it means and how to control it in themselves.  Blaming it on females is recklessly irresponsible; especially, given the knowledge that males are not the only ones who experience it.  (Yet we do not caution our men to hide the traits which women most find appealing.  Imagine if we told our young boys to speak in high pitched voices, avoid growing muscles, and to disdain showing any affection or appreciation towards girls in order to protect girls from feeling lust!)

Women’s bodies should not be seen or treated as a source of shame.  Yes, I understand that in the Garden of Eden, after eating the fruit of the tree of Knowledge, both Adam and Eve felt shame in their nakedness and God clothed them.  Yes, that is all good.  But didn’t God at the same time throw layer upon layer of curses on them?  Are those curses, and that shame, things that we as redeemed people should embrace?  Absolutely not.  We have freedom from those curses, we seek out a more perfect state of being, one in which we can taste the taste of Eden and walk unashamed at the side of God.

Let me be absolutely blatant:  This fervent, senseless shaming of young girl’s bodies is a stumbling block to achieving that blessed state.

I would never unfriend a young girl who posted a coy selfie.  I would never tell my daughter that it is her fault if young boys see her as a sexual object, and I would never tell my son to blame a young girl for his attractions.  No.

No.

No.

I will tell my daughter that her body is a blessing and a beautiful gift.  That it can give her joy, it can give her future lover joy, it can offer comfort and safety and warmth.  Her body is capable of creating the miracle of life and her breasts are glorious gifts that can give sustenance to a child.  I want my daughter to rejoice in her body.  Will I explain to her about society’s expectations, and dressing in a way that people show respect?  Yes.  But I want her to understand that there’s a difference between dressing in a way that shows respect for your body and others and dressing to hide yourself.  Those two are not the same and should not be treated as such.

A woman who wears shapeless dresses and lives in terror of being seen as the sexual being that she is does not show herself, or others, respect by doing so.  She shows fear.

And I will explain to my son that the things he feels are not to be blamed on the people that incite them in him.  It’s not other people’s fault when he is sad or angry or bored, nor is it their fault when he is sexually excited.  They are his feelings, his to understand and his to control. Those feelings, when shared with others, can be a blessing or a curse.  I will teach him not to curse others with his sexual urges.

So, remember that your body is a gift, the feelings it can create in others and yourself are also a gift.  There is no reason to be ashamed of having that capability or feeling.  What matters is how you take responsibility for yourself.  You cannot take responsibility through blaming or shaming.  Women, dress yourselves with grace and love.  Men, treat your attraction with grace and love.

And don’t be ashamed.

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what makes women objects?

The more the Miley Mania drags on, the more I want to throttle people.

I need to say this:  If you are implying  that Miley SHOULD NOT twerk all over the person of her choosing, you are taking away her freedom to explore her sexuality in whatever way she wants (however freakish and unsettling you may find it) and you are taking away her right to be the kind of performer she wants (however embarrassing and grotesque it may be) and trying to craft her into an object of your desiring.

Yes, it is fine and good and occasionally beneficial to talk about what kind of a society we live in and what kinds of examples we want our daughters to follow, but the Miley Mania has gone far beyond that.  I am starting to find it acutely disturbing.  People are saying, in not as many words, that Miley somehow owes something to their families and should remain the chaste, adorable teen idol she started out as.  As if, because she was thrust into the spotlight at a young age and profited from it, she now owes society back.

She’s not a person, she’s an object.

The objectification of Miley Cyrus as a sexual being started LONG before the VMAs.  It started with the blurred lines between her and Hannah Montana, the plastering of bedrooms with her face, and the parents who willingly told their daughters that she was someone worth becoming.

Which, I must point out, objectified their daughters, too.

Anyone who is shocked that such a journey would culminate in the show at the VMAs must not pay attention to how the world works.  Sexual imprisonment does tend to lead to sexual rebellion- and public sexual imprisonment does tend to lead to public sexual rebellion.

But let’s talk about objectification more, why don’t we?  Because it’s oh so tempting and oh so easy to blather on about objectification as if the only time it happens is on billboards and magazine covers and on TV, as if the only way women are ever objectified is as sexual objects that men control and consume.

Ha.

If only.  If only.

Women are also objectified as virgins and mothers and cohorts and workers and teachers and on, and on, and on.

Women are still treated as commodities that society controls.  Sometimes it’s the way Miley Cyrus has been, and sometimes it’s the way Marisa Mayer has been, or the way Michelle Obama has been, or the way my junior high English teacher was.  I mean, there are a million ways to make other people into objects.  It happens to men, too.  Men who are “supposed” to be strong when they want to lay down and cry and take a nap, but then society tells them their man card will be revoked.  Or kids who are told that they should be playing with toys instead of reading, or that they should play sports instead of music, or that science is for nerds only.

But I suppose women feel it the most strongly still- not because we’re objectified as sexual beings (although that sucks) but because we’re objectified as persons.  Women’s bodies, for instance, are legislated to an extent that men may never fully grasp.   Our reproductive organs are debated in the legislature routinely by people who don’t even possess them, as if by being born female we are born potentially guilty of crimes we must never be allowed to commit.  Crimes like, for instance, wanting to not have a baby.  God forbid the “naturally tendency to nurture” not kick in and we don’t rush to sacrifice our careers and marry the bad sexual choice who impregnated us.  And we’re objectified as workers- told we don’t have the “natural competitiveness” to take on the sorts of assignments that are given to men, so over time we earn less and less money.  BUT THAT’S OKAY.  Because, as the objects in need of protection and provision that we as women naturally are (that is sarcasm, in case it’s not clear) we will marry one of those “naturally competitive” men who can foot the bill for us, and the progeny we are legally obligated to some day provide for him, should we ever conceive.

And don’t get me started on the way that abused women are objectified.  First, by the guy that gives them the black eye.  Then, by society.

Our choices are debated as an entire subclass, as if all women are the same and can be held to the same standard.  And the women who do live up to the standard become objects of adulation.

God help them should they make the wrong choice the next time around.

“She should have known better.”

F***ing objectification, right there.

So stop objectifying Miley Cyrus.

Stop objectifying women.

Stop objectifying people.

Take your anger and your outrage and use it to change society.  Change yourself.  Change your need for puritanical teen idols for the girls in your life to adore, as if YOU, YOU cannot be the example they need to see of how a woman can be successful.  Change the rules that say that women can’t make good choices about their own body and their own reproduction- or bad choices, too.  Change the stupid standards of society that say that women can’t deal with difficult and demanding jobs and shouldn’t be paid well when they do, as if women are just beings that should have been born men but don’t have enough testosterone to function properly.

Just stop.

All of your outrage just fuels the idea that a woman needs society to tell her what to do.

 

Who is worse: She who twerks, or he who is twerked upon?

I know.  Everyone is sick of Miley Cyrus.  Like Bald Britney and High Lindsay Lohan, Miley has captivated our national dialogue with her painfully wedged boy-shorts and hypnotically horrible twerking.  I joked with a classmate that maybe it was all a misunderstanding.  Miley’s manager said, “you need to really work on your stage act” and Miley was like “twerk on stage?  Got it.”

Hahahaha.  (Gotta laugh through the tears, man.)

So why am I blogging about this over-wrought issue?  Well, first, there’s this:  Miley is not the first girl to twerk, or even twerk to the point of nausea.  This is nothing new.  Nameless, faceless booties twerk in dance videos all the time and there is no uproar about how it is destroying society.  It seems like the only time twerking is so horribly wrong is when it’s Miley doing it on stage at the VMAs.  Even the songs she twerked to, songs that glorified drunken sexuality and whoring (although not *quite* in so many words) are not new songs, so why the uproar now?

Because it’s Miley, of course.  She’s supposed to be sweet and innocent.  Her face has been plastered all over children’s clothing lines, trapper keepers and backpacks and posters on wall.  She, as an image, is supposed to MEAN something.  Now that meaning is threatened, and all the little girls that idolize her see something else.  And they wonder what it means and why.  So I can understand being just as upset as people where about Mary Kate and Ashley Olson’s drug use or Lindsay Lohan’s whatever-the-heck-that-was.  I do, I understand.

Only women have twerked before in the public eye, and sexual songs have been sung.  I’m sorry, but as a society we need to accept that those messages are out there, and while it may feel more egregious when it’s Miley Cyrus sending them it’s not.  When there’s a public outcry over Miley Cyrus twerking what it sends isn’t a resounding message that such behavior is harmful; it sends a double standard.

After all, men have been twerked on before.

Let me back up a minute:  Miley wasn’t the only one on stage.  But the guy she was twerking all over is rarely being called out for his part in the performance.  There are very few voices condemning Robin Thicke for allowing Miley Cyrus to make such a spectacle of herself all over him.  We can’t point our finger at Miley and say, “grotesque!  Objectification!” but HELLO, let’s point our finger at Thicke and say, “Objectifying!  Shameful!”

As with every other video where a woman, a complete being with thoughts and needs and desires, is boiled down to a scantily clad twerking ass.

I’m serious.

Because otherwise, we’re saying it’s fine for women, their glorious bodies, and their complex selves to be made as nothing more than a tool for men’s desire, unless it’s Miley Cyrus at the VMAs.

We’re saying it’s okay for men to want this and glorify this and to pay some women to do this, but not Miley Cyrus.

And why is it not okay for Miley?

And for all of the men that get off on it, what do we say about them?

It’s okay, as long as it’s a woman who is nameless and faceless.

I realize I may be beating a dead horse, but it really bothers me.

It’s okay to objectify women as long as we never are reminded of who they are and who we wish they could be.  It’s okay for women to be made into sexual objects as long as we are not reminded of the childhood and innocence they lose in order to do so.  It’s okay for women to make spectacles of themselves for men’s pleasure as long as we don’t have other goals for them.

And our daughters get the message that it’s okay for men to want to make them objects.  It’s good, it’s desirable for a man to want you to make yourself a sexual object for him.  But you shouldn’t, because people will be ashamed of you.

Which, to a rebellious teen, sounds like a challenge.

It sounds like a dare.

Princess or Warrior?

Brace yourself for a ramble.

So last night, my darling two year old, MonkeyPants, decided to dive-bomb me from the pass through behind the couch and nailed me between the ribs with her knee, causing me a world of hurt.  This is something that she does often.  Her favorite thing is when I’m folding laundry on the bed.  She’ll come up behind me and dive over my shoulder, and I have to catch her with one hand or she’ll do a full roll and sometimes tumble off the bed. Of course she has to plant it JUST RIGHT or I also get a knee in the back of the head.  Now, I’m not complaining.  I can take a good beating and still keep a smile on my face, and I have to say that one thing I love the MOST about MonkeyPants is that she is WILD.  I love having a wild daughter.  I love wondering what she’ll come up with next and seeing her control of her body grow.  It’s incredible, because at two she can lay out her 7 year old brother flat and get him in an arm bar, and she’ll tousle with the dogs and cats and pretty much everything.  She once saw a video of Steve Irwin wrestling a crocodile and, with awe in her voice, pointed and said, “I DO THAT.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if some day she did.

And then this morning she picks out the FRILLIEST, PINKEST, most bedecked in bows and layers of ruffles, most princessy dress she owns and wanted me to do her hair with a pouffed up hair piece.  And I did it all, chuckling to myself because here’s the girl who quite possibly dislocated one of my ribs in a Tarzan-like performance last night wanting to be the perfect little princess, probably so she could sit on the dogs and yell at them in style.

But I have to wonder, why should these things not belong together perfectly?  Why can’t a girl be a crocodile hunter in a pink frilly frock?  (Of course there is the maneuverability problem.)  But honestly, why is it that these days there are so many anti-princess sites telling people not to tie their kids down to the princess ideal?  I get that you don’t want to force being a princess on a child, or portray it as the only or best option, but why is it that these days it seems like being a princess is the enemy?

If the goal is to let our children determine who they want to be without restriction, being a frilly pink crocodile-wrestling mountain exploring zoologist should be on the table.

Princesses don’t have to be helpless, simpering idiots.

After all, Leia was a princess and she was a better shot than Han or Luke!

Okay, okay, so I get that by and large in the Disney-style mainstream princess culture, pretty girls are helpless prisoners of their beauty, like Snow White, who have to be saved by someone else.  All they are good for is keeping things pretty.  But do we really want to send the message to our girls that being beautiful is the enemy?  That by seeking beauty you are limiting yourself?  That you should hate pink dresses and all they represent?

Someone else decided that pink and frilly meant demure and in need of masculine aid.  I want MonkeyPants to decide for herself what it means, and God help anyone who sees her in a pink dress and decides she’s delicate.  By Heaven, she will rain down punishment on them from above and get them in an arm bar and force them to admit that being feminine does not mean being weak.

And I love that about her.

I love her in a pink dress sitting on her brother’s shoulders and telling him he’s being Batman wrong.

There’s always been this debate about Xena the Warrior Princess and whether or not she’s a decent feminist role model because of the iron bikini.

I mean, screw that.

By choosing to be beautiful women are not objectifying themselves.  Beauty, delicateness, comfort, submission, providing for others, selflessness, none of these are qualities that we should desire to beat out of our daughters.  Princess or warrior is a false choice.

No woman is an object as long as she never allows herself to be made silent and stationary.

And putting a dress on MonkeyPants certainly doesn’t shut her up!

Brave, Gender Identity, and my personal hatred of stereotyping.

So yesterday I saw something very interesting.  It was an article about whether or not the heroine in the new movie Brave is gay.  The argument was that she wasn’t interested in marrying one of the three ill-matched potential husbands her parents had lined up for her, was athletic, and liked hunting.  So, obviously, gay.  As the writer of the article argues, clearly she could be gay because she’s not interested in her traditionally proscribed gender role.  I had to do a Scooby double-take for that, because for some reason none of my gay friends have ever explained to me that the motivating drive behind their self-identifying as homosexuals is their lack of interest in traditional gender roles.  Here I thought that being gay was defined by one’s sexual indentity, not choice of hobbies.  How naive!

I’m bothered by the whole idea of Merida being gay.  Not because I think it’s a bad thing for anyone to be gay, but because I think it’s a bad idea to work off of mistaken stereotypes.  Merida’s struggle to define herself as strong, capable, and worthy is cheapened if the only reason she doesn’t want to get married is because she’s gay.  Making her a stereotype deadens the impact of her experience.  Not only that, but it more narrowly defines what a straight girl ought to be.  Are women not allowed to be athletic unless they want their sexuality questioned?  Are they not allowed to be brave?  Individualistic?  Are they not allowed to balk at tradition?

Human sexuality is a huge and complex thing.  Sociologists for decades have been pointing out that rather than being a distance between two poles of “gay” or “woah buddy definitely not the slightest bit gay”, sexuality is instead a plane of many spectrums, which as many possible manifestations as there are people.  Most humans, it’s been demonstrated, find themselves as a mixture of the attributes we assign to genders.  Women aren’t just “feminine”, they have some feminine and some masculine traits.  They can be athletic and domestic, compassionate and decisive, and the list goes on and on.  The same is true of men.  They don’t have to be physically strong brutes who negotiate like bulls and scorn the idea of washing up or cooking dinner.  I know men who can throw punches like it’s Fight Club and then cook a mean pasta primavera and help their significant other with the laundry.  (Straight men.)

Here is when the traditional side of me pipes up and says, “but men and women are fundamentally different!  Everyone knows this!”  To a point that is definitely true.  It seems impossible to argue that there isn’t something objectively masculine or feminine about the genders.  For the purposes of this particular discussion, though, I’m throwing that out of the window.  Why?  Because God was both masculine and feminine, and so was Jesus.  Jesus, the man who athletically overturned the tables of the moneylenders and also called himself a mother hen.  If God himself births creation like a mother and rears it like a father, who are we to say that just because He created us as Male and Female that somehow masculine and feminine were isolated and divided evenly between those genders?  Personally, I think that after the fall everything got a bit muddled up.  I think that masculine does need feminine to soften it, otherwise it becomes brutish.  I think that feminine does need masculine to strengthen it, otherwise it becomes too indulgent.  I think that we, as genders, need each other to create equilibrium in the world.  But I don’t believe that we are defined, individually, by our physical gender.  I think that we define ourselves by how we live it out.

In any case, when I take my daughter to see Brave I’m not going to tell her that Merida makes her own choices because she’s a lesbian.  I’m going to tell her that Merida was brave because she wasn’t afraid to be herself.  Then, I will tell my daughter to be brave and be herself.  I will buy her popcorn, and that will be the end of it.

Things don’t have to be any more complicated than that, for now.

rabbit trails

While working in Children’s church I had this interesting experience.  While talking about something completely different, one of the kids brought up the subject of Satan.  “Well,” this child asked, “if God CAN vanquish Satan and the book of Revelation predicts that he WILL, why wait?”

Before that subject could even be responded to, another child asked about Hell, and then another one accused the second of having said a bad word, and then the whole situation devolved into a lot of shouted questions and the kids looking distressed in general.  Distressed, I say, but a few looked downright panicky.  That’s when it hit me.

Beneath the happy-go-lucky veneer that had been showing all Sunday morning, not even very far beneath the surface, these kids were worried.  They were struggling.  They couldn’t understand their faith.  And they were afraid. They had been told to Evangelize to their friends because if their friends died they may go to hell and be separated from them for eternity.  They had been told to be wary of the temptations of the Enemy.  They had been told a lot of things, and while they were very quick with the questions they were also obviously very uncomfortable with the fact that they wanted to ask them.

Afraid.

It broke my heart.  I wish that rather than being an observer I’d been their teacher, because while the youth minister did a great job of fielding the questions and getting the lesson back on track, I nearly felt as if the lesson for the day should’ve been trashed and those nagging questions just dealt with.  Not that I could’ve provided adequate answers, but I could’ve reassured them of what we know to be true.

We don’t need to be afraid.

We need to obey God not out of fear of consequences, but out of love.  And if we are obeying God and in his hands, the future should hold no fear for us.  We don’t need to fear Satan or eternity.  We should talk to our friends about our faith not because we are afraid of them burning in Hell, but because we’ve experienced the love of God in our lives and we want everyone to share in that joy.  I wanted to ask them if they had ever experienced God’s love, searched after it, heard their parents talk about it in their own lives.

For one very breathless moment I wanted to turn that place upside down.

The church is supposed to be a haven from fear, not a place where young ones learn it.

But, it’s so SHINY…

Inspiration came yesterday in the shape of my son’s obsession with silverware.  My little boy loves to get out the butter knives and pretend they are swords, beating them against each other and howling like a savage.  Sometimes this is cute- but my husband and I decided that we’d rather he indulge his fantasies with something less pointy.  A spatula, perhaps, or the handle of a wooden spoon.

My son is not willing to compromise.  He must have silverware, bright and shiny and forbidden.

So several times a day I hear the drawer open, and then it begins.  It starts with:

“Fighter*, you can’t have the silverware.”  Sometimes at this point he goes ahead and closes the drawer.  Sometimes, not.  So it continues:

“Fighter, if you take it out I’m only going to tell you to put it back.”  There have been a handful of times this has been effective, but usually not.

“Fighter, Mommy would really like you to put those down and close the drawer.”  This is generally the time I get the most obedience from him.  I’d say eighty percent of the time, which is pretty good for a two-year-old.  Although, twenty percent of the time the dance continues.

“You aren’t allowed to play with those.”

He stars howling and dancing.

I go into the kitchen, and make him stop and look at me.  “Will you put those back and I’ll get you something else?”

This is where it gets interesting.

“No.”

“You need to put them away, or I will have to take them.”

“No.”

“If I have to take them, you will be punished.”

He will actually think about this, and there are still a smattering of times that he will go back to the drawer and spare himself the time out.  But, if it gets to this point, most of the time it will end badly.

And yesterday, I realized- he gets it from me.  Because there are times in my life where I know God has told me to surrender, and I’ve ignored him.  And God and I have had this conversation.  He’s said, “I really want you to let go.”  I’ve said no.  He’s said, “if you don’t let go I’ll have to take it away from you.”  And I’ve said, “NO.”  So God has gotten down on his knees and made me look in his eyes and said, “I really want you to listen, because if you don’t listen and I have to take it away, I will have to discipline you.”

And sometimes I’ll stick out my lower lip and walk over to the drawer as if it is a death sentence, and put the beautiful shiny forbidden things away.  But more often?  I howl like a banshee and run the other way and hide in my closet and wait for the hammer to fall, just like my son.

And I have to wonder why we as humans act this way- because once it gets to that point, to the point where a bad ending is expected and inevitable, how do we get ANY enjoyment from having gotten our way?

*Clearly not his real name, but he probably wishes it was.