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.

 

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rape should be blamed on the rapist.

So a few days ago, a friend of mine linked to an interesting picture on Facebook.  It was of a topless woman who had written “STILL NOT ASKING FOR IT” on her breasts and abdomen.  I won’t post it here, because I know some of my readers find nudity distasteful*, but it sparked a very interesting debate.  I’ve seen it shared a few other places since, and every time the comments are just breathtaking.

You wouldn’t wear a chum suit to swim with sharks.

There is this idea, beneath the surface of almost all of the comments, that women’s bodies are a dangerous weapon that once unleashed turn normal respectable men into mindless automatons of desire with undeniable destructive force.  There are two issues to be addressed there:

  1. Men are not savages, and society should not give them permission to behave like such.  Showing men a pair of perky breasts should not turn them into raping machines.  If they cannot control themselves in the face of a flash of skin here or a lowcut top there or a pretty lady in high heels and a skirt walking through the park in twilight, this really isn’t the lady’s problem.  It’s the man’s.  If the men in our society cannot bear the sight of a little boobs or butt without losing their minds, I think that we should either blame society or men, not women.  That’s sort of like saying, “I know I promised not to eat any more sugar but then there were chocolate bars in the checkout lane and I completely lost my mind and woke up the next morning with a Hershey’s mustache surrounded by shredded wrappers.  I blame Safeway.”  Uh, no.
  2. Women’s bodies aren’t chum.  They aren’t a shredded bucket of viscera whose only purpose is to attract sharks.  Imagine for a moment that a man was painting the side of his house in only a pair of tight shorts and the woman who lived there invited him in for a cup of lemonade, roofied him and raped him.  Do you think society as a whole would say, “man, you really shouldn’t work with your shirt off.  You KNOW what those rock hard abs do to women.”  No.  Because there is a double standard, and women’s bodies are the only ones treated like a weapon.  Women are told to be demure, to be “good”, to keep their breasts and buttocks covered, to not wear too high of heels, etc, etc, etc, to “protect themselves” or to “protect men from temptation”.  Then, women are told that they should be sexy to keep their husband and they must dress attractively to be respected and on and on and on, because apparently our bodies aren’t our bodies, they are a tool.  A tool that must know when to be used and when not to.  A tool that is constantly meant to be in the service of others.

I don’t normally cuss on this blog, but I can only think of one word to sum up my feelings on this subject:

bullshit.

Let’s make one thing clear; the only time a woman is “asking for it” is when she says, “give it to me, I want it.”  Simply having a pair of breasts isn’t asking for it.  Even showing you her breasts isn’t asking for it.  Her body isn’t consent, period.  I know people who think the act of sexual intercourse is in and of itself consent, which is such an utter crock of insanity I hate to even write about it because it makes my heart bleed.  It really does.  Women have a right to decide when they want to have sex and when they don’t.  I once jokingly told someone that it’s a little different when you’re married, because there’s this assumption that your bodies are there for each other.  I was talking to a guy, as a matter of fact, and his response was that while some guys might think it’s cool for their girl to just stick her hand down their pants and say “give it to me” it really doesn’t work that way.

And you know what?  It doesn’t.

We live in a world where privacy is something that you can have or give away with the click of a button, it’s a commodity that is bought and sold without so much as our knowledge.  Our bodies may be our last line of defense.  Our bodies may be the last place where we can truly feel ownership of ourselves, the last thing that isn’t being bought and sold and grasped at for profit.  And for women, that feeling of ownership and peace has never really truly fully been there.  We’ve always understood that our bodies belong to our children, to our husbands, to our world as a whole.  Our beauty has always been something we’ve been told to use to our advantage, if we’ve got it, or if we haven’t that’s always been something that has set us apart.

But violence.

Violence.

To tell us that our bodies deserve violence because they are appealing, that it is our duty to avoid violence by hiding our bodies…

NO.

Let’s make everything very, very clear:  No one’s body belongs to anyone else, even if you are married.  You give access to your body, but it must be a gift and it must be given freely.  If a woman is less than dressed, that’s not consent.  If she’s passed out on the couch, that’s not consent.  If you have some control over her, as her boss, as her lover, as coercion, that’s not consent.  If you didn’t ask and she didn’t say please, one of those two things has to happen.  And the reverse is true, ladies: men don’t want it by default.  Don’t go around sticking your hands down their pants.

We don’t have a right to each other’s bodies.  Nothing but permission gets that for us.

I know in the romance novels he always gets that look in his eye and she just knows and they fall on each other like wolves in heat and it’s so whatever, but that’s not life.  I know in the movies they never talk about it either.  It’s ridiculous.  We’re adults, and we’re responsible, and this is the real world where consent is necessary.  If you’ve got someone willing to communicate with you about sex, by all means communicate.  And if you don’t, you should very seriously think about whether or not your sexual life is really what you imagine it is, because there are plenty of people out there afraid to say no, afraid to say slow down, afraid to say I don’t want this.  They are afraid because society has taught them that if someone goes after their body it must be their fault for taking the lid off the chum.

So don’t treat each other like chum.  Honor and love and respect each other.  Treat the gift of a lover’s body like the miracle and art that it is.

I guess that’s all I’ve got to say.

 

* Side note:  I see nothing shameful in nudity.  God created Adam and Eve naked, and they only felt ashamed after experiencing sin.  I, personally, believe that our bodies are a good creation, and in their purest (nude) form are not an embarrassment but a testimony to the art and pleasure of our Creator.  

Women, the Bible, and My little thoughts.

I was recently asked an interesting question.  To paraphrase, I was asked how, as an empowered female, could I adhere myself to a religion whose religious texts by their nature subjugated women.  I’ve taken about a week to consider my response and research it adequately, and it’s now time to write my response.  I’m not done, by any measure of the word, but I’m done enough to feel confident that I won’t stick my foot so far in my mouth that it will come out the other side, so to speak.

Let’s start with Genesis.

God creates land, he creates plants, he creates animals.  All of these things he describes as “good.”  Then he creates man, and what does he say?  “Is it not good for man to be alone.”  This is when things get interesting- because woman is not an individual creation.  Instead he takes the man’s rib and makes for him a woman.  And when Adam sees Eve, he calls her “flesh of my flesh.”  This can be a difficult passage for some women, because women don’t like to be seen as no more than an extension of man.  The other way to look at this, though, is in terms of what God was doing.  He wasn’t creating all of womankind- he wasn’t creating all of mankind, either.  He was creating one man and one woman from whom the rest would be made.  And he created that one woman to be of equal value as the man to whom she was given, he made her not out of dust, but to be “bone of [his] bone, flesh of [his] flesh”.  She was of equal value to him as his own body was.

This, to me, is significant.  More so because it is only after the creation of woman that God looks at all he has done and calls it “very good.”

Now, about Eve as the deceiver…

Genesis 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Did you catch it?  A lot of people miss it.  It’s the part where it says, “her husband who was with her.”  He wasn’t elsewhere.  She didn’t hunt him down and give him the fruit while he was unaware of what it was.  He was with her.  He didn’t try to stop her.  He didn’t try to reason with her.  He was with her, he watched her take the fruit, and when she handed some to him, he ate it.

Then comes the interesting part.  God comes, and they hide, like little kids, naive of the fact that they are already found out.  God questions them, and Adam says, “look, it was the woman’s fault.”  The woman, not to take the blame, says, “nope, I only did it cause the serpent told me to.

That’s when God starts in with the cursing.  First he tells the snake that it will crawl on it’s belly, in the dirt, and the woman’s children will crush it’s head.  Then he tells the woman that she will find pain in childbearing, and that her desire will be for her husband, and he will rule over her.  That’s two curses for the serpent and two for the woman.

Then comes the man, and this is what God tells him:

  1. cursed is the ground because of him
  2. through painful toil he will eat
  3. God will give him thorns and thistles
  4. He will eat only by the sweat of his brow
  5. UNTIL HE DIES

Numbers two and four are pretty similar- I just find it striking that while the serpent receives two paragraphs of cursing, Eve only gets one and Adam gets three.  It’s fairly clear who God is actually having take the responsibility for the fall- and it’s not Eve.  It’s also interesting to note (although not particularly salient to the topic at hand) that this is when the first sacrifice to atone for sin takes place, as God himself kills animals and gives Adam and Eve garments of skin to wear.

Now- on to the fun stuff.  How many people here have read the entire Old Testament?  If I ask who the old Testament women of note are, most people would probably respond “Esther and Ruth”- two obvious choices, as they have books named after them.  But those aren’t the only women worth mentioning.

Tamar:  The wife of a son of Judah, who after having her husband and her husband’s brother struck dead by God before giving her a child, eventually tricked her father-in-law into impregnating her.  It’s an interesting story not just because there’s so much sex involved, but because Judah says, “she is more righteous than I.” (Genesis 38)

Rahab: The prostitute who took in Israelite spies and hid them from the guards- she was rewarded by herself and her whole family being saved and accepted into the Israelite camp- something which directly contradicted God’s command.  If I remembered correctly, she is in Christ’s lineage (I could be remembering incorrectly, and that’s one of my facts I haven’t double checked).  (Joshua 2)

Deborah: A prophetess.  Because Barak, a commander, wouldn’t ride into war without her, Deborah said that the battle would be given into a woman’s hands.  Jael, a woman, killed Sisera (The Canaanite commander) with a tent peg through his head.  Then Deborah burst into song.  This would make an interesting movie, no? (Judges 4)

Hannah: Hannah was a favorite wife, but barren.  Her rival for her husband’s affections had born many children and mocked Hannah to the point that Hannah was reduced to tears and refused food.  So Hannah prayed that God would give her a son, and pledged that son to be raised by the priesthood.  God honored Hannah’s prayers, and Hannah honored her promise.  That son was Samuel, who has two books of the Old Testament named after him.  (1st Samuel 1)

Abigail:  A woman whose wisdom was so appreciated by King David that he married her when her “surly” husband died. (1st Samuel 25)

This is a woefully incomplete list, but as I said, I haven’t been able to take the adequate time to research things.  Are there as many women playing prominent roles as men?  No, of course not.  But the point is that contrary to what many people believe, the Bible as a whole doesn’t paint all women as wicked Jezebels with the exception of two Old Testament books.  Women are shown in roles both as wicked and good- but the same is true of men.

Let’s talk about the new Testament.  There are a lot of things to say here.  The first is that Jesus showed honor to women, not least of all in that he saved a woman caught in adultery from being stoned (John 8).  There is the oddity of the female disciple, Junia (Romans 16), whose name is often translated as Junias- but why would one translate a name? Also note the amount of times that the apostles, in their letters, mention the women of the church, the women that host people in their homes, the good work of the widows and elderly women…  It’s amazing.  The women truly mattered to the early church- it couldn’t have survived without them.

And then there is the simple fact that after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared first not to a man, but to a woman.  This fact is often touted as proof of a genuine story, for if the disciples had wanted to fabricate a resurrection myth, they never would have involved females.

The question then becomes, does Christianity by it’s nature and mythology actually devalue women?  I don’t think it does.  I think that misogyny and the subjugation of the masses in early Catholicism did a lot to harm our perception of what the Bible truly says.  I think that stories were retaught in new ways and certain passages were intentionally mistranslated in order to color things a certain way. The power to think independently was stripped from the masses.  Women were taught to be devalued because they were not allowed to have power- not even over their own sexuality, a thing that they were taught was evil.  The curse that was spoken over Eve and thus over all women- that we would find pain in bearing children, that we would desire for our husbands and they would lord it over us- became a very real one.

But let’s not forget that Christ broke the curse of sin and death- the one that was spoken over Adam.  And he broke the curse spoken over Eve, as well.  We are no longer cursed to desire for men who are our kings in body and mind.  We are free.  We must remember that Jesus honored women- he taught them as equals to men, a thing unheard of in those times.  Women were not even allowed into the inner courts of the temple, they could recieve no teaching except from their husbands.

“Ah-” a clever female reader may respond, “but Paul wrote that women should not speak, but receive teachings from their husbands.”

Yes, my response to that is, but that was a specific letter to a specific church, one in which the women were famous for speaking out about the problems their husbands were facing and generally disrupting the teachings.  It certainly would be better, in those circumstances, for the women to be silent and confront their husbands alone.  There are a lot of ways to view how the Bible portrays women and their worth, but this is my favorite:

Ephesians 5 states that women are to honor their husbands.  This verse has been often used to tell a woman to shut up when her and her spouse disagree.  But what does it say to the husbands?  That they are to see their wives as radiant and without blemish, and to give up their lives for their women as Christ did for the church.  Who, in that situation, is given the most burdensome task?  What’s harder- to honor someone, or to see them as Christ sees them?  To give your life for them?

As my honored mother says, “the reason women are subjugated by the church is because men have traditionally done the teaching, and they’ve had their own reasons.  Let a woman read the Bible for herself, with no preconception as to what it says.  That is when you’ll learn the truth.”

Amen, and amen.

Islam, Muslims, and Assumptions.

“Never assume,” my mother used to say, “Because all you’ll do is make an ass of ‘u’ and ‘me’.”

Good old American girls and boys make a lot of assumptions about Islam, Arabic and Persian culture, and what it means to be a Muslim. People who travel extensively would tell you that our assumptions trap us in a box that leaves little room for reality. We’ve been bathed in Media images of beggar women in full burka, of grim faced Afghani activist women and arrogant gun-toting men. It’s easy to assume that those images portray the whole of the Muslim experience- easy, but to be honest, also ignorant. Islam is one of the Big Three religions, and we know better than to picture every Christian like Pat Robertson and every Buddhist as wrapped in an orange robe.

Don’t we?

These are the images that first come to mind when I think of Muslims:

Afghani BeggarMeena

And it’s no wonder with these images in my head that there is some small part of me that believes Islam is an oppressive faith. But, then I pause, and realize that there is (as always) more to life than what my emotions and the Media tell me. There is the fact that when I think of Muslims I also think of American Islamic faith, something that is highly different than the Afghani experience. After all, in America Muslims are not governed by the Taliban. They are not subjugated and abused. In fact, there is only a single Muslim man in government. (No, not Barack, he’s NOT Muslim! I’m talking about Keith Ellison.

Congressman Ellison

But there is so much more to think about. My church is closely affiliated with an organization that is ministering to the Wolof people of Senegal. The Wolof people are largely a Muslim population, but they also carry African tribal traditions. So instead of the Arabic Muslim culture (which many Americans falsely assume to be ALL Muslim culture) there is a new breed of Muslim, the vibrant African faith that is not dour and oppressive, but generous and community based. Instead of somber gray and blue tones, the women dress in vibrant colors, they laugh largely and smile loudly. This is the picture of Islam that I want to retrain myself to see, not one of quiet desperation but one of life and love, one of big expressions.

Wolof DancerSenegalese Market Ladies

I am realizing more every day that I simply need to be more educated about the other religions around the world. Not just I, but all people. So many people use the words “Arabic”, “Muslim” and “Middle-Eastern” interchangeably, as if all people in the Middle East are Arabic Muslims, as if all Muslim people are in the Middle East and as if the Muslim faith is a purely Arabic phenomenon. This language assumes things that it has no right to, as not all Muslims are Arabic, and the Middle East is home not only to Muslims but to Jews and even ancient colonies of Christians.

It is most disturbing to Christians to discover that the American war in Iraq is unseating one of the oldest Apostolic colonies in existence, one that dates back two thousand years. Not to mention the fact that what was once a secular society, one in which women could attend universities and pursue careers, is now in danger of becoming a country under Islamic law.

We must leave our assumptions.

Links:

The Wolof People: wolof.org

Afghani Women’s Liberation: rawa.org