‘(Christian) Cleavage Probably Isn’t the Problem’

This issue has been close to my heart for decades, not solely from a Christian perspective but because the blaming of women for the actions of men is deeply entrenched in our world-wide culture. Every religion, race or creed is underpinned by this flawed philosophy, and it is not only oppressive and unjust for women, it also damages the male of the species. I’ve re-blogged this piece from jaysondbradley.com. I hope my readers will find it thought-provoking.

“Christian Cleavage” Probably Isn’t the Problem

by Jayson D. Bradley · January 25, 2015

It was the last and final interview. I’d sat through two discussions with this women already, and I knew that, not only was she going to be an incredible fit in the company, she was going to be an unbelievable asset to my team. As I was sure she would, she nailed the interview.

I thanked and escorted her out, and came back into the room to debrief. I was completely flabbergasted when the first words out of his mouth where, “Does she always dress so provocatively?” Her outfit was, in my estimation, professional and complimentary. But depending how the top fell, there was the slightest bit of cleavage. I was surprised that he saw it that way . . . I hadn’t.

As I stammered out a response I don’t even remember, I thought, “If she could hear this conversation, she’d be completely crushed and demoralized.”
The threat of ‘Christian cleavage’

There was a bit of outrage last week when a prominent Christian blogger published a post entitled The Problem with Christian Cleavage. He has since pulled it, edited it, and republished it with a different title, . . . and then yanked it again.

It isn’t my intention to beat up the author; I’m sure he was probably surprised at the response. I mean, he was only saying the same stuff that evangelical youth groups have heard for years. It really offered no new thoughts or interesting perspectives.

The gist of the admonishment goes like this:

A man is a visual animal
If he can see the wrong kind of flesh on a woman he has sexual thoughts
Women are responsible to dress in a way that doesn’t “cause them to stumble”

It’s one of those teachings we’ve heard so often, and it comes so replete with Scripture, that we don’t really question it. But is it really biblical?
Are men simply beasts?

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that everything this teaching says about men and women is true. Men are naturally wired to see and respond sexually to women and are also driven by a need to possess and subdue the objects of their desire.

Do women bear the responsibility to adjust their behavior in order to help them? Many would give an emphatic, “YES! They should never give men a reason to stumble.” Seems reasonable, right? Women throughout history have carried the weight of that belief. It’s not just Some forms of Islam that make women wear burkas; Christianity has a history of many types of modesty teachings aimed at women: no makeup, hair must be up, you can only wear dresses, and skirts must match a prescribed length.

In what other area do we place the burden of our purity on another person?
But think about that for a minute. In what other area do we place the burden of our purity on another person? Do we blame someone eating around us for our gluttony? I asked a similar question in a parody post I wrote entitled How the Rich Can Make Church a Safe Place for the Greedy. Can I, in good faith, blame my avarice on others who own nice things?

Now, I am in no way saying that we are not responsible for each other. If you’re an alcoholic, I definitely would not want to do things that would contribute to your addiction. But should it be a teaching of the church that God expects half the population to limit their freedom for the sake of people struggling with naturally tendencies?

Still some would say yes, but let me tell you why I find that difficult to swallow.
There is no standard that even makes sense

Human sexuality is a weird thing, and there’s simply no telling what is going to send someone into a dither. The author of the cleavage post makes this argument quite well when he says, “The reality is that men are visual creatures who can see a woman’s kneecap and get revved up.” [It’s interesting that this sentence reduces men to creatures—I think that this reductive aspect of this teaching that should annoy men more than it seems to.]

What if you’re a guy who gets turned on by a modestly dressed female?
I am sure there are men out there with kneecap fetishes, just like there are men who have a weird fixation with feet. I have always love the curve of a neck. I mean quite honestly what is a woman to do? It is impossible for women to hide everything that might make a man sexualize them. I mean really . . . if it is their responsibility, a burka is really the only thing that makes sense. It’s the only way to cover up everything that can make a man have bad thoughts. Well . . . except their eyes . . . and their shape . . . and the fact that there’s a woman under that black shape.

And this may sound silly, but what if you’re a guy who gets turned on by a modestly dressed female? It is, quite literally, a no-win situation.

The problem with this teaching is that it helps reinforce the idea that women are responsible for what goes on in the mind of men and that their wardrobe (and not the self control of a man) can be a contributing factor in a sexual assault.
Looking on women with lust

One of the verses that drives this teaching is when Jesus says, “but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28)

The interpretation basically goes like this: If I see a woman and have a sexual thought I have already sinned, and I might as well commit adultery with her. It’s the exact same thing. Right!? But is that what Jesus is really teaching here?

I think that this breaks down at the point where we teach men that every moment their mind flits into a sexual thought, they have committed a grave sin. I would say that a momentary sexual thought is not lust. Some translations translate Jesus’ words “ . . .everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery . . .”

That battle happens within your mind and is your responsibility.
You might see some cleavage and have a sexual thought, but you might see a woman tying her shoe and have a sexual thought. It’s at that moment that you are faced with the choice to “take that thought captive” (2 Cor. 10:5) or to indulge it. That battle happens within your mind and is your responsibility.

You might walk by a bank and think, “I wonder what it would be like to rob a bank.” You have not necessarily done anything wrong. You haven’t necessarily committed a heist in your mind.

Jesus calls us to be responsible for our lives with this hugely hyperbolic teaching, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. . .” (Matt. 5:29–30) Whose responsibility does it seem like God places the weight of our purity on? Someone else? Or us as the owner and operators of our minds?

I have had some huge failures in this area, and they have all been lost at that moment of choice to indulge and should never be laid at the feet of any one else. I can’t imagine ever standing before God and saying, “I did what I could, but, you know how it is—tank top.” It’s really the same buck-passing argument that Adam tried to pull on God in the garden, “The woman you made me gave me the fruit and I ate.” It’s just now, “That women wore yoga pants, and I lusted.”
Contributing to the problem

I have raised a wonderful, modest daughter. I didn’t do it by laying the responsibility for the bad thoughts of half the population on her. I did it by reaffirming to her that she is responsible for how she presents herself and how the decisions we all make communicates to others who we are and what we value. . . and then I trusted her.

We’ve shamed women from even being able to feed their children in public—the most natural and beautiful act in the world.
See . . . she’s way more mindful about this than I am. While we’re laying our concerns that we may have bad thoughts on them, women like my daughter are worried they’re going to get assaulted or raped. My daughter is WAY more mindful of the clothing choices she makes. Why would I lay more shame, guilt, and fear (fear that already feeds into her main fear that she is always in danger of being assaulted) on her?

The church’s teaching in many way reinforces some of these fears. We tell both men and women that:

Men can’t be responsible for their behavior. This seems like it ramps up the distrust and disharmony between the genders. And, on a scarier note, it offers a way out to men to act out, “Hey, I can’t control myself. I am a victim of my drives.” One has to wonder if we have not helped create this problem by constantly reinforcing it.
There’s something shameful about women’s bodies. No one would say that this is what they’re trying to communicate, but it is. We tell women that they need to be careful to cover up their bodies because their bodies lead men to think bad things. We’ve shamed women from even being able to feed their children in public—the most natural and beautiful act in the world.
Sexuality is the most important issue in the world. I sincerely think we contribute to the problem of sexualizing our children by the constant harping on it. We help infuse sexuality with this allure and mystery creating a mystique that contributes to the problem instead of fixing it. We tell boys that all they think about is sin. We mistakenly communicate to them that if they think it, they might as well do it. We tell women that they’re sexuality is a secret power they wield over boys.
It’s not that we need to hide it or ignore it. It’s that there are ways we can deal with sexuality that doesn’t stigmatize it and inadvertently make it the issue we’re trying to avoid. It’s like we’re constantly saying, “Don’t think about sex. Don’t think about sex. You want to look at women as sexual beings . . . you want to but don’t.” The whole time we’re working with the culture to create stigma surrounding sex.

Men, maybe the issue isn’t so much about “Christian cleavage” (whatever that is). In my experience, so many ills could be avoided if we were to “treat younger women like sisters, with absolute purity . . . ”(1 Tim. 5:2). That seems like the best possible scenario.

Growing a soul

P1020681Sometimes, growth involves a seeming split between aspects of our self.

This week, I’m marking time. In fact, I’ve been marking time for the last 15 months – since I separated from my husband in September, 2013. I can hardly believe that over a year has passed and we’re no closer to bringing our divorce and property settlement issues to a close. Nor am I any closer to having a home base I can call my own. The sense of disenfranchisement has, at times, been acute. It has led me from extreme anxiety to downright despair, and back again, many times.

A couple of weeks ago, I hit rock bottom. Whilst I thought I’d already been there, it seems I was mistaken. After attending the first mention at court for property settlement negotiations, and realizing that my husband had once again stalled the process by his continued refusal to collaborate on a fair outcome, I initially tried to keep myself together, and thought I’d succeeded somewhat. Again, I was mistaken. After the hearing, I phoned my psychologist and left a message assuring him that I’m okay – but five days later I plummeted. The fall was unexpected and rapid. On an ordinary Tuesday morning, my psyche seemed to just shut down, leaving me completely unable to get out of bed. I rolled over, pulled the pillow over my head despite the stifling heat, and willed myself back to sleep. Avoidance, a clever defence mechanism, kicked in, in full measure. I missed appointments, spoke to no-one and didn’t bother to shower.

I wanted desperately, and still want, to get on with my studies and my writing; to reconnect and rebuild my support networks, which all but vanished during my marriage, and to surround myself with familiar things – my writing desk, my books, a garden. Itinerant living, staying with family and friends, has left little cognitive, emotional or physical energy for me to retain much positivity and motivation. From a practical perspective, the sheer fact that virtually everything I own is in storage, has interfered with my ability to move forward with my life. My mind is, in many ways, rearing to go, but I can never quite find the right book, or the study notes and modules I need to continue on my path. They are, quite literally, scattered in several places within a 70km radius, packed in boxes and baskets. With my physical difficulties in full swing because of the continued stress, I simply don’t have the wherewithal to pull it together.

And yet here I am…without a lot of choice in the matter, other than the choice to behave in ways that move my soul forward. My cognitive growth, which I hold so dear and which is an integral aspect of my identity is, of necessity, simply idling in the background with no-one in the driver’s seat. Clearly, there is a plan in action that is much greater than I am.

I am reminded of a poem I read some decades ago:

‘When the river of life runs against you,

And washes you out of your boat,

Don’t fight against the undertow,

Just lie on your back and float.’


For someone like me, a perfectionist who has not been bored for a moment in my 54 year old life, ‘floating’ is about the most difficult thing you can ask of me. I don’t want to float. I want to be busy, productive, and creative. I want to add to the world, not exist in a state that feels so useless.


What might my lessons be at this point? For I learned long ago that life is a series of spiritual lessons that, if learned well, allow us to move on to the inevitable next lesson, with our spirits enriched, our souls advancing in their maturity.

Long ago, I learned the art of patience – so I know it is more than that. I expect that part of it is to learn to trust in the love and order of the Great I Am, something I’m able to pay homage to, but find extremely difficult to actively practice. I want to know the final destination, or at least the next steps along the journey. It seems I’ll have to do without for now.

I also strongly suspect I am learning to stand up for myself in a righteous manner. Each time another obstacle is thrown in the way, each time my husband stalls and balks, I have a choice to make – to give in to the increasing pressure and accept his terms, or to continue to act in my own best interests, no matter how difficult he tries to make my life. I could also rage at and blame him. He is still, 15 months post separation, controlling where and how I live. I have moved beyond absolute fury to a willingness to quietly stand my ground. In a spiritual sense, I realize it is of paramount importance that I conduct myself with integrity, without blame, accusation and anger. I also know that my husband will attempt to press every one of my buttons in quick succession; he has, after all, a hotline to my vulnerabilities and has used each of them repeatedly and mercilessly in the past. It is a given that our upcoming conciliation conference will be peppered with nasty attacks. It is also a given that I will quietly refute the allegations and calmly state the facts. For months now, I’ve been rehearsing my responses in my mind and I hope they have become a natural part of me.

So, you see – in a way, my mind is helping my soul out. It still feels like I’m marking time, and I still feel discomforted by my circumstances, but I need to learn this lesson well. I certainly don’t want to have to repeat it; nothing is surer.

Onward and upward.

He for she – redressing gender inequality

Many of you will be aware of the #heforshe# campaign instigated by none other than Hermione Granger of Harry Potter fame – aka Emma Watson. Clearly as clever outside her famous role, this formidable young lady makes a number of pertinent points about the gender inequality that is still rife in the world, ways to address it, and the need to enlist ‘a few good men’.

In fact, she might well have channeled my own thoughts, so closely does her wording follow the argument I’ve been having inside my head, and with a few brave friends, for the past 15 years. I’ll leave it in her capable hands. Click on the link below to listen to her impressive speech to the UN.

Emma Watson on gender inequality