‘(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.

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

Sexual Violation – The Accountability of Western Society

Sad man sitting on bed with clearly dissatisfied woman behind him

Perpetuating the great divide
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the questions I’ve researched over the years, both via the available data and through discussion with the women I interact with, is how sexualized imagery in the media affects us. In my experience, even the women who claim to be unruffled by these images of impossible physical perfection, many of which border on pornographic, are not so composed once you scratch the surface. Yet few people, male or female, have learned to think outside the box. And we are in a box; a tightly defined square – except the boundaries don’t really exist. We just think they do, and I believe we’re meant to think they do. What would happen, I wonder, if we bothered to question the prevailing attitudes?

Many in the western world believe we’re not affected by the not-so-subtle messages that surround us. We think we’re free and whole and feeling good about ourselves. But are we really? The effect of media images on our day-to-day attitudes and emotions has been analyzed, in depth, by Naomi Wolf in her controversial book, ‘The Beauty Myth’. She goes to some lengths to outline how these acquired beliefs infiltrate our legal systems and bureaucratic structures, and the devastating outcomes experienced by the women who appeal to these very institutions for justice and, as we Australians say, a fair go. The author was, of course, slammed for her perspectives. (The poisonous criticism that followed in the wake of ‘The Beauty Myth’ didn’t stop Ms Wolf from writing ‘The Porn Myth’, which delves more deeply into how this deluge of imagery affects not just women, but also men, in a negative way.)

Part of the great lie is that men actually benefit from this sexualized imagery, which is found in virtually every form of media; magazines, newspapers, billboards, television shows, movies and of course, advertising. Sadly, I even see it creeping softly, softly into animated childrens’ movies. What is happening to us is that we’re being conditioned, in ever more lurid increments, to accept sexualized imagery as normal, or worse, for the greater good of humankind. By the time our kids have hit their teens, they’re not even aware that the disrespect naturally associated with the objectification of women, has become entwined with their own cognitive processes and therefore, their emotional responses. And what you disrespect, you do not treat well. You neglect and perhaps, even abuse. No great deductive powers are needed to discern that it’s a very small step from thoughts and feelings, to action. And by action, I mean aggressive action – sexual harassment, domestic violence and sexual assault, including full-blown rape. I also mean the subtler forms of aggression that are a frequent experience for women of all ages; the put-downs, the snide comments, the unwanted leers that demean us.

It should be clear where this is leading. I promised in a previous post to make a case for the culpability of western culture with regard to setting the scene for the random and widespread violation of women. Whether it’s a lack of equality in day to day interactions or any of the forms of aggression already outlined, it is all a violation. In the absence of overt violent action, women and girls intuitively feel this violation in an unwelcome gaze, in the defection of a lover’s attention at the mere passing of a ‘pretty’ young thing, in the smutty jokes that dog their steps, in the lack of ‘interest’ shown to them when they reach ‘a certain age’. The list goes on. We feel it because it is real.

The fact that there’s always something just around the corner – literally – to provide sexual titillation, albeit manufactured, is toted as an advantage for males. But this smokescreen, one that a majority of people fail to notice, is something that I don’t buy. It begs the question: Does anyone, other than big business, really benefit from this daily assault on our senses, or does it simply perpetuate the illusory great divide between the sexes, a division that needs to be named for what it is – created by popular culture, fed by ignorance and kept in place by fear. Perhaps all men don’t buy the lie, but it has to be said that the imagery is there for a reason. There’s a reward in it for someone, somewhere. And the reward is surely not for the average woman on the street. She feels the pain. She bears the degradation.

I’ve been asked on occasion why the women who make these images participate in something that’s clearly detrimental to their own sex? I don’t believe we need to look too deeply into the collective psyche to formulate a plausible theory. It seems to me that it’s back to basics – the survival of the fittest in a ‘civilized’ jungle. Society, or certain powerful groups within society, determines which ‘look’ currently deserves the highest esteem, and those who possess it scrabble to the top of the heap and fight to stay there. They gain money and status. If we recognize the ugly foundations of the land of ‘look at me’, what might have been considered pretty becomes much less appealing. It is no more than bitter competition in a world of dog eat dog; one sister trampling another, crushing fragile self-worth in a bid to boost egos and bank accounts.

Are we able to challenge the status quo or must we accept it and learn to cope with it? To the more aware amongst us, it will be obvious that this ‘coping’ comes with a heavy weight of lifelong side-effects, many of which land people, particularly women, in long-term therapy. Self-esteem is deliberately eroded by an agenda that is largely economic. Relationships based on unequal power breed fear, insecurity and frustration for both sexes, and can therefore never reach their full potential. Such fear-based politics have been used before to devastating effect. Adolf Hitler convinced an entire nation that not only were his ideologies, based on the supremacy of an Aryan ideal, correct, but that by participating in the destruction of inferior bloodlines, the German people were contributing to the greater good. It seems we have failed to learn the lessons of history; that we are not sheep; we are not powerless; we are able to think and to act. We are able to effect change. First awareness, then action.

The lie needs to be recognized for what it is, an economic manoeuvre designed to keep the masses dissatisfied. A blinded and dissatisfied public craves to be ‘filled’, and big business is ever ready to fill the gap with new and improved commodities offered with promises of pleasure, status and contentment that never come to fruition. The wheel keeps turning.

Sexual Violation – When Good Men (and Women) Do Nothing

As I was reading a lengthy article from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, it became immediately clear that while virtually every crime ‘genre’ outlined in the survey is in decline in our current Australian society, sexual assault is on the increase. This is despite the media-generated smokescreen that women today are in a more empowered position than at any other period in history.

I’m well aware that I enter murky waters here, and there will be many who, with the strength of their objections, would drag me under and have me drowned into silence. So while I don’t exactly fear the subject, I’ll first be tackling it from a feminine, intuitive perspective, a perspective which is not just devalued but wholly rejected in today’s far-from-enlightened world. (But rejecting its validity is no evidence that intuitive information is not, in fact, valid!) I will then go on to examine the data from the relevant research and back up my position with facts that can be denied only by those determined to keep their heads in the proverbial sand. Deductive arguments can and do exist, regardless of the difficulties in assigning causality.

And, despite the aspersions cast on Asian and Middle Eastern nations, particularly in the wake of the recent defilement, rape and death of 23 year old Jyoti Singh Pandey, I am set to argue that the situation is little better here in the west. I also contend that the proliferation of rape and other forms of sexual assault, as well as domestic violence perpetrated upon women, are allowed to flourish because the world population has been ‘shaped’, via simple conditioning, to normalise harmful practices that lead to further and further humiliation and degradation of the female of the species. And when a group is humiliated and degraded, they are dis-empowered; they expect less from life, from themselves and from their partners. They settle for poor treatment because this treatment has been presented to them from the day of their birth as ‘normal’. A lowered self esteem also leads to a group of people who settle for lower paid positions, less pay for the same work, acceptance of the unjustness of being passed over for promotions they know are well deserved, and an under-reporting of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual and physical violation. A people lacking in self worth are essentially voiceless.

It’s a tactic that has been used to demoralise minority groups for millennia, to keep them from rising up and taking their place among the more privileged, dominant society. But women are no minority group. We make up half the population of the world. The other half of the population of the world – men – may seem to be the winners, but the sexual insecurity that lurks within the heart of a majority of women, plays havoc within heterosexual relationships, leaving both parties devoid of the deep spiritual, emotional and physical connections that should form the foundations of a fulfilling and abiding love affair for life.

This short post simply sets the scene for a series of posts that will ensue during the coming weeks. If you find the concept thought-provoking, whether you agree with my initial words or even if they make your hackles rise, I invite you back here to follow me into this dark and winding labyrinth. It is a complex issue and I fully expect a complex set of responses and perspectives.

Love and light.