When Both Sides Are Wrong
Both sides get it wrong.
When it comes to women’s bodies I mean.
One the one hand I see a society that cares deeply about the way I look. It tells me the male gaze is something that will always exist so I might as well commidfy it and use it to my advantage. Use my body. Wield my sexuality myself and by doing so give myself the power. Make sure my hair is just the right color, right style and cut. Walk in high heels and short skirts and dare anyone to whistle at me. This is my body and I’m owning it. The way I look is the most important thing. It’s the way I prove I’m in control
Then there’s The Church, and they also care deeply about how I look. They tell me the male gaze is something they cannot control so I better make sure I control it for them. Use my body. Wield my purity and give myself power over their base urges. Make sure my stomach doesn’t show at the beach. Wear skirts that come exactly to an inch above my knee and no higher. Cover my shoulders and make sure my breasts stay hidden as well. This is my body and I’m owning it. The way I look is the most important thing. It’s the way to prove I've given up control.
I’m done pretending one side is more damaging than the other. Both sides get it wrong but since I’ve been on the one side for much of life bear with me as I spend more time there. The Church thinks they “free” us from the way the world sees us. But they don’t. It’s the same message dressed up (or down). My worth is in my body and how it’s presented. That is the most important thing. I have the ability to set someone on the wrong or right course. Not with my words, oh no. But with my body, and what parts of it do or do not show. How can I explain what that does? The English language seems insufficient. It dehumanizes me. It silences me. How can I be equal to a man? He doesn't need to be concerned that his very presence is causing someone to sin. I won’t have time to be a preacher. I’ll be too busy making sure I’m not causing my brothers in Christ to stumble. I contribute to their sin.
Ask any woman you know and she'll have a moment to remember. That moment someone, a pastor, elder, or team leader pulled us aside to whisper “I’m so sorry but what you were wearing the other day just wasn’t appropriate.” I remember when it happened to me. I remember being 14 at camp and being told over and over again how important it was for me to remain “pure” in how I dressed. I got the message loud and clear. Men were looking and it was my job to make sure they had nothing to see when their eyes floated over me. And yet, it seemed like no matter how I dressed or what I said men still decided I could be an object of their approval or disapproval.
“Yoooooo looking good mama”
“Hey babe why don’t you smile?”
It took me a long time to realize it wasn't about how I was dressed. It was about them. If you teach men to see women as objects they’ll treat them as such. If you teach men that they have no control over themselves they will rise to the occasion and prove you right. Society tells men women are objects here for their pleasure. And The Church doesn’t do much better. We’re still objects. Except we’re objects for God’s pleasure (and our future spouse of course). Is this the message we intended to teach? No, of course not. But we don’t get brownie points for intention. Any good communicator knows that intention is reality. If your audience is getting a message different than what you intended the responsibility lies with YOU to change how you send the message.
The message we've been getting for too long takes us out of the equation and makes us (both men and women) passive observers who are slaves to the ever changing whims of our bodies. But that is not who we are. We are spiritual beings created in the image of Almighty God. Our worth lies not in our created bodies but in how the one who created them loves us. I don’t know all the answers on how to change our message. But I think love is a good place to start. Love of God. Love of each other. Objects can’t love. But we can.
Both sides get it wrong.
Let’s have one start to get it right. Who knows what could happen.