Sexuality For A New World

Performing Womanizer

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Recently I read two books back to back by women writing from a liberal feminist perspective: Bad Mother and Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Both books came highly recommended, and while reading, I found myself sometimes nodding my head emphatically, and other times shaking it in despair. The part I want to address today is the inconsistency in contemporary attitudes toward sex.

Both women recognize, rightly, that sexual expression and self-image are intimately entwined: that abuse in one area will lead to abuse in both. Ayelet Waldman talks about sleeping around—she uses the words “double digits” to describe her college partners. “I cannot recall ever rejecting an advance, and I know I never felt good afterward. On the contrary, I felt used and dirty, at once manipulative and manipulated. I hated my reputation; I hated the sex.” Peggy Orenstein spends an entire book fretting about the inevitable progression from beauty-centered innocence (Disney princesses) to beauty-centered sluttiness (à la Britney Spears & co.). It bothers her to see women objectified this way.

If you haven’t been exposed to Theology of the Body, that word, “objectification,” may be totally unfamiliar. The idea is that instead of seeing a person to be loved and valued, you see an object to be used. And yet Orenstein emphasizes that she hopes her daughter will have sex—“lots of sex”—before she’s married. That was the point where I wanted to pull my hair out.

What these women, and all who express the same frustrations, don’t get is that when you hold up multiple partners and child-proof or premarital sex as a standard of behavior, you automatically reduce women to objects of lust.

Maybe you think I’m overstating the case. But consider: this culture has spent decades training people to view sex as the ultimate sales tool, the ultimate goal of every romantic relationship. You can’t spend that many years using women as sex objects to sell products without the women themselves becoming an object. Last night, I was walking up to the pool with my boys after dinner, wearing the only bathing suit I own that actually fits right now, in this weird time between regular and maternity wardrobes. This swimsuit fits because it is badly stretched by three summers as a nursing mom. As we approached the 4-way stop, a youngish guy at the intersection sat in his car and stared brazenly at me for a full five seconds. I was frizzy-haired, wearing Coke bottle glasses, carrying a bag and two towels and hauling a wagon with a two-year-old in it. Folks, he was not marveling at my dazzling wit and caring heart.

Almost universally, women—regardless of political, religious or philosophical persuasion—agree that the treatment and portrayal of women in advertising and media is infuriatingly unjust. Bare a woman’s breasts in a movie, and it gets an R rating. Bare a man’s genitalia and…come on, when’s the last time you actually saw that happen? They just don’t do it. This culture respects the male body (at least nominally), but the woman’s body is an object, one that is expected, by cultural norm, to be available to men.

But ladies, you know what the worst part is? We’ve let them do it. We even encourage it. We call it sexual “liberation,” but it has chained us to the philosophy that we are only valuable as far as we are beautiful, as far as we are willing to hop in bed without having to worry about the long-term commitment of a child resulting from the union, as far as we are willing to conform to an ideal body type that cannot be attained by a healthy individual.

Ladies, it’s time to take back our bodies. I’m not advocating a return to pre-sexual revolution ideas, because frankly, they were unhealthy, too. But it’s time to respect ourselves by saying:

My body is not your tool of pleasure. My body is a holistic part of me, and you will respect it as such. I will respect myself, and you, enough to treat the gift of sex and sexuality as exactly what it is: the ultimate expression of the best humanity is. This is not a gift that can be given to a dozen different people and retain any semblance of its original beauty. It is a gift that can be given only once. And only when we express it in a way that embraces the total package, unhampered by chemicals and barriers and surgical procedures, does it achieve its full potential for bonding people together and lifting them up.

This is what I will teach my children—both the boys and the girl(s). This is how I will live my life. And whether or not I make any difference in the culture by doing so, I can at least hold my head high and know that I am doing right by my children.

10 thoughts on “Sexuality For A New World

  1. I love what you’re saying. It expresses better than I can my own thinking on this matter. I hope more mothers will raise their children with this attitude.

  2. Amen! You can’t see me but I am cheering right now. This post is EXCELLENT. We (as a society) have been training our girls & women to be nothing but objects and then are surprised when they act like one.

    I get criticized all the time for trying to train my son in modesty and respect; and, certain people in my circle of life are annoyed because he wears a bathing suit shirt at the pool. I don’t care, because I know I’m doing what is right by him and for the future woman he may marry.

  3. Moonshadow

    Me and my kids burn, so covering up at the pool isn’t a question for us. Now that my daughter is out of “baby clothes,” I’ve noticed that too many summer shirts (at Carter’s) are spaghetti straps and sleeveless. Rather than go that route, she’s wearing t-shirts, usually souvenir-type things from the aquarium and theme parks. I don’t approve of lettering on t-shirts generally but I’ve had to make a compromise here.

    On the upside, I look at photos of myself and friends from 25 years ago and our shorts were REALLY short in the 80’s. I’m embarrassed to think that we wore such things! But we did, that’s all you could get, “runner’s shorts” – thank you, Jim Fixx! 🙂 Nowadays, shorts especially for boys are long, almost to the knee. And ladies at the beach here in NJ wear cover-ups that fall to the ground.

    So, fashion changes aren’t always in one direction. Good post.

  4. I’d never heard of swim shirts until someone gave us one for Alex when he was a baby. I like having them for the kids, too, on a purely practical level, because I hate sunscreen, and you can use a whole lot less when you’re wearing a shirt.

    My mother used to be very vigilant about what swimsuits we were allowed to wear. Spaghetti straps were no big deal except at church–we weren’t allowed to have uncovered shoulders at church–and we couldn’t have swim suits with “French cut” hips. It used to make me crazy, because that means we were relegated to the fuddy-duddy suits. These days I’m a whole lot more concerned about bikinis. I adore the skirted tankini’s. 🙂

  5. evanscove

    Men need to hear this as well. It seems women, and even girls, have come to base so much of their self-esteem on how physically desirable they appear to men. When I was in high school, girls seemed to be hopelessly obsessed with their body image, especially their weight and their busts. (Frankly, I think they spent more time looking at and discussing breasts than guys generally do!) And why? Because they thought they just had to measure up to some artificial standard of beauty.

    And I’m sure men are to blame for much of this, but at the same time women need to stand up and refuse to go along with this. I agree with you completely that feminists, such as those you discuss in your post, send mixed messages, on the one hand condemning the tendency to objectify women, yet at the same time promoting promiscuity. Go figure…

    We don’t need to go back to the extreme prudishness of previous generations (and which typically imposed the burden of “modesty” on the women rather than men–and which still seems to be the case among, for instance, religious groups that have very strict dress codes). However, our society as a whole has swung way too far in the opposite direction.

    Thanks for the frank discussion on these matters!


  6. Thank you Kathleen

    Yes, Even, Men do need to hear this. Not just hear but internalize it.

    Sometimes I wonder if the women represented by the authors cited who promote promiscuity in women do it out of a misguided idea that it is equality to objectify men. But lets face it the act of objectification objectifies the one objectifying as well as the object of the objectification. Just like the act of oppression is itself oppressive.

  7. All gospel.

    Not 30 minutes ago my wife and I were reminding our 19 & 20 year-old daughters that they must maintain respect for themselves and their sexuality; and insist on the young men in their lives to do the same.

    Re male genitalia not being seen in movies, as a man I don’t feel like men are being respected in that regard, it’s just that virtually no-one wants to look at male genitalia.

    Your post reminds me of this one:

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