05 September 2013

women bodies, part 2

There have been a couple of articles going around Facebook lately about modesty. Seems like that's always somewhat of a hot topic, actually. In a way, that modesty is even a raging debate seems a bit odd, because it it really anyone's business what I'm wearing? In a way, I think I should be able to walk around naked without drawing any unwonted (and unwanted) attention. But believing that I can is simply naive. Such is the world we live in.

At the same time, I'm actually pleased that this debate rages on, and I am interested and invested in the larger conversation as a woman and (dare I label myself?) feminist. I think we all should think about how we talk to and about women.

I read an article that seems to have instigated the most recent debate, "FYI (If you're a teenage girl)", and while I didn't initially have as much of a response to it (either positive or negative) I got to thinking and decided I both disagree and agree with the overall message.

Allow me to indulge:

I agree that young women should be aware that the way they present themselves matters and that modesty can have a big impact on the way they are viewed. The way women dress can invite objectification and sexualization. That is unfortunate, because I don't think that any woman really wants to be a sexual object. If a woman dresses in a way that draws attention to her sexual features, it does not mean she wants to be raped, star in a porn film, or work as a prostitute. So please let's not assume that any woman desires these experiences based on a misguided appeal for, I assume, some genuine love and attention. Or maybe she just wants to look pretty for her own sake, simply to feel good? Or perhaps she's just trying, heaven forbid, to make it easier and more convenient to FEED HER BABY? (Blargh. That is another topic, perhaps.)

I also agree that young men are biologically programmed to be sexually stimulated by visual cues, which presents some difficulty in the whole attempt to avoid objectifying women. It's an unfortunate fact, but one that has to be acknowledged. The author of the "FYI" article seems to claim that a tasteless Facebook selfie automatically reduces young women to evil objects of lust. While the prevalence of social media can create some problems in forging a very limited identity based on one's digital footprint, I definitely think we're sending the wrong message to women when we essentially tell them that what men think about them and how men treat women are the woman's responsibility ultimately.

I understand the need for men, young and old alike, to exercise some vigilance in actively avoiding salacious material. But to cut off contact completely with anyone who presents themselves in an immodest manner seems also to be problematic. We are not movies to be turned off and on at will. It reinforces the idea that the most important thing about a woman is her body and how she chooses to present herself, and it also refuses to acknowledge the reality that despite vigilance, you are never going to be able to completely avoid exposure to titillating images. Such is the world we live in.

It's a given that young men, or men in general, are not subject to the same considerations when it comes to modesty. There are a lot of people who are upset that the blog post from the mother of teenage boys, in her message about protecting their virtue, included pictures of her sons in bathing suits. Apparently the irony that her boys could freely gallivant at the beach with nary a concern about anyone else's virtue was initially lost on her. I suppose it's a little ironic, though it also isn't. It makes sense. As I mentioned earlier, men are generally stimulated by visual cues. Such is the world we live in. And I think I'm not much amiss when I say that this is not a biological trait characteristic of women. Seeing a man expose himself may actually be one of the worst ways to attract me. (Am I right, ladies?) So we may call it a double standard, but maybe the way women and men dress are not analogous, and we should acknowledge there are different standards applying to each.

I think we do both men and women a disservice: we teach them both to view themselves and others as purely products of their biology. Men are entitled to pursue their sexual desires in whatever format offers the most instantaneous gratification, and women are taught to consider themselves only as far as men can see them.

It is tricky to send a balanced message to both sexes that doesn't reduce an individual to a single-faceted being. But I loved this article written in response the "FYI" article: "Seeing a woman: A conversation between a father and son." Both articles use the line, "You are more than that." The ultimate message we want to send in this conversation is that we are all human and we want to respect ourselves and each other as human beings. Though influenced by our biology, we are who we choose to be.


Lauren Mc said...

I am going to go out on a limb and give a bit of an argument to the fact, that while women are not AS biologically wired to be aroused through visual stimuli as men, we ARE still perfectly capable of arousal through visual means. And that what seems to be a vast gulf is perhaps more a result of women not being given as much room or expectation for women to see themselves as having true sexual drive and inclinations in equal (but, yes, definitely different) ways as men.

I also think there is a fuller way to look at the definition of women as 'sexual objects.' By which I mean by and large women are seen as that which is 'acted upon' in regards to sexual things. Not meaning rape, necessarily. But in most conversations regarding sex I feel like there is very little credence or dialogue concerning women and their sexuality (unless it is in the case of extremes)

I think that feeling sexy is simply a powerful feeling, which, to be honest, is why I think many girls pursue clothing and poses and selfie's, etc. etc. that make them feel that way.

I wonder about the women that forget that feeling of youthful desire to figure out what it means to be a new owner of boobs, or hips, or simply a body that has developed completely independently into something that attracts or we are told is meant to attract attention. I have never once heard of a mom telling a girl that it is going to feel good to feel sexy, and that, as women, we need to be as careful with those inclinations as we ask the boys to be with their thoughts and inclinations when looking or interacting with girls being sexy. It seems like, more than anything, people want more than anything to convince girls that the 'power' is fake or bad. But it is neither. Just like a young man's sex drive is neither. It is simply a part of who we are, and thus needs to channeled with care, rather than squelched or labeled negatively until either gender has a spouse to 'spend' it all on.

I, like you, am grateful for the debates. But by and large I still see a pretty huge hole in our discussion. There is either "Teach girls to cover up to help our boys" or "Teach boys to recognize their own capacity for self-control." But I have not yet seen a great deal about "Help girls and boys accept and view their sexual inclinations in healthier and well-rounded ways. On a personal level, and in regards to how they interact with one another."

Jean Little said...

Thank you for writing this post! I have been wondering if I should write my own response - maybe now I won't have to.

The more I think about that article, the more riled up I get. I hate this weird idea that women are supposed to be the guardians of virtue - as if they are somehow supposed to know what exactly every man is going to find sexy, and avoid doing it at all costs. (We might as well just walk around covered from head to toe... actually, it would probably be safer if we just never left the house.) It also really bothers me that this mother (however well-intended her remarks are) is totally objectifying women! It's like the whole point of her post is "women are nothing more than an object of man's desire, so they better learn to attract him in the right way."

It annoys me to no end that this mother pretentiously writes a letter to "clue in" teenage girls to the fact that it is their own fault when her sons think of them in a purely sexual way. Then, she goes on to say "Every day I pray for the women my boys will love," and "There are boys out there waiting and hoping for women of character," as if the single purpose of women is to one day be the wife of a "good" man.

If she actually wants to address a letter to teenage girls, why doesn't she tell them that they are more than just a body and definitely more than some object of men's affection? Why doesn't she mention anything about the fact that women are worth more than the kind of superficial attention that "sexy selfies" will bring?

This mother isn't writing a helpful "FYI" letter to her sons' teenage girlfriends. At best, she is writing a letter to her middle-age friends, bragging about how she protects her sons from those pernicious vixens that walk the halls of the high school. At worst, she is smearing her motherly worries all over the internet, without realizing that she has totally bought into the superficial view of women that she believes she is crying out against.

Jean Little said...

Also, Lauren, I really like what you said about helping "girls and boys accept and view their sexual inclinations in healthier and well-rounded ways - on a personal level, and in regards to how they interact with one another."

That is definitely something that is missing from this discussion, particularly because it is a discussion largely perpetuated by religious people, frequently LDS people, who live in a culture that is so afraid to even address the topic of intimacy that they would rather demonize mildly revealing clothes than approach the real issue. In a sub-culture where sexual anorexia is as real as sexual addiction, it isn't a surprise that people get all up in arms about modesty while they let more serious problems get swept under the rug.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure why I'm commenting on this right now because I'm doing so on my cell phone which means my comments are sure to be dripping with hideous typos and I'll probably get impatient and end my thought long before I should. But I just have to say something in response...
I read this post by a concerned mother and my thoughts went something like this: "you go girl!"
I loved it and even thought about how I would do something very similar if I were a mother of teenage boys.
Let me start out by telling you that I may be totally bias due to my own experiences. I'll try to clue you into them without saying too much.
My heart has been broken, shattered, tortured due to about 3 events in my life over the past 3 years. I had no say in these events, they just happened.
Each of those events dealt with some form of pornography or lust. They didn't all occur in my home, so don't fret too terribly, Amanda. Anyway, the only things that kept me going were motherhood and my knowledge of my divine nature/relationship with God.
The darkness, bitterness, fear, etc...that followed those events caused me to view all of the topics addressed in this post very differently.
I think there is a gross amount of pressure out there for women to view themselves as worthless if they aren't "sexy". As a result, "selfies" and Miley Cyrus performances and plastic surgery and bombshell bras, etc, are taking over the planet. I find thus beyond disturbing.
I has been about 2 years since all that happened and I finally feel like my head is above water again. I can now sleep at night and smile and I haven't been able to say that for a long time. But to say that I am extremely sensitive to suggestive images of women in the mainstream is an under statement. Now that I have that sensitivity, I realize how much of it is out there and it disgusts me. Yes, there are images for women too, but they are not nearly as common or as commercially successful as the images for men and anyone who says differently is foolish.
I have one daughter, zero sons. I will be teaching my little girl about her strength and importance as a woman, of course. But I'll also be teaching her that unlike the confused women all around us, we know that our value is not determined by our sex appeal.
My patience is running thin so I'll wrap this up quick.
Now that I know what it's like to constantly be aware of images around me so as to protect my family, I'm scared to death of one day raising a son amidst all this....for lack of a better word, crap. Yes, boys need to learn self control, but girls need to realize that they are of worth and that their worth is not all in their physical allure. If I have sons one day, you can bet that I'll be the mom pleading with the girls to be virtuous and expect my sons to do the same. Because I never want to experience that pain again. And so, I'm going to say for the sake of all the wonderful, well-intentioned men in my life, "you go girl! Thanks for speaking up!"

Unknown said...

P.S. This is Shaela :) I'm not trying to be secretive in my identity, I'm just technologically-challenged.

Lauren Mc said...

I am not trying to be snarky in any way, and Shaela, I also am in no way downplaying your experiences ... I have had heartbreak of, what I would imagine, is of similar nature to yours, close to me as well and it is ugly. I have also experienced fear over raising a son in this world. But I did want to provide some stats on female porn viewing as well as just a couple more thoughts:

Women and Pornography

13% of Women admit to accessing pornography at work.

70% of women keep their cyber activities secret.

17% of all women struggle with pornography addiction.

Women, far more than men, are likely to act out their behaviors in real life, such as having multiple partners, casual sex, or affairs.

Women favor chat rooms 2X more than men.

1 of 3 visitors to all adult web sites are women.

9.4 million women access adult web sites each month.

From: https://wsr.byu.edu/pornographystats

It is not just a man's world when it comes to pornography. While, yes, it is predominantly males who visit porn sites, and it is scientifically proven that men are mentally more responsive to visual stimuli (http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v7/n4/full/nn0404-325.html), women are still not exempt, and where there is mounting support and ever evolving discussion on improving the atmosphere/education/support for men ... there is such a lack of it in helping women come to terms with their sexuality and sexual inclinations too, and I just can no longer see how it is productive to continue pushing the same dialogue about "Watch yourself girls, because you never want to risk tempting those boys!" over giving them room to learn and manage their own impulses and desires (particularly the desire to feel or look 'sexy' or be 'wanted') while also focusing more on giving men enough respect and empowerment to recognize they can do the same (particularly without feeling like they need to live their whole life running from every possible thing that could arouse them).

Finally, I wanted to share this article in my last comment, but got lazy: http://bycommonconsent.com/2013/06/18/men-sex-and-modesty/.

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