By Jesse Jost
In her recent award-winning book, Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, journalist Peggy Orenstein surveys the host of sexual challenges and dilemmas the modern girl faces. On the one hand she encounters men who objectify her and tell her she is responsible to dress in a way that doesn’t “distract” or “tempt” men, but she hears little corresponding outcry for the way boys are “distracting” girls through inappropriate groping and lewd comments!
Girls are taught that they can dream big and be whatever they want, but many of the women who have made it to the top have done so by exploiting their sexuality. The implications of this and the corresponding advertisements are crushing: yes, they can be doctors, singers, and lawyers, but their value will still be rated by how closely their bodies conform to the unrealistic sexual ideals found in film and porn.
A woman seeking to make it through high school and college faces the unsolvable dilemma of trying to walk the line between being sexually active but not a slut, and retaining her privacy but not being a “virgin” or a “repressed prude.” Either way she will be relentlessly criticized and degraded for the path she chooses.
I was shocked to read what is expected sexually of a girl, even before she begins to date. Peggy Orenstein interviewed dozens of girls across cultural lines. Many of these girls were strong feminist dynamos with great ambitions to free women from inequality and fight for women’s rights. Yet almost all of them in the heat of the moment admitted to passively submitting to pressure from guys to give sexual favors. In each case the young woman was so eager to please, or so afraid of hurting the guy’s feelings, she meekly surrendered, and what is sacred and wonderful in its proper context became a gross act of humiliation.
This is a toxic environment where guys beg and pout for graphic snap chats and then publicly humiliate the poor girls for the slightest provocation. Women are regularly described in obscene degrading language, made the objects of cruel hazing rituals, and face demeaning expectations to be a “friend with benefits” or be left behind.
What a confusing world, where a young woman dresses for a party and feels empowered by her revealing outfit, then quickly feels powerless as she is groped and objectified! There were so many times throughout Orenstein’s book that I felt like weeping. I can only imagine what God thinks as He sees this beautiful gift of sex, designed to thrill and satisfy, turned into an instrument of psychological torment.
As I read, my 7 year old daughter Sophia walked by. I had to put the book down and give her a big hug. I inwardly vowed to do all I could to protect her from such a horrific mess.
What can be done to combat this ugly atmosphere? I don’t have a uterus and I have never been pregnant or sexually assaulted. Because of this there are thousands of women who would insist I have no right to speak to these issues. Perhaps, but as a man I can’t help but feel a little responsible for the role we men have played in creating this mess. I care deeply for my wife, daughter, and sisters. I want them to be protected and experience rich fulfilling adventure. I want them to be cherished and respected, free to enjoy this life without degrading harassment. But what can be done? More specifically, what can I do to make a difference?
It seems to me that both men and women are created with a deep need to be loved and valued for who they are. There are constant exhortations to be self affirming – to love yourself – but it is becoming clear that this sense of worth can not be self bestowed. It is like trying to pull yourself up by your socks.
No matter how much a woman looks in the mirror and says, “I am powerful, I am beautiful, I am precious,” it will always ring hollow. There will still be a deep need to find worth and value in the eyes of another.
I think this deep longing for affirmation of worth is behind much of the degradation that women reluctantly accept. They will do whatever it takes to be valued. I can tell you that the porn ravaged eyes of a junior high boy, or any man for that matter, can never bestow a fulfilling sense of worth!
So where can this sense of worth be found? Is it through the lens of a camera? The right Instagram filter? No matter how much a woman alters her body through, diet, surgery, or photo shop, conforming to a sexual ideal will never instill this needed deep sense of worth. These alterations may stoke a man’s lust, but lust-filled eyes can only selfishly communicate objectification; they cannot give a lasting sense of worth. They will only make a woman feel used.
Sadly, many in the Christian community, in trying to combat this sexualized degradation of women, have created a new form of demeaning objectification. By telling girls their worth is in their virginity or the fact that they have never been kissed, or by telling them that “modest is hottest” and that those who dress immodestly “cheapen” themselves, have inadvertently communicated that a girl’s worth is dependant on her attire or good behaviour. It is a cheap “worth” that can be suddenly taken by a groping pervert, or a foolish choice, or a daring outfit.
The message that a woman’s worth is in her “purity” leaves her feeling demeaned and worthless when her “purity” is taken, either by force or consent. These feelings of worthlessness lead directly into the path of heartbreak and humiliation as the futile search to feel valuable continues.
I ask again, where can a truly satisfying sense of worth be found? Is it in a Dove campaign? In women flaunting more flawed and realistic bodies? Will angry celebrities shouting encouragement to take ownership of their bodies and their planet be enough? Will women ever grow powerful enough to end the lust filled torment we men inflict on women?
I am sceptical about the effectiveness of women declaring war on men. For one thing, I really think both genders need each other, so turning men into the enemy likely will not help. For another thing, the men who are responsible for the groping and harassment are selfish and power hungry. A war on them will only stir their ire as they fight back with more ruthlessness.
So is there hope? Yes, because a woman’s true worth is not found in a feeling bestowed by culture or other humans. A woman’s worth is found in the fact that she is made in the image of God. The Creator of the universe, Whose story we all find ourselves in, has declared women to be supremely valuable, completely apart from their measurements, talents, or track record of behaviour.
A woman is loved and precious in the only Eyes that matter. The woman ravaged by the sex trade: still valuable. The woman shamelessly selling herself in the strip club: immensely precious! The aging, sagging woman who hates her lumps and wrinkles still has indescribable worth because she bears the image of the Supreme Wise and powerful King who made her and gave His life for her.
Once a woman discovers this, she can find the strength to stand up to the pressures of a lust soaked culture. She can stop hating the body in the mirror. She can pursue a life that is truly pleasurable without sacrificing herself to the malevolent forces that want to degrade and torment her.
It sounds good and wonderful, but I’m sure some are complaining, “But God’s eyes are currently invisible and a woman’s needs are real and physical!” This is where God intends the body of Christ to step up and make a difference.
It is in our eyes, both men and women’s, that God’s unconditional love should shine. For this to happen we men need to fight for God’s precious daughters, and the battle begins in our minds. It means saying “no” to “once overs” that objectify, and declining lustful fantasies that strengthen the inner demon of lust. It means refusing to let our expectations of what is worthy and beautiful be shaped by the fake depictions of women that bombard us and save our eyes for the ever shifting but truly satisfying beauty of your spouse.
Guarding your eyes and “bouncing” them away from tempting images is important, but what is even more important is to let God shape your heart and learn to see all women, the youthful and elderly, the modest and the immodest, as truly precious. To see them as royalty to be served, cherished, and protected, not objects that bring sexual gratification. Stop the habit of subconsciously “rating” women. Stop clucking with disgust when a woman’s dress is “distracting” you.
The history of men’s treatment of women is appalling in the extreme. However there are glimmers of hope. Wherever men have surrendered to Lordship of Christ, and let Him shape their desires and habits, women begin to feel safe and cherished. They even begin to find unimaginable levels of sexual fulfillment in the arms of men who demonstrate Christ-like devotion.
We men are commanded to love our wives like Christ loves the church. There is no higher example of recognizing the true worth of a woman, than in the life and love of Christ.
If you, like me, are concerned about the dark world our girls face, turn to Jesus. Let His holiness purify your eyes and mind, and then start changing the world one cherishing glance at a time. Let your tongue speak the love and preciousness of all women, but especially the ones God has given directly to you.