So in the wake of one lady’s attempt to get her son’s Facebook friends to cover up (complete with bonus pictures of her topless sons), as well as one friend’s wife’s attempt to bring a little clarity to what it feels like as a Christian teen trying her best not to be seen as a hussy temptress, I’ve been thinking a lot about what responsibility women do have to their bodies.
Here’s the thing: women have heard it all. ”Don’t be a stumbling block.” ”Don’t cause your brother to sin.” ”You have a responsibility.” ”If a guy sees your breasts he won’t respect you, you’ll forever be an object to him.”
I can’t help but remember one time when I was wearing a pair of hole filled jeans my brother had given me, and a band tee that was two sizes too big. I remember walking around at a (Christian) music festival feeling pleasantly asexual, when one leering guy loudly said to one of his friends, “girl tries to hide it but I bet if you peel away the layers there is one sweet body wrapped up in there.”
God, I was so embarrassed.
I never wanted to be a sexual object. When I was young, a so-called friend of my brothers grabbed the neck of my tshirt and pinched my ass and ogled my breasts. It scarred me in a serious way. Some girls, after something like that, choose to be sexy to feel in control. I chose to be asexual until I was in college. I’d dress in baggy clothes and keep my body hidden and blush for any attention at all. Yet, guys still talked about my body. Guys still asked to see my breasts. Guys still obviously lusted for me. So what was I doing wrong?
I would be openly, violently opposed to any male advances to the point that guys called me a lesbian. Yet once, one drunk friend got me pinned in a corner and kissed me. What was I doing wrong?
I was being female.
I realize now that it was all I ever did wrong. I was a girl in a world that tells girls that their bodies are a problem. Yet I cannot stop being a girl.
Here’s the problem: when you tell a girl to cover up her body to keep men from stumbling, you are telling her that her body is a stumbling block. Her body, which you also say was made to glorify God. You give her conflicting messages, saying in one breath that her female form is a source of shame but also telling her that she should glorify God through childbirth. As if the end result is holy (she will bear children) but the function itself is vile (she has an attractive body which she will give to a man in order to conceive.)
It simply doesn’t make sense.
Women cannot control men’s attraction. Even by covering up. The knowledge that the female body is possessed of breasts and a vagina does not fade just because they are out of sight. Pure attraction, involuntary attraction, the longing of one body for another to touch, doesn’t fade no matter what clothing is involved. The only responsible way to handle that primal, human, urging is by teaching our children what it means and how to control it in themselves. Blaming it on females is recklessly irresponsible; especially, given the knowledge that males are not the only ones who experience it. (Yet we do not caution our men to hide the traits which women most find appealing. Imagine if we told our young boys to speak in high pitched voices, avoid growing muscles, and to disdain showing any affection or appreciation towards girls in order to protect girls from feeling lust!)
Women’s bodies should not be seen or treated as a source of shame. Yes, I understand that in the Garden of Eden, after eating the fruit of the tree of Knowledge, both Adam and Eve felt shame in their nakedness and God clothed them. Yes, that is all good. But didn’t God at the same time throw layer upon layer of curses on them? Are those curses, and that shame, things that we as redeemed people should embrace? Absolutely not. We have freedom from those curses, we seek out a more perfect state of being, one in which we can taste the taste of Eden and walk unashamed at the side of God.
Let me be absolutely blatant: This fervent, senseless shaming of young girl’s bodies is a stumbling block to achieving that blessed state.
I would never unfriend a young girl who posted a coy selfie. I would never tell my daughter that it is her fault if young boys see her as a sexual object, and I would never tell my son to blame a young girl for his attractions. No.
I will tell my daughter that her body is a blessing and a beautiful gift. That it can give her joy, it can give her future lover joy, it can offer comfort and safety and warmth. Her body is capable of creating the miracle of life and her breasts are glorious gifts that can give sustenance to a child. I want my daughter to rejoice in her body. Will I explain to her about society’s expectations, and dressing in a way that people show respect? Yes. But I want her to understand that there’s a difference between dressing in a way that shows respect for your body and others and dressing to hide yourself. Those two are not the same and should not be treated as such.
A woman who wears shapeless dresses and lives in terror of being seen as the sexual being that she is does not show herself, or others, respect by doing so. She shows fear.
And I will explain to my son that the things he feels are not to be blamed on the people that incite them in him. It’s not other people’s fault when he is sad or angry or bored, nor is it their fault when he is sexually excited. They are his feelings, his to understand and his to control. Those feelings, when shared with others, can be a blessing or a curse. I will teach him not to curse others with his sexual urges.
So, remember that your body is a gift, the feelings it can create in others and yourself are also a gift. There is no reason to be ashamed of having that capability or feeling. What matters is how you take responsibility for yourself. You cannot take responsibility through blaming or shaming. Women, dress yourselves with grace and love. Men, treat your attraction with grace and love.
And don’t be ashamed.