Myths and Modesty: the truth about victim blaming and female sexuality under patriarchy

By Emily D. Irvine, 6-23-13400079_479945938714474_254038652_n

Women like sex. We truly do, and I certainly hope that by this point in modern human history, the fact that women like sex is not a shocking revelation. Do men want sex more than women? I firmly doubt it. Women are, however, capable of functioning for longer periods of time without getting some. This is because men have a literal “release valve,” a physical need that leads to discomfort and a serious case of the man crankies if not met. The need for women is apparently more “mysterious” as the female orgasm is apparently such an elusive thing brought on by a specific combination of seeming inconsistent factors. Sex for woman allows for a physical release that is entirely internal and is therefore less tangible, leading thousands of years of human history to devalue the sexual experience for women, to even say sexual pleasure does not or should not exist for the female. The lack of understanding about the female sexual experience has led to countless cultures who completely devalue women and see them as completely un-sexual beings. A sexual being is one that has and enjoys sex, an organism made to feel pleasure from sexual encounters and that requires sex for emotional and physiological reasons, not simply for procreative purposes. Men have always been seen as sexual beings. Women are seen as sexual objects.

Various ways of dealing with female sexuality across the globe are truly abhorrent. Female genital mutilation is practiced in much of Africa, a practice by which at the onset of puberty, a girl’s clitoris is forcibly cut off, leading her future sexual escapades to result in zero pleasure and significant pain. Realizing that the clitoris is the source of female sexual pleasure, the cultures that practice this barbaric ritual do so because in their minds, it will keep a woman faithful to her husband as she will glean no pleasure from sex and thus not seek it elsewhere. Sexual pleasure makes women a threat. It gives them agency and desire and many cultures simply cannot deal with having women exhibit power and agency. Across the Muslim world, women are denied even the most basic of human rights. Women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden to drive as teaching them would inspire them to leave their husbands.  Women are forced to cover their entire bodies in order to prevent men from “lusting” after them. And let us never forget Malala Yousafzai, who survived a gunshot to the head for declaring that she and other girls in Pakistan should be educated, not a direct sexual repression, but an example of extreme gender repression practiced by men so insecure that the thought of educated women threatens their masculinity to the point of violence. This is also a culture of extreme victim blaming, as women who are sexually assaulted are put on trial for indecency while their attackers walk free.  Rape is not considered a crime in Islamic countries because if it was, it is believed that women who seduce men and commit adultery with them would simply claim rape when caught and then the man would be unfairly punished.  Take for example, Atefah Rajabi Sahaaleh, a 16 year old Iranian who was brutally raped and then put on trial. She was then hanged by her government for “crimes against chastity.”

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In America, we have no gender relations problems. Here, women are never faced with unwanted advances from men, women are never blamed for the actions of men, women are never told to wear more clothing or reap the consequences, and women assuredly make as much money as men. Feminism has won.

If you cannot detect my sarcasm, please leave.

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I spend a significant amount of my time browsing for thoughtful articles on the state of gender relations in America and beyond in this, the modern era. Generally, I walk away from my computer angry. But what I find is that in the last decade, women here have absolutely had enough. We are sick to death of the vicim blaming that occurs here, we are sick to death of being told our wardrobe is to blame for the asshole behavior of strange men we encounter, we are sick to death of antiquated “jokes” about our “rightful place,” and we are sick to death of not being adequately represented in the media. However, the best part about this is many to most men are just as sick of it.

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That said, on occasion, I happen upon blogs, articles, even Facebook posts, that present a bizarre counterpoint…. the notion of female responsibility in relation to the bad behavior of men. Often, this viewpoint resides in those of a religious persuasion. As I grew up in the Christian church, I am no stranger to phrases such as, “don’t cause your brother in Christ to stumble,” and “ if you commit sin in your head, you have already committed it in your heart.” And let’s not forget about praying for the all powerful “hedge of protection” around our struggling brothers and sisters in the Spirit.

Allow me to clarify that I bear absolutely no animosity to Christians and this jesting is done with a touch of fondness. In fact, my family and the majority of my dearest friends are Christians, and I too consider myself of a protestant persuasion. That is to say, I do genuinely believe that all religions are simply mankind’s way of understanding the mystery of God, which is a mystery far too great to be contained in one theology, however I personally find sense and meaning though much of Christian theology. Some of it, I find inspiring and beautiful to the point of tears, some of it I find bloody good storytelling, and some of it, I find just plain insane. One area of Christian culture I will never tolerate is the woman-blaming, Eve-shaming, nothing is Adam’s fault, patriarchal nonsense that litters the churches, Bible studies, and blog space of America.

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One example of this appears in the seemingly innocent and thought provoking post, “Can You Be A Lady Without Being Modest” by the sister blog team More Like Momma. In this post, it is argued that women who dress immodestly are A) committing adultery WITH the men they cause to lust after them as stated in the book of Matthew, and B) that women who dress immodestly have no right to ask to be respected by men or by other women. But most interestingly, the entire blog (I would assume inadvertently) presents men as thoughtless idiots completely unable to control themselves, and most importantly, they are not asked to. The responsibility falls entirely on women to never allow men to think naughty, nasty things.

The majority of these poster’s argument is based on Matthew 5:28, which states, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The blog author states:

I didn’t use to really think anything of this verse, as it seems to only address guys.  But do you notice that it says he has committed adultery with her?  Would you commit adultery with that grandpa you pass on the street, or the teenage boy who bags your groceries?  I didn’t think so.  So why do we as women think it is ok for us to dress in a way that invites them go there with us in their minds?

One of my biggest issues with Christian culture, in which I was raised, is the absolute truth to which they/we cling to English translations of the Bible. I majored in English literature and read many novels of non-English origins. During our study of translated novels, my professors took great care to share their own translation alterations where they felt the translator dropped the ball. Translations are so subjective as languages have a colloquial complexity lost on non-native speakers. The Bible, for all of its strengths, when written in English is one of the most poorly written, grammatical messes in the English language. To hinge an argument on a single preposition in this context is just plain stupid. The version quoted in this blog is the NIV, one of the least accurate translations available (according to the subjective opinion of some), but none the less, one of the most popular. The Message Bible, written to put the Bible into distinctly modern language while preserving the conversational context translates the verse much differently:

“You know the next commandment pretty well, too: ‘Don’t go to bed with another’s spouse.’ But don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices—they also corrupt.”

Clearly, this translator chose to represent this message of Jesus’s as being distinctly about personal responsibility. If you look at someone and think impurely, it’s your own problem and deal with it personally. I am no expert in Ancient Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic and hence I cannot say which version is more accurate, and so here, the argument stops. The point is, translations are subjective and therefore unreliable when it comes down to minute details. “With” means nothing to me in this blogger’s argument.

Perhaps my least favorite paragraph in this blog is this:

Because we have such a deep desire to be seen as beautiful we are often willing to sacrifice the purity of the men around us on the altar of our own beauty.  Women will flippantly say that it’s the guys problem not theirs, all the while selfishly enjoying the attention their clothing choices gain them.  But it’s not just the guy’s purity we are compromising when we ignore God’s way in the area of modesty, it is our own.

I am going to “flippantly” say exactly what she has an issue with me “flippantly” saying: No, another human being’s internal issues about my body are NOT my problem. But here is why I am going to say this: it is not because I am an arrogant whore who enjoys being the object of male attention (which is somehow “selfish” in her argument.) It is not because I don’t give a crap about the internal struggles of anyone around me. Are you ready for this? The reason I call complete and total bullshit on the argument that I have no right to allow MY clothing to distract, control, and seduce men unfairly is this: I don’t think men are that helpless, that weak, or that stupid. Did you get that? I refuse to accept this line of thinking because I KNOW men are better than this nonsense.

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Here is another point to ponder. Why is this argument so one sided? Why is there no discussion about immodestly dressed men? I work in a campground on a lake. I see shirtless men all day long. And guess what, I’m married, and I am and will always be a faithful wife. But that does not mean that when a bronzed, chiseled, Adonis of a man walks through the door that I do not look him up and down and appreciate the fine human specimen that he is. What I do not do is chat him up in a way that conveys I’m interested in any part of him beyond casual conversation. What I do not do is behave in a way that makes him feel like an object and therefore uncomfortable. What I do not do is take him outside and have sex with him by force. What I do is smile and treat him like any other human being.

So according to the popular argument laid out by the bloggers of More Like Momma, I am an adulteress. However, I am not an adulteress for the crime of my clothing in this scenario, rather I am just like any man who happens to go weak at the knees over a non-conservative hemline. Why then aren’t men with oh so fabulous abs being asked to put a damn shirt on? It has also been said that a good suit on a man is equivalent to lingerie to us ladies (and it’s true, by the way.) So clearly, men need to be wearing oversized T-shirts and sweatpants because women just can’t handle the immodesty without sinning in their brains. So, get on that blog, More Like Momma. Or are you that not-so-rare breed of female misogynist that has SUCH a way of getting under my skin?

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I mentioned that I think better of men than to believe they have zero self control and that therefore it is up to women to “protect” their fragile, horny, constitutions. I stand by it. Yes, there are scores of men out there, whole cultures of them, to which this notion absolutely applies. But these men have been socialized this way over generations to the detriment of their own societies. It is so easy to blame women: we have been royally screwed from the onset of human history. It’s easy to just keep on blaming Eve. But the truth of the matter is that while Eve was a dumbass, so was Adam, and from their story, I do not get that women need to take the blame for the sins of men. What I get from that story is that when you blame others for your mistakes, whether you are male or female,  you get your ass kicked out of Paradise. As the Bible goes, it’s a fairly gender neutral story…. more or less. I know many, many men who are not in fact assholes, men who believe to their core in the equality of women and who treat us as equals. I know many, many men who know how to appreciate a pretty girl dressed in any attire without allowing their hormones to turn them into an animal. I know many of these men, and I married one of them. To him my heart is faithful, regardless of what well dressed or barely dressed thing crosses my path.

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I began this post by asserting that women like sex. We do. That’s why we have it. To assume that only men struggle with issues of respecting the opposite sex is just plain stupid. To assume that only women see sex as an emotional experience is as stupid as assuming that women always see sex as an emotional experience. Making this discussion one sided not only puts an insane level of misplaced guilt on women but it assumes the absolute worst of men, making them out to be out of control sex fiends. Personally, I think we need to seriously reframe this argument. How about instead of blaming each other, we instead realize that we are ALL sexual beings. Men and women are equally obsessed with sex. We are also equally aroused by what we deem a fine specimen of our preferred gender regardless of how it’s dressed. How about instead of teaching our girls to bear the weight of men’s problems as well as their own, we instead teach both girls and boys that they WILL find themselves sexually aroused by each other and what they need to learn is how to deal with these emotions appropriately both internally and externally. It is not OK to objectify each other, to disrespect each other, or to blame another (or something as stupid as another’s clothing) for our thoughts and actions.

it is utterly asinine to use any logic to assert that women need to dress “modestly” to keep the minds of men “pure.” This is the same appallingly skewed logic that leads to female genital mutilation and executing rape victims. It may seem like a gigantic leap, but it isn’t and those who don’t recognize the connection need to look long and hard at the society their backwards perceptions are creating.  When we teach girls that they are responsible for the actions of boys, we are sewing the seeds of the out of control victim blaming cultures that dominate a inappropriate percentage of our world. We are teaching boys that they are not responsible for their sexual misconduct and we are teaching girls to feel guilty about being sexually assaulted  We do a great disservice to men by perpetuating an erroneous stereotype that they are incapable of self control. We do an even greater disservice to women by blaming the world’s problems on their clothing.

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