burkini

I was up later than I should have been a couple of nights ago and I can no longer blame it on the disrupted sleep pattern my body was forced into by two night shifts a couple weeks back. It’s not the rota coordinator’s problem anymore, it’s all me. I’ve failed to self regulate and I find myself meandering into intemperance and insomnia more nights than is healthy. On this particular night, I had just finished watching a documentary on Donald Trump (will he become President, won’t he? Is this all a dream?)  with my dear old Dad, and casually flicked through the channels with the intention to head to bed. As I flicked, I came across 3 naked women, standing in booths, and another woman scrutinising their bodies as a presenter teased her, asking what she thought, who she liked best. I saw the title of the show, Naked Attraction. Ah, this was the show I had heard others talk about and had determined not to watch. The nudity wasn’t as shocking as the sheer banality of it all. Clearly, TV has run out of ideas. And when you’ve run out of ideas, naked women will generally keep the party going for a bit.

We’ve all seen nudity on screen, be that via an X rated site, a film or even an advert for washing up liquid. This generation of westerners is suffering from nudity fatigue – we’ve seen so much nakedness it no longer excites in the same way.  The existence of Naked Attraction is just one more story to add to the particular secular liberal narrative that wants us to believe that nudity (women’s in particular),  is sexually liberating.

France’s recent ban on the burkini, a modest swimsuit cleverly named to allude to the burqua, was met with astonishment and derision by many liberal media outlets.  It’s a shocking display of disregard for religious liberty. It polices women’s bodies. It makes Muslim women bear the burden for the atrocities committed by a few renegade terrorists who many Muslims would not even consider to share their faith. It’s oppressive. I agree with all these statements, but I wonder how we can separate the ban from the prevailing attitudes towards female bodies and sexual liberation that we have incubated in the West for the past 50 years, as if the two aren’t directly correlated.

The reason why the burkini is so ‘other’ is not merely becuase of the head covering although this is significant part of it. It’s also because of the idea of modesty and covering the female form that is such a stark contrast to our current social norms.

We live in an age where some women can propel themselves into fame and fortune sheerly off the back of sex tapes large bottoms and where women, (black women especially) with considerable musical talent often face overt and subtle pressure to act in an extremely sexual manner in order to achieve success. (I specified race because fuller figured black women who sing better than Adele and like her, aren’t overtly sexual, are not achieving her level of success, and yes, it’s at least partially a race thing).

Despite this being to my mind obviously oppressive, there is a relentless insistence from some sectors of society that these women are sexually liberated and concurrently, the subtle suggestion that modesty and covering are rooted in oppression. Although many liberal pundits in the wake of burkini will loudly proclaim that it’s a woman’s choice whether or not she dresses modestly, we have created a culture where uncovering is by design. Our fashion magazines, our shops, our advertisements and our media all propel us in a direction of nudity under the guise of freedom and despite declaring that we support women in whatever choices they make, we have created a culture that celebrates, orchestrates and rewards nudity. Is it any wonder then, that in our subconscious mind, the burkini is an assault on our ‘value system’? Could it be that despite condemning France for her actions, we have as a collective, played a part in facilitating an environment where to be modest is to be constantly othered?

Arguably, the situation in other countries that are less secular ,where women are forced to cover is far worse than what we currently have in the west. I would be the first to say I would much rather live in a country where I could be naked or burqua’d without retribution (and France is now excluded from this), but oppression is not always as bold as morality police and Taliban soldiers. Both societies have failed to reach a place where women’s bodies are not dissected for mass consumption, where women’s bodies are fully their own without the enduring threat of breaking under standards that are constantly placed on them without regard for their emotional, mental, even spiritual well being.

When I cannot walk into a high street shop and with ease find a dress that does not have a random hole cut into it, a thigh high split, or plunging cleavage, in a not-so-subtle way, I am being told how I should be as a woman. There are a thousands of items of clothing, but so few that allow me to not be forced to conform to the narrative that I a freer when I am less covered.

We may rightly condemn France but we are wrong if we do not examine how, maybe almost imperceptibly to some, we have all allowed this to happen.

modesty

Dear Christian men,

It’s summer time and once again, you’re engaged in a battle for your mind. It’s everywhere – the short skirts, the crop tops, the see through leggings, the cleavage, the too short shorts. And guess what?

This isn’t a blog post suggesting that any of the above items of clothing are things that I or any other Christian woman should  be wearing. This isn’t a blog post by someone who isn’t sympathetic to the fact that modern society means that there is an onslaught of images that make it difficult for the modern Christian (because contrary to what you’ve been taught, many women are just as visually orientated as men)  to adhere to the standards we have in regards to sexuality. This isn’t even a blog post by a woman who feels that men and woman have zero mutual responsibility to each other when it comes to sexual behaviour.

However.

However,

I’m sick of Christian/Muslim/random men who despite my attempts to dress modestly still feel like it’s appropriate to rest all the blame for their lust….on me. In fact, I’m sick of the church in general portraying men as helpless puppies, who sit in front of Jezebel women, panting and jumping up and down at the behest of their scantily clad owners.

This isn’t about what women wear or don’t wear, it’s about a historical legacy of sexism in the church that harms men AND women because it disempowers you and shames us. It tell you that your locus of control is entirely outside yourself. That sexual sin is something that ‘happens’ to you, thrust in your face by seductive women who are out to devour you.

It doesn’t really matter what I wear – if I was  in the most Amish friendly skirt, maybe my perfume would be to blame for the fact that you’re turned on. If I wore eau de tap water,  it might be that the way I walk is a little bit too sensual. If my walk was stiffer than a German police officer in a Zumba class, it might just be the way I flip my braids. Once your thoughts and behaviour become primarily women’s responsibility and not your own, we are ALWAYS to blame.

You see, you’re right that Christian women should have regard for you as your sisters. And you should have regard for us too. Thing is though, there are a lot of women out there who aren’t Christian – they walk the streets in summer too and they’re very much entitled to make their own choices about what they wear on their bodies. At some point you’re going to have to go outside. And and some point you’re going to have to learn to cope with the fact that some women just don’t care about what you think. They’re not dressing for you today or tomorrow –  they’re never going to dress with you in mind. Your belief system doesn’t occur to them when they slip into their crop tops. So what are you gonna do?

Make comments about their body? Walk up to them and say ‘Hey you!Cover up!’? Ogle their breasts? Blame them for the fact that you can’t control yourself?

I hope not.

Because your sexual behaviour is ultimately YOUR sexual behaviour. So when I turn up on Sabbath morning with my past knee length skirt and non cleavage revealing top, and you still feel a little hot under the collar, please don’t make me feel ashamed and act awkwardly around me. Cos I like my Sabbath morning hugs.

And when another young lady turns up with her cleavage out and flashing a lot of thigh, I would hope that despite her inappropriate attire (I’m really not here for outraged feminists who believe that modesty is de facto oppressive), you can still recognise that your response to her is entirely in your control, not hers, and that she deserves to be treated with the same level of respect as anyone else.

Actually, there’s no reason for you to feel guilty that you find me, or any other woman sexy. Sexy simply means ‘sexually attractive or exciting’. I’d be pretty worried if you as a heterosexual man were surrounded by attractive women and felt no sexual attraction  to them whatsoever. And I’d be pretty bummed to marry a man who at no point up until my wedding day found me either sexually attractive or exciting.

In fact, here’s a thought..maybe part of the reason you find it so difficult is that you’ve absorbed so much shame around your sexuality that you’re beating yourself up for things that aren’t even wrong. Maybe you’ve begun to sexualise parts of women’s bodies that aren’t even primarily sexual because you’re so hyper aware. Maybe we all need to sit down and take a good look at what the Bible ACTUALLY says about sex and sexuality instead of blindly accepting this hodgepodge mixture of Victorian ethics and modern day sex-obsession.

And maybe we need to stop being so scared of being sexy.

abstinence

Fifty shades of Grey is being released to widespread criticism. It’s pretty amazing how it’s managed to produce criticism from both ‘sides’ – some feminists hate it,  conservative Christians hate it. It’s been termed ‘mommy-porn’ because it’s supposed to appeal to young/middle aged women and unsurprisingly, some people are shocked that women could enjoy such graphic sexual fantasies. Could it be? Is it true? Do humans with XX chromosomes actually have very potent sex drives? Apparently they do.

I haven’t read enough about Fifty shades of Grey to offer any informed critique of it, but what is apparent  to me is that sex and sexuality, particularly female sexuality is still a big deal. We are living in a liberated, sexy age with access to sex or images of sex pretty much all the time, but ease of access has not necessarily made sex less controversial – we’re just more able to talk about the controversy openly.

In Western society, the traditional Christian sexual ethic is fast becoming legendary. Saying you believe that sex should be saved until marriage in a room full of 20 year olds is almost like saying you believe that you believe in leprechauns. Weird. But the Christian sexual ethic is more than just no sex until marriage. That’s what it is best known for, but ultimately, abstinence-if -you- can-then-hot-wild-sex-forever-with-your-spouse is a completely inadequate description of  it.

It leaves out those who are called to celibate lives. It leaves out the disabled who cannot engage in the same sexual acts as those of us who are able bodied. It leaves out Christians with same sex attractions who accept their orientation but have decided to remain celibate. It leaves out singles who do not feel that they are called to celibacy but find themselves at 30, 40, 50 unmarried and frankly, horny. It leaves out those who thought they did everything right but end up divorced often with children, trying to grapple with the newness of not having a partner to share their sexuality with. It leaves out all the wonder and beauty and excitement and often deeply frustrating and downright difficult path of of those of us who will get married but have to steward our bodies up till that point. It focuses on the denial of sex rather than engaging with,understanding, and being comfortable with ourselves as sexual beings.

Christian sexual ethics are rooted very deeply in the creation story – the idea that God formed humanity himself, personally, body and spirit which together form a ‘living soul’, and that what we do to our bodies cannot be disconnected from our spirits. And that He knows what’s best for our bodies. That’s a frightening thought in a world where women’s bodies in particular are policed, and pushed and shoved and manipulated – in a world where women are told their bodies are not their own. It smells of a misogynist plot to yet again control female sexuality.

And yet, John 1:12 says of Jesus

But whoever did want him,
    who believed he was who he claimed
    and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
    their child-of-God selves.

The principles of sexuality I see in the Bible are:

1) Our sexuality reflects the desire of God to give us good things.

The reason I find the focus solely on abstinence so worrying is because it focuses on God’s no instead of God’s yes. The fact that we can have orgasms suggests that the desire for pleasure is in built. God is saying yes to sex in an environment which should be replete with complete commitment, acceptance, and love. In essence, safe sex.

2) Our sexuality is broken.

Every single person is affected by the brokenness of the world we live in. Every single person has some element of sexual dysfunction. From the man who is promiscuous because he has a thirst for conquest, to the church girl who thinks that her technical virginity guarantees her a happy marriage. Some of us may have experiences with sexuality that are awful and unfair, because this world is awful and unfair. There isn’t an easy solution to these problems.

3) There is a right and wrong way to express our sexuality.

The divorcing of the body from the spirit allows us to think that we can use our bodies in any way that gives our body pleasure. I  think the reason our generation is so conflicted about sexuality is because we are trying to deny this connection. We say that it is socialised, that we are conditioned to attach morality to sexuality, and so we are constantly trying to find a way to mesh that belief with the reality of our emotions. It doesn’t work – you are a living soul. No society has found sex morally neutral- we will try and fail.

3) Our sexuality is only part of our humanity.

There’s a show called The Virgin Diaries on MTV – it seems that are fascinated with sexlessness as much as sex because we hinge far too much of our humanity on it. “Sex is a human right, like food and water”, I’ve heard people say jokingly. Sexuality is definitely present in all humans, But sexual intercourse as we know it? No, not necessarily. Part of the problem with the emphasis on waiting till marriage is that it suggests this waiting to become adult, normal and fully ourselves. You are adult, normal and fully yourself without having had sex. The Bible is full of great characters – some of them had sex and some of them didn’t.

What do you think? What are some of the things you find weird/ hard to understand about the Christian idea of sexuality? Christian and non-Christian opinions welcome.