Alright, first of all let me say that this post is intended primarily for my Christian readers (though I hope that it will be interesting to the rest of you as well), and that you have Mrs. Kerah Kemmerer (a friend who should be contributing some articles soon – if she ever gets around to writing them) to thank for this post (she’s been begging me to write on this issue for more than six months now).
The recent release of the movie Magic Mike (about the escapades of a group of male strippers) has brought to light a significant issue of morality among American Christian Women. For many years, the objectification of women in the media has been decried, lambasted, and condemned by… well, pretty much anyone who sees women as more than flesh. If you are old enough, you will remember the horror with which movies like Striptease and Showgirls were received among the conservative Christian population, generally by men and women alike. The idea that such a movie might promote lust, sinful desires, and an addiction to pornography in Christian men was brought up again and again. Men who watched these movies, and movies like them, were judged harshly (and often still are) for their unwise choices. However, Magic Mike (with very similar content and purpose) has been received by the Christian female population at large with a great hoorah of ascent and applause. This shows an obvious double standard and hypocrisy. However it is merely symptomatic of a deeper problem among Christian women, and among the Christian population at large: a lack of proper training in virtue.
The general (and I am being very general here) attitude among Christians (and among the larger population of the United States) is that men are inherently bad, and women are inherently good. This idea is promoted on various levels of our culture including the reporting of sexual offenses (here is a site listing female sex predators, many of which are either never reported on the news, or receive only brief mention). It also appears as teaching in churches (which will be my primary concern through this article). As well as the way we react (consider this: for many people, to see a woman leading a young boy into a female bathroom is normal and comfortable, but to see a man leading a young girl into a male bathroom causes ‘alarm bells’. This is because we assume that the woman is the boy’s mother, but that the man must be taking advantage of the girl. There is no real reason for this assumption, but is has been conditioned into our culture). However, as I said, my intended focus is how this relates to teaching within the Christian church.
In the 18th century, the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote Emile (a book concerning the training of young men and women). In this book Rousseau declared that women had a value of their own, but that it was not the same value as that of the man. He argued that women were capable of wit and womanly duties, but were incapable of reason, and thus of moral virtue. In Rousseau’s estimation the virtue of the woman was to be found in her appearance and good reputation (sound familiar?), and that she must not be judged on the higher virtues of man (such as duty, integrity, honor, and moral character) because she was incapable of developing them. A contemporary author and early feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, responded to Rousseau (though her primary writings occurred at the end of Rousseau’s life and shortly after his death) in her book A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Wollstonecraft argued that women were fully capable of reason and of virtue, but were lacking in their education on these subjects. Thus, she said, it was the very arguments of Rousseau and his ilk (and their application in culture) that had rendered women creatures lacking in reason and virtue, and not any inherent lack in their own capabilities.
Today the church (and the culture at large) has developed the same problem for the opposite reason. We no longer train women in moral virtue, but we do not teach that they are lacking in capability (as Rousseau argued). Instead we teach that they are inherently moral. This occurs in many spheres, but it is especially obvious in the area of sexual morality. Christian men are generally taught early on that they are horrible creatures devoid of any inherent moral compass, and so they must constantly be on guard against the vagaries of lust (this is slightly hyperbolic, but not excessively so). Men who would dare to even mention the attractiveness of a woman’s body are immediately singled out as succumbing to lust, and chastised (indeed, there are some who argue that if a man even looks at a women, then he is succumbing to lust. Others argue that if he looks for longer than one second, or that if he gives a second look, then he is succumbing to lust – these are not uncommon teachings in the church). On the other hand, women feel free to engage in lengthy conversations concerning the physical desirability of Hugh Jackman, Channing Tatum, Chris Hemsworth, Justin Hartley, and many others. This is the result of decades of teaching that, in its essence, boils down to a simple, two part message: men are incapable of not lusting, and women are incapable of lusting. The response of Christian women to Magic Mike, a movie so obviously designed to inspire lust in women that it is ridiculous, showcases the final end of this teaching: women who have divorced themselves from moral virtue because of the assumption that they have already attained it.
Now, I am speaking in generalities here, addressing the great mass of Christianity, so do not assume that I apply this attitude to every woman. There are women who have trained themselves in strong moral character, and other women who have recognized their lack, and are in the process of doing so. However, these women are relatively rare in the Christian community, and even some of them fall to sin because they do not recognize it in themselves. And also, do not mistake me for saying that women are incapable of looking without lusting. This has been said often enough of men, and it is not true for either gender. There is a difference between admiration and lust, but I have met very few people who have a clear understanding of where this difference is, or who care to understand it. So I say: women, you are as susceptible to lust (and to any other sin) as any man, and your obsession with men you find physically attractive is as damaging to your relationships as any man’s obsession with the female form. It is your responsibility to train yourselves in virtue, as Wollstonecraft argued that you were capable, and to prove Rousseau wrong. It is also your responsibility to put the men in your lives before yourselves, as it is their responsibility to put you before themselves. And to both parties I say: The lack of your opposite does not justify a lack in yourself. Pursue virtue, pursue godliness, pursue Christ, and let this be your goal regardless of the failures of those around you. Too often we allow the faults of others to become an excuse for faults in ourselves. This is not the true way.