This post originally appeared on the Our Stories Untold Blog and is shared here with permission.
Note from the editor: The author is remaining anonymous because, as the author stated to me: “I work with kids. I Google my employers, and I’m sure they Google me. I don’t want to invite the possibility of ever not getting a job, or losing one, because I talked about sex on the Internet once.” Unfortunately this is sadly true in today’s society, which is why I’ve allowed the author to remain anonymous.
This is the second post for Areas of Grey: Sex, Desire, Abuse, and Christianity. If you haven’t read the first post, I recommend doing so before continuing to part II.
Note from the author: This post is a little bit about Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight. Both have been abysmally reviewed and voraciously enjoyed…more about that via your favorite friend, Google. If you haven’t read either book, I think you’ll still digest this. post just fine.
This post is a continuation from yesterday’s posed question:
Many of the women I know—many of them Christians, some of them Mennonites—have read Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight. Each of these women is intelligent, well-read, successful, and strong-willed. They are made of sturdier stuff than the women they devour in fiction.
But our best friends and mothers are STILL reading these books. Why?
3. We’re still reading these books because…: We are as unsure of ourselves as Ana, Bella, or another character:
Ana had barely met Mr. Grey before saying:
“We need to see women appreciated from the pulpit, honored for service, and stepping into roles where previously, there have been only men.”
“Romantically, though, I’ve never put myself out there, ever. A lifetime of insecurity—I’m too pale, too skinny, too scruffy, uncoordinated, my long list of faults goes on.”
Gloss over the particulars, if you will. What’s significant is the general self-loathing which many women, real and imagined, pour down upon themselves. Women need other women, in real life, in fiction, and in the media, who model self-love for their own bodies and confidence in their own intellect and abilities. We need to be shown other women who, if they are sexy, are not sexual objects. We need to see women appreciated from the pulpit, honored for service, and stepping into roles where previously, there have been only men. (We’re doing a little better here, church.)
Or we will continue to identify strongly with weak female characters who we feel we know personally.
4. We’re still reading these books because…: It helps us empathize. A woman close to me read Fifty Shades of Grey as an insightful exploration of the continued struggle for intimacy that victims of abuse may live with.
I’m not an expert on the validity of that reading, but I do find it a powerful thought.
Abuse may end, but it doesn’t go away. That’s why we’re here. To tell our stories.
5. We’re still reading these books because…: Women experience firsthand the ways in which our broader culture insists that women be given permission—by a man—to explore their sexuality.
Permission is a big thing in Fifty Shades of Grey. As their relationship progresses, and despite the fact that she endures situations in which she is put in physical harm, Ana is told when, how, and how not to enjoy herself sexually. Literally, she’s playing the rules of the BDSM game—rules which are designed to keep the players safe. Again consider the possibility that you have church members for whom “kink” is more than a curiosity—it is meaningful way of engaging sexually with the gendered powers we daily confront.
BDSM Company on Taiwan Pride 2005
But even figuratively, it makes an appalling amount of sense. We hear stories of thongs for little girls, the male gaze in popular culture and advertisements, and women returning to their abusers again and again. Even if we don’t dwell on it, women are aware of their placement as objects of male sexual desire—it’s fed to us from the age at which we begin to watch television.
As we provide our youth with role models, guidelines, prayer, mentorship (I’m assuming that you’re doing this—if you’re not, time to start)—at the center of the conversation must be this message: Your sexuality is a gift given to you—not to someone else. Because of the shared nature of most sexual experiences, I know this message may be seen as problematic. Or, perhaps you think it’s obvious.
In conversations with dozens of twenty-something female friends, they have admitted to me that they felt disavowed of their own bodies, unable to even imagine the possibilities their intimate relationships held for them, because as women raised in the church, they didn’t feel allowed.
If I wasn’t a pacifist, I’d flog anyone telling girls it’s not okay to fantasize. Ditto to discouraging masturbation. Encourage your daughters to develop healthy, life-giving thoughts about sex within their private worlds.
6. We’re still reading these books because…: We need sex-positivity that goes beyond a rote declaration that we will not tolerate sexual abuse. Please understand me: I think that declaration is absolutely essential.
Ruth Marston reminded us that sex should be “union, joy, and trust.” I love that!
I am not arguing for promiscuity, however you define it. I am arguing that sex-positivity is about more than saying “sex is good.” It’s also about allowing for exploration of a multitude of sexual “unions, joys, and trusts” if your congregation is going to experience good sex.
Some of our stories untold have involved church members feeling unworthy of good sex. Where do we go from here?
The first step is examining the connection between our silence on the most mundane parts of sexuality to our own propensities for victim-blaming, sexual shame, and delayed healing.
The second step, I think, involves creating room within our new guidelines for healthy sexuality for each woman or man’s sexuality—and reading habits—to be as unique as they are.
And the third? Keep talking. If not from the pulpit, talk to your friends. Talk to your parents. Talk to your sisters. Whoever told you that you weren’t allowed was misinformed.