Tag Archives: Twilight

Areas of Grey: Sex, Desire, Abuse and Christianity (Part II)

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.

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Areas of Grey: Sex, Desire, Abuse, and Christianity

This post originally appeared on Our Stories Untold and is re-printed here with permission. Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow.

Our Stories UntoldNote 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.

Note from the author: This post is a little bit about a previous post on The Femonite and Our Stories Untold 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.

When I was growing up, I wasn’t talked to about sex. As a corollary; I was not talked to about sexual abuse, and it was years before I realized that I was abused by a childhood “friend.” It was longer still before I realized that abuse was ruining my relationships and self-esteem, and longer still before I realized that to get rid of recurring, unwanted touch in my life, I had to be able to articulate what felt comfortable, what crossed my personal boundaries, and what (gasp!) to ask from my partner.

I’m passionate about how we interpret what we read–including the personal stories here–because I carried my story inside for years, and for a variety of reasons. I’m a strong advocate for Reader Response criticism, for allowing readers to let the personal seep into their interpretations of what they read. Stories tempt us to be didactic–to use them to prove our own points, or to manipulate them into making sense with our worldview. Fun!

But when we approach real, personal stories of abuse and sexuality (which Fifty Shades of Grey, titillating though it may be, is not), I believe very strongly in giving the storyteller the final word. If we want for girls to be brave enough to break the silence, we need to lift them up as the ultimate authorities on their own bodies, their own narratives, and their own desires. Sure, sometimes what we need is an expert, or someone who’s been there. And sometimes, especially after years of being quiet, we need the world to stop asking how past abuse could have been prevented, stop telling us to ditch the loser, stop telling us what our stories mean, or how we can embrace healing. Trust me, victims of abuse consider these possibilities.

We need the world to listen.

Like Katie, I want a happy ending to stories about abuse. Well, actually, we want to stop abuse.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?

1. We’re still reading these books because…: We can write it off as voyeurism. Look no further than the church’s official stance, prayerful consideration, or sometime assault on the place of GLBTQ individuals in our congregations and public or their right to sexual expression. As a collective, we somehow believe that what happens between you and your most intimate partners is a matter of public interest. We need to hold you against our own sexual orientation or—as is the case in question—our sexual tastes. Ruth Marston reminds us in her recent post how this began:

“For a couple of millennia abstinence and celibacy were upheld as the ideal models for Christian sexual practice.  Marriage was offered for those who must be depraved enough to be sexually active.  Those relationships outside of marriage were labeled fornication or adultery. This model however fails to provide adequate protection against sexual violence.”

I’ve heard numerous sermons describing the church’s stance on issues of sex and relationships as a means of protecting the church body from heartbreak, from disease, from abuse—any number of very real, very sex-specific consequences. I believe that a new model by which we will protect our congregations from sexual violence also requires that we not perpetrate sexual violence by ostracizing people who quest to experience intimacy that is meaningful to them.I believe that the church can be a community where women and men are supported in a search for an intimacy that is not one-size-fits-all, but we’ll not get there by tip-toe.

2.We’re still reading these books because…: We can see through the character’s predicament into our own. Perhaps, unlike Ana in Fifty Shades of Grey, you are not in a relationship in which your partner experiences arousal from causing you pain. You likely still know the challenges and rewards of balancing your own desires with the desires of other people.Our own experiences may not be quite so dramatic as in BDSM romance novels—but sometimes, they really are.

A BDSM collar.

As women grow, as we enter and fall out of relationships, we need candid conversations about the unmatched importance of knowing your own sexual boundaries and desires if we are going to be able to act well as agents in our intimate relationships. What’s more, we need to be presented with a portrait of sexuality—healthy sexuality—that goes beyond what the stories we’ve been told. Three of the places we get information on sex—the church, media, and porn—each with their own nuanced spin describe sex as something as something it is, but isn’t. Attractive? Magical? Easy? If the church doesn’t weigh in, someone else will. And when the leading information source on sex is pornography, we’re bound to feel inadequate in our experiences.

No couple’s sexual experiences will be completely static or completely fluid, completely without disappointments or completely made up of them. As our church members grow up, they need to hear a candor from our elders that this is to be expected, even celebrated.

For some people, kinky stuff is a viable, enjoyable, communicative, consensual—even ideal way of relating sexually.  And for others, it’s totally gross and creepy. But inherently unbiblical? I think not.

These books, and books like them invite readers into a world where they meet characters who encounter, explore, and, ultimately, survive situations that might resonate with them. We read to live.

…Stay tuned tomorrow for points 3-6 addressing why our best friends and mothers are STILL reading these books.

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Seeking a Happy Ending in Young Adult Literature

Katie Kevorkian

Guest post from…Katie Kevorkian recently received a Master of Arts from Claremont School of Theology in Interreligious Education. She is the Director of Children’s and Youth Ministries at Northridge United Methodist Church in Northridge, California.

This post is the fourth in a series on sexual violence and the church.

I admit it – I’ve read 50 Shades of Grey. I’ve even read 50 Shades Darker and I’m halfway through 50 Shades Freed. It is difficult to pinpoint what it is about these books that makes me want to continue reading them; they are notorious for the poor writing, underdeveloped characters and weak plot. They do, however, feature a female protagonist who becomes deeply involved in a dangerous situation. And I want so badly for her to walk away from it. So much that I keep reading in hopes that she will.

The 50 Shades trilogy is the story of a naive young woman who is physically beaten, punished, and verbally abused by a controlling, emotionally disturbed boyfriend. And he loves her… and she loves him… so she should keep trying to make it work, right? She should keep on believing that he will change because he loves her, right?

Of course. Because true love conquers all.

When we talk about sexual violence, we often speak of isolated incidents: women who are attacked by strangers, date rape, etc. Often we talk about women and children who are assaulted against their will by people who are familiar and close to them, like relatives, teachers or clergy. These tragedies deserve our attention and the women (and men) who have survived attacks deserve the support of the community to find justice, safety and peace. We often forget, though, that much sexual violence happens in the privacy of one’s own home, behind closed doors, within a committed relationship.

50 Shades of Grey effectively turns sexual abuse into something to be desired. To the protagonist, Ana Steele, it is hot and sexy, something that turns her on and makes her want more. Christian Grey, her love interest, has a troubled past, which he has learned to deal with by adopting a BDSM lifestyle, and outfitting a torture chamber and sex lair in his home, referred to as the “playroom,” or the “red room of pain.” In addition to the alternative lifestyle choice, Christian is unpredictable and quick to anger. Ana admits that she is afraid of him – afraid of his mood swings, jealousy and anger, yet she perseveres, hoping he will change. She puts up with physical pain, even admitting fault when he injures her while he is physically punishing her: she did not use the “safe word” while being beaten, thus causing her own injury. She requests that he hit her in order to ease the tension after an argument and tells him often that believes that she deserves to be punished. She enjoys the punishment, and becomes what he wants her to be: a girlfriend and punching bag.

If this sounds a little bit familiar, it’s because you’ve heard the story before. The 50 Shades trilogy by E L James began life as Twilight fan fiction. The Twilight Saga introduced similar themes into teen literature, including the notion that sex was accompanied by pain, and that this pain intensifies the sexual experience in a positive way. The pain in these stories is always inflicted by the man at his discretion and experienced by the woman. It is not cooperative (which wouldn’t be any less scary), but involves a dominant and submissive partner, one who completely controls the other and the situation.

These messages are dangerous, especially because these books culminate in (spoiler alert!) marriage: a contract that binds the couple together, making it much more difficult for the abused partner to remove herself from the situation. The stories suggest that a young woman should stay with a person who hurts them, because it doesn’t get better than that. If true love is in the mix, then the abuse is a non-issue, or will solve itself.

No one should have to learn to deal with abuse or to put up with violence, including verbal abuse and controlling behavior, ever. Especially not in a quest to find true love! We assume that this message is accepted by our communities, our friends, relatives, siblings and daughters – it seems so logical. However, ideas to the contrary are propagated in our favorite literature. Twilight is absorbed at an alarming rate by teenage girls, and housewives and young adult women seem to be under the spell of 50 Shades. Women of all ages are receiving the message that these kind of relationships are not only excusable, but normal and desirable. 

We need to send a new message to women of all ages about love and violence: if your romantic relationship includes controlling or possessive behavior, extreme paranoia or physical or emotional abuse, then you can do better. There is no such thing as love so powerful that makes an abusive situation worth it. Not for the moment, and especially not for the rest of one’s life.

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