Deeper Story: Girls, Modesty-Shaming, and Jesus Feminism

Slut-shaming.

It’s a backlash to feminist expressions of power when a woman embraces her sexuality. I hate it all, really. It stresses me out trying to figure out whether it’s better to support that expression of female sexuality and agency or if it is better to rail against this subversive (though usually blatant) form of oppression of women by objectifying their bodies and giving girls value only because of their ability to titillate and seduce on stage. But, I admit I find myself slut-shaming in my brain at various levels. Mostly directed towards Miley Cryus and that wrecking ball image.

And then I feel profoundly sad. What are we doing to our girls? – We complain. We criticize. We guilt and shame. They’re too sexy. They’re way promiscuous. They’re irresponsible, vapid, and helpless. In the same breath we modesty-shame others. “Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez are goody-goody and could be so much more successful if they were sexier.” It’s so confusing, no wonder our girls get so screwed up.

When are girls going to be good enough?

…And why is it that when I try to Google image search “girl” and “little girls” I get images of half naked women for the first, and girls only dressed in princess outfits for the latter?

Sarah Bessey came out with her debut book Jesus Feminist and I am inspired by how it subverts the expectation that Christian women should be a certain way by offering a unabashedly real life experience of how Jesus is the source of  her feminism.

Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man—there never has been another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely un-selfconscious. – Dorothy L. Sayers

It broadens definitions and experiences of feminism that are sorely needed right now when even these movements feel like they’re getting constrained and even hijacked by wider culture. But there are other expressions, too.

I watch some TV that may be questionable and not readily associated with the “office” of minister. (Speaking of TV and office – I’m weirdly really missing The Office these days.) Most in my regular lineup are pretty innocuous but so hilarious: Parks and Rec; Modern Family; The Mindy Project.

And then I got sucked into HBO’s Girls. I didn’t start until late into Season 2 – and caught up on the first season in one night from a friend’s borrowed rented DVD.

I had avoided the show because of some critiques by sources I respect that pointed out that Lena Dunham presents a really narrow experience. From NPR in 2012:

But not everyone was so enamored. Within hours of Girls’ premiere on April 15, a backlash started growing online, with critics charging that the show is narcissistic, lacks racial diversity and showcases whiny, privileged millennials complaining about topics only relevant to whiny, privileged millennials.

So, before I really gave it a chance myself, I had disregarded it as another one of those shows following the stories of some rich, skinny, white girls. (As if we don’t have enough of those shows already.)

But then I watched it.

I hadn’t watched anything HBO in who-knows-how-long though definitely pre-kids and even pre-marriage, I think. It was a shock at first to see so much nudity and sex but that quickly faded in the background, because I also haven’t watched something so cringe-worthy, interesting, complicated and hilarious in I don’t know how long. I love the story-telling. The relationships. The scenes of Brooklyn. The accents. The ugly, messy, no frills. And, contrary to popular belief, it really isn’t all about sex – the act of sex – but, it’s still a lot about intimacy. And those intersections between people – physical and emotional – say so much.

Season 3 started and I’m already kind of taken with everyone even though the majority of the characters are mildly annoying. But that’s why – there’s something so raw and genuine about it all – it’s oddly endearing. Reading some more of Lena’s responses to the criticism I see the honesty of her stories. They are her slice of life where she isn’t trying to present or force any universalisms on us. And I appreciate her awareness of the tendency towards tokenism. Is it really that necessary to insert a woman-of-color friend for the sake of diversity even if she knows nothing about how to speak for and to that particular woman’s experience? I don’t expect to find it comfortable and real. I don’t need to find her story familiar. And, yet it is – there’s some overlap because we are both girls. Which always makes me think of my daughter, Anna, and how much I want her to overlap – in meaningful and truthful ways – with other girls someday.

Because it’s hard enough being a girl without other girls coming after you.

Now everywhere in the US intimate things flash in people’s faces: pornography, abortion, sexuality and reproduction; marriage, personal morality and family values. These issues do not arise as private concerns: they are key to debates about what “America” stands for, and are deemed vital to defining how citizens should act.

 The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship

I’m not saying we all need to subject ourselves to this kind of art. It may be uncomfortable to most people and it may trigger some unhealthy behaviors in others. (I won’t go into how problematic porn has become to our understanding of our bodies and relationships, but how the “art” of porn is perhaps a commentary on something more. I’ll do that later in a hopefully provocative and thoughtful post because I’m really fascinated with the way our culture is so obsessed with a particular kind of intimacy.) We don’t need to watch or see Girls to understand that humanity is screwed up but that there ‘s still redemptive possibility.

What we need are Jesus’ words in John 1. Come and see.

Those were Jesus’ kind and patient – pastoral – words to the disciples in John’s Gospel when they are fan-girling around him and don’t know what else to say – where are you staying? But he asks a big question, and it likely catches them off guard so they ask what is on the surface of their minds and hearts – where are you staying … so we can stay with you? I think, come and see makes perfect sense in light of the rest of the story with everything they saw: how he healed, fed, taught, wept, and treated everyone the same way. Everyone. Everyone. Even men that smelled like fish all day and probably could barely write a sentence. Even children.

Even women deemed sluts and women deemed whores, and women deemed domestic goddesses (exaggeration of Martha?).

Come and see. Come and see something deeper than what the media and culture sees and forces on us. Come and see what it means to support and love every human being realizing that even though they may be “Other” (someone foreign and alien, a stranger) their dignity and life means your dignity and life, too. Come and see what it means to delve into gritty, earthy humanness and glimpse the divine in it, too. Come and see that what we are fed by the empty wells around us is nothing compared to the endless harvests Jesus has to offer us now and always.

You have to go deep in one place. When you do you fall into the underground stream that we all share.
-Rohr

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