How Both Christians and Feminists Can Correct Society's View of Women's Bodies
There is a lie in American culture which has seeped into how men view women and how women view themselves. That lie is the idea– thanks to factors like pornography, women’s and men’s magazines, and James Bond-type movies– that women’s bodies, and specifically breasts, are primarily for male sexual satisfaction instead of a critical component of a woman’s God-created, life-giving capabilities that also often serve an important purpose in sexual intimacy.
This lie has given many men the impression that it’s their right to move quickly with women because they see women primarily as sexual beings, and it has given many women the impression that they should let men have their way.
This lie is omnipresent and affects both sexes. It crosses normal social bounds. For example, my recognition of the problem happened because I’m a practicing Catholic who views women as equals created by God. But when I talk with feminists who disagree with me on abstinence, abortion, and contraception, we find a lot of agreement on this issue.
I wish I’d understood this subtle and omnipresent lie before I got hooked on porn for a few years as a teen and in my early twenties. It caused me great distress as I tried to uphold my Catholic values while still respecting the natural attractiveness of women. Thankfully, I was able to abstain from sex and aim for chastity. This has given my wife and me a wonderfully intimate relationship which combines the complementary and total nature of our bodies that goes well beyond the physicality of sex.
The fact is that a proper understanding of the human person goes well beyond any ideology or philosophy. We are body and soul, independent and complementary, sexual and non-sexual. But with a culture enmeshed in pornography, women’s magazines, and “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit issues, women are portrayed as having one defining characteristic– their sexuality, especially through the portrayal of their breasts as having only one important characteristic, which is pleasing men.
In a healthy relationship, men can and should view women’s bodies as beautiful, both in terms of sexual pleasure and in being designed to create life. But when sex is treated like a shallow, physical act instead of a total giving of spouses to each other, and where pornography is prevalent, many men view women’s breasts as play-things instead of partners in our species’ survival.
I’ve always been aware of the struggle for chastity. I wasn’t aware of the societal lie about women’s bodies until I saw Joey Salad’s viral video which shows people criticizing a breast-feeding woman at a mall while ignoring or reacting favorably towards a well-endowed woman wearing very little. While one should always be skeptical of edited, agenda-driven “social experiment” videos, it got me thinking.
Since then, I’ve seen significant evidence in society writ large that Americans are simply unaware of how they’ve been dehumanized. Men think it’s normal to “move fast” with women. Women think it’s normal to be moved fast on. Rather than human beings working together in a complementary fashion, many people simply see sex, sex-related activities, and women’s bodies as primarily for pleasure.
It’s not just the main, life-sustaining purpose of breasts which Americans have lost sight of. If it’s one thing we’ve mastered, it is confusing God’s intentions. For example, we see food first as something to be eaten for our enjoyment instead of for sustenance and nutrition. Thus, we are a nation that is full of rapidly growing waistlines.
We see sex similarly as first and foremost something for our enjoyment instead of for procreation and unity, which is why we often have many sexual partners instead of one spouse for life. The confusion I faced over the female body caused me untold stress and many hours of lost sleep leading up to marriage. My scarring from porn seen a decade and more earlier tricked me into thinking that breasts are an important part of sex and foreplay.
But I didn’t want to lust after my then-fiancée. I wanted to respect her body even as we anticipated uniting ourselves through sexual intercourse. Yet, I also knew that I appreciated the God-created creature that is a woman.
How little I knew. In fact, my wife and I care far more about offering our bodies than what our bodies offer. By giving ourselves instead of pursuing the other, we focus on the totality of the relationship, not on specific physical characteristics. We are able to have a great breakfast and eat it, too.
Some things can only be learned through experience. However, it has to be the right experience. The number of secular women who urged me to “take the car out for a test drive before buying it” numbers in the dozens. (Many of these women self-identified as feminists. Did they intend to compare women to objects?) And a number of men said they were going to convince me to have sex prior to marriage as a way to “help” me.
Yet, a handful of people of both sexes have quietly told me that they wish they’d waited before having sex. To quote one man from memory, “you don’t know what it’s like to lose a piece of your soul” by giving yourself through sex, only to have that relationship end.
An unhealthy view of women’s bodies can lead to women feeling disrespected and ignored. One woman told me that she assumed all men saw breasts as toys that were critical to sexual intimacy because that’s how men had always treated her. Men jumped right to her body instead of her.
For that woman, experience was a bad teacher. For me, sex has been the only teacher that could work because my wife and I give ourselves fully, totally, and unreservedly to each other without having to flash-back to past experiences. If I’d “taken the car for a test-drive,” I know I’d be comparing past experiences to current ones, instead of just focusing on my wife and our complementary needs and desires.
The fact is that most women aren’t as thin or curvy as actresses in movies. Pre-pregnancy women definitely won’t look the same while a baby is in the womb, and maybe not ever after pregnancy. And we all age. If sex is all about physicality, and big breasts are a requirement to a happy sexual life, most of us are doomed. Thankfully, Christians can walk arm-in-arm with modern feminists to throw this lie on the trash heap of history.
And it is through marriage that I can appreciate how feminists have been right about America’s misconception of women’s bodies: we have a culture which gives men the idea that pressuring women into sex or expecting them to want to jump right in is fine and normal, and that women who don’t want that are either werid or prudes.
The breast lie is part of a larger issue in America where some people dismiss male sexual pursuit as “boys will be boys” and where others misinterpret advocating social responsibility as victim-blaming.
It is with this fine line in mind that I offer the following solution:
Men, step up in yourself and in your example to other men. Men are more naturally inclined towards the physicality of sex than women, but that doesn’t give us the right to have our way without consent (and without being married first). Men must learn to think and act towards the women in our lives as we would want other men to act towards our sisters and daughters.
If other men don’t do that, hold them accountable. From recognizing that women are equals created by God to averting our eyes to changing how we view sex itself, there’s a long road ahead.
Because we live in a fallen world, women must be aware of your actions and how men interpret them. First, don’t give your body to men who haven’t earned your trust, respect, and love. Encourage your female friends to do the same. Doing this will force men to rethink how they view the female body, and it will empower your female friends to think better of themselves.
Second, the little things matter. While men need to take responsibility for their own actions, you should understand that how they view you will be affected by how you dress, act, and see yourself. You can recognize this reality and be part of the solution. Or you can pretend like it doesn’t exist and watch both sexes dehumanize themselves.
It takes two to tango. It also takes both sexes to change society’s perception of women.
Dustin Siggins is CEO of the publicity firm Proven Media Solutions.