Wednesday, February 15, 2017

BREAKING NEWS: Purity Culture Adherents Completely Miss the Point

Lady Gaga performs at the Superbowl LI halftime show. Immodestly. I love it. Image source.
[content note: rape culture in superbowl commercials]

This article was posted on Desiring God two weeks ago: How Do You Super Bowl? Ideas for Navigating Controversial Ads. It's full of advice about how good Christians should deal with the issue of superbowl ads. "But wait," you ask, "what exactly is the problem? Why are superbowl ads a tricky thing that people need advice about?" Well. I'm glad you asked. Let's see how the article explains it:
But in recent years, an increasing number of those pricey commercials also have proven sexually suggestive, or worse. Ads by Victoria’s Secret and GoDaddy are notorious examples, not to mention the latest efforts by the major beer companies, or this year’s inevitable racy movie trailer.
So the problem is that the ads are "sexually suggestive." No details are given beyond that. Seriously. There's nothing in this entire article that tells us why it's bad for ads to be "sexually suggestive." What exactly is harmful about that?

Fortunately (heh) I grew up in purity culture, so I can fill in here. This is a type of Christianity that is very much afraid of "lust." If a man looks at a woman who's not his wife and feels sexual attraction, oh my goodness DANGER DANGER. Yes, sometimes they will say that sexual attraction is normal (well, only if it's the heterosexual kind, of course) and not a sin, but it can lead to lust, which is a sin- but everything is talked about in such vague terms that many people end up with the impression that their very normal, benign feelings of attraction are a dirty dirty sin. (For example: I'm asexual, I don't experience sexual attraction, but I TOTALLY considered myself to be "struggling with lust" many times during my years in purity land.)

Notice that I said "if a man looks at a woman"- this is very gendered. In this ideology, men are animals which can hardly control themselves, and women don't really have any sexual desire at all. Instead, women want attention from men. So the "danger" from an advertisement containing a photo of a sexy woman is that it will make men lust and make women think "I should dress like that so men will want me."

At any rate, anything that invites people to think about the desirability of sex, sexuality, or sexiness is an EXTREMELY DANGEROUS TEMPTATION. That's what that Desiring God article is about. That's the danger they are trying to help people avoid.

They totally missed the point.

The problem with superbowl commercials isn't that they acknowledge that sexiness exists. The problem is that they portray women and women's bodies as objects solely for men's enjoyment. Often in these commercials, women aren't fully human individuals who make their own choices; instead, they are the reward a man gets for being awesome. There was one particularly horrifying one I remember, which must have been 7 years ago but I remember it because it scared me that much: It was a commercial for potato chips or something, and every time the guy in the commercial took a bite of the chips, a lucky thing happened to him. One of the "lucky things" was a woman's clothes disappearing- she was walking down the street, and suddenly her clothes were gone and she was walking down the street in sexy underwear. And we the viewers are supposed to see this- a woman's clothes suddenly disappearing for no reason as she minds her own business- as a happy thing that happened to this guy who was eating the potato chips. We're supposed to see it as a good thing. We're not supposed to think about how the woman feels- she doesn't have her own feelings, she's only there to make the guy happy. OH MY GOD.

That scares me. That really scares me. It scares me that there are so many people who see no problem with that message- that commercial was approved to air during the superbowl, the biggest event for TV commercials. What if I was walking down the street and my clothes flew off? Would you think "WOW SO COOL!" or would you think "oh my god someone help her! Give her a coat!"

But the Desiring God article about the dangers of superbowl ads doesn't say anything about sexism at all. Not a word about how so many ads promote disgusting, dehumanizing messages about women. (Though in that ideology, if they said they were concerned about the messages it's sending about women, they would mean messages like "it's okay to wear sexy clothes." Again, they totally miss the point.)

They don't care what the commercial is actually about. They don't care whether it presents a healthy view of sexuality where everyone respects each other, or a view where women are public property and don't make their own choices about sex. In their way of thinking, all that matters is that the ad includes an image of a sexy woman. They don't look at how other people in the ad treat her; instead, it's the sexy woman herself who is intrinsically dangerous. Her body is dangerous, and good Christians must not look.

Must not look. That's right, all the "advice" in that Desiring God article is along the lines of "don't look." It's full of practical suggestions about changing the channel, muting during commercials, or skipping the superbowl altogether. Don't look. The sexy woman's body is so dangerous, you must not even look.

The most heartbreaking, horrifying part of the article is this:
We always have a jump channel set on the remote, so pushing one button changes to a ‘safe’ channel. We usually set it to some channel about food or houses or animals. The kids have seen enough commercials to know and will themselves say ‘jump.’ So they are aware and can discern, but we don’t leave it on to increase exposure
OH MY GOD, they trained their kids to say "jump."

I was under the impression that the concern about kids seeing sexual things on TV is that the kids are too young to understand. If they're too young to understand, then how can you teach them to recognize a commercial that they need to "jump" away from? I'll tell you how: you teach them to look for a woman wearing sexy clothes- that's the sign that a commercial is not safe. Do you see how messed-up this is? They're teaching their kids that the problem is the woman herself. The problem is her body, the existence of her cleavage. Not how the other characters in the commercial treat her.

I submit to you that a child cannot develop a healthy view of sexuality if they are trained in this way. Especially if that child is a girl (or assigned female at birth). What happens when she starts to grow up and she discovers that her own body has boobs and curves- those same dangerous things that she was taught to "jump" away from?

What happens when these kids meet an actual person who is "dressed immodestly", the kind of person they would "jump" away from if they saw them on TV? Are they going to be able to treat her like an actual human being, or just see her as a dangerous object they need to protect their pure hearts from?

Purity culture is so totally fixated on sex and sexiness that it's unable to even see the sexism and disrespect present in these ads. They're so focused on superficial things like showing skin that they can't comprehend the morals and messages in these ads, the difference between consent and sexual assault. Of course they miss the point. Of course they can't see it when their only advice is "don't look."

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