I came across the following video yesterday. Although it’s not new to the internet, it’s new to me and it made me ragey. Go ahead and watch it. I’ll wait.
On the surface, it seems really great. Cute swimsuits where I don’t have to worry about showing off my everything. But when you stop, really pay attention to what Ms. Rey is saying, and think, you realize she is simply a participant in conservative evangelical, patriarchal culture. She invites you to buy into the lie, (and one of her bathing suits, while you’re at it) that if a man sexualizes and doesn’t respect you, it’s your fault that you didn’t wear a modest enough swimsuit.
The talk’s tactic is simple. In fact, I learned this is social psychology in college. What we have here is a false dichotomy facilitated by the “door in the face” technique.
SLAM! Bikinis should be as skimpy as possible.
SLAM! Men’s brains shut down when women wear bikinis.
SLAM! Women used to wear bath machines so no one would see their bathing costumes.
SLAM! Women’s swimsuits used to be measured by the lifeguards on the beach.
So, see guys? By comparison, my message and what I’m trying to sell you isn’t so bad. You should now be adequately shamed and on board with giving me your money.
In the beginning, Ms. Rey sites a Princeton study which showed some men’s brain scans revealed no brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, (the area responsible for empathy) when they were shown pictures of “scantily clad” women. The study’s analysis stated that “it is as if these men are responding to these women as objects.” The conclusion Ms. Rey makes is essentially this: if you want to be empowered, you need the respect of men, and men don’t respect women who aren’t dressed modestly.
First of all, that doesn’t make too much sense. Self-empowerment doesn’t come from an external locus. Secondly, DUH! Of course men’s brains are going to react that way. We, particularly men, have been trained to objectify women. Think about it. Who decided, and why, that men’s chests and nipples are not inherently sexual and, therefore, able to be exposed at places like the pool? Why are women’s chests and nipples deemed inappropriate for public exposure? It’s because a patriarchal society decided that, because breasts turn men on, they are inherently sexual and have no other purpose. On the other hand, men’s bare chests don’t do anything for heterosexual men, and they have historically been in control of what is and is not acceptable. Therefore: men’s chests=innocuous, women’s chests=drool, honka honka, *motorboating*. I’m not suggesting that women now walk around like Scout Willis, but I am pointing out the absurdity in logic and double-standard that we so easily accept. Just like men have been trained to objectify women, so too have women incorporated this into their worldview without even realizing that it was really forced on them. It is the world’s most elaborate joke, without anyone yelling Sucka!
Aside from nipple double-standards, it is easy to find the objectification in our culture. From advertising to Sundays at church, it is clear that this training is pervasive. Beer commercials have women partying in swimwear in the snow. Or this one, where the woman is straddled over and melding into the
bottle of piss beer bottle.
This study suggests that even women view other women as objects when they are sexualized in advertising. Not only do men not hold the monopoly on objectifying reactions, it demonstrates the problem in our culture is indiscriminate. This is learned, not inherent.
This sort of objectification is not just learned within the confines of secular culture. Conservative evangelical culture also treats women and their bodies as either stumbling blocks, (how much more “object” can you get than a block which causes you to stumble?) or things which should be made available to their husbands. From an early age, girls in the church are taught about what is and isn’t appropriate attire around the young men of the church. Mission trip lists tick off the many rules for what the girls can and cannot wear: shorts at least fingertip length; one piece swimsuits only; no spaghetti strap tank tops, (because heaven forbid you see belly buttons or skin close to the breast.) The dress code for guys? *crickets* The reason for these rules is that dressing “immodestly” would cause the guys to think about us sexually and give them impure thoughts.
Once we grow up and get married, women are told that sex is so important to men that they should make themselves available so that their husband’s needs can be fulfilled. The Gospel Coalition printed an article which argued that when women aren’t submissive sexually, it ends up causing sexual violence because the way the world is supposed to be has been thrown off kilter. Even women make it abundantly clear to other women that if they don’t put their boobs away where their husbands can’t see them, it will cause significant problems in their marriages. The message is clear: the purpose of women is to sexually gratify men.
This is a Madonna whore culture. While we should be “sluts” in the bedroom, we had better not be seen as a sexual creature outside of it. If we are, it is our fault. Just like Hester Prynne was labeled with a scarlet letter, so women today are judged by what is worn on the outside. We are labeled as “sluts”, “whores”, “asking for it”, or “immodest” if our outward attire does not conform to what is deemed acceptable by the viewer. Meanwhile, our Reverend Dimmesdales slink by unnoticed or, when they are caught, simply place blame on who we all know is at fault after all: the slut who wore the immodest bikini.