If We’re Talking Bodies
- June 12, 2017
- Heather Moore
Have you heard Katy Perry’s new song “Bon Appetit”? (I do NOT recommend watching the music video.) She proclaims that the entire album is about liberation, and this track is specifically about sexual liberation. Alright, Katy, women have sexual desires, it’s true. We’re not passive disinterested objects that sex happens to; we’re active participants with our own wants and needs. I think this aspect of the sexual revolution (in its various on-going phases) served women well. Affirming women’s experience of their sexuality allowed for greater equality in relationships and for us to be able to communicate our desires and expectations. In many ways women have been freed to live more authentically and richly as we explore our place in the world. This is a good thing. But there are also aspects of the sexual revolution that wear a mask of liberation and progress and yet have continued to keep women enslaved. I have been struck lately by a few lies that I think have crept into our feminism:
Your body as a thing
A destructive dichotomy has become increasingly pronounced in pop culture in recent years. This is the idea that our bodies are a tool that we use like any other resource to get the things we want. It’s not a philosophy of seeing our bodies and spirits as being intertwined, but our bodies being for utility and disconnected from our emotional experience. Here’s a couple of song examples.
The actual lyrics of “Bon Appetit” are almost as uncomfortable as the music video where Katy Perry is literally being prepared like meat and cooked for consumption:
So you want some more
Well, I’m open 24
Wanna keep you satisfied
Customer’s always right
Hope you’ve got some room
For the world’s best cherry pie
Gonna hit that sweet tooth, boy
Let me take you
Under candle light
We can wine and dine
A table for two
And it’s okay
If you take your time
Eat with your hands, fine
I’m on the menu
‘Cause I’m all that you want, boy
All that you can have, boy
Got me spread like a buffet
Bon a, bon appétit, baby
Appetite for seduction
Fresh out the oven
Melt in your mouth kind of lovin’
Bon a, bon appétit, baby
Tove Lo, an artist that I think is putting out particularly unhelpful music, has a recent radio hit called “Talking Body.”
Now if we’re talking body
You got a perfect one
So put it on me
Swear it won’t take you long
If you love me right
[Clean:] We love for life
On and on and on
Love, give me love
Anything you want I’ll give it up
Lips, lips I kiss
Bite me while I taste your fingertips
Our baby making bodies we just use for fun
Let’s use them up ’til every little piece is gone
On and on and on
On and on
I HATE these songs and others like them. They masquerade as sexual power and control while actually making women dehumanized objects. To put it bluntly, I think they’re contributing to rape culture. The message to men is that women’s bodies exist for pleasure and that what happens to our bodies doesn’t affect us. Being disembodied is not power, it’s numbness. Feeling nothing may feel like control but it comes at the cost of fully experiencing ourselves and the world around us. It’s also not authentic choice. If we have to shut down part of ourselves in order to feel comfortable, then we’re actually living out of fear of pain and vulnerability. That’s not having control, it’s being controlled.
Here’s what may be an uncomfortable biblical reality. The popular phrase, “It’s my body, I can do what I want with it” isn’t accurate. 1 Cor. 6:12-20 gives us a thorough treatise on God’s view of sexuality, and 18-20 tell us why:
18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
Nothing in the world belongs to us, everything is God’s creation and belongs to him. “Everything” includes our bodies. Our bodies are not empty shells, we were created to be deeply complex beings. Whatever happens to one part of us happens to our whole selves. The good news is that God made us for flourishing and to experience the fullness of life. God’s ownership of our bodies is not for exploitation and oppression, but for freedom and thriving. Seeing ourselves as God’s may feel like a lack of power and control, but it’s an invitation to live in true fullness and authenticity, without fear and without shame.
Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of good things about this movement. It’s helped combat victim blaming in cases of sexual harassment and assault, and pointed out unfair double standards in our culture. It’s been very unhelpful when it requires nothing different from men. Many manifestations of this movement have resulted in celebrating female promiscuity. (The podcast “Guys We’ve F%&@ed” for example.) Again, it’s fine to affirm that women are active participants in sexual activity. But first of all, “equality” doesn’t mean being able to do the same harmful thing back to your oppressor. Men indiscriminately sleeping around and using women was never a good thing for the flourishing of society. Why then would it be helpful for women to do so? Employing the same destructive patterns isn’t power, it’s being defined by your oppression. It’s claiming that we should be able to do everything men do without freely examining whether the things they have done are truly good and desirable.
Secondly, if I’m a guy who already objectifies women, then women being promiscuous is great for me. It allows me to continue hooking up with whomever, whenever, and never needing to view them as individuals worthy of my respect. It’s women functionally saying to those men, “You treat us like pieces of meat but it’s ok because we like it now.” I think actual progress would involve men growing and changing in the ways they view and treat women. Equality isn’t just about actions but also perspectives. Both men and women seeing each other as possessing inherent dignity and worth. Both of us acting in ways to build each other up in the world, not to use each other for our own gratification.
Finally, sometimes we should feel negative emotions about experiences that were unhealthy for us. The somewhat extreme but prevalent message is that women should never feel badly about their consensual sexual experiences. It’s your body and your choices, so don’t regret or feel ashamed about anything. But what about when we made a bad decision and our hearts instinctively know that our behavior resulted in a negative impact on us? Our spirits and bodies are deeply entwined and our mind knows when something happened to our bodies that felt off. Most women already struggle to honestly name and express their emotions. Telling women to never feel badly about anything is another form of numbing and silencing. We would be better served by encouraging each other to listen to our instincts and comfort levels and not be afraid to walk away from a situation or to refuse to repeat a behavior we didn’t like. Freedom isn’t blanketly calling everything we do good, but learning more about ourselves and the way we want to be in the world.
In all of this, my hope is for both men and women to understand their profound God-given value. Let’s not act blindly out of what we’ve always seen around us, but imagine a new and better way of being together. Reflect on the messages you receive about how you’re expected to act. Start dreaming about what else might be possible for you and the people around you. There’s more for you than this.