by John Ellis
A few weeks ago, my wife and I watched the first episode of Chuck. Having heard positive things about the now canceled TV show, we thought that it might be a contender for the next thing we watch. It took as long as the pilot episode for Chuck to be removed from consideration.
About halfway through the first episode, a scene is inserted featuring the female lead in lingerie. And my use of the word “inserted” is intentional because the scene was gratuitous. The elements in the scene furthering the story did not require a female wearing only lingerie. In fact, those elements were not aided nor sharpened in any way by the costume choice. The story could’ve been told just as well while the actress was fully clothed.
With the lingering shots on the lingerie clad actress, the producers were targeting the coveted demographic of 18-49-year-old males. To put it another way, the producers knew that lust sells. Sexually objectifying actresses is a smart business decision.
However, as a disciple of Jesus, my anthropology and ethics are defined and controlled by the Bible. And the Bible plainly teaches that all humans are made in the Image of God. Devaluing another Image Bearer by reducing her to lustful sexuality is not just an attack on her but is also an attack on our Creator God. As a disciple of Jesus, I am commanded to love God and to love others and reducing women to objects of physical lust is a direct violation of those two commands.
Shamefully, too often, the Church has failed to demonstrate that we are disciples of Jesus through our failure to act differently than the world in this area.
In my youth group there was one girl that all the guys had a crush on – rather, that all the guys lusted after. Even worse, it wasn’t just the teenage males of the church who directed their gaze and thoughts at this female. Many of the grown men in the church had a crush on her, too – or, rather, many of the grown men in the church lusted after her, too.
The “secret” looks at her by many of the men and the subtext of their comments about her physical attractiveness did not escape us. We knew the effect that she had on the men in the church because they were unable to always successfully hide their lust. Smirking at their grossness and hypocrisy, we would laugh at their obvious desires.
She was aware of it, too. And while she laughed and parlayed the attention into a bargaining chip, looking back on it, I can see that she was hurting.
Having been reduced to little more than an object of physical desire, she frequently seemed lonely. Her jokes about her own beauty were always tinged with bitterness. Worse, I remember moments when she would slightly recoil at the touch of some of the grown men as her face fought to smile. Knowing what I know now about sexual abuse, I shudder to think about the things going on that I did not know about.
Even if I’m speculating beyond the truth in that previous sentence, the fact remains that by treating her as little more than an object of physical desire, the church failed her and sinned against her. Furthermore, by failing her and sinning against her in this way, she was taught that her value is determined by her sexuality and that dignity afforded her is a sliding scale determined by the lustful attention of men. She was taught that she exists, at least in part, for the pleasure of men.
I pray that by God’s grace, those lessons never took root in her mind and that she was able to find her full identity in Jesus. Sadly, the last I heard, though, she was still carrying the sexualized baggage heaped on her by men who professed to be Christians.
The tragic fact is that she was not an isolated instance. Throughout my childhood, I heard grown men speak of the physical attractiveness of women, and then couch their naked lust in a disclaimer that acknowledging physical beauty isn’t lust. They believed that it only crossed into lust if you continued to look after the initial acknowledgment. I even heard that preached from the pulpit.
Over the course of my life, I have heard Christian men speak approvingly of the bodies of both teen and adult females. How often, when describing a woman, do we start with physical beauty? And by doing so, what are we communicating to women who don’t match our standards of physical beauty? Shamefully, I too have participated in the objectification of women.
For thousands upon thousands of years, men have sexually objectified women. Recounted in Genesis 38, Tamar was able to trick her father-in-law because Judah believed that for a small price, he had the physical right to a female. Even King David was guilty of this as he reduced Bathsheba to a physical object of desire that existed solely for his pleasure. David’s misogyny bore rotten fruit in his own family; his son Amnon raped his sister.
Troubling as those historical anecdotes are, they point to the sinfulness of men and how sin destroys. They also point to the need for a patriarch, a husband, a King, and a brother who wields power righteously and justly. Revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s perfect righteousness and justice came to earth to save His people from their sins, restore them back to Himself, and set all things right, including human relationships.
Apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ, there can be no equality. Apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ, men will always take advantage of women.
This is one the reasons why the objectification of women among professing Christians and in our churches is so shameful. Jesus has called his bride, the Church, to love him, love one another, and pursue holiness as we eagerly await the eternal kingdom of our lord and savior Jesus Christ.
When men who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ reduce and treat women as objects for their pleasure, whether with their eyes, minds, words, or actions, those men lie about the gospel, lie about Jesus, and lie about what being made in the image of God means.
For many evangelicals, the #MeToo movement is seen as a bright spot shining through the terrible clouds of abuse women have been forced to endure for generations upon generations. Except, Christians who place their hope in the #MeToo movement are misplacing their hope. While the #MeToo movement may be currently shining a spotlight on the problem, the #MeToo movement offers no real solutions.
Like the Tower of Babel, the #MeToo movement is doomed to come crashing down in failure because, like the ancients at the Tower of Babel, the #MeToo movement insists on humans’ autonomy from their Creator, specifically regarding sexuality.
Since I’m writing to conservative Christians, I’m going to assume unanimity in agreement with the statement that God intends sex to be between one man and one woman within the boundaries of the covenant of marriage. The #MeToo movement denies the Bible’s teaching on sex. Claiming that they espouse freedom and empowerment, they embrace and then preach slavery to aberrant sexual ethics. If you don’t believe me, look no further than pop culture. And then, assuming I have any vocal critics to this post, pay attention to what social justice-leaning Christians will say about my assertions regarding pop culture.
Although they will insist otherwise, the thing is, ironically, pop culture runs at complete odds with the stated mission of many who are thankful for the #MeToo movement. And since pop culture appeals to our self-serving sin nature, pop culture will run roughshod over the good objectives of those who want to put a halt to the objectification of women. What’s more, since the #MeToo movement insists on clinging to a sexual ethic contra God’s sexual ethic, the #MeToo movement doesn’t have the ability to counter pop culture’s almost constant appeal to our lust – whether that lust appeals to our materialistic desire for sex, certain lifestyles, or trendy products.
Make no mistake, the sinful objectification of women is woven throughout pop culture, sometimes in seemingly innocuous ways.
Just yesterday, I overheard my son singing the refrain to “Baby Got Back,” the 1992 hit single from the rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot. Now, my son, who is seven, has never heard the actual song, colloquially known as “I Like Big Butts.” However, he has watched the 2016 animated film Sing, which features a version of the song.
After listening to my son chant the refrain a few times, I called him downstairs. I called his sister downstairs, too.
After “asking” him to never sing the song again, I explained to the two of them that it tells women that they exist mainly for the physical enjoyment of men. We then talked about how that selfish belief denies Genesis 1:26-27 that says that women are made in the image of God and worthy of respect and honor and should be treated with dignity. I also explained to them that “Baby Got Back” not only talks about women in sinfully exploitative ways but it talks about things that only husbands and wives should talk about. What’s more, the song talks about those things in self-serving ways when God commands husbands and wives to serve each other.
After the “discussion,” which I’m sure both of my kids found uncomfortable, I reflected on my growing annoyance. First off, I was annoyed at myself for having ever allowing them to watch a cartoon that contains a song that sinfully objectifies women. Secondly, I found myself annoyed at a society that believes it’s ok to market pop culture that objectifies women to kids.
Hiding behind the #MeToo movement, society at large is continuing to lie to women in order to convince them to be complicit in their own exploitation. This is evidenced by the shouts of victory because women of all sizes are now featured in SI’s Swimsuit Issue. Society is cheering because women of all sizes are now being exploited and objectified.
This is evidenced when you listen to actresses explain the reason why they shed their clothes for the camera. Over at Warhorn, commenting on a recent interview Jennifer Lawrence gave to Vanity Fair, Lucas Weeks aptly wrote:
I cannot imagine a better description of a sexual abuse victim being groomed for corruption. As a young woman, [Jennifer Lawrence] understood implicitly that it is shameful to be naked and used for the viewing pleasure of others. And so she resisted. But the producers and directors also knew that they could bide their time. Like any skilled predator, they knew that all they needed was a little nudge here and a little gentle pressure there. Coupled with the promise of riches and fame and worldwide admiration… few souls would have been strong enough to resist.
It is not empowering for actresses (or actors) to “choose” to display their bodies for the “viewing pleasure of others.” Producers and directors know that certain segments of the target audience will shell out money if they get the opportunity to watch actresses “empower” themselves by taking off their clothes. How is it empowering for females when men masturbate to naked images of movie stars?
And if that question makes you uncomfortable, read it again – How is it empowering for females when men masturbate to naked images of movie stars? And if you think that men’s lust isn’t what’s driving SI’s Swimsuit Issue and nudity in movies, then you’re either incredibly naïve or you’re lying to yourself. Sadly, while professing with their mouths that they oppose the objectification of women, many Christians will prove they are lying by what they watch on Netflix later this evening. And they’ll do so as they pat themselves on the back because they are invested in the ideology of the #MeToo movement and believe that they love women the way God loves women.
Except loving women the way God loves women requires fleeing from the objectification of women, whether on screen, in print, or in your heart. Because whether you’re guilty of lust or not, by engaging pop culture that objectifies women you are helping sustain a system that says that a woman’s worth is mediated by her sexuality and that her dignity is dependent on how men respond to her body.
While evangelicals have much to repent for in this area, we need to resist the urge to look to the #MeToo movement for solutions. Not only is society lying to us and using the #MeToo movement to continue their rebellion against God, but we Christians have already been given the solution – preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, love others, and pursue holiness.