Bikini’s and Cultural Sex-Capades

birthofvenus2

Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli, 1486

A video has recently surfaced on the internet that explains the evolution of the bikini and the way in which this particular fashion item plays into the objectification of women. My task here is not to rehash Jessica Rey’s argument but is instead dedicated to exposing the conscious and subconscious factors that play into defining the sexuality of females. Nonetheless, I have found this video to be particularly interesting. Rey, the speaker, attempts to (re)articulate a form of modesty that promotes human dignity while also embracing and affirming the female body. Dissimilar to my previous posts that primarily deal with theology and exegesis, this post will investigate the current subject from a social and philosophical perspective.

 Let me first acknowledge that it has come to my attention, after a brief conversation with a good friend, that focusing on “liberating” women from certain clothing items seems to be fairly unimportant. Unimportant in the sense that these conversations seem to be short-sighted as they seemingly reveal a mentality of, “If she just wore more clothing she would be able to flourish as a human being,” or “If she was able to choose to wear less clothing she would be able to flourish as a human being.” The former statement may be applied to a teenage female in the U.S. as the latter statement could be said about an Afghani female. Both of these statements however do not strike the deeper nerve of how the female sex is viewed and treated by the majority of the world—not excluding the enlightened United States.

I will emphasize that Rey does not hold to conservative ideologies of modesty. To be sure, Rey embraces and affirms the female body. Furthermore, Rey is disheartened at the current portrayals of women as she views this portrayal to result in women being co-opted into the sex-capades of our current culture. The result for the female can lead to poor self-image, objectification, and dis-empowerment. All this to say, Rey does not direct the blame to the female gender but understands that there are (both conscious and subconscious) social, cultural, psychological and economic factors that affect female sexuality. It is indeed these factors that rapper Lupe Fiasco rails against in his song entitled B**** Bad.

Rey and I both share a fundamental concern that the female body has become primarily recognized as a sexual symbol (this is, in part, Lupe’s lament). While sexuality is a human identifier, it should not and must not become THE defining factor in one’s worth. However, U.S. culture is undecided on whether or not it is negative for women to be viewed as glorified sex toys. This is evident in Nevada’s laws regarding prostitution, a 10 billion dollar pornographic industry, and corporations that objectify young impressionable females. The untrained reader will investigate these statements and conclude that U.S. female’s should just do a better job of covering themselves. However, this approximation puts an inappropriate burden on females and an unnecessary emphasis on “nakedness” being a moral taboo.

Allow me to comment on nakedness by creating an analogy. During undergrad I took a class entitled Imagination and Culture. The class focused on artistic pieces throughout the centuries. In some of the earlier pieces, the women (and men) were fully nude. Despite this fact, I never experienced “awkwardness” or “violation” because I had a respected professor who taught me how to view these beautiful masterpieces which in turn resulted in a healthier appreciation for the human body. This sort of education is lacking in our current culture which results in the female body becoming over-sexualized.

jessica rey

Jessica Rey

Finally, I should make clear that I am not suggesting that if one simply comes to an “enlightened” conclusion about the “beauty of the human body” they will be able to unabashedly view pornographic images. I, along with Calvin Seerveld, hold that art is to be prophetic and elusive—and pornography is neither one of these things.In regards to what Rey’s argument directly addresses, I suggest that a female in our current culture refusing to wear certain clothing items could be seen as a conscious act of defiance. What I mean by this is that for a female in the U.S. to say no to a bikini could possibly be similar to someone saying no to a t-shirt made in Bangladesh. It is not that the clothing itself is “evil,” it is rather what the clothing represents that is antithetical to the promotion of justice and equality.

In conclusion I must admit, when it comes to female sexuality and our cultures definitions I have a personal stake in the matter. As I have a younger sister who is 16 years old, I am becoming increasingly sensitive to subjects pertaining to the empowerment of women and cultures antagonism to this movement. I would hope that the reader appreciates this, and I hope that my sister does as well.

 

-By Josiah R. Daniels

Dedicated to Hannah R. Daniels

 

Further Reading/Resources:

Sojourners:Top 4 Reasons Why Jesus is my Favorite Feminist

Rachel Held-Evans: Modesty: I don’t think it means what you think it means…

An anti-human trafficking organization: The Manasseh Project

 

 

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  • Name

    Josiah – interesting article. I saw some or Rey’s video, but have not really watched the whole thing. I did notice that it has elicited some criticism, even from those who would seemingly share concerns of “modesty”. Let me through a couple of ideas out there, and let me know if you agree with them.

    1. We have a culture that is overly sexualized. Perhaps it is as a result of the mainlining of the porn industry, or perhaps we have allowed ourselves to become overly obsessed with sex (i.e., the current discussion of same-sex marriage, etc.; the fact that so many sitcoms deal with sex in dating relationships, homosexual characters, or just sex in general).

    2. Much of the modesty rhetoric that hear today has in fact become(intentionally or unintentionally) a “blame the victim” approach. While we need to encourage young women not to dress “immodestly” (which is a somewhat subjective and culturally defined norm), so we need to encourage and assist the men in our society not to view women in “sexuality = commodity” sort of way.

    3. While some of the basic principles of modesty are given in Scripture, the particular cultural expression of modesty varies, has varied, and will vary. “In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking….”, as the song goes.

    4. I agree that there is a clear distinction between the human form as art, and the human form as pornography, and I like Seerveld’s characteristics of prophecy and elusiveness – I think I know what he means by those, but I have not read his own work, so I’d need to check it out.

    Feel free to share any thoughts you have on 1-4 above – or whatever. These are some of the things I think you are saying, so feel free to correct me.

    Finally, I think that much of our problem comes from our failure as communites of Christ followers to understand a biblical view of personhood, of “male and female”, and of sex itself. I don’t want to return to the world of Ozzie and Harriet for a variety of reasons (though sometimes, the break would be nice!), but I’m also tired of a media culture, and a culture in general, that throws sexuality in our faces, and adopts (to go to the following line of the song referenced above) “anything goes”. Christians (specifically my parents’/your grandparents’ generation) said nothing about sex – from general conversation about it, to having “the talk” with their sons and daughters. Today’s culture simply won’t shut up about it. Can we find some sort of middle ground, so that communities of believers (including Cornerstone University, our churches, etc.) can have a healthy, biblical view of “male and female” and of the wonderful thing that sex is? – Andy Smith

  • Josiah Daniels

    Andy,
    Thanks for your thoughts.

    1. We have become obsessed with sex. However, the subject of Same-sex marriage, in my opinion, is less interested in discussions about sex and more interested in seeing to it that those groups receive civil rights.

    2. Yes, men need to be taught how to view women in their full humanity.

    3. Yes, for more on this. See Michael’s (http://restoringpangea.com/modesty-confessions-from-a-weaker-brother/) post that looks at “modesty” in scripture from an exegetical perspective.

    4. Seerveld is helpful for this discussion. Read his book in undergrad.

    Again, thanks for your thoughts. Continue to visit. Continue to share with others.

  • Becky Mae Albrecht

    Amen.

  • Benjamin Attema

    Josiah, I love the last couple of paragraphs. I think that it is much needed to look at the root of lust and objectivity instead of just considering a bikini or spandex evil. The correlation between abstaining from something that is not free trade and choosing dress for the sake of justice is well thought and put.
    Keep up the great work.

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  • Bradley McCarty

    I appreciate your (and the others who have commented) attempt to struggle through this conversion. I have been thinking, reading, and praying a lot about this subject lately. Unfortunately, l don’t see a clear resolution in sight in the near future.