Rachel Held Evans, a thoughtful progressive evangelical woman who is doing a year of biblical womanhood for a book project, and exploring the bizarre world of conservative ‘biblical womanhood’, has a very interesting post about female beauty and the way some ‘conservative’ Christians approach it. I must say I’m not in that segment of christianity anyway, and that I never fully understood how the described mentality can be claimed to be Christian, but who am I but a stranger on this planet… Anyway, for what it’s worth I can give my view on these things, even if it’s as alien to some as conservative christian gender roles are to me.
Let me first say that I am mostly very annoyed by the sexist way this culture defines the worth of a woman by her beauty (according to standards that are alien to me) and that I’m always surprised to see when some Christians seem to teach essentially the same. It seems superficial, sexist and very unrealistic to me. Surely, women are beautiful (if they don’t put on too much make-up and dress like Lady Gaga that is) and God created them that way, but no-one stays young, and whatever our obsession with youth and beauty in this culture may be it won’t change a thing, and our artificial ways of keeping up the appearance are not healthy at all. And there is more to beauty than this.
To quote Rachel:
I often struggle with what appear to be misogynistic elements of the Levitical purity codes, of ancient Israeli wartime conduct, of the letters of Paul and the doctrines of the early church. But in this case, the misogyny is new. The ancient writers of Scripture seem to affirm what all women know –
That our bodies change as we get older.
That our bodies change when we bear children.
That our bodies change when we get sick.
That our bodies change as we experience joy, pain, life, death, victory, heartache, and time.
And frankly, the suggestion that men are too weak to handle these realities is as emasculating as it is unbiblical.
That last sentence is very important. To me it’s very sexist, not just to women, but to men, to suggest that men are too weak to handle this aging and loss of youth in their wives. Maybe men are if the world teaches it to us, I guess it’s a very Freudian idea which has parallels in certain muslim views on men and woman. But by no means there is anything biblically justifiable in it, nor is it Christlike!!
Rachel ended with a question that sounds just too silly to me to seriously consider.
“Guys – What is your reaction to the suggestion that a wife’s changing body incites men to cheat?”
My reaction on her blog was:
I’m tired of this kind of sexism towards men, as if we’re only interested in sexy bodies and not in a life companion to share everything with. My reaction would be that you’ve never loved you wife in the first place if you cheat for such a reason, but that you’ve projected some ‘smoking hot fantasy wife’ onto the woman you married. Which is not very ‘biblical’ at all, and very superficial and ‘worldly’.
I mean it, if you cheat on your wife because she’s aging and becoming less beautiful, you probably never loved her, only her beauty and what it stood for to you.
Now on to my strange title: my thoughts also went back to some Christian summer youth camp long ago, one to which I don’t have much positive memories. What I do remember is that I was sleeping in a room with a lot of guys who were talking about girls all the time in a not so very ‘christian’ way (not the way the leaders of the camp would have liked…). I can remember some of them making tasteless and not even funny jokes about a girl with unshaved legs. I still feel ashamed I didn’t speak up to silence them. I hated the whole atmosphere of ‘we boys together’, and was sometimes fairly disgusted. I couldn’t look at girls that way, I saw people like me who needed frienship and honesty, and respect. At that age (17 or so) I was still a lonely boy who’d never had a girlfriend though I was good at being friends with girls that I’d never fall in love with.
So about then I had completely crossed over to the other side in the war between the sexes. I saw the way girls, people like me I liked to be friends with, were supposed to conforn to unhealthy standards, and I saw them being hurt by it on the one side, and boys who kicking on playboy posters on the other side. Yes I’m not only moderately feminist from time to time, but even a closet misandrist (who do we have a word for mysogyny but not a male version?) who wants to live in an asexual world when I see some of those abberations of ‘masculinity’.
At that moment I made the decision to marry an ugly girl. I really did. Because it’s just plainly dishonest when people who are less ‘beautiful’ don’t find a lover to share their life with! It’s just immature when the beautiful girls get more chances.
(oh, and I never thought of myself as beautiful nor ugly, it’s always been a non-issue to me.)
I suppose it’s not exactly the average teenage boys dream about girls, but I was very serious. I might have been a struggling christian on some fronts at that age, but I knew love was more important than looks, and I knew that the beauty standards of our world are just not fair. (Later on I wrote the song ‘unfair competition’ about it, you can listen and download it at my bandcamp site)
And it’s not that I’m not very interested in female beauty, I am. That’s one of the reasons why I hate porn so much, because it defiles something so beautiful… But it didn’t seem right to add ‘beautiful’ to whatever list of requirements a future wife should have. It felt kinda evil even… Very unchristlike.
I guess I was a radical (that’s what they wanted us to be on the camp anyway, ‘radical’ christian youth) even though I’ve never talked much about this to people.
And I didn’t succeed anyway: my wife is kinda beautiful. Not only when puts on make-up or pretty clothes, but also when she’s just woken up, or walks around the house in the most uncool old shabby clothes. If you don’t find a woman beautiful in those moments, you don’t find her beautiful, period.
And I do even have a very beautiful baby daughter right now.
And now I kinda wonder if it’s possible anyway to love an ugly woman. Not because ugly people are unlovable, but because we learn to see the beauty in people when we love them. No human being created in Gods image can be really ugly if you love them. There is a beauty that goes deeper than outward looks, and that’s the real beauty. But it might require another way of looking, more in line with the way God looks…
Open our eyes to Love, God