What will heal our relational brokenness? Breaking the cycle of dehumanizationOctober 10, 2017
Hugh Hefner built the Playboy empire on the commodification of sex and the depiction of women as “bunnies.” Our President graced the cover of that same culture-changing magazine and called laughing about sexual assault “locker room talk.” A 2016 TIME cover story declared porn an epidemic debilitating an entire generation from having healthy relationships and intimacy.
The dehumanization of women as sexual playthings is one of the fallouts from the sexual liberation movement. Many of the pieces eulogizing Hefner, even those with a neutral or positive slant on his ability to change Americans’ puritanical views about sex, noted the forceful opposition of feminist activities of his time. Hefner championed “free sex” but enslaved millions of women (and men, for that matter) in a cycle of dehumanization and destruction.
Culturally, we are no closer to answer than we were in Hefner’s heyday. Movements like the Women’s March are responding to real brokenness— sexual and relational. But their proposed answers have left many unsatisfied and often swing between two contradictions. On the one hand, we are told gender matters not at all. Male and female are interchangeable and inconsequential. Or, on the other hand, gender really matters because “girls rule the world.” Women are not only empowered, but glorified as the answer to cultural problems. Sometimes, the contradicting statements are used in the very same argument.
For example, the National Parks Service is reviewing a permit for the installation of a towering naked visage of a woman on the National Mall in November. The organizers want the monument to “Show women just being in their bodies, just being humans, as an antidote of the constant sexualization of the women’s body, the constant dehumanization.” Their plan is to use a statue that emphasizes a woman’s sexuality as an antidote to the sexualization of womens’ bodies.
According to the Washington Post, “Julia Whitelaw, said the statue isn’t sexually provocative, although she understands some on the Mall might view it that way. She said she hopes people challenge themselves to look past the statue’s physical body and ‘see her humanity first.’”
What does that mean? What does it mean to recover what it means it be authentically human?
The article goes on, “We are asking the question: What would the world be like if women were safe?” Whitelaw said. “We are asking people to imagine that.”
The statue is not supposed to be sexually provocative, but is also about the safety and empowerment specifically of women. It glorifies the female form in incredible fashion while also asking viewers to disregard it.
The Christian worldview recognizes that human beings are image bearers of the living God. We didn’t come up with the idea of humanity as distinctly and beautifully male and female. That’s God’s idea and His creative design.
When we are asked to look past the physical body or asked to disregard the physical reality of our maleness or femaleness, we are being asked to separate the integrated reality of who we are as image bearers of God. Being female is not limited to the physical but it is also not separable from it. Those who would have us think otherwise are seeking to separate what God has created as an integrated whole.
A statue of a gigantic naked woman on our National Mall isn’t going heal us of our dehumanizing ways. It won’t change the Oval Office and it won’t change the pornification of our culture. It won’t make all women, including those who are not strong or empowered, safer. And it won’t answer our deepest held questions about what gives someone value.
And if approved, the statue will be a glaring contradication when standing on the Mall as thousands participate in the March for Life. It should force organizers to ask: does this statue also stand for those girls who were never given a chance to live? Or those women who survived an attempted abortion— why was their safety disregarded? How hollow is the argument that some women’s lives matter while others do not?
Our attempts to make this debate about the removal of gender from our dictionary or the glorification of women falls flat. The answer is not in more of the self— more empowerment, more striving, more sexual freedom.
In the end, true freedom and equality is found living as fully integrated men and women whose unique characteristics somehow mysteriously, and very imperfectly, bear the image of God in the world.