My body is not a message to men

bodymessageEliel Cruz, an amazing writer that I follow on Twitter, tweeted from church this morning:

“As soon as he said, ‘Ladies, we have to be careful what messages we send to men with our bodies…'”

Eliel, thank you for calling this out.

Male pastor, and men everywhere, listen, because this is important:

My body is not a message to men. It is not a message any more than your body is a message to women. Our bodies are what we use to move about in the world, to walk and run, to lift and carry, to feed ourselves and others.

Our *words* are what we use to communicate. If you want to communicate with me, use your words, and I will use mine.

When you tell women that they are responsible for the message their bodies are sending to men, you are also telling men that they are not responsible for talking to women, for listening to their words and respecting them. You are placing the responsibility on women to protect themselves from abuse and rape, and letting men off the hook for abusing and raping women, so long as the men perceive that the woman’s body is giving them the message that rape is okay.

And you are perpetuating the message that we women receive from the world that our bodies and our sexuality are the most significant thing about us, that we have to be pretty but not too pretty, sexy but not too sexy, that our hips and breasts and legs are offensive and we should hide them or lose weight to make ourselves smaller and less sexual, less seductive. You are perpetuating the message that, above all, it doesn’t matter how smart or loving or funny or spiritual or creative we are, all that matters is men’s opinion of our appearance.

This is the message that we are already receiving from the world; it should not be the message we hear in church.

Pastor, I am so much more than that, my body is so much more than that, and my sisters’ bodies are so much more than that.

Please consider this post the message I am sending to men, regardless of what they think my body might be saying.

Sincerely,

Jessica Kantrowitz, writer and proponent of using her words

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20 comments on “My body is not a message to men

  1. madeformoreministries says:

    “The naked woman’s body is a portion of eternity too great for the eye of man.” ― William Blake.

    Unfortunately, or possibly better said, sadly, even the hint of it is too great for some men and great evil often follows. Men are wired to be visually stimulated and that is not, or should not be, a women’s problem, but unfortunately, it is often her danger.

    The vast majority of men hear and respect the message of women’s *words,* but as I urge my teenage daughter, be mindful that not all men will. Be cognizant of of where you are, what you do and with whom you do it. There is evil in the world. Be aware of it and choose wisely – where, what, who and how you go about daily life. I had the same conversations with her older brother, but with the addition of telling him to treat every woman like he would want his sister treated.

    There is never, ever an excuse for abuse or rape, but that is small consolation to the woman who has suffered from it. We all need to be wise, aware and take just enough earthly cynicism with us to accept the fact that 93% of communication is nonverbal. Be yourself, be safe and be smart.

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    • Tom, with respect, I disagree with both the assertion that men are wired to be visually stimulated, and with the corollary that this presents a danger to women. I don’t have time to write more now, but I will come back to this soon.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think your message is important and true, Jessica, but I also understand Tom’s point of view, which doesn’t excuse bad behavior in men, but urges men to be self-reflective and women to go into the world with a healthy understanding of how to be safe. While your message needs to be out there, teaching the people who perhaps aren’t so self-reflective, we all still need to take responsibility for ourselves. I agree with Tom that 93% of communication is non-verbal, and we do have some control over the way we want to be perceived. I don’t wear a business suit every day – it’s not how I want people to perceive me – I dress more like a hippie. On purpose. It’s sending a message. My breasts are not offensive, but I don’t go to work in a bikini, either – I think it would be distracting, and people would likely focus more on my outlandish dress than what I was trying to say. This would be equally true if I was wearing a large purple hat and studded clown sunglasses. Different reaction, perhaps, but just as distracting. People have a right to dress however they want, but our choices do send a message for better or worse, and they do communicate a lot about who we are and how we are feeling on a given day. This works for both men and women. My brother has a lot of tattoos – he keeps them covered on job interviews, because he doesn’t want them to send a stereotypical message to a potential employer. There are consequences for all of our choices, and we don’t have total control over other people’s perceptions, but we have an idea of their potential in many cases, and so we have to weigh our priorities in terms of the messages we want to send. And I do think there is something to the biology of how men are wired to be visually stimulated – again, this is not an excuse for bad behavior, but an observation that if men are aware of this about their own biology, they will be better able to behave accordingly. So we need to keep sending your message for men to be more self-reflective and responsible for their words and actions, but we need to practice what we preach, too. A flipside example might be I know that at certain times of the month, my filters are a little “off” and I lack patience – this does not excuse me from yelling at my family, but the awareness of my own biology helps me keep things in check. There’s balance in this discussion. I fear that sometimes people fall too far on one side or the other. Victims of sexual assault should never be blamed, and cries for help should always be heeded. But you don’t put yourself in a dark alley known for crime wearing a bikini, either. We have no control over others’ behavior, only over our own and our reactions to others.

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      • I do hear what you’re saying, but I think that there are several complex here, woven together. While I agree to some extent that personal responsibility and choices about how we dress and present ourselves are important, I think it’s also extremely important to look at the societal biases of what is professional and acceptable and how they are skewed, whether it be towards men, towards white people, towards straight cisgender people, towards thin people, towards abled people etc. and to continue to challenge those biases. So that’s one issue.

        Regarding men being visually oriented, there is evidence that much of that is taught according to the norms of the society. “While most research does show that men are more visually stimulated than women, the interpretation of this data is much more complicated than it seems. One 2008 study, for example, emphasizes that sociological factors play a strong role in men’s visual stimulation. Men are taught from an early age to emphasize physical appearance, and the same study found that men tend to be more aroused by contexts in which they can objectify another person—a tendency that is probably learned.” ~Zawn Villines

        I’ve been to topless beaches in the Aegean shore, and the men weren’t walking around in a state of arousal, ogling the women — they were just swimming and relaxing in the sun. Actually, the only men flustered by it were the American Christian men I was with, who alternately closed their eyes to avoid seeing the “attractive” women and made disparaging remarks about the older women — both things I consider learned from their church as well as their culture, to view and value women’s bodies according to their ability to arouse attraction in men. In Muslim countries where women are covered top to bottom the men still lust and there is still rape and sexual assault.

        I think it is important to take a critical view of statements that men are visually oriented, especially when they imply that women bear the responsibility of not arousing men. And while on the one hand, of course I understand the wisdom of not going into a dark alley in a bikini, I think there is a message hidden in that statement that “boys will be boys” and won’t be able to help themselves. And as I and other commenters have noted, we were sexually assaulted while wearing baggy clothes that covered most of our bodies.

        In society and in many churches, girls and women are given the message again and again that we are the ones responsible for managing men’s sexual arousal, for stimulating it or for subduing it — often both at the same time. And men are told that they are visually stimulated and not responsible for their response to women. I have only once in my life heard a sermon about how men need to take responsibility for their sexuality, and I have heard dozens of sermons on how women need to take responsibility for men’s sexuality — one of them directed to 12 and 13 year old girls who were visitors to the church. My friend was told just the other day by a woman in her church that if she did not work harder on being attractive she would be in danger of her husband leaving her (she’s gorgeous, by the way, and takes great care of herself — she just doesn’t wear a lot of make up). The church needs to do better.

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      • Are men wired to be visually stimulated, or have we been programmed by our fallen culture to seek stimulation by looking at women as sexual objects? For Christian men, there is no way we can excuse this kind of behavior as just the way we are, “wired” to be this way.Jesus condemned this kind of behavior in the strongest possible language: “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.” Matthew 5:27-30

        Liked by 1 person

      • cammy says:

        have you not read any science about how men are mentally wired differently than women. Men are visually stimulated. Thus they struggle with porn. Women are verbally stimulated. That is why they are drawn to romance novels.

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  2. Cindy Whitaker says:

    Sorry, I have to disagree with you on this one. We send lots of messages with our bodies, both overt and unconscious. Tattoos, goth makeup, and hats of all kinds make statements to the world around us, men and women. So does a very short skirt, torn jeans or cleavage. You may think you didn’t mean by your choice what others perceive, but that is the unconscious message the pastor is warning about.

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    • Hi Cindy, thanks for commenting. I think the most powerful thing I’ve read on this subject is that if you are telling people to dress modestly you are basically saying, “Dress so that he rapes the other girl.” In any case, I have been sexually accosted wearing a baggy t-shirt and jeans, a long skirt, and even a coat. When men are taught that if they have sexual feelings toward a woman her body is telling them it’s okay to touch her then it doesn’t much matter what you are wearing. It is the message to the men that needs to change, and I think church is an excellent place for that to start.

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  3. brianbalke says:

    The dynamic here is incredibly complex. In my experience, walking around in the world with an open heart creates all kinds of confusion – people will do whatever the frick they want with the energy that you offer them, and usually that translates into sex. I get it from both men and women, and it’s really a drag.

    But regarding the pastor’s teaching: do you know what he says to men? It’s a little ambiguous from the post. Just because he’s cautioning women doesn’t mean that he doesn’t read men the riot act as well.

    In general, we in the West are incredibly imbalanced in the way that we manage our personal energy. In a recent yoga workshop, the lecturer observed that sex dissipates the energy that flows from our root Chakra, and that abstinence heightens the degree to which that energy is channeled towards God. I tend to the perspective that neither suppression nor indulgence is a substitute for mature management, and don’t know where to point people to find guidance from the Bible.

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  4. SueAnn Harrison says:

    So basically, we have to pay for the idea that men are allowed to think with their penis? I know that is a crass way to state it and I apologize if it offends. However, that kind of thinking is not okay. We are each responsible for our own thoughts and behaviors. Rationalize it anyway you please. It doesn’t change anything. An excuse still remains an excuse.
    I’m in no way opposed to modesty and ladylike behavior. Actually, I’m a tremendous effort proponent of it. But, that is an entirely different post.

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  5. Ugh, this resonates with me. A lot. It also reminds me of some not-so-helpful things that were said to me years ago after something that happened in my life. Not, like, in a triggering way.

    If this next part lands my comment as moderated and unpublished, I understand.

    I was raped at 21 by an ex-boyfriend. When some of my friends from church found out what had happened, I got comments on how I must have been wearing something that night to bring on what happened, that I must have been sending the wrong messages and leading him on.

    I was dressed in bootcut jeans, a men’s cut (not babydoll) t-shirt, both of which were loose-fitting. I had a hooded sweatshirt on me that night too. The only skin I was showing were my lower arms, my flip-flopped feet and my face. I remember this partially because my brain retains a lot and partially because that was pretty much all I ever wore. Loose jeans, tees, and hoodies. Still true today, haha.

    I never understood how that ever communicated “I want sex” to anyone. Or how it communicated that I wanted it despite…well, yeah. Despite. Ugh.

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    • SA, I am so sorry that this happened to you, and for the response from your church friends.

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      • Back then, I was deeply hurt by my friends’ responses but nowadays realize that I think their comments were more a product of how standards are in society and not out of a heart intending to hurt me more by blaming me for what happened. A mix of two things: one, that is what was learned, that women tease men and therefore share blame for when men abuse them and two, that they didn’t really know how to respond, what else to say to me back then. But that’s a whole other social issue…knowing how to respond when someone shares something pertaining to abuse, mental illness, or substance abuse. *sigh* 🙂

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  6. smile4meplz says:

    I liked this post because i think this is important to bring to light.

    HOWEVER, what I DON’T LIKE is the blame on one gender versus another.

    Yes men have faults. but women have faults as well.

    I think the bigger picture that needs to be addressed is what society teaches men & women to be. If pastors want to see & bring change to their churches, they need to address both sides in a loving and respectful manner.

    To say it is strictly the man’s fault, i see as unfair.

    Both men and women, boys and girls, we all bring and show messages to anyone we encounter directly and indirectly based on our appearance, our verbal behavior and even our non-verbal behavior.

    I just want say NOT ALL MEN and NOT ALL WOMEN do such things to cause harm to their fellow brother or sister.

    Stop placing the blame on one or the other.
    Let’s stand up and fight secular societal teachings.

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    • Terri says:

      These are not secular societal teachings. These are overwhelmingly conservative Christian teachings. It is this subculture, one in which I grew up, that insists that girls must dress and act in certain ways so they won’t interfere unduly with boys’ lives, provoke their anger, or arouse their sexuality.

      This subculture of Christianity is very much a system that requires girls to orbit around boys, whose experience is treated as central and the priority.

      Many girls are taught at great length how to dress modestly, talk humbly, and act demure, while their male peers are told, “Obviously, you should dress modestly too, and treat girls with respect,” and that’s it. It’s crystal clear to both sexes who matters (boys) and who is responsible for both sexes’ actions (girls).

      This original post did not blame boys for this unhealthy system. They are part of it too. But it does call out the privilege that a grown man who grew up in this system will experience: more freedom and less blame in dress, behavior, and sexual matters. That is the reality of the system.

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  7. Lori McD. says:

    But we all send messages with the way we look and dress. That is a very important part of nonverbal communication. Hopefully, most of us were taught to dress appropriately for wherever or whatever we are doing. We all – male and female alike – send messages with our attire, skin, hair and demeanor. We just need to check and make sure they are the messages we intend to send. But I do not like – nor have I ever liked – to be told by a man how to dress or to dress in a certain way to keep from enticing men….unless he is my Daddy. If you’re an adult woman or man, you really ought to be able to honestly look in the mirror and say, “What message am I sending out today with my clothes, my facial expressions, etc. and is it the message I really want to send today?” But I’ll also say that God looks at the heart of man, so dressing nicely doesn’t fool him if we are dirty and ugly on the inside.

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  8. Jackie says:

    Not only is the attitude of “women’s bodies are too tempting to men” an old, lazy way to shame women, it is also, in my opinion, insulting to men. It’s saying to men, “You are incapable of looking at a woman, or at least a so-called attractive woman, without viewing her as only an object. You do not think with your brain, only your hormones and reproductive organs. You are weak.” Most men would disagree! It’s insulting and incorrect. Sadly, it is also a popular sentiment among many. Only with education and conversation, like the conversation you are inspiring with this post, will these harmful stereotypes of weak, slaves-to-their-hormones men and thoughtless, “slutty” women be relegated to history. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

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