Free the Nipple Debate Speech

I thought people may like to read my speech for a debate I participated in a few weeks ago.  I was asked to speak for the proposition on “This house would free the nipple.”

Good evening, women and men.  My feminist, socialist tendencies won’t stretch to addressing you as ladies and gentlemen, so I do hope you will indulge me with that.

I am proposing that we should indeed free the nipple.  For those unfamiliar with the Free The Nipple campaign; it started in the US and campaigns to address indecency laws which criminalise women whose nipples are visible in public.  Men’s nipples have no such law attached to them.  Few US states distinguish between the legality of women stripping off and women who are breastfeeding.  Also in the campaign’s sights are social media sites like Facebook and Instagram  who ban photographs of women’s nipples as they breach the sites’ decency rules.  This includes photographs of women breastfeeding their children.

In the UK it is not illegal for women to share their nipples with the world, and actually in many places men’s nipples are also banned from public display, for instance in seaside towns across the country, men’s (and women’s) shirts are required to be on in cafes and other premises.

So, if in the UK, the nipple is already legally free, why am I here suggesting we should free it?  What should it be freed from?

As with most aspects of women’s oppression, the nipple needs to be freed from patriarchy.  The sexualisation and objectification of women across society means that as women our humanity is consistently reduced to us being a three holed ornament with breeding capacity.

Breastfeeding is not indecent.  It is feeding a baby.  And starving a baby is far from decent.  Women’s nipples are indecent only because they have been wholly sexualised.

I’m not a pro-pornography feminist, I don’t believe that the sex industry liberates any one, it increases the power and wealth of men (and gives few women even a decent or sustainable income).  The sex industry dehumanises women as sexual objects to be violated and degraded (regardless of the individual choices of individual women).  It also dehumanises men as they become less human in their choice to objectify and degrade other human beings.

I’m not unrealistic.  Freeing the nipple on Facebook or Instragram is not going to liberate women.  Yes it may give breastfeeding mothers opportunities to share photographs as they feed their babies.  However, the winners will of course be pornographers and abusers.  We’ve all heard about the rise of so-called “revenge porn”.  I can only imagine how abusers would use the new found female nipple freedom to further abuse a current or ex-partner on social media.  Facebook and Instagram would be flooded with Page 3-esque images.  Freeing the nipple by simply changing decency rules and laws is not going to liberate women.

Yet freeing women’s bodies from the male gaze and being sexually objectified is a feminist imperative.

Freeing the Nipple must be a cultural strategy, it will never be a quick win.

We must:

  1. Raise girls to love and own their own bodies, to see their whole being as not solely sexual, yet to know that it’s okay to have a sexuality, to not be ashamed.
  2. Raise boys to recognise girls as empowered and fully human.
  3. Have proactive conversations with children and young people about pornographies and sexualisation.
  4. Challenge the representation of women and girls in the wallpaper of every day life, we could boycott companies like Lynx and American Apparel who sexualise women to sell products.
  5. Educate men and women to be active bystanders, challenging language which objectifies and degrades the opposite or same sex.
  6. As women, acknowledge the ways we are encouraged to compete for the small amount of power we have access to; measuring ourselves against other women.  Let us celebrate other women and build the sisterhood, united we can stand.
  7. As men, own the privilege afforded to you, while acknowledging the wounds created by patriarchy that insist on self-sufficiency and maintaining power based relationships with other men and with women.
  8. Protest, campaign and live lives of integrity that seek to be a light in the darkness of patriarchy.

Freeing the nipple is not the biggest issue facing women.  Being able to strip off here or breastfeed publicly without shame is not going to change the fact that 25% of women will be abused by a partner in the UK.  That 72% of girls in the UK will be emotionally abused by a boyfriend and 32% will be sexually abused by a boyfriend.  It doesn’t address the reality that 85,000 women will be raped in the UK this year or the global rates of female genital mutilation, child rape, breast ironing, unfair marriage laws, trafficking, female infanticide and the many other types of male violence towards women and girls that cause immeasurable suffering.

However, the nipple being free from patriarchy is like one of those starfish on the beach that the boy is famously described as throwing back into the sea.  In the drip drip drip of patriarchy, every act towards women’s liberation is part of the solution.

I was a teenage mum.  When I had my daughter at 18 I chose to breastfeed her.  It took all of my courage to start feeding her in front of people.  But I did it because I wanted the best for her.  After attending a youth event in which I needed to feed her, the youth worker involved took me to one side and asked me to no longer breastfeed publicly at youth events.  He explained that the parent of a teenage boy had complained.  He said I could feed her in the toilet if I needed to.

As a teenage mother I experienced great stigma.  To all intents and purposes I was then excluded from a gathering of my peers because someone chose to sexualise me feeding my baby.

That experience didn’t destroy my life.  It is simply one story of many I could tell you about the ways patriarchy and male violence have hurt me.  I propose that we should free the nipple because patriarchy must be smashed and though freeing nipples may only make a hairline fracture in the seemingly impermeable structure, it is with each blow that it becomes weaker.

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Does Avoiding Pre-Marital Sex Devalue Marriage?

Two separate things have led to me writing this post.  A few weeks ago I had a Twitter chat with people after pondering whether an abstinence approach to sex may in fact dishonour marriage.  Then a couple of days ago I listened to THIS discussion between Dianna E Anderson and Sarah Long, facilitated by Justin Brierley on the Unbelievable show at Premier.

The debate was “Should Christians save sex for marriage?”

The debate was interesting, though I’m not sure it fully worked.  Dianna has written a book reflecting on US purity culture in Conservative Christianity.  Sarah is UK based and has worked with Romance Academy.  There’s some massive culture differences between the UK and the US, so to some degree it became much more about acknowledging the different contexts and less about a debate based in the same cultural context.  Though I think many would say the culture isn’t as different as was perhaps suggested on the show.

Sarah’s main view was that sex is a covenant and as such should be saved for marriage.  Her work has generally been in a youth context and therefore the focus has been with young people.  Dianna’s view was that the Bible isn’t clear at all about sex before marriage and as such she would place it within the adiaphora of Biblical stuff; basically it’s a conscience issue, not an absolute.

Mr GLW and I didn’t have sex until we got married; I’ve written a few thoughts about sex and Christianity in THIS blog post, in which I bemoan awful post marital sex that is rooted in the many unhealthy messages attached to abstinence values.

Some thoughts I have about the whole saving sex until marriage thing…

1. It may possibly work when people are in their teens and early twenties.  What about people in their forties, fifties or sixties who have never had sex?  Did God just decide they shouldn’t ever experience the awesome gift of sex?  Not everyone is going to have a partner.  The whole abstinence teaching is connected so strongly to the “everyone will get married and have babies” narrative.  What does sexuality look like for people who don’t ever get married?  Do they simply suppress it FOREVER?  What about masturbation?  Is that off limits too?

2. When abstinence teaching is intertwined so strongly with purity culture is there a baby left in the bath when you chuck out the bath water?  Or is the shaming of women, blaming of women, infantilising of men, lack of understanding of consent and terrible sex so fused with “don’t have sex before marriage” that we can’t keep the latter without holding onto the former?

3. Within the Unbelievable debate, there was no mention of how abstinence teaching disables people from recognising abuse.  For me this is paramount.  I am confident that my young adulthood sexual experiences would have been non-abusive if I’d chosen to embrace pre-marital sex.  Could that have been the case if I’d been educate in healthy ways about consent and had awareness of abuse?  Perhaps.  But could the messages from across Christian culture about abstinence have drowned out the voices providing that awareness?  Also quite possible.

I’ve been wondering about whether Christians put a higher value on sex than on marriage.  If people HAVE to get married to have sex, how many (usually young) Christians rush to the altar so they can GET IT ON?  Conversely, how many Christians suppress their sexuality and their natural desire for one another for years while they wait to be able to get married. leading to a whole load of marital problems?

One of the examples on the Premier debate was a couple who’ve been together for four years, are engaged but can’t afford the wedding.  Dianna suggested that having pre-marital sex in that context was a matter between the couple and God, they could pray about it and come to their own conclusions.  Sarah’s view was that the couple could choose to marry in an inexpensive way in order to “save sex” for marriage.

Is that the best approach?  Should people reject the whole Big Wedding thing in order to have sex?  Or does that suggest less value for the whole process?  Do the couple elope and get married in a registry office somewhere so that SEX?  Or is the marriage ceremony and the value placed on it and the community element significant enough that pre-marital sex isn’t the main consideration that should be attached to it?

What does abstinence mean anyway?  Should there be no kissing pre-marriage?  No tongues?  No nakedness?  No oral sex?  No groping?  Is everything non penetration based okay?  Is there a sense of legalism in the whole thing?  Is this whole thing simply tithing herbs (Luke 11:42)?  Are we neglecting the weightier matters of a deep and considered sexual ethic that takes into account the many ways abstinence is painful?

The Bible wasn’t written for our context.  People got married REALLY young.  Mary was probably 14.  Women had no rights.  Contraception didn’t exist.  Periods were seen as impure. Singleness wasn’t an option for women.  Women’s sole value was attached to their husband and sons.  Rape victims were to marry the man who raped them.  Then there’s Song of Solomon which is full on sexiness, seemingly between unmarried people.  Marriage was a financial contract between the girl’s (it usually was a girl) husband and her father.  How do we extrapolate a sexual ethic for our time, our culture from a book written in such an extremely different context?

I don’t know.

I do know that the current system isn’t working.  Abstinence teaching doesn’t produce chastity.  It leaves people ill equipped to recognise sexual abuse, sexually damaged, repressed and/or with a deeply unhealthy sexuality, it blames women and encourages men to avoid responsibility for their sexuality and wrongly assumes that every twenty-something Christian is going to meet a nice Christian (opposite sex) partner, marry them, have babies and live happily ever after.

I’m not sure what a positive sexual ethic looks like.  I guess I veer close to Dianna’s view.  What’s wrong with trusting couples to discern what is right for them?  What is the risk in encouraging people to seek God’s will for their lives over and above an abstinence rule that isn’t fit for purpose (and actually isn’t in the Bible)?  When the current messages are causing serious damage to individuals and couples can we risk insisting abstinence is the way forward?

Matthew 23:24 comes to mind…  “You blind guides!  You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”  Yes abstinence may get women to their wedding night with their hymen intact, however what about the camel of shame, vaginitis, pornography use, woman blaming and/or sexual repression?

The conversation amongst young people should be a different to that with adults.  One of the difficulties of the Premier debate was that Sarah’s context was young people.  We can’t liken the sexual choices of two people in their mid twenties (and upwards) to how we approach 14 year olds.  However, is the right approach with teenagers and young adults to focus on marriage as the means by which people access sex?  Does that put unnecessary focus on marriage as the end goal for people’s lives?  In a Christian culture which is deeply heteronormative and idolises the nuclear family, how do we articulate the liberating message that marriage is not the logical start of adult Christian life?

With our children, Mr GLW and I have focussed on:

  • Ensuring they own they bodies, lives and choices. This is the foundation of consent.
  • Nakedness and sexuality are not shameful, bodies are BRILLIANT.  Puberty is fabulous and exciting, if somewhat messy and traumatic.  Since they were very small we regular talked about how bodies change; hair, periods, wet dreams and the like.  This stuff shouldn’t be a surprise.  It is INEVITABLE.
  • That sex is awesome yet SO extremely special and precious that it’s a serious matter.  Babies can be made and diseases can be caught, so great thought must go into when, how and who we choose to do it with.
  • Singleness is GREAT!  We regularly chat about the amazing single people we know.  At first the kids assumed that all the single adults we knew were married, they just hadn’t met their spouses.  This stuff must be made explicit or kids won’t notice it.
  • Critically examining the messages around us; women are not objects, sexism is all pervasive and it is wrong, gender stereotyping is bad, racism is everywhere and it is bad, male privilege is real, a lot of masculinity is toxic and needs to be challenged etc etc.
  • There’s creepy naked stuff on the internet (pornography) and when they see it (because they will)  they need to tell us so we can help them make sense of it.

Our kids may have sex before marriage.  It’s not something I’m concerned about.  What I am concerned about is that every sexual experience they have is one they have entered into willing (and legally), in an informed way and with deep respect and love for themselves and the other person they engage in any sexual activity with, and also deep respect and honour for the seriousness of the act they engage in.

Yes, marriage may be a way of ensuring this stuff happens.  But that is not guaranteed.

Genuinely, I don’t want my kids to get married.  I want them to live lives of worth.  And if that includes marriage, great!  But if not, that is JUST as wonderful!

Our Family Update…

HELLO EVERYONE!

It’s been over 6 months since I wrote THIS BLOG about how our family was changing and expanding.

My niece and her son have been living with us for the last six months and it’s been challenging and wonderful in about equal measure!  Our house and hearts have expanded to make room for these two precious people God has called us to love in this all encompassing way.

Within months we created a bedroom for my niece by splitting our living room in two.  This only happened thanks to the kind and generous donations of family members, friends, our church and the time and skills given by friends to put a false wall up.

In December we finally bought a 6 seater car called Betty.  She’s old and rickety, but we are so blessed to have her!

Niece GLW has done amazingly.  When she first arrived she was really unwell, depressed and not really functioning.  She now volunteers at a charity shop and with a drop in for vulnerable adults.  She’s doing English and Maths courses, regularly attends the local Park Run, occasionally attending a local running club.  She is beginning to apply for paid jobs.  She is healthy, happy and doing well and thanks to Christians Against Poverty she should be debt free within the next few months!  Amongst the positives, Niece GLW has also been dealing with the pain of her foster sister committing suicide in December; the grief and loss as well as dealing with the complexities of foster family relationships.

Her son, Smallest GLW is now nearly 4 and has been in nursery 3 days a week since October and he’s doing really well.  Having arrived at our house not potty trained and a really fussy eater, with quite difficult behaviour, he is now fully toilet trained, eats whatever he’s given for dinner and behaves almost like any healthy nearly four year old.  He has moved into the older area at nursery and can already write the first letter of his name.  He’s currently very enthusiastic about tree blossom and regularly explains to people “God made tree blossom.”

Our children have been amazing.  Smaller GLW (who is 10) has various social and emotional challenges because he was born premature.  He has coped remarkably well with his whole life changing and having to share his bedroom with a 3 year old.  He has been kind, generous and although he occasionally explodes at either Niece GLW or Smallest GLW, this experience has perhaps been very helpful in enabling him to expand his understanding and social and emotional skills.  Alongside the challenges and joys of our family, in the last few months he has been diagnosed with migraines, including abdominal migraines, so that has been difficult and we are trying to find ways to reduce the impact of this on his life and education.

In recent weeks we have had a shift around of room space and this has meant that all three children and Niece GLW have their own rooms, much to the delight of Smallest and Smaller GLW.

Small GLW (who is almost 13!) has been really loving and caring towards both Niece GLW and Smallest GLW.  She has never begrudged the way our lives have shifted and changed dramatically because of our enlarged family.  We’ve had quite a few challenges with her education and the reality of raising a tweenager in the digital age.  However, in recent weeks we have seen her mature in many ways and we are so proud of her.

It has been an interesting season for me and Mr GLW!  The first few months of Niece GLW and Smallest GLW living with us were one of the hardest times of our 9 year marriage.  Yet, God has been faithful throughout the challenges and we have come out the other side and are grateful for all we have learned and grown into through those rather dark days.

Mr GLW has been working four days a week for a local charity, but we have felt it right for him to apply to become a Police Officer.  He is currently a Special Constable.  The application process is currently underway and we will know by June if he has been successful.  In this in-between season we are trusting that God has got us regardless of what happens next.

In the first four months they were with us, we cared for Smallest GLW full time in order to give Niece GLW time and space to recover.  In January, we began the process of supporting her to become Smallest GLW’s mum full time.  We had a clear plan to gradually reintegrate them, and although Niece GLW did amazingly and worked really hard, it became apparent that we still need to be involved significantly in parenting duties for Smallest GLW, probably for his whole childhood.  As a result of this, we have a new plan in place in which we care for Smallest GLW full-time Monday to Friday and Niece GLW has him at the weekends.  Though this has been a difficult decision, we’re really proud of Niece GLW and the many changes she has made and continues to make in her life.

This arrangement, though definitely the right way forward, has brought about challenges for us.  I have worked freelance for the last seven years, and this has often been done full time, with Mr GLW being either a full time stay at home parent, or with us both working part time.  Through a whole lot of prayer and trust in God’s purposes and plan for us, I have decided to reduce the amount of work I take on or seek, in order to be able to become the primary carer for all three children.  I will still do some work, but especially if/when Mr GLW becomes a Police Officer, I feel deeply convicted that my energy and time should be focussed on these three small and medium sized human becomings.

There have been many identity challenges in laying down large aspects of what I do and in the process a section from the Methodist Covenant prayer has come to mind:

“I am no longer my own but Yours.
Put me to what You will,
Rank me with whom You will;
Put me to doing, put me to suffering;
Let me be employed for You or laid aside for You,
Exalted for You or brought low for You.
Let me be full, let me be empty,
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.“

God spoke to me recently about being light.  That we should shine with light and that our load should be light, and though this has been a challenging and testing time, God continues to lighten the road and lighten our load, and that is a glorious and blessed place to be.

If you would like to pray for us, we would really value your prayers!  Alongside anything you specifically feel led to pray about, please pray that…

  • If it is God’s will, Mr GLW is successful in his police application
  • Smallest GLW continues to grow in security and the knowledge that he is loved
  • Smaller GLW is able to express his negative emotions in constructive ways and that he is healed from the migraines
  • Small GLW continues to grow in maturity and integrity
  • I embrace the new way of life God has got for me
  • Our car Betty has a long and inexpensive life!

Our plan with Niece GLW is that she is able to work towards:

  • Full time employment
  • Learn to drive
  • Living independently

Please pray for her as we all work towards that!

THANK YOU!

LOVE FROM ALL US GLWS!

No Sex Please. We’re Married

Everyone knows what the Christian view of sex is.  That it should be “saved” for marriage.  That it’s this precious gift God gave humans and that sex outside of marriage can be damaging.  Depending on who you talk to, the damage ranges from a vague possibility to ABSOLUTE DESTRUCTION which requires a whole lot of prayer to get rid of “soul ties” which some would say mess you up in all sorts of emotional and spiritual ways.

 

Yesterday I listened to teaching on sex delivered to 12-14 year olds at a 2015 national Christian youth event.  Separate sessions for boys and girls.

 

The boys were told the only relationships they should have with girls should be friendships, in part because they can’t “go out and get a job to support the girl” when they’re only 12.  The speaker explained to these 12-14-year-old boys: “If the girl is not your wife, then she’s your sister.”  He went on to explain there should be no touching, kissing etc. until the couple are engaged.  The boys were also told that masturbation is wrong; avoid it by going for a walk or by reading the Bible (because they were told, the Bible isn’t sexy at all).

 

The girls were told “God wants His best for you.  He wants you pure and undamaged and unhurt.”  They were also told, “If you want to be attractive, dig into God.”  The girls were told that girls’ wanting to have sex was a form of seeking love and validation (the boys were not told this was the case for them).  The girls were also told that masturbation was wrong, addictive and the devil would use the shame they subsequently feel from masturbating to harm them.

 

This was at an event that happened in 2015.

 

In the church, we’re very good at talking about not having sex.  What we’re not good at talking about is the awful post-marital sex a lot of Christians endure, especially if they’ve done the “right” thing and waited.

 

If a couple have waited to have sex until they get married (whether or not they’ve had sex previously) there can be an expectation that such a sacrificial and counter-cultural choice will be rewarded by mind blowing sex from the wedding night onwards.

 

Sadly, multiple orgasms do not ensue.  From 12 years upwards they’ve both been told not to masturbate and not to think about sex.  At all.  Until “she’s a wife not a sister.”  The boys have been taught they should “resist temptation”.  The girls have been taught their value is intertwined with their purity.  Both have been conditioned to think only males have a sex drive.

 

Post-abstinence marital sex can be utterly abysmal.  Rarely is this talked about.  When it is talked about, it’s euphemistic at best.

 

I’ve been married over 8 years, my husband and I didn’t have sex with each other until after we were married.  We’d both had sex previously, and I brought two small children to the relationship.  From 17 to 21 I was abused by my ex-husband.  Much of the abuse was sexual.  I had been raised in Christian culture which taught me not to have sex but didn’t tell me what consenting to sex actually meant.  All of my first sexual encounters were coerced, forced or manipulated.  And Christian culture had given me no framework for this, so I thought the trauma I was suffering was caused because I had betrayed Jesus, not because I was being raped.

 

At 23 when I married my now husband, I’d been dealing PTSD, depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and more.  He’d been single in the church for 13 years and had tried to avoid thinking about sex the whole time.

 

Our honeymoon was amazing in most ways.  Except that sex was generally difficult.

 

Marriage has been awesome for us.  Sex not so much.  And even though I’d been sexually abused for the majority of my life at that point, my husband being raised in the church caused us at least as many issues as my stuff did.  We’re not alone.  So many Christians (even where there hasn’t been abuse) experience extreme damage from abstinence and purity teachings in church.

 

Christian women and men have been conditioned to see sexual acts as shameful.  How do they then engage in those same acts after saying “I do” without shame?  The wedding ceremony isn’t going to negate years and years of unhealthy and sexually negative messages.

 

My husband and I are doing good now.  But stories like ours must be told.  Because otherwise every couple struggling, every woman feeling ashamed for simply considering initiating sexual activity, every man feeling inadequate because his sex drive doesn’t meet some arbitrary level he’s been told is normal, feel this is just them.  And it’s not.  There’s loads of us out there.  Welcome to crap Christian sex!  We’re not getting much.  But hey, it can get better!

 

I would tell 12-14 year olds that…

 

  1. Compulsive masturbation is a problem. What isn’t a problem is learning how your body works, what feels good and what doesn’t.  Girls especially are not taught about their genitals and popular culture can leave girls and women ashamed of their woman bits.  God isn’t ashamed of your vagina or vulva, he made it and He wants you to love it!

 

  1. Boys, it is not your job to pursue, provide for or protect a girl. That is nonsense made up by people.  Only God does those things.  Don’t take on responsibility that was never meant to be yours.  God made women and men equal and gave them the awesome gifts of intimacy, equality and partnership found in marriage.

 

  1. Choosing to have sex is a big deal. God made it as a thing to do within a marriage relationship.  There’s the potential for making babies and catching diseases and all sorts when you start doing it.  Understanding the difference between choosing to have sex and being coerced or forced is really important.  Sex is a big deal and when someone hurts us sexually they can cause us great damage.  But there is help available and healing is possible!

 

  1. You are not defined by your virginity. God loves you whatever your sexual experience or lack of it and so should any person you have a relationship with.

 

And to all you Christians preparing to get marriage please be aware that if you haven’t engaged in sexual activity with your spouse before getting married, don’t expect sex to be mind blowing straight away (if it is, lucky you!).  Like anything valuable in a relationship, it takes time, effort, understanding, respect and self awareness.  Sex can be awesome, get help if you need it and marriage is so much more than how good the sex is anyway.