This Is My Body

I recently met up with some old college friends that I hadn’t seen for over eight years.  We all have children and partners and lives that have stretched out before us since the last time we saw one another.  I bumped into one of them when visiting my home-town a couple of months ago and we chatted about the eight years that had passed while her children made it clear that they didn’t want to stand around waiting for us to reminisce, so we agreed to meet next time I was visiting.

 

They say that time heals.  I’m not sure it does.  But time creates a distance from hurts that allows us to recalibrate ourselves.  We don’t have to be in denial about what was done to us in order to distance ourselves from it.  It’s been over eleven years since I left my ex-husband and I am far enough along the journey of healing that his impact on my life has become a distant memory and an occasional PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) episode rather than daily torture.  I’m no longer the person he moulded me into.

 

Bodies are often ignored in the healing process[1].  We focus on emotional turmoil or psychological affliction.  In therapy we talk about how we feel.  In understanding what has been done to us, we make cognitive shifts from one level of awareness to another.  Yet, all that is done to us is done while we exist within the same body we take forward throughout life.  Time and therapy can transform our minds and hearts, but our bodies remain the same.  We can’t download ourselves into another physical body.  We’re stuck with this one.

 

I met my ex-husband when I was 17 and at college.  The friends I met up with recently included the woman who introduced me to him.  She sat with us both when I found out I was pregnant.  After being released from hospital following a suicide attempt, it was her who I spent the evening with.  Another of the friends I met up with had seen razor cuts on my stomach when I stretched while wearing a short t-shirt at college.  The shame I felt when she confronted me.  Not being able to explain that he had done that to me.  Cut me with a razor.

 

While travelling to and from meeting with these friends, I was reading Getting Off by Robert Jensen, an excellent book about pornography and masculinity.  Throughout the book it describes in detail the forms of sexualised violence that exist within pornography.

 

I have been married to Mr GLW for nine years and free from my ex-husband for eleven years.  In that time, I have done a whole lot of healing and have discovered that sex can be awesome and life giving.  However, the same body that I inhabit now is the body I had when my ex-husband sexually violated me, and previous to that it is the same body I grew into whilst being sexually abused  by a neighbour.

 

Reading Robert Jensen’s book, I was reminded of the many ways my body was violated.  Of how my ex-husband used pornography to normalise that violation.  And how well that tactic worked.  I was convinced I should want all the degrading things that he forced upon me.

 

I read an article once where the author explained that the body takes seven years to completely renew all its cells.  She was counting down the years, months, days until that meant the man who raped her had never touched any of the cells in her body.

 

Christian culture loves the redemption narrative.  It loves the bad person who turns good, and the broken person who becomes healed.  Stories of women and girls “rescued” from human traffickers abound.  Stories about how many of those women and girls re-enter the sex industry, there’s not many of those being told.  We are sold the lie of full freedom this side of eternity.  Especially when there is no physical barrier to healing.  If someone has no legs, mostly (though not always) Christians will accept that there are challenges that person will face throughout their life.  With so called “emotional issues” rarely is this partiality of healing acknowledged.

 

Being raped happens to an actual physical body.  No amount of healing is going to undo what men did to me.  All abuse and trauma happens to us in an embodied way and Christian theology (with our Saviour who was born, lived, died and rose again in a physical body) should be much more aware of this than it is.

 

This body that I walk through life in has been raped.  It was degraded for a number of years and has survived my own attempts to kill and cut it.  I may be living in a place of great freedom, no longer constantly dragged down emotionally or psychologically by what was inflicted on me.  Yet, this body is the same body.  I type with the same hands.  I talk with the same mouth.  I walk with the same feet.  This is my body.

 

I don’t have some big revelation to conclude this with.  I felt compelled to write about this because I know that I am not the only one who is on this journey.  And if you’re reading this and are walking a similar path, please know that it is okay to never fully recover.  Living a wonderful life is not dependent on “getting over” the past.  Our bodies stay with us throughout all that we endure and (thankfully) all that we celebrate.  No matter how much physical distance or passing of time there is or renewal of cells our body goes through, we can’t leave it behind, for our body stays with us.  And though the pain and horror is difficult to overcome, it can be okay.  And we can be okay.

 

 

[1] This is changing within PTSD treatment, with practices like Somatic Experiencing.

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WE’RE ALL VISUAL CREATURES

I received an email from Craig Gross at XXX Church the other day.  I had not signed up for emails from them.  This is because XXX Church and Craig Gross purchase email address lists to be able to market to the people on them.  Find out more about that HERE.

 

This uninvited email was telling women how to deal with their husbands’ viewing pornography.  I was horrified and angered by the content that was in the email and took to Twitter to communicate that to Craig Gross.  I shall be spending this blog articulating WHY his email was so dangerous and will by referring t the email, the blog that the email is an excerpt from and my Twitter interaction with him.

 

Being pseudonymous on Twitter and when blogging is intentional.  I have felt compelled to make my communications about the issues I am passionate, not about who I am professionally.  I value the Twitter community as friends and never want to veer into seeing my Twitter account as a “platform to build” or a place to “promote myself”.  This generally works fine.  However, it does mean that in cases like this, the people I am critical of are unaware of the credibility of my perspective.

 

I am an international campaigner, media voice, trainer, writer, consultant and adviser on issues of gender justice.  I am a specialist in responding to and preventing male violence against women and my specialisms include; domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, pornographies, equal platform representation, gender reconciliation, right use of power, working with young people and Christian feminism amongst other things.  I have contributed chapters to a number of books and offer consultancy services to many organisations.

 

Craig Gross’ (and his wife’s) words are in red throughout this.

 

Hey Friend,

 

It’s Craig Gross and wanted to share with you something that I get asked a TON. I asked my wife this question.

 

At no point during the email does Craig Gross mention is wife’s name.  Though he states that his wife has given this information, it is his photograph, signature and name that is on the bottom of the email.  The entire content is clearly endorsed and delivered by Craig Gross.  There is no distinguishing between what Craig is saying and what his wife has said, no delineation.  That leads to an email that for all intents and purposes is a man communicating to women about what they should do about their husband’s choices to use pornography.

 

“What would you do if you caught your husband looking at adult content?”

 

The first mention of pornography within this email uses the euphemistic term “looking at adult content”.  I’ve written about the issue with euphemising pornography HERE.  By characterising the issue as “looking at adult content” this makes what follows more palatable.

 

A couple of ways to phrase this question that are not euphemistic:

 

What would you do if you walked into a room to find your husband masturbating to images of young women been sexually violated and degraded?

 

What would you do if you discovered your husband’s internet search history included “slave farm Asian” “teen models” “nubile cum” ”mistress pegging”  “wants you to cum” “ebony double penetration” “brutal fuck” “lick cum from stomach”?

 

[These are actual search terms from www.pornmd.com/live-search which shows current search terms that are being typed for pornography sites]

 

I thought it would be good to hear from a women’s perspective not a guy’s. I thought it would be great for you to hear from my wife who has witnessed this again and again in people’s lives over the last 15 years.

 

He doesn’t mention his wife’s name (I know I’ve said this before, but I find this incredulous).  As far as we know, his wife has no qualifications to offer advice on this except her personal experiences of witnessing women finding out their husband’s are using pornography.  And as much as personal experience is valuable, it needs to be coupled with expertise and knowledge.  We don’t even know her name, never mind her qualification levels to offer this advice.

 

So, here it goes.

 

Your husband just confided in you that he looked at adult content. I know it must bring up a lot of emotions:

 

– Betrayal … because he didn’t stay faithful to you.

– Mistrust … because how can you trust him in the small or big things if he couldn’t be trusted not to look.

– Self-doubt … because you think it may have to do with you not being pretty enough or satisfying enough in the bedroom.

– Anger … because he didn’t put you above himself and think about how his actions could affect you.

 

Firstly, that’s not how this situation has been framed.  It is framed as “What would you do if you caught your husband looking at adult content?”  Suddenly, this has shifted to your husband “confiding in you”.  They are not the same situations, and conflating them is both unhelpful and confusing.  Are we talking about a situation where a man has been caught?  Or a situation where he has volunteered information?

 

The tone of this is unhelpful.  Telling someone who is hurting that “I know” is not helpful.

 

These are just a few emotions that may have surfaced for you, and these are normal feelings.

 

I can agree with this statement.

 

What you do from this point with those emotions will set the tone for the rest of your marriage. Good, Christ-filled men are trying to do what is right when it comes to lust and their visual nature.

 

I cannot agree with anything in these two sentences.  The tone has already been set for the marriage BY THE HUSBAND who has been masturbating while watching images of women being objectified and sexually degraded.  The woman’s feelings and emotions should be validated, grappled with and held as true for her.  Let’s not immediately put them aside.  All that invites is denial and emotional suppression.

 

Immediately, the subject has shifted from experience and pain of the woman to the man.  The man who is described as “good” and “Christ-filled”.  At no point is the woman described as good or Christ-filled.

 

Biblically, what is “right when it comes to lust” is “if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell” (Mark 9:47).  Also “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  (Matthew 5:28).  And “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”  (Romans 8:13)

 

Right, let’s get this VISUAL NATURE nonsense.

 

Cordelia Fine’s book “Delusions of Gender” is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the basics of neurobiology.  NOTHING IS HARDWIRED IN THE BRAIN.  The last ten years has seen neuroscience reject the idea of hardwiring in the brain.  The most recent science states that NEUROPLASTICITY (http://www.whatisneuroplasticity.com) is how the brain works.  The frontal cortex of the brain (the bit which deals with cognition) only really begins to develop after birth.  This means that almost everything brain based is malleable according to context and socialisation.

 

It is not in men’s “nature” to be visual, it is in their socialisation.

 

Your husband wants to honor you, but God has wired his brain so differently from a woman’s that it is a constant struggle.

 

God has not wired men’s brains.  The Christian faith is founded upon FREE WILL. Humans are designed, wired and created with the capacity to make decisions and choices.  Men are not robots, wired to respond to stimuli (naked women) in a certain way.  And the nature of neuroplasticity means that the differences between men and women have been proven to be socialised more than any neurological difference.

 

Talking about men and women as homogenous groups is dangerous and unhelpful.  Women are also visual.  We have eyes.  We may not be socialised to understand or own this.  But women are sexually aroused by visual stimuli.  I am not making this up.  It is an actual real thing.

 

Is God so short sighted in creating humans that he made one half of them sexually stimulated by visual stimuli and the other half stimulated by something different?  Did God create man thinking “I want to create human beings with free will, but I think I’ll ensure half of them are unable to function properly.  They’ll be affected by certain visual stimuli in such a way that it will override that free will and make them a slave to their penis.”  No, He did not.

 

Men and women’s brains are not that different.  If you were to look at a brain scan, you would not be able to tell whether it was a male or female brain without further investigation.

 

Please take heart that he actually came to you before getting caught — he is trying to honor you and make things right.

 

See the point above about the conflicting statements in the email.

 

Admitting to having done something is not necessarily motivated by honour.  This email has been sent out to (potentially) THOUSANDS of women.  How can they make any assumptions about men’s motives for admitting they are watching images of women being sexually degraded and masturbating to them?

 

Maybe they knew they were going to get caught?  Maybe they are admitting it to manipulate the situation for their own benefit?  Maybe they genuinely want to change things?  Maybe they are abusive and they are going to use the confession as an opportunity to bully, shame or sexually abuse their wife?

 

Sending this content in an email is so dangerous.  There will be women who receive this email who are currently being subjected to abuse by their husband.  There will be women who see this email as a sign from God that they should do what the email says.  And for women whose husband’s are currently abusing them, this email may cause them to continue to be abused.  This email may be a tool for an abuser to further abuse their wife.

 

Even if this is the case for one abuser, that is one abuser too many.  We must consider that with every blog/article/bulk email we write there will be people reading who are currently being subjected to abuse.  As Jesus instructed us, we must prioritise the needs of the broken hearted, the wounded, the captives.  And if our communications provide ammunition for abusers; we have certainly failed.

 

By using pornography, a husband has already dishonoured his wife and every woman or girl he has masturbated to.  Even if his motives in owning up are good, celebrating his honour without acknowledging that is not helpful.

 

Your job is NOT to withhold sex from him, to question his integrity in all areas of his life, to play detective or police his every move, to not forgive him and always punish him, to shut down and put up a wall, to think it’s your fault.

 

We can infer from this statement that a wife’s job (after discovering her husband has been masturbating to images of women being sexually violated and degraded) is to:

 

·      Provide sex

·      Assume his integrity in the rest of his life is intact

·      Not check up on him

·      Not have any trust issues

·      Forgive him

·      Place no consequences in place

·      Stay fully vulnerable

·      But at the same time, blame him for what he has done

 

A woman has found out her husband has been viewing images of women and/or girls (most online pornography is of teenage girls) being sexually degraded and violated.  Penetrated by multiple men (sometimes in one orifice), ejaculated over their faces and bodies and generally used as objects by men.  He has been doing this while masturbating.  He has been doing this secretly.  What that woman does to deal with her husband’s infidelity is entirely her choice.

 

Telling her what to do is not acceptable.  Telling her what not to do is unacceptable.

 

In February I organised a Gender Reconciliation Workshop in the UK (it was brilliant and I’ll write about it at some point…).

 

Within the workshop we learned about the Cycle of Reconciliation…

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Finding out about this betrayal requires the Cycle of Reconciliation to be implemented.  This email sent by Craig Gross in no way explores the necessary steps for reconciliation to take place.

 

Once the injury has taken place, the woman needs to be able to withdraw.  To withdraw without being judged or shamed or told she cannot.  Once withdrawn she needs to work out how to reclaim her identity.  Finding this out about her husband will have caused great damage to her and that has to be grappled with.  Working out if/how she can reclaim her identity while staying married.  She may work out that she can, equally she may work out that she can’t and that the marriage has to end.  Either way, she needs the space and confidence that her choices and needs will be valued and respected.

 

If she discovers that her identity can be reclaimed while staying married, the next step is to make an internal commitment to reconciliation.  At not until this point.

 

Once that internal commitment has been made, there is a need to restore the potential for harm to be done again.  Again, she may decide that the risk of her husband doing this to her again is too much and she may need to end the marriage.  Something she has the right to do (both Biblically and in every other sense).

 

If she does feel able to restore the risk then there needs to be a negotiation of needs.  She needs to lay out what her needs are and how they will be met.  She may need to insist that her husband no longer has a smart phone, no longer uses the internet when she isn’t present, that he doesn’t delete his internet history or that she checks his devices every day.  He may not be willing to do that.  In which case the negotiation results in the marriage ending.  Or he is willing to and the negotiations moves towards reconnecting.

 

This same process should be enacted each time the husband uses pornography.  Because a new injury has taken place.

 

This email reduces the deep and profound process of reconciliation to dictating what and how women should respond to injury, ironically this is something they are telling women they have no right to do to their husbands.  Their husbands being the ones who have made the choice to masturbate, to turn the computer/device on, to search for the images and to continue to watch them and lie about it.  While the wives have not done anything wrong in relation to this.

 

Those things might make sense emotionally, but they won’t help you or him.

Instead, your job IS to understand his visual nature and encourage him to have accountability with trusted people who will call him out on things, to extend him grace and realize that we all screw up and are selfish, to seek out counseling with him or by yourself, to pray for him, to pray for your marriage, to welcome honest conversations.

 

See above regarding the nonsense of visual nature.

 

Some of these suggestions are helpful, but not within the context of the wider messages in the email.  The woman is being told to be gracious and giving.  Which is a theme that runs across the oppression of women across history.  Sadly, this defiles the profound power of grace and of selflessness and reduces them to yet another painful and heavy yoke for women.

 

If you can openly talk about how hurt you are that he looked at that stuff, about things in both of you that need work, about what triggers him to look at adult materials, about taking steps to improve the issues that come up, then you can push through the hard conversations and come out on the other side stronger.

 

“Things you both need to work on”.  What does this mean?  Her husband has been watching images of women being sexually degraded while masturbating.  This idea that there’s “things you both need to work on” suggest the problem is not the man’s.  Which they’ve spent the rest of the email saying it is.  His “visual nature” and all that.

 

This is one of the few times where the woman’s hurt is acknowledged, but it is less than one sentence.

 

There is very little compassion for the woman within this whole email.  It is all about how the woman can meet the needs of the man, of his visual nature, of his triggers.

 

This email reduces women to objects whose sole role is to service men.  It dehumanises women and dictates to women how they should feel and act.  Which is exactly what pornography does.

 

You both love each other and want to work through these things, which is a good thing.

 

But his love it tainted by him masturbating while viewing images of women being sexually violated.  And so that changes everything.

 

Divorce is not an option, and it never should cross your mind.

 

Divorce is an option, as mentioned above.  The woman needs to know she has choices.  If divorce isn’t an option, then the woman is not choosing to stay in the marriage, she is being forced to.  If she is given the time and space to consider divorce and she chooses not to, then she has chosen to stay married.  If she chooses divorce then that’s valid.  Jesus’ teaching allows for marriage in cases of adultery, and if that’s how the woman experiences what her husband has done, that must be validated and supported.

 

This email is not sent into a context where Christian women are divorcing their husbands’ willy nilly (no pun intended!).  There are Christian women who have endured decades of their husband’s abuse, rape and violence because they church taught them divorce wasn’t an option.  Women rarely opt to be single parents or divorced.  There is much pain and trauma from being a divorced woman in the church, I know, I was one.  I endured rape, emotional terrorism, my ex-husband’s affairs because I thought divorce was not an option.

 

Women don’t need to be told divorce is not an option.  It’s what they’re always being told.

 

Women whose husbands have been using pornography need our compassion.  They need us to weep with them.  To hug them and tell them that we’ll support them whatever they do.  Sadly, many women won’t talk to anyone when they find out about their husband’s pornography use because there’s so much shame and fear attached to it.

 

This email speaks into a context where women are made to feel terrible about themselves.  The UK beauty industry is worth £17 billion.  An industry selling luxury products nobody needs is worth so much because it drags women’s self value out of them and sells it back to them for a large profit.  Every image of women that we see if digital manipulated, every shop manikin is 4 sizes thinner than the average woman.

 

Consumerism thrives on making women hate themselves.  Patriarchy thrives on blaming women and ensuring they are men’s caretakers.

 

Craig Gross’ brand of church views men as the primary leaders, of churches, homes and organisations.  Yet he believes that men’s visual nature makes them incapable of not masturbating while watching images of women being sexually violated.  Those two views are utterly incompatible.  Either men are competent human beings or they’re not.

 

If being a visual creature is the problem, it seems Jesus’ solution may be the one we should look to.  Blinding.  Each man should gouge out his own eyes to solve this.  As Jesus said, it is preferable to lust.

 

Yet, Jesus’ teaching was allegorical and “mystical”.  He was not advocating self mutilation.  He was pointing out the futility of blaming the eyes for an issue that is rooted in the heart.  This is a heart issue.  And while Craig Gross (and his wife) advocate this “visual nature”, they are speaking counter to the message of Jesus and are colluding with bad science and the excuses of men watching pornography.

 

Even if this time seems desperate and that it will never pass, divorce is much harder and more painful than this one experience in your relationship.

 

This is not “one experience in your relationship” this is (likely) a pattern of behaviour that the husband is choosing which involves secrecy, masturbation and images of women being sexually violated.  I have been divorced.  It was painful.  But I can assure you, not anywhere near as painful as staying married to a man who watched pornography and then made me enact those scenes (amongst many other painful abuses).

 

That’s not to say that a husband’s use of pornography is impossible to overcome.  That divorce could be more painful?  Of course!  But sending out a bulk email with these sorts of absolutes is dangerous to the most vulnerable and damaged amongst us and as such should not be written.  There is no “one size fits all” solution to the huge problems of pornography use among men, and any solution is not going to focus on what the man’s wife should, or should not be doing.

 

You and your husband can get through this and wind up even stronger than you were before. We’ve seen it over and over in the couples we’ve worked with through our ministry.

 

It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

 

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It’s great that they’ve had success.  But see above, this is not a “one size fits all” solution.  This is a ministry.  It is a not a scientifically robust understanding of pornography.  It is great that they are committed to ensuring men stop watching images of women being sexually violated which masturbating.  However, if the methods with which this is done echo those within pornography, objectifying women and reducing them to how they serve men.  Then they need a new model.

 

You can read my tweets about this email in the Storify I have done HERE.  As you will see towards the end of the Storify, Craig Gross responds to my Tweets.  I will offer some views on this too:

 

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Telling me to “settle down” immediately shapes his response as patronising and rather than engaging with the content of my criticisms, he focuses on the tone with which I sent them.  He assumes I hadn’t read the whole blog, which I had.  His use of “woman” with quote marks is odd.  And as already mentioned, the fact he says this is his wife’s comments does not help his argument at all, given that he doesn’t mention her name and signs the email from himself.  He states that it is for “if [the] husband confesses” even though the email is responding to the question “What would you do if you caught your husband looking at adult content?”

 

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Shaunti Feldhahn is the co-author of Craig Gross’ most recent book “Men Are Visual”.   Her background is in economics and she has no qualifications in neuroscience or psychology.   HERE (http://www.shaunti.com/2016/02/women-three-phrases-to-never-say-to-your-husband/ ) she tells women they should never say to men:

 

·      “What were you thinking?

·      “You didn’t do a good job at…”

·      Sigh in exasperation

 

She essentially trades in gender stereotypes, neurosexism and Christianese to fix relationship problems and sell books.

 

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Admittedly, he doesn’t know from my Twitter profile than I am not clueless, however assuming that is problematic, given that I’m not.  He infers that my tweets suggest I am clueless and unwilling to understand about men.  Neither of these things are true.  I am an expert in my filed and I spend a whole lot of time reflecting on and engaging with toxic masculinity (something he is promoting).  I organised a Gender Reconciliation Workshop because I strongly believe in the need for men to engage with the toxic and damaging effects of patriarchy, something the pornography is a part of.

 

My anger is righteous.  I wasn’t ranting on Twitter because I don’t have a clue, but because I do.  I know the damage the messages in his email cause women and men and it makes me angry that he is choosing to use his platform to spout nonsense.

 

Men are not wired differently to women.  If people are interested in a different perspective to Craig’s on the idea that people are wired to want pornography, read THIS blog by Glen Scrivener.

 

I shall spend the rest of my day reflecting with hope on Matthew 5:6

 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

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.

The Intimacy Agenda

After a break from writing about pornographies, I have more thoughts to share.  The previous pieces are here:

 

Porn Is Not A Thing

The Christian Porn Conversation

De-Euphemism-ising Pornographies

 

It seems everywhere you look (both inside and outside the church) those who watch pornographies (mainly men) are being diagnosed with intimacy issues.  It’s the Big Thing in addressing the fact that a lot of men and boys are watching highly degrading and sexually violent images and videos of women and girls (teenage girls are the most sought after videos and pictures online).  While watching these images boys and men are most often masturbating, usually until they ejaculate.  Apparently due to a lack of intimacy or something.

 

There various issues with the Intimacy Agenda (as I shall call it…).

 

  1. It can make the man’s viewing of exploitative and abusive images of women and girls (and the masturbation accompanied with it) into an issue that is external to him. If it is an intimacy issue, that relates to his relationships.  Does that mean the responsibility for his choices falls onto his partner/wife/girlfriend/parents/friends?  Or that he needs someone else to fix it for him?

 

  1. Lots of men and boys who are viewing sexually abusive images of women and girls are in positive and healthy relationships. The consuming of those images and masturbation that goes alongside that is not a by-product of a deficit.  It happens in spite of fulfilling and healthy relationships.  If we’re not careful, there’s the potential to raise issues in a relationship where they may not be issues.

 

  1. Where intimacy is related to the man’s use of images where women and girls are sexually violated, is solely focussing on it as the main issue helpful? As you will notice, in my language I insist on de-euphemising the language we use to describe the act often referred to as “watching porn”.  When that happens, it’s very difficult to see intimacy as the biggest concern.  Suddenly the focus shifts onto the nature of the content being viewed.  As it must if we are to respond effectively.

 

Where somebody has a partner who is watching pornographies, that is a deeply painful experience. As Jesus said, when you look at someone lustfully, you are committing adultery.  The partner of someone who is viewing images of women and girls being degraded while masturbating is experiencing the pain of a partner committing adultery.  It can be deeply traumatic to find out our partner is not who we thought they were, that they are engaging in sexual activity without us.  It can lead us to feel insecure and lacking in value.  Our partner’s continued use of women’s and girls’ bodies can be painful and fill us with shame.

 

Within that context, it seems totally lacking in compassion to make intimacy the big issue for men who are masturbating to images and videos of women and girls being sexually used by men.  So often the man who discloses his “struggle with porn” is presented as a victim dealing with intimacy issues.  If he has a partner/wife/girlfriend, she is invisible.  Her pain potentially increased by the inference that intimacy is the issue, what we may read into the Intimacy Agenda is “his relationship is the problem”.

 

It’s not that intimacy isn’t ever a factor.  It’s focussing on intimacy that is the problem.  Surely re-humanising the women and girls in the videos and images should be a higher priority?  As should the need to take responsibility for our choices.  The man is the active agent in the “struggle” between a man and the pornography he is watching.  He chooses to open the browser, click on the link, begin masturbating.  Those are not actions that happen to him.

 

Until our language and communications insist on personal responsibility being key in addressing people who consume images of women and girls being sexually degraded we will not achieve the seismic shift required to reduce the impact of pornographic content on society.  Intimacy issues might be involved (often they’re not), but what is ALWAYS involved is the active choice of the viewer to watch the content being offered to them.  It is choice, not intimacy, that must be the focus.

The Spectrum of Pornographies: A Man’s Perspective PART 2

This post is part of the series I’ve been doing about the spectrum of pornographies, you can read the others (along with a few of my previous posts that cover the subject) here.

This is the second guest post from a Christian man who I asked to share his views…

I personally have been helped by some of the literature and resources developed by Christians aimed at men who consume porn of the types I did. Their frameworks for understanding compulsive behaviour and my motivations were very useful, as were the practical strategies for changing problem behaviour. I would commend the work of XXXChurch in the US particularly, especially as it is noteworthy that they are addressing aspects of the production of porn as well as its consumption.

However, the language in the books and on the websites produced by Christians can be problematic. Talk of addicts and addiction, of being a user can reinforce the notion of men being primarily victims and analogous to drug users. Yes, the literature does address the effects on family and friends of an ‘addicts” behaviour, just as those addressing alcohol or drug abuse do.

But telling men they are victims in a spiritual battle – whilst partially true – is only a part of the bigger picture.

The battle can be too often described only as the struggle of ‘good men tempted’ against the ‘flesh and blood’ of naked women (or men) having sex on screen.

It is closer to the truth, I think, to say that men are called – no, compelled – to take up a battle against the ‘powers and principalities’ behind the systematic and all-pervasive denigration and objectification of women of which pornographies are manifestations of.

That may mean men learning not to solely be obsessed with maintaining personal purity (though resisting the lust Jesus speaks of IS a non-negotiable) and being willing to speak about and root out every form of misogynistic thinking and practise. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and but it’s essential we stop casting ourselves as the victims of the piece and face up to our greater responsibilities.

What does an effective response to this issue look like?  Do you have any thoughts about what a theological response to the issues looks like?

I only have tentative answers but there are some things I think we definitely do.

Firstly, given that the majority of exploitation and degradation one can observe in pornography of all forms is enacted by men against women, we men firstly need to listen to what women would have us do. Men are not the saviours of porn performers nor of porn consumers but we do have responsibilities. We need to learn not to shrug off our responsibility to act but we do need to curtail our assumption that men know what is best for women and that we know what women need us to do.
I think too that men need to engage more readily in conversation with – and especially in listening to – feminists within and outside the Church. They are able to teach us how pornography connects with wider issues of sexism and women’s liberation.

We also need to talk together more frankly and honestly about what is out there – I don’t mean talking porn for the sake of showing how much we know or how in touch we are with what is out there but in order to confront the realities and expose the mechanisms of exploitation and damage.

As I’ve suggested, we need to think more carefully about our language and terminology. Can we find language which is more accurate and honest than only “addict/addiction/purity/lust”? Should we be speaking of consumers not users given most pornography is unashamedly cynically marketed product, given that many pornographies is outworking of capitalism?
What about the language of “models” and “performers”? Where is the line between “performer” and “product”? I don’t want to deny the self-determination of women nor the fact that women do choose to produce and act in porn movies, and I don’t wish to speak for women (see above) but when women are saying “pornography is hurting women in all manner of ways” then to fall back on language which emphasises freedom and consent and downplays power and exploitation is disingenuous.

This goes for the larger narratives we employ in our writing and speaking about pornographies in the Church. Whose stories do we emphasise: men who have “suffered” loss due to porn, men who have “recovered” from addiction? Or do need to give more airtime and platform space to women telling their stories about porn? About the effects of the men they know consuming porn? Of their own experience of having been exploited by porn producers? Do we need to pay more attention than we do to the voices of women who have suffered sexual violence due in part to the shaping of men’s minds and actions by violent porn?

In some of the Christian books and websites I’ve read addressing pornography I’ve read much about men who “use prostitutes” and stripclubs, or pay to access porn online, but next to nothing in the same books and sites about who these prostitutes are, who works at these strip clubs, who made the porn and “performed” in it.
For every man’s life “ruined” by pornography consumption there is at least one woman whose life has been ruined and whose health and well-being have been compromised.

Even the well-meaning talk of “would you want your daughter to be watched in that way?” is problematic. We should instead be saying things like “should any woman be treated in this way or feel compelled to make a living like this?”

We need to resist shallow stereotypes about men and women and sex. Addressing porn has to be connected with what we teach in churches about men and women and sex more broadly. Much teaching can inadvertently give more license to men to consume pornography by emphasising “men’s needs” and their apparently greater sex drive, and women’s supposed more “emotional” and “passive” view of sex. If our church teaching on sex reinforces male potency and drive, and female passivity and receptivity, does this not shape men’s expectations of sex to conform to what they see on their screens?

We need to join the dots in our speaking and acting between pornography, sex trafficking/slavery, and sexual violence. These relationships are complex. Not all that comes under the banner “pornography” is necessarily exploitative and connected with sexual violence; but much is. However, we need to resist seeing ourselves as the male saviours of poor helpless women – back to listening and learning before acting – whilst still acting when we can.

We need to read our bibles “better” – to see the narratives of sexual exploitation, the gender stereotypes often under the surface of texts we read too simplistically.

A quick example:

David and Bathsheba: do we read this as David in a moment of weakness succumbing to temptation? Or do we notice and highlight the power dynamics at work: the powerful king seeing another woman as a sexual object to own and consume, a woman who could not realistically say no to the summons from the King who “sent messengers to fetch her”? In our modern terminology, was this really fully consensual sex or was this exploitative behaviour within an asymmetrical power relationship?

I’m not advocating that we demonize King David or dismiss the fact that he was a man “after God’s own heart”; rather we perhaps need to learn that “good men” are not simply “tempted”; sometimes they are exploitative and abusive.

We need to open our minds to recognise that when we laud a biblical character simplistically as a “goody” we risk overlooking the patterns of sexual exploitation and sexism even within our scriptures.

The same goes for other aspects of the Bible – how do we read Paul’s epistles within a “pornified” culture where women are routinely objectified on camera and in print? When I read in 1 Corinthians that a wife is not “master” of her own body, I must treat and read that text extremely carefully given that pornographies so frequently depict a woman’s body simply as an object for a man or men to use to achieve orgasm. Paul had his reasons for writing, and I don’t think he is advocating the routine objectifying of women. However, thousands of women within pornography industries are routinely treated and told that they are not “masters” of their bodies; they are told that their bodies exist for men’s pleasure, and their value as people is proportional to the degree of pleasure a man derives from gazing at or physically using their bodies.
We certainly can draw on Paul’s writing to develop a healthy theology of the body and of sex BUT we need to be very careful and not rely solely on a simplistic reading of him.
I’d also ask: please, please, please resist quoting chunks of Proverbs to address porn and sex. I’ve heard that book used too often to endorse narrow sexual roles especially for women, and to perpetuate the notion that men are “potential victims” who must resist the advances of “temptresses” whether in the flesh or on screen.
Finally, if we want to hold up Samson and Solomon as heroes of the faith, also be honest about the massively exploitative sexual behaviour they were engaged in. Solomon’s harem of women were not in his royal court purely of their own volition, acting from true freedom and self-determination. Our ancestors In the faith used women as objects for pleasure and to continue their bloodlines. Yes, God was gracious enough to “use” these men for his purposes but let’s at least be more honest about the long legacy of sexual exploitation in our faith’s story.

I realise I’ve offered more questions than answers. I realise I’ve offered no programme of action or 10 steps to eradicating pornography. I hope these suggestions about how we think and speak and listen will provoke others to develop appropriate ways of acting. My greatest concern is not so much ridding my home or computer of porn (though this is essential), nor to rescue men from addiction (though men do need help stopping what they’re doing). There is a bigger cause of ridding the world, our communities and churches of the ways of thinking, speaking and behaving which contribute to pornographies being so pervasive, and increasingly violent and damaging. That’s a huge and more complex task.

The Spectrum of Pornographies: A Man’s Perspective PART 1

This post is part of the series I’ve been doing about the spectrum of pornographies, you can read the others (along with a few of my previous posts that cover the subject) here.

I asked a Christian man I’d been chatting with about the issues around pornographies to write about his experiences.  He said a question and answer approach would work well, so here is Part 1…

How long have you been in Church?

Church has been a constant part of my life since birth. My parents are Christians and there’s never been a time I’ve not been heavily involved in Church – attending, helping lead worship, children’s work…

What is your current church involvement?

I’m currently a full-time paid minister of a church as part of a small team. I’m still relatively new to full-time leadership having spent time training full time at a theological college and on placements.

My work is very varied: from work with older people to all-age worship, preaching, community engagement and work with schools.

I’ve previously had a fair bit of experience of working with teenagers.

My work with teenagers in a number of settings gave me a greater awareness of the rapid and constant changes in that wide range of media we call ‘porn’ and how and what young people access.

What are your thoughts on the spectrum of media that makes up what is commonly described as pornography?

In a previous blog post you made the very helpful point that pornography is not one monolithic entity but a vast spectrum or diversity of material and media.

Not only is this true; I also feel it is important to note that porn users are diverse, have very different patterns of usage, and access porn for different reasons and with a variety of felt needs or drives.

My first experience of pornographic material was at around 11 seeing magazine of what would today be regarded by many as very ‘tame’ – essentially naked or scantily clad women in ‘alluring’ poses (it’s worth noting they had pubic hair in contrast to the seemingly ubiquitous contemporary requirement for women in most forms of porn to be hairless, as you’ve noted previously).

My ‘descent’ into what I would call a porn addiction followed a path from ‘softcore’ still images online (dialup internet and 1990s tech precluded my viewing moving images for several years) to hardcore short movies online by about 2010.

I shocked myself at how rapidly my choices of material accessed changed over a few years, in terms of the shift from softcore “lad mag”/playboy stills to short movies of male-female and female-female explicit penetrative sex.

What I note now looking back is how a click on a free site offering playboy images of nudity always offered up immediate free access to still images and videos of ardcore penetrative sex acts, mainly m-f or f-f. ‘Escalation’ of usage happened very easily.

My main motivation for using porn was initially curiosity – not having had sex until my 20s and married, I was curious about the naked female form and the mechanics of sex.

The motivation shifted in time such that it became about relieving boredom or low mood by seeking sexual stimulation.

I have accessed hardcore porn over a period of maybe 10 years on and off.

One of the motivators in recent years to get help and kick my habit has been the realisation of what is out there, how easily I was being sucked in, and the risk of my beginning to access more extreme and degrading material.However, in what must have been just 3 or 4 years, as my access escalated from nudity to watching two people having penetrative vaginal intercourse, so I became rapidly aware of what I found and find a far more disturbing, degrading and violent world of pornographies.

For example, while I may have clicked on a page to view still full frontal nudity and/or a ‘model’ masturbating, sidebar ads and pop ups offered an array of other content: anal sex, ‘facials’ (a man or men ejaculating on a woman’s face), gangbangs (multiple men penetrating one woman, sometimes simultaneously), bondage/S&M, and a variety of content specifically offered up as being what I’d call ‘deviant’. By this I mean content which involves physically abusive, overtly exploitative sexual activity.

I didn’t explore much beyond what would be called “vanilla” male-female/female-female porn, and I quite frankly didn’t understand why anyone would be interested in some of what seemed bizarre or disturbing types of porn. I’ve never been drawn to some of the forms you listed in your previous blog: porn involving other bodily functions, ‘facials’, orgies, gangbangs, what would be called ‘fetish’. But the realisation of what was out there disturbed me deeply.

Now, to be clear: I would say from my experience as a user and from my research that the vast majority of pornographies involve some form of exploitation of women; most porn in whatever form almost always places men in a position of dominance and power over women. This is often explicit in the behaviour of ‘performers’ and the scenarios offered up; it is almost always the case in what goes on behind the camera and when the cameras aren’t rolling, in how the industries operate.

This being said, there are forms of porn which are actively marketed using the language of exploitation, of men forcefully “doing to” women with no attempt to suggest that there will be mutual pleasure.

It became clear that porn as one woman and one man depicted as engaging in mutually pleasurable sex (yes with the man being more dominant, but seemingly mutually consensual and ‘vanilla’) had become just one thing on a vast menu.

The descriptors attached to videos and screenshots I began to see on the two or three sites I visited became ever more violent, degrading, explicitly objectifying and insulting of women. They were all about what one or more men would do to this or that orifice. Women were “sluts”, “bitches” and “whores” whom the viewer could see degraded. There was/is no veneer of respect in these forms of porn. The language was/is debasing women in every way possible without actually coming out and saying they are being raped. Some descriptions on ads for sites or videos treated the woman-as-person as incidental or irrelavant – they described only what would be done to one of her body parts by a man or men.

I personally felt not even much curiosity never mind desire to access these more violent and abusive forms BUT they were just a click away, as easy to access as a ‘Nuts’ image.

The near ubiquity of ejaculation onto a woman’s face (something I’ve witnessed and have no desire to see again – it left me feeling not only ashamed but disturbed) seems to me to highlight the fact that porn usage or addiction is far more complex and bigger than being just about (mainly) men looking lustfully at a woman or watching a couple copulating in order to gain a sexual thrill.

There are aspects of the array we call ‘porn’ which are not just about the lust to enjoy sexual pleasure with another person: how do we Christians address the fact that some of our brothers are choosing regularly to access still and moving images of women being physically abused, subjected to obvious discomfort, used as no more than a collection of orifices, and humiliated?

In some porn there is still the effort made to depict scenarios of mutual pleasure and relative respect for each other’s comfort and wellbeing.

In other forms, the pretence isn’t so much abandoned as actively opposed.

The material I saw offered was seemingly designed to appeal to male fantasies of subjecting a woman to anything he chooses for his own pleasure with no interest in woman’s bodily safety never mind pleasure. Women are written about as having no say nor right to derive pleasure or comfort from sexual acts; they are there to be used and to be either silent or only open their mouths to acquiesce to a man’s demands.

Do you think the current focus of the church on addiction and purity around this issue is helpful? 

An emphasis on purity and resisting lust does have its place in the church’s addressing of porn ‘addiction’ but is insufficient on at least four counts:

1) These approaches can make men feel misleadingly that they are the primary victims in the porn addiction narrative. They are victims yes of their own lusts, but these lusts as provoked and exploited by the loose women onscreen: that’s sometimes what the purity/lust narrative implies and leads men to believe. Careless citation of stories about Solomon or King David, or quotes from Proverbs often do more harm than good: they overlook the exploitation and dehumanising of women in those texts for a start; they also place the emphasis on men resisting “the temptress”. If men addicted to porn are victims, they are victims of a mainly male capitalist and misogynistic machine which treats them simply as interchangeable consumers.

2) This emphasis on purity/lust seems inadequate for dealing with the many men among us either for pleasure or out of compulsion watch women being degraded in material marketed as such. I’m not sure what the answer is to this but it must be more complex and far reaching than treating and supporting the individual addict.

3) In and of themselves, approaches which focus solely or mainly on purity and abstinence only address the problem of breaking an addictive pattern (no bad thing) and not the problem of thousands of women’s lives being ruined and bodies exploited. There is a pressing need for the church and men ourselves especially to address the foundational misogyny, systemic sexism which means that there is a market for the full array of pornographies.

4) This approach does little or nothing to address the phenomenon of people accessing porn depicting sexual or quasi-sexual behaviours which radically depart from what the church would generally advocate as healthy, desirable, and safe within a marriage; behaviours which many of us would see as suggestive of problems with a person’s psychological/emotional/sexual health and development. I realise that makes a value judgement but that seems inevitable even desirable if we wish as the church to tackle porn in all its forms and with all its problems.

I will publish Part 2 of this piece over the next few days…

Craig Gross, Fifty Shades and Understanding Abuse

I received an email, along with the rest of the XXX Church mailing list from Craig Gross this afternoon.  It was his response to having watched the Fifty Shades of Grey film.

Much of the content within the email concerned me and I contacted Craig via Twitter to ask whether I could communicate with him about the email.  He responded in this way:

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I was hoping to dialogue with him directly, but it seems he would rather I publicly respond, hence this blog…

Firstly, many of you will only know me as Mrs GLW or @God_loves_wome on Twitter.  Though I am vaguely pseudonymous, I should probably explain that I am an expert in preventing and responding to domestic abuse.  I have worked with hundreds of women who have suffered abuse from a partner or ex, trained hundreds of people in understanding domestic abuse, trained over 180 practitioners to work with young people to prevent them perpetrating or experiencing abuse, co-facilitated a perpetrator programme, written resources on child sexual exploitation, identity, recovering from the trauma of an abusive partner, parenting after abuse and equipping churches to respond to domestic abuse.  I have contributed to various books on gender and domestic abuse.  I have delivered keynote speeches at national and international events in Canada, Bulgaria and across the UK, including speaking alongside the Under Secretary to the United Nations and three Archbishops.  Two and a half years ago I set up the “50 Shades is Domestic Abuse” campaign to raise awareness of the abuse within the series and to endeavour to change the shape of the conversation around the social phenomenon that is Fifty Shades.  Within the last 3 weeks that has included organising a protest at the premiere of the film and doing interviews of TV, and across much online and some printed media.

I find that writing as “God Loves Women” means that people can think that I come to the conversation without any expertise.  I choose to not use my Twitter account to advertise what I do because I’m not interested in building a platform or promoting myself, however, in order to effectively respond to Craig Gross’ email I felt it would be worth making it clear that I write this as an expert in the field of domestic abuse.

Okay so, Craig’s piece is written in full below, with my comments added.

I don’t read fiction. Ever. I haven’t since high school, and even in high school, I opted for the Cliff’s Notes. When Fifty Shades of Grey came out, I heard about it (and have even commented on it over the years) but never opened the book. I never even skimmed it. I have friends who have and have filled me in.

I have read all three books.  When I read the books, I folded down every page on which there was abuse.  This is a picture of the books:

IMG_0814

I thought it was a fantasy book about a guy with some crazy desires for some violent sex. I was blown away to learn it sold 100 million copies, and when the movie grossed $260 million worldwide this weekend, I became even more fascinated.

So I went to see the movie. I went with my wife, to the noon showing at the mall by our house. It was packed. I can’t believe how many people were seeing this movie on a Wednesday afternoon.

As part of the “50 Shades is Domestic Abuse” campaign, we have been encouraging people to boycott the film.  Not because we are pro-censorship.  Not for religious reasons.  But because the film and associated branding is making those who created the film a lot of money.  Purchasing a cinema ticket contributes to the money being made, validates that the film is something people should be watching and, in the case of Craig Gross, reinforces that the film is not bad like pornographies (which his entire ministry is based on people not watching) and therefore is the sort of thing couples should be going to see together.  

I set up the campaign, not because Fifty Shades is “pornographic” but because it depicts an abuser an ideal partner, stalking as a charming character quirk, deep power imbalances as sexy, lack of consent and rape as BDSM, and coercion, emotional abuse and minimisation, denial and blame as normal behaviour from a partner.  I’m not even going to begin on the celebration of selfish capitalism, modelling of wealth, power and “sexiness” as a measure of success or the wider issues of gender within the series.

So what’d I think?

I didn’t hate the movie.

I did hate Christian Grey.

I didn’t walk out or picket, but I watched the whole movie because I wanted to better understand why this has resonated with so many. Why is Christian Grey someone that women are cheering on and fantasizing about? Why does my own mother at 66 years old connect with this story and feel like she “missed out” on something in her sex life.

I did picket.  Because I actually already understand why Fifty Shades has resonated with so many.  It’s because it is the story we’ve been told from childhood, of a broken “beast” of a man, rescued by the love of a good woman/girl.  It maintains the comfortable dynamic of men as powerful, and women as passive (you know the main dynamic in almost ALL pornographic material…) yet allows readers to feel they’re being edgy by adding orgasms and spanking.  Within a fantasy setting the books are just that, a “let’s pretend” story.  But within the context of 72% of girls being emotionally abused by a boyfriend within the UK, the Fifty Shades brand is reinforcing to all young people that abuse is not only normal, but also desirable. 

As I write this, the movie finished two hours ago, and I’m still upset over what I just saw. Not some young woman being tied up, but Christian Grey himself. Let me explain.

Christian Grey was born to a prostitute/crack addict and put up for adoption.

Christian Grey was sexually abused by an older lady from the ages of 15 to 21.

Christian Grey was introduced to BDSM and forced to be a “submissive” for a number of years.

Christian Grey is very successful, rich, and powerful in his job.

Christian Grey has everything he needs and more, but deep down inside you can tell is not happy or fulfilled.

Christian Grey is used to getting what he wants and no one tells him no.

Christian Grey has had over 15 sexual partners that we know of.

Christian Grey does not “make love,” he “f*cks… hard.”

Christian Grey does not like to be touched.

Christian Grey gives things to get sex.

Christian Grey is abusive, controlling, dominant, and invasive. (I agree with Craig here)

Aside from his looks, money, and power, Christian Grey is the worst boyfriend imaginable.

Anastasia Steele is a virgin.

Anastasia Steele is infatuated with Christian Grey.

Anastasia Steele enjoys being pursued. (It’s not being pursued, it’s actually stalking.  Which is an actual, criminal offence)

Anastasia Steele obviously is uncomfortable with the sexual experiences Christian Grey is wanting.

Anastasia Steele is constantly pushed to give in to the sexual requests of Christian Grey

Anastasia Steele is given more things in order to submit to Christian Grey’s sexual requests.

Anastasia Steele desires a relationship but gives sex hoping to get the relationship.

So, for those who have not read the book or watched the movie, you’re up to speed so far. Christian has a “contract” he tries to get Ana to sign, a contract that explains what she will and won’t do sexually and what she is and is not allowed to do outside the bedroom. In exchange for the signing the contract, she can move into the house and get all the benefits of being with Mr. Grey.

I get from the movie that Anastasia is not interested in sex so much as she is Christian Grey, and I think that is pretty normal for most women I meet that are pursuing men. 

Ana is not interested in sex, because up until this point she has never actually had sex and hasn’t really been interested in having sex.  It has been suggested that if Ana genuinely has no sexuality before meeting Christian Grey, she probably is asexual.  The developing sexual script of human beings doesn’t begin at 21, it starts at birth and grows as we mature.  Ana’s approach to sex is NOT normal.  It is the measure of a character that has been given no depth or other dimensions, whose only purpose is to interact with the main male character.

More generally, women are socialised NOT to accept or embrace their sexuality.  Vagina is a dirty word.  There’s an assumption boys are masturbating as teenagers, there’s an assumption we don’t even need to mention masturbation to girls.  Boys are socialised as subjects within sex, girls are socialised to be objects.  (Again, something depicted across the spectrum of pornographies.)

(The famous saying, after all, is that men give love to get sex and women give sex to get love.) 

I’m not sure this is a famous saying.  And I’m not sure it’s true.

But in this movie, Christian is not willing to negotiate. He is not willing to show love or be attached. In fact, Anastasia is not even allowed to sleep in the same room or bed with him. She really is just his sex slave. She won’t sign the contract and at one point he gets so desperate he offers, “If you sign this, I will give you one night out a week as a couple. We will got out to dinner and go see a movie like boyfriends and girlfriends do.”

Enough about the movie. Here are some takeaways and things I am left not understanding.

  • Marriage only works when both sides give and both sides take, and sex is the same way. Men and women have needs and desires, and marriage and the marriage bed is a place to have those fulfilled. If you are with someone and they don’t take into consideration your needs and only demand things from you, then get the heck out of that relationship if you’re dating. If you’re married, then head to a counselor.

A wiser way of approaching this is that a relationship should be about “give and give”.  Neither person taking, but rather each person giving?  Surely that is the sacrificial love Jesus modelled? 

POINT ONE OF DEEP CONCERN.

THIS FILM DEPICTS ABUSE.   NEVER, EVER IS COUNSELLING A SAFE OR APPROPRIATE INTERVENTION FOR A PERPETRATOR OF ABUSE.  (Neither is anger management.)

The books show Christian visiting a counsellor (Dr Flynn), but the Flynn colludes with his behaviour (just as many counsellors do).

A counselling approach looks at “my feelings and other people’s action”.  What a perpetrator needs to do it look at “my actions and other people’s feelings”.  

If someone is being abused by a partner, whether they are married or not, there is a Biblical principle of leaving the relationship.  The sanctity of marriage should never be upheld in priority over emotional and physical safety.  Craig acknowledges that Christian Grey is “abusive, controlling, dominant, and invasive”.  An academic study found that within the books that Christian Grey is an extremely high risk perpetrator.  

CHURCHES, CHRISTIANS, PASTORS: IF SOMEONE IN YOUR CHURCH IS BEHAVING LIKE CHRISTIAN GREY TOWARDS THEIR PARTNER (AND ANY CHILDREN) YOU NEED TO SUPPORT THE PERSON SUFFERING ABUSE IN ACCESSING A SPECIALIST SERVICE AND BECOMING SAFE.  DO NOT SEEK THE PERPETRATOR’S SIDE OF THE STORY, DO NOT DISBELIEVE THE WOMAN.  DO NOT TALK ABOUT FORGIVENESS, THE SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE OR PRAYING FOR CHANGE.  DO NOT TAKE AT FACE VALUE ANY CHANGES THE PERPETRATOR CLAIMS TO HAVE MADE.  THIS IS POTENTIALLY A LIFE OR DEATH SITUATION.

JESUS CAME SO THAT WE COULD HAVE LIFE, AND LIVE IT TO THE FULL.  ABUSE IS NEVER A LIFE FULLY LIVED.  

  • Most people who abuse others were abused as children. The best available research suggest that 75% or more of those who commit acts of sexual or physical abuse against others were themselves abused as children. Christian Grey was abused as a child, a horrendous act that he never got over or dealt with or talked with anyone about. This has led him to some serious walls that have gone up in his life. and the only way he knows how to deal with it is to abuse someone else. He has done this to over 15 women and will continue. I heard this story was about sex, but this story at its core is about a broken man and his inability to love and be loved. How do people reading this book or watching this movie not see this? This is not a love story. This is not even an erotic story.  This is a story of broken people continuing a cycle of dysfunction in their lives rather than dealing with their issues.

POINT TWO OF DEEP CONCERN

THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS MYTHS THE BOOKS PERPETUATE.  ABUSERS DO NOT ABUSE BECAUSE OF THEIR CHILDHOOD.  THEY ABUSE BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE THEY OWN THEIR PARTNER AND THAT THEY ARE ENTITLED OVER THEIR PARTNER.  THE MAJORITY OF THOSE WHO EXPERIENCE ABUSE ARE FEMALE.  THE MAJORITY OF ABUSERS ARE MALE.  THE MATHS SIMPLY DOES NOT ADD UP.  

Lundy Bancroft is an expert in domestic abuse, his work with perpetrators has found that 50% of abusers witnessed a father or step-father abuse their mother (or step-mum).  In these cases it was not about “brokenness” or trauma, but rather role modelling and what is seen as normal.  It was about the beliefs of ownership and entitlement being taken on.  And regardless, this leaves 50% of abusers who have not experienced abuse as children.  Fifty Shades is about domestic abuse, and so any research mentioned needs to be focussed on domestic abuse.

The myth of abusers being abused in dangerous for a number of reasons:

  1. It justifies the behaviour and makes it harder for the perpetrator to take responsibility for their choices.
  2. It allows us to reduce someone’s offence because it isn’t “as bad” if they have a reason we feel makes it understandable.
  3. As has been evidenced in this article, it shifts the focus of the impact and priority onto the abuser and their feelings, and away from the victim and her pain.  Craig has not focussed on the impact of the abuse had on Ana.
  4. The first step to an abuser changing is them taking full responsibility for their choices to hurt others, as such this message disables perpetrators from changing.
  5. Many women who suffer abuse from a partner believe that their partner’s “brokenness” is the problem and stay in the relationship believing that enough love will fix things.  This is not the case and can lead to the woman suffering abuse for a much longer.
  • The Bible says I have the right to do anything, but not everything is beneficial. I am not against being playful or doing things to spice up things in your bedroom, but the question I always have is why? Why do you think you need that? If both people agree to try different things in the bedroom, I am all for that. Christian Grey, on the other hand, is dealing with his pain by inflicting pain onto someone else who is visibility uncomfortable with it. He has trouble at work one day, so he sends Anastasia to the “play room” to take out his frustrations on her. If your partner is asking you to do something or try something new in the bedroom, my advice to you would be to ask why. The reason behind the ask is the deeper issue than the act itself. In a lot of cases it might just be a fun thing – or it might be a case like Christian Grey where he wants to avoid dealing with his own pain.

This is not about Christian Grey “dealing with his pain”.  This is about Christian Grey punishing women who look like his mother (don’t get me started on the mother blaming message this sends).  The solution does not start with looking at Christian Grey’s pain, but rather in him changing his beliefs of ownership and entitlement.  In him re-humanising the women he is Othering in every possible way and developing empathy for them.

  • “Why don’t you try things my way?” Christian never wants to try things Anastasia’s way. I think that would be a better movie, but he insists she does what he wants. If you are in a relationship and your partner makes demands and pressures you to do things you don’t want to do, then say NO.

POINT THREE OF DEEP CONCERN

If only saying no were this easy.  The film shows that when Ana says no, Christian physically assaults her.  Understanding this must be in the context of the inner workings of coercion, of making someone feel guilty, of the traumatic processing attached to sexual abuse; in which saying yes is the only way someone can either keep themselves safe or psychologically cope with the abuse.  Advising someone to say no (when they are in a relationship with an abuser), rather than to find SAFETY can be very dangerous.

Many people won’t understand this, but because I’ve seen the inner workings of the adult industry, this movie didn’t turn me on – it made me mad.  The sex shown in the movie is violent and not love-making, and I don’t understand how 100 million people can read this book and think there is anything sexy about Mr. Christian Grey. If he was broke, ugly, and had a hard drive of porn instead of a “playroom” in his house, every women reading this would be freaked out enough to stay away from him forever. The books and movie have painted a sick disturbed man as a sex symbol that many, many women have gone crazy over.

Craig, I can tell you why so many people have read the books.  Because as a society we are conditioned to see abuse as romance.  Rarely will anyone identify the abuse perpetrated by their partner, because of the myths (e.g. it’s because of childhood) that are held by almost everyone.  People like these books and the films because abuse is seen as something alien, something “over there” happening to “those people” and therefore is irrelevant.

So I leave even more confused.

Why? Why does my 66-year-old mom feel she missed out? Why is this unhealthy domination held up as an ideal? Why do so many men and women still not realize the greatest sex you can possibly have is by learning how to serve one another, discovering how to give to your partner and receive from them as well?

Because of patriarchy Craig.  Because one of the consequences of the Fall is that men have ruled over women.  And even though Jesus came and gave us a beautiful Kingdom of mutuality; men still abuse women.  And people still make money from depicting men abusing women as romance.  And people give money (like you and your wife did) to go see this film; raising the ticket sales and encouraging film makers to make the next two films.

If you haven’t seen the movie or read the books, don’t.

You’ve just spend a lot of time encouraging people to think about the film.  You’ve told everyone you went to see the film with your wife, so it seems a confusing message to tell other people they shouldn’t…

Instead of wasting that time examining this unhealthy dynamic, spend those hours talking with your spouse about sex. Talk about what you desire, what you think is missing. What your history with sex was. How you missed or messed up or abused sex prior to marriage. Talk about your expectations for sex and whether they’re being met or not. Don’t know how to start those conversations? We have a course called bestsexlifenow.com; watch the first video for free, and I assure you it will lead to so many productive conversations. Maybe even fifty of them.

Perhaps it would be worth telling people how to seek help if they recognise they are being abusive to their partner.  Or maybe directing people to help if they are experiencing abuse from their partner?  Statistically at least 25% of the women who receive your email will experience abuse from a partner at some point in their lifetime, perhaps you could tell people where they can find safety?  Or support?  Perhaps prioritise women’s safety over “better sex”.  Maybe?

This is a great international resource for people who are trying to find their national service: http://www.hotpeachpages.net.  Though, if like Christian Grey, their partner tracks their phone or checks their computer, it might be worth considering accessing this somewhere other than the home computer, or a tracked mobile (cell) phone.

To learn more about abuse the best book out there is “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft.

And for Christians these books may be useful:

Is It My Fault? by Justin and Lindsay Holcomb

The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Veronica