Brock Turner and Whitewashed Tombs

Last week two letters have gone viral across the internet.  The subject of both is the rapist, Brock Turner.  Firstly, the profound and deeply moving victim statement was published.  In the 12-page letter, the woman Brock Turner raped shares some of the many ways he hurt her and has forever changed her life in immeasurable, painful ways. “My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me,” the woman says. “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”  She talks about the impact of the criminal justice system and courageously stands with all women who have been subjected to rape and sexual abuse.

 

The second letter was from Dan Turner, Brock Turner’s father.  It is as angry-making as the other letter is heart wrenching.  Dan Turner describes his son’s choice to rape a woman as “twenty minutes of action” and laments his son’s lack interest in pretzels and steak as evidence that his son should not be punished harshly.  The judge chose to go against all guidance and give Brock Turner an extremely light sentence with only six months in county jail (rather than the recommended 6 years in prison).  Even as much of the Western world is outraged by Dan Turner’s letter, it seems the judge was taking Turner’s sentiments into consideration in sentencing Brock Turner.

 

As Christians, how should we respond to this case?  What should be our interaction with it?  Should we focus on mothering and Jesus as the only answer, as Ann Voskamp has?  Or is there more to it?

 

Perhaps we should start by acknowledging that there are experts who are responding to sexual violence in a Western context and Christians are rarely the experts.  Christians claiming expertise are currently describing the choice of men to sexually assault as women “fall victim to sexual violence” and most efforts in the Christian world to address male violence against women doesn’t name the agent for fear of appearing “anti-men”.

 

Guess what people?  Men are the majority perpetrators of sexual violence.  This is a fact.  It is not anti-men.

 

The reason men are the perpetrators of sexual violence is not because men are innately bad.  As Christians we understand that the Fall has resulted in sin coming into the world.  This means that each person has the capacity to choose great evil, but also this means they have the ability to do great good.  Not only did the Fall result in personal sin becoming a reality for human existence.  It also ushered in the principalities and powers of evil in the unseen world.

 

The consequences of sin are listed in Genesis 3.  Pain in child birth; women will be dominated by men; men will struggle with the pressures of trying to provide in a world that makes it almost impossible.  Yet eventually, the serpent’s head will be crushed.  These are not God’s best plan for humanity, we already messed that up.  They are the consequences of sin.

 

Patriarchy is one of the powers and principalities that we must be fighting against.  This is perhaps where Christians could start.  Rather than leaping to the conclusion that we must end sexual violence, perhaps we could start by acknowledging and dealing with our own complicity in sexual violence.

 

When one of the most shared Christian response about Brock Turner’s choice to rape infers that it is a mother’s responsibility to act in ways that stop a boy becoming a rapist, we have a problem.  Yes, Jesus models a different way, but asserting that Christianity has the answer when many women and men who have rejected Jesus because patriarchy has so deeply infected the church that we are the staunchest purveyors of it?  In their rejection of the patriarchal-Jesus aren’t they more effectively seeking to end sexual violence than the many Christians who promote the toxic blend of purity culture and restrictive gender roles?

 

How do we declare Jesus as the answer to sexual violence when so many who bear his name are contributing to the problem?

 

Make the link 1

This image from Make the Link explains how sexual violence exists in a pyramid propped up by sexism, the objectification of women, traditional gender roles and rigid stereotypes for women and men:

 

 

Christians, this is where we start.  Not at the top of the pyramid, but at the bottom.  We must examine how our own lives and choices are contributing to a society where a man’s disinterest in pretzels is of more concern than the all-pervasive damage he has done to a woman.  It is easier to issue the rallying cry “fight sexual violence” at Christian summer festivals than it is to examine the ways those festivals continue to promote purity culture, sexual shame and a lack of women on the platform.  It is easier to be horrified at the crimes “out there” than to recognise that a patriarchal God is still the dominant God worshipped by many of our brothers and sisters.

 

Let us start at the bottom of the pyramid and recognise we are not the experts.  Let us begin supporting experts like Rape Crisis, NAPAC, Object, Women’s Aid, Refuge, Nia, AVA.  Because until then Jesus may be saying to us, “Woe to you Christianity.  You are like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of bones of the dead and everything unclean.”

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Supermarket Christianity

After doing a one-woman protest at the Hillsong Conference last week, Christian Today writer Mark Woods interviewed me. He asked whether I thought the protest had been a success. It got me thinking about what “success” is.

The Christian model of success seems to mirror the world’s view; it’s numerical… The more people that buy into your brand, attend your event, buy your books. That’s how you know you’re successful. There are Christian courses about building your online platform, growing your personal brand and blogging for success.

By those standards, my protest wasn’t very successful. It was me. On my own. By numerical standards it was 8000 (or more) to 1. By those standards, it was a failure.

However, Christian culture’s valuing of things isn’t God’s valuing of it. The kingdom of God is in the weeds that push through the pavement cracks, in the birth of a human child over 2000 years ago, in the smallness and in the whisper.

It seems in the Bible there is something significant about numerical growth. In Acts we hear of people joining the faith constantly, of meetings where thousands were added to their number. We hear of Jesus feeding the five thousand and the crowds that followed Him wherever He went. Yet, within Christian culture it seems success is measured solely in numerical terms.

I’ve been pondering Christian culture’s tendency towards numerical success. It’s led me to thinking about mega-churches and Christian brands. Hillsong, HTB, Bethel, New Wine, Soul Survivor, Spring Harvest. And the human brands within the wider brands; Osteen, Meyer, Houston, Hybels, Warren, Dollar, Driscoll, Gumbel.

It seems we currently have a dominant Christian model of “Supermarket Christianity”. Everything is pre-packaged. Shiny and new. Every taste is catered for. You can go to one church and have all your needs met. Supermarkets aren’t fundamentally evil, they meet the needs of people with busy lives. People who don’t have the time or skills to grow their own food or milk their own cow (if the even have a cow at home any way…).

In the same way, most mega-churches (and even a lot of regular churches) aren’t evil. They provide for people who don’t have the time or skills to take on their own spiritual growth. In a church where there are few creative people, an Alpha Course is a great package to begin conversations with non-Christians about God. Many amazing ministries have been birthed out of events like Spring Harvest and Soul Survivor. Supermarket Christianity is not evil.

However, though supermarkets are not evil. They are perpetuating injustice. There has been an enormous increase in food insecurity as supermarkets buy food overseas and have it shipped over to the UK. They don’t pay staff a Living Wage. They prioritise profits over ethics. And now we are all reliant on them. We can’t live without them. We are dependent on them. I don’t know how to grow vegetables. I can just about keep children alive, but give me a plant and it will be dead with a week.

In the same way, it seems that Christian culture has become reliant on Supermarket Christianity. Rather than learning to hear God’s voice for ourselves, we seek out another book/sermon/worship song to tell us what God thinks.   We read more words about the Bible than the Bible itself. We expect Supermarket Christianity to meet our needs. With pre-packaged courses and sermons for every situation. Instead of considering the needs in our community and how best to represent Jesus to those who don’t yet know Him, we simply put on an Alpha Course. Supermarket Christianity isn’t wrong. Supermarket Christianity as the default is.

I’ve been part of Christian culture long enough to have seen Supermarket Christianity as the answer. Growing up in a medium sized Anglican church, I was attracted to the idea of thousands of people in one place, cool preachers and the general largeness of Christian youth events. I thought that’s where people grew in their faith. And for some people, large events are where growth is found. Yet, there’s something slightly off kilter about our relationship with God being reliant on things that aren’t God. That aren’t local church or the Bible. That are branded and shiny and new.

I knew a guy who would always start to lose his connection to God in September. “But don’t worry!” He told me, “This always happens around this time, then I’ll go to Spring Harvest at Easter and I’ll get time with God and everything will be okay again.”

Maybe it’s partly that my faith didn’t grow large at an event or through a popular Christian book. Maybe it’s just my experience that makes me sure that Supermarket Christianity is not that way. And if so, then I’ll just keep walking the road that God has placed me on. But it feels like more than just my experience.

It seems that Supermarket Christianity allows us to vicariously live faithful lives through the testimonies of people who give up everything for Jesus. Just as the Tesco aisle invites us to have a “taste of India”, believing we have become more exotic for eating a pre-packaged meal made somewhere in Milton Keynes, so we hear the stories of people who are doing amazing things for God and we feel filled with a sort of confidence that Christians are doing good things.

We can now donate to a food bank and buy fairtrade produce on our way round the supermarket; either ignorant or avoiding the many ways supermarkets contribute to the need for food banks and fairly traded goods. In Supermarket Christianity we can donate to projects or even set projects up, while still living our lives in ways that exploit the most vulnerable.

My faith was founded in the crucible of suffering and through learning to be obedient. I have learned that the measure of my faith is not the amount I am on the church rota nor the number of people who stand with me in that which God has called me to. Not everyone has the “opportunity” to find God in losing everything, so maybe this is my truth and not The Truth.

I am trying to live a “Smallholding Christianity”. One which relies on the weather that God sends, that involves taking full responsibility for my walk with Him. Learning to grow my own spiritual food and not rely on the pre-packaged kinds. It’s a lonely road as most people are still living out Supermarket Christianity. I think I might be allergic to Christian events now. The last event I went to I cried all the way home. Just as people who re-enter the UK after a prolonged time in the majority world experience culture shock going into a supermarket, with the choice and shininess. So I think I have developed Christian culture shock.

Someone sent me this quote the other day,

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Mark Twain

I responded to Mark Woods by saying that I thought the protest was successful. God has taught me that success isn’t found in the numbers of people by your side, the number of books you sell, the size of an event. It is found in being fully obedient to God’s call. And we can only become obedient to God’s call if we learn to hear Him above all the other voices in our lives. Success is not found in this life, but in hearing, “Good and faithful servant” on the other side of eternity.

So you’re welcome to join me in discovering “Smallholding Christianity”, but I don’t mind if you don’t, I’m okay over here on my own…

Always Broken.

Content Note: This blog talks about self-harm.  

Today was difficult. It was one of those days where my brokenness presented itself to me, stark and true. Fissures in my soul, opening.

There’s been some challenges recently. My mum died in January and my grief is the sometimes realisations that comes with my mum’s terminal illness being less than four months from diagnosis to death. Personal and professional challenges collide in me, not big enough to be a crisis, not small enough to shrug off.

I’ve written before about my ex-husband; about what male violence does to the soul, about the reality of PTSD.

I hated myself. From age eight through twenty-two I was subjected to abuse. There’s specific ways men’s choice to sexually abuse destroys the soul. Shame and self-hatred reign. The feeling of being less than, of being impure and defiled drill deep into a person’s core. I began cutting my wrists when I was sixteen. I legitimised it the first time by making the shape of a cross on my skin. I’d been in church long enough to know “my body was a temple” and that cutting myself was a sin. I’d poured out my feelings on pages and in poems, yet in self-harm I found a coping mechanism that “worked”.

It’s been years since I cut myself, at first because of my children then through my experience of Jesus. Yet, no one tells you there’s no such thing as being an ex-self-harmer. When life is challenging, the desire to cut rises unbidden.

I was shaving my legs today and the razor twisted, an inch long cut, bright red blood. The need rose within me. I panicked. Alone in the house I knew it would be easy to go back to that place. I gathered the razors and rushed to lock them in the car

Out of the house. Out of harms way.

I rarely swear, but the f word forced itself out of my mouth as my brokenness rose from within me. Tears flowed. I wailed. Still broken. Always broken.

My twelve-year-old daughter and I went to the cinema to watch Pitch Perfect 2 this evening. It was wonderful. I left the cinema delighted vaginas had been mentioned, touched by the film’s primary focus on women’s relationships and lives. A scene towards the end with women of different generations singing together left me weepy. As we stood up to leave I was so pleased to have such films for my children’s generation. For me, Ten Things I Hate About You and Cruel Intentions were the most popular movies; the messages within them about gender and relationships are appalling.

My warm feeling didn’t last long. As we left the cinema, a drunk teenage boy and his friends were walking past. He asked me for a cigarette. I explained that I didn’t smoke. As I walked away, arm in arm with my precious pre-teen daughter, this young man shouted, “I bet you those two are twins. I would so bang them.”

Pitch Perfect immediately became a drop in the ocean. A momentary lapse within patriarchy. I drove home hiding the terror rising within me after witnessing one of the many ways my amazing girl is going to be objectified and diminished. In a space where boys have been raised on pornographies and girls are “banged”.

Yesterday my son’s six-year-old friend began objectifying the teenage girl who delivers papers. A little boy shouting after a teenage girl, displaying his understanding that girls are for looking good and being shouted at by boys.

It’s easy to see three isolated incidents. My personal struggles. An offensive teenage boy. A shouting little boy.

Yet the personal is political. The isolated incidents follow a pattern. I am broken because men broke me. They chose to break me. Men who started out as little boys believing that girls are for looking good and being shouted grow into young men who comment on how much they’d like to “bang” a twelve year old and her presumed sister.

Self-harm is very often a symptom of male violence. The man may not be pulling a razor across skin, but he rips her soul into so many pieces that it becomes logical to tear her skin into pieces too.

As we travelled to the cinema today, my daughter placed herself In Charge Of The Tunes. “Clean” by Taylor Swift came on. I’d never heard it before. She sang:

You’re still all over me like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore

Hung my head as I lost the war, and the sky turned black like a perfect storm

Rain came pouring down when I was drowning

That’s when I could finally breathe

And by morning

Gone was any trace of you

I think I am finally clean

The Bible declares that Jesus died for our sins. That we are washed clean by His choice to give up all power, coming to earth, living a life of Truth and dying on a cross. We are “washed clean” because of Him.

This teaching has been warped by many. Responses to the Hillsong/Mark Driscoll petition have told me we should be forgiving him, not petitioning against him. Wiping the slate clean.

The Duggars talk of their son’s abuse being resolved in him finding Jesus. Wiping the slate clean.

Yoder’s sex offences are a gap between aspiration and behaviour, his important teaching is more significant than his choice to sexually abuse. He is a “well-known pacifist” despite violating over 100 women. Wiping the slate clean.

Women are not slates.

We are not slates that are wiped clean when an abuser repents, or purports to have. A woman’s healing is not linked to an abuser’s redemption. It simply does not work like that.

As I listened to the Taylor Swift lyrics I realised no amount of standing in the rain is going to make me clean. Jesus can stand with me in the brokenness, but He can’t wipe away the abuse and violation. It’s not Men In Black. There’s no zapping and the memories are gone. Women live with the consequences of men’s violence for the whole of our lives.

I’ll move beyond this day. Life will become joyous again. I will be okay. But the patriarchy continues. Little boys objectify teenage girls. Teenage men want to “bang” girls. Adult men rape, violate and decimate women in every country in the world. And the church colludes. And Jesus weeps.

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:

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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

The Christian Porn Conversation

Last week I wrote “Porn is not a thing”.  It was a piece exploring the idea of a “spectrum of pornographies” as apposed to seeing porn as one entity.  Today I want to consider the messages we see across that spectrum.

 

Recently Hannah Mudge posted a fascinating article about a man who spent 5 years filming hardcore pornographic material.  He isn’t “anti” pornographic material and says he doesn’t regret his decision to work in the industry, yet his experiences of filming heterosexual content was on every level different than when filming pornographic content of gay men.  He describes the environment with women in these terms “it almost seemed like an entire gender was being denigrated, like that was the whole point—where very young women were choked and slapped and written-on with lipstick, simply for the crime, it seemed, of being a woman.”  Whereas in shooting gay content he said, “The sadness and the degradation I had come to associate with my job, with videotaped sex for money, was suddenly absent.”

 

Though this man is part of the very culture he critiques, he raises the greatest issue we face from pornographic material; the degradation, objectification and utter decimation of women.  There are other issues, but fundamentally the many and varied ways the spectrum of pornographies destroys men’s (and boys’) views of women (and girls’) is the greatest issue.  It is also rarely articulated in the Christian “porn” conversation.

 

The Christian conversation on “porn” has (in the main) these aspects:

  1. Purity: viewing defiles the person looking.
  2. Addiction: people get addicted to viewing and so it becomes treated as a medical disorder.
  3. The redemption narrative: (mostly) men sharing their stories of moving from sin (watching “porn”) to redemption (no longer watching “porn”)
  4. Neuroscience/Intimacy: After Dr William Struthers (neuroscientific theologian) wrote a book covering the ways viewing pornographic content affects the brain and communicated the solution as greater intimacy, this is regularly talked about and he is the go to person Christians usually quote or invite to talk about “porn”.

 

Though all of the above can be part of the issue, I would suggest of greater significance are the following layers underpinning the spectrum of pornographies:

  1. A gendered analysis: this is about men consuming women.  Man as subject, woman as object.
  2. Industry: people make vast sums of money from selling pornographic material.  Viewers are groomed into harder and harder core porn, in order to bring financial benefit to (mainly) white men.
  3. Power: as we’ve seen in the latest power plays of The Sun around Page 3, pornographic material is more about power than it is about any sort of meaningful sexual experience.
  4. The broken lives: the (mostly) women who are groomed, used, abused and discarded by the industry.

 

Not only does the Christian “porn” narrative mostly lack articulation of these issues, some elements of Christian culture reinforce attitudes within the spectrum of pornographies.  Talk of manly men, who are aggressive and testosterone driven creatures feeds into the messages of men as animals.  The feminisation of the church conversation perpetuates the view that women are the problem.  Modesty culture at root states “men objectify” so women must cover up, the irony of modesty culture and the pornography industry essentially both treating women as sexual objects should not be ignored.  Even responses to the use of pornographic material is problematic.  Talk of “fighting porn” and the war imagery that it often conjures up does not stand apart from and in abhorrence of the violence across the spectrum of pornographies.  Rather it becomes violent language to respond to sexual violence.

 

Then there is the lack of women’s voices within the Christian conversation about the spectrum of pornographies.  Women feature usually as wives or daughters of the men using pornographic material.  “What would your wife think?”  “How is this affecting your marriage?”  “Would you want your daughter to be a porn star?”

 

Women are included mainly only within their relationship to the men using pornographic material.  Just as pornographic material reduces women to ornaments with holes, so this approach reduces women.  Not as far, but still solely as men’s attachments.  Why do women have to be thought of as having a personal relationship to a man in order to have value.  As this edited image powerfully challenges, why can’t women simply be “someone”?

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The other way women are included is: “women use porn too you know?”   This isn’t inaccurate, women do use pornographic material.  However, rarely are women spokespeople on this issue, or the ones shaping the conversation.

 

We need to change the conversation, broaden it, increase the number and diversity of voices.  We need a conversation which fully acknowledges the industry and the money being made, that sees the connection between selfish capitalism and the increase in the commodification of human beings.  We need to recognise the power imbalance and gendered dynamic across the spectrum of pornographies; being willing to look at our own community and the attitudes to gender and power that reduce women and create a deep imbalance of power between men and women.    Until then, we will never delve beyond the surface of this issue.