A few years ago when I had just broken up with my long-term boyfriend, a well-intentioned Christian friend came up and said to me, “Beware of falling into sin in this difficult time.” [Warning: explicit content ahead]
She meant well. Not a particularly close friend, she asked how I was doing. I said fine, but that the emotions were still raw and I was sad. I say she meant well because I suspect she had the image of me going binge drinking and grabbing the next guy I see to fill the void. I don’t do that, but she didn’t know me too well. She could have meant because I was vulnerable, I became an easy target for men to step in and snatch; but it wasn’t communicated that way. She chose to talk about sin, and specifically the (heightened) possibility of me sinning because I had now broken up. The sin that she was referring to, though it wasn’t named, was sexual sin.
It wasn’t the kind of support I needed at the time. Not only did I feel unloved, I felt her words were judgemental and righteous. She was married and proudly so and often felt the need to lecture single girls about decency. And because she was married, she no longer had the capacity for sexual sin. She was untouchable. Only single people were capable of committing that crime.
If you, like me, were brought up in a conservative environment where sex was rarely discussed without the usual accompanying embarrassment and squeamishness, you would probably, like me, feel equally embarrassed and squeamish when talking about it. If you’re lucky, you might have a close friend or two ballsy enough to tell you what’s really on their minds. That might be your only source of real sex information from actual people, internet excluded. Maybe your parents are liberals and gave you a healthier peek into what sex entails. Otherwise, you stand isolated in your questions and suffer in your own dearth of knowledge. Don’t count on getting information about sex at church, because the only times I remember hearing about it is how it’s a source of sin, how it for whatever reason is more severe and repulsive a sin than other more innocent sins, or during a reading of the ten commandments.
There was a scandal some years back about leaked photos of celebrities on the internet. These photos showed famous women in compromising positions, some naked some half-naked, in provocative poses with drug-droopy eyes. There was hair, tongue, expressions of ecstasy and genitals. They were circulated widely in chat groups and networks and it was near impossible to avoid if you owned a phone or computer. I was guilty of seeing them. The sole male protagonist of these photos took them, left them on his computer, and when his computer broke down he got it fixed at a shop. The computer technician extracted the photos and uploaded them onto a server. It went viral immediately.
Shortly after the scandal one of the female celebrity victims, a singer, addressed the public at a press conference. Dressed plainly with light make-up, clearly different from her usual jazzier looks, chaperoned by her manager, her co-star, and an army of people from her representing entertainment company, she tearily apologised for her “behaviour” and blamed the incident on her own “innocence and stupidity”.
There was much talk in town about the photos and the subsequent singer’s apology, enough that the church small group found it important to address at an official gathering. I recall it vividly. All of us, some 15 or so seated in chairs in a circle. Someone bashfully started the topic, voice hushed, “There has been an unhappy incident about inappropriate photos being circulated. You may have seen it already and must have heard about it. We’re creating a platform to discuss it and answer any questions.”
It was outrageous. Society was divided about how to treat these victims (I call all of them victims, including the male protagonist, because the photos are private and shouldn’t have been stolen and uploaded in the first place). Some condemned them them for having a little sexy time and being stupid enough to take photos of such; there were extremely mean and degrading comments made about the women’s female parts, widely circulated. Others felt sorry for the girls for having their bodies displayed to the public for what was clearly a private matter. Church, or specifically the small group, had a more one sided view.
Some of the comments during that small group gathering included:
- God made body parts a certain way and should only be used a certain way. Clearly, they were using those body parts impurely (in reference to oral sex).
- If you live a sinful life, you’ll be exposed and you risk being shamed when that happens. We should aim to lead pure lives so as not to be shamed.
There were other less infuriating comments, but those two stuck out. In my mind the case was clear – the victims were those whose photos were exposed. Stealing photos from someone’s computer is theft. And then uploading them onto the internet is sharing material which wasn’t yours to begin with. The female victims deserve empathy and support. Arguably more so than their male counterpart because their photos were the most explicit and the backlash they got was much more severe than the guy.
I tried to make my perspective known, and spoke out against the comments made. I said while church and Christian teachings have a clear stance against premarital sex, these people 1) aren’t Christian and 2) don’t follow the same values. It’s judgemental to talk about their case and chastise them for their behaviour. The women in the photos are victims of a crime. Victims should be treated with sympathy. We shouldn’t even be commenting irrelevant questions about how they had sex, whether they should have had sex or taken photographs of such.
There was an uncomfortable silence. We then quickly moved on to the next comment, without rebuttal or reaction to my point.
I rarely went back to those gatherings, because in the rare moon that I did I often caught myself fuming in my seat at the (by my standards, backwards) thoughts being expressed. Being conservative is one thing, but propagating unjust ideals is another. You cannot victim blame in a case where there is clearly a perpetrator and a victim, which practice leads down a slippery slope. What if this victim blaming extends to cases of sexual assault or rape? It may appear an illogical leap, but the fundamentals of the thinking process are there: if you are the unfortunate victim of a crime sexual in nature, be it the illegal obtaining and subsequent exposure of your naked photographs, or more severely, sexual assault, you are to blame. It may not be said blatantly in your face but the thinking is obvious in the conversations. The whispering accusations are: you shouldn’t have had sex, you shouldn’t have consented to the photos being taken; you shouldn’t have dressed provocatively or been at a shady spot on the get-go. Had you followed God’s orders of purity and sanctity, had you covered yourself, had you been more modest, had you left earlier, this wrath wouldn’t have dawned on you. Your pain and your shame is because of your sinful behaviour.
This wasn’t the type of thinking I was able to stomach. Victims aren’t to blame when something bad happens. It doesn’t matter if they were drunk or on drugs when the photos were taken. It doesn’t matter that they consented to the photos being taken at the time. The bottom line is this is a case of theft; their photos were stolen, and then disseminated without their consent. While I appreciate biblical teachings on loving thy neighbour, faithfulness, charity and forgiveness, the permeating inherently misogynistic nature of church teachings isn’t something I could tolerate. Generally, the: submit to your husbands; don’t behave in a way that makes your brother stumble; be pure; God loves you [because you are an honest, pure, clean, good sister of Christ]. And specific to this case: don’t have sex; don’t have pre-marital sex; don’t have oral sex; don’t do drugs; and all this wouldn’t have happened.
Would it have been different if it were an adventurous Christian married couple having a bit of sexy time and documenting the process? What if their photos were stolen and disseminated? Would they have received as much shade from society? Would the victims have had to issue a public apology to the church community?
“I’m sorry for having sex with my wife, documenting the process, and inadvertently showing my genitals to you. Although they were meant for me and my wife’s exclusive enjoyment, I’m sorry you had to see them, because someone stole them from my computer and publicised it to the world wide web without my permission. I was innocent and stupid.”
Does the bible forbid taking photos of yourselves in the act of sex? Does God really condemn oral sex? Are both classified as sinful?
These women were hurt by a man who disseminated their naked photos, and a conservative culture that not only failed to show empathy, but rather quickly threw judgement at them. The singer who openly apologised shortly after the photos went viral shouldn’t have needed to do so – apologising for having been a victim. It was twisted and wrong. I suspect she was under the pressure of her entertainment company; many singers and actors/actresses in this city have little control over what they do or say. Or, she could have genuinely stepped up in hopes to save her career. But we as a city shouldn’t have mocked her and her apology (tabloids went viral reporting this), further victimising her.
My own break-up story at the beginning of this post relates to the complex emotions felt when there are elements of victim blame. I didn’t go through nearly anything as bad as what those celebrities went through. It was a bad breakup, details which I won’t divulge, but which I’ve since recovered from. At the time I felt alone, sad, broken, isolated. It took much courage to start talking about what I was going through. What I needed was someone to cry with, have meal with, watch rom-coms with, give me a hug and moral support. Not someone to tell me that I needed to more vigorously monitor myself, ever be more vigilant, because I was going to more easily sin.
Related posts from other blogs/websites:
- Dishonor Code: Rape, Repercussion and Reputation at U.Va
- 4 Lies the Church Taught Me About Sex
- Chaucer’s Funny Rape: Addressing a Taboo in Medieval Studies
Image credit: http://lassenfamilyservices.org