On Not Being A Sex Object

I have been blessed with the profound realization that I must embrace singleness in order to better understand myself and learn to be comfortable operating in this crazy world without relying on anyone (except, of course, God). If I can’t be by myself, I am doomed to have an unhealthy need for men in my life, whether they are good for me or not.

This purposeful singleness is also something I have felt called to do by my Loving Heavenly Father. It’s not something I could ever do on my own. My nature is to always have a boyfriend, extracting meaning and purpose from my romantic relationships. I am excited to announce that I have realized my worth comes from God and God alone, and this reliance on male attention isn’t helping anyone- me or my partners.

So, one of the things I need to figure out in this Season of Singleness is how to detach my value from the value I have grown accustomed to extracting from men.

This is easier said than done.

For nearly my entire adult life, I have fallen victim to the very clear lesson our society teaches women: your value lies in how desirable you are to the men around you. For almost 25 years, I have been bombarded with images like these:

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Needless to say these images were not created BY women or FOR women.

They are nevertheless everywhere I look, from the sidebar of websites to the side of buildings downtown.

Women are trained to filter our value through the eyes and words of men. The pervasiveness of the male gaze has led to a culture that is looks-obsessed, eating disordered, and perpetuating the myth that women are incomplete without a man to validate them. The American Psychological Association has studied this phenomenon, noting that self-objectification  is the third variable in many cases of depression, substance abuse, and anxiety in women.

I have fallen victim to this myth, despite my perceived independence and feminist ideals. In addition to placing too much weight on my own appearance, I have also let myself become an object for men to use. On several occasions, I have allowed men to take things further than I wanted them to go, be it with a pushy stranger in a bar who insists on talking to me despite my ignoring him, or allowing a man to kiss me when I had no interest in kissing him.

I am just now realizing this is problematic. I am just realizing that I have been self-objectifying for all these years. It’s overwhelming to think about the scale of how this affects women, men, and our culture at large. No wonder we live in a rape culture, where 1 in 6 women is the victim of rape or attempted rape. Women are taught to adhere to the desires of men, and men are taught that women exist for their use.

Part of the reason I was blind to the problematic nature of how our society treats women is the myth of empowerment through sexuality. An illustrative example is my former obsession with the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

From ages 17 to 22, I religiously watched the VS Fashion Show every year, absorbing the images of scantily clad women strutting down the runway. I admired their comfort in their sexuality- I thought that’s what female power looked like. But I have since learned that Victoria’s Secret teaches and normalizes self-objectification and pornography as desirable, self chosen, and empowering.

There is probably such a thing as female sexual empowerment, but it doesn’t involve objectifying yourself or existing for male viewing pleasure. I’m not sure what it involves, but I’m guessing it’s not “being good at pleasing your man” either, as Cosmopolitan obsessively suggests.

The issue of self-objectification goes beyond sex. It affects me emotionally and professionally. It makes me scared to speak up in a meeting at work where men are dominating the discussion, and I tell myself “What you have to say isn’t important.” It limits me; it disempowers me; and, yes, it makes me feel worthless without a male partner.

This is a scary thing to realize. It’s scary that as smart, capable, and (in many ways) empowered as I am, it has taken me this long to realize the impact of this troubling phenomenon.

As with most problems in life, the word of God offers healing from the negative impacts of sin in our world. The Bible talks about God’s unconditional love for us countless times, and I know that the more I view my value through His eyes and not the world’s, the better off I will be.  Zephaniah 3:17 says

The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.

I think part of the solution is absorbing God’s Word and combating my negative self-talk with his promises of love and acceptance. But again, it’s easier said than done. One only needs to turn on the TV, open a magazine, or even look at “fitspiration” posts Instagram to feel like they aren’t good enough, or in women’s case, to feel that their value lies in how they look.

I am very interested in hearing any readers’ perspectives on how to move forward and shake off this parasite of self-objectification. Please comment below or let me know your reactions in person.

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On Knowing When It’s Not Working

(This is another one of those posts I wrote months ago, but am just now publishing)

I am an optimist, so I have a problem with staying in mediocre relationships because I am able to make the best of it. I focus on the positives. I forgive shortcomings. I am good at loving.

I am also blinded by my upbringing in the traditional South, which instilled a subconscious view of the woman’s role in a relationship as secondary and subservient. I have to actively overcome the tendency to put my partner’s needs before my own. This makes things complicated when I know that it is time for a relationship to end; it goes against my nature to bring conflict and dissonance to my relationships.

A shallow understanding of my most recent relationship would prove it to be a success. I was dating a successful, driven man who loved me as well as he could. However, once I was honest with myself, I realized that something about it just wasn’t working.

One revealing episode came last Christmas, when I was lying in bed with my mom, getting real about love (as we often do). She asked me if I could imagine myself marrying this man. My instinctive reaction was, “No, I am pretty sure he is going to marry his best friend.”

Who in their right mind casually admits this about a man they have been with for over a year? It revealed that I didn’t see a future with him. I knew that he deserved something (someone) else that I just wasn’t able to give him.

So why didn’t I see a future with him?

  1. The most profound reason was the lack of meaningful communication in our relationship. I just didn’t find compelling things to talk with him about that often, besides what we did with our days. I rarely found myself engrossed in deep conversations with him. I really need a partner who introduces me to new things, who helps me grow, who encourages my life curiosity. I suspect this first reason is connected to reason #2.
  2. Our relationship was based on sex. It started out as a one night stand, that organically transformed into a relationship. Our lives just happened to have melded together due to our spending almost every night together. Something about that just doesn’t seem right. It certainly can’t be a healthy foundation for a relationship. We were physically attracted to each other, and I think that was enough to keep us together for over a year. But it’s not enough to sustain a marriage.
  3. I need to marry a Christian. W said more than once that he didn’t understand the purpose of marriage, and I firmly believe that is because he lacked faith. A marriage cannot last without God, because our sinful, selfish desires will ultimately win if we don’t rely on God. God wants me to have a Christian marriage with a man who brings me closer to Him. I would also be ill-advised to repeat my mom’s mistake of marrying a non-Christian and being challenged by that choice every day.
  4. W did not make me a better person. He encouraged me to drink, smoke, overeat, consume unfulfilling media. Our relationship discouraged me from reading, seeking God, cultivating new friendships, and generally getting to know myself better.
  5. I have an unhealthy pattern of serial monogamy. I fell into a relationship with W only two months after ending another long-term relationship. I think I am used to the relationship state of mind, so it feels natural to be someone’s girlfriend. My comfort zone is in relationship mode. However, I will never be able to have a healthy, non-dependent relationship unless I am happy being by myself first.
  6. It was unfair to stay with W if I wasn’t that committed to him. For months, I knew that our relationship would not last long-term. He deserved better than my apathy. I wouldn’t want to date someone who wasn’t that serious about me, and he should be free to find a relationship with someone who is just as committed as he is.

Breaking up sucks. But there came a point when the pain of fretting over the relationship and knowing it’s not what either of us need became worse than the pain of losing him.