Do women feel safer at church or at work?
Over the last few weeks the “lust” debate, for lack of a better word, has been heating up on Facebook and Instagram. I’ve been sharing that presenting the idea that lust is every man’s battle is defeatist towards men but is also a very threatening message for women. When pastors talk about how all men lust, for instance, then they’re telling on themselves. They’re admitting they lust and have trouble respecting women and seeing them as whole human beings. That’s not a safe thing from someone who is supposed to help shepherd you.
So last week I decided to just do a quick unscientific poll on Twitter and Instagram and ask, “where did you feel more sexually objectified or harassed? At work or at church?
Here were the answers on Twitter:
On Instagram I had about ten times as many people take the poll (about 3000), but I could only give two options:
So many people messaged me and said, “I chose work, but I work in a Christian environment/for a parachurch organization/at a Christian school.” And it was awful.
So by roughly a 2:1 margin, women say they feel more unsafe at church than they do at work. And that’s not even mentioning the real sexual assault that so many women and girls experience at church.
The issue is that at church it is normal to blame women for men’s lust.
We police women’s clothing, give sermons on modesty so as not to be stumbling blocks, have different clothing stipulations in youth group for girls vs. boys. And it’s all done in the guise of helping our brothers in Christ not lust.
And this is perfectly normal.
But when this is normal, then women feel as if our bodies are always being judged, and that there is something inherently wrong with them. I remember when my daughters were on praise team and they were told not to wear skirts, because then men in the front row could look up them.
The only men who ever sat in the front row were the elders when serving communion.
Think about how unsafe that makes a girl feel.
Interestingly, I had a talk about this with a big-name marriage author.
I explained that our survey for our book The Great Sex Rescue found that spreading the message “all men struggle with lust, it’s every man’s battle” decreases a woman’s libido; hurts marital satisfaction; makes it more likely she’ll have sex only because she feels she has to.
His reply? It’s still important for women to understand men’s struggle, and to make sure men don’t feel shame.
So it’s more important for men not to feel shame than it is for women to have a positive relationship with our bodies and to experience the full sexuality God meant for us and to feel safe in church.
Here’s what we said about that argument in The Great Sex Rescue:
What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the messages that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these toxic teachings?
It's time for a Great Sex Rescue.
Every now and then a story hits the news about girls or women being shamed for what they wore to work or school.
And often the issue is that they were told to cover up so they wouldn’t be a distraction to the men.
And when this happens–it hits the news big time. In the secular world, this is seen as ridiculous.
Dress codes? For sure. It’s perfectly fine and good to have standards of professional dress or school dress codes. But when those dress codes are heavily gendered, something goes haywire.
And when they’re phrased in terms of “protecting men”? Then the news blows up.
But the thing is, in church women hear this all the time. It never makes the news. It’s just normal.
I think this is one of those huge, glaring dichotomies that is making women flee the evangelical church.
I hope pastors and leaders are listening, because women are telling us that they feel safer and treated with more respect in the secular world than in the church.
And it’s largely because of how we talk about lust.
This month, as we’re talking about being fully embodied, and inhabiting our bodies and learning mindfulness, we need to understand that one of the big reasons that this is difficult for women is that we have been taught our whole lives at church that our bodies are dangerous. We have been made to hate them.
This was wrong. And to that big name marriage pastor: You were wrong to say that to me. You were wrong to write what you did. And the big reason is this one:
Lust has a victim. And it is not the one who is lusting.
We think of lust as a victimless crime–or, as Every Man’s Battle portrays it, it’s a sin against men’s purity.
No, lust is a sin against women. It’s not seeing them as whole people. It’s not being able to respect them. It’s objectifying them.
Lust has victims. And women experience this. And this should matter to us.
(And listen in to our lust and stumbling block podcast for more!)
To the one who struggles with lust
This is not meant to be an indictment against you, but against the system that enables this and even causes this.
Please know first that noticing is not lusting. Many people have felt that feeling attracted to the opposite sex means that you’ve already lusted and you’ve already lost the battle, and you feel hopeless. But attraction is not lust. We need to stop demonizing attraction.
Also, when you grow up hearing that every man lusts, it actually does much to create the problem. Hyper vigilance often leads to lust. So you were done a disservice.
You also were not given the right tools to fight it. The way to fight lust is not to actually fight lust. It’s not to “bounce your eyes”. Instead of fighting lust, try practising respect. Put your energy towards respecting everyone and concentrating on them as whole people.
And get The Great Sex Rescue! Many men have said that reading chapter 5 finally helped free them of the shame they’ve felt, and gave them a much healthier way of seeing lust.
What has your experience been? Have you felt objectified and harassed more at church than at work? Or what about other Christian contexts? What can we do about this? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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