The Western sexual revolution brought renewed emphasis on consent, body affirmation/confidence, female pleasure, and women’s equal (and enthusiastic!) sexual participation in marriage. We should celebrate those gains. But it also brought a slew of toxic, oppressive ideas about female sexuality.
When we consider God’s holistic vision for human sexuality, we see that some of the things women are told will be “liberating” are actually exploitative. God calls women (and men) to see through the bluster to a corrupt system that only wants to use us.
Ironically, the world tells women that we will find our power in men’s desire for and sexual use of us. Some people even claim that women are empowered by the Fifty Shades phenomenon, hook-up culture, and porn. And the sex trade is the only industry in which women consistently earn more money than men. Yet these are not examples of women’s sexual power. They’re symptoms of women’s social disempowerment.
Men still feel entitled to rent women’s bodies and women live in a society that demands their submission to men. Never forget: the demand creates and sustains the supply.
Some women appear to participate in their own sexual objectification, claiming to derive power from different strains of Western sexual liberation. But instead of shaming women for making choices we don’t understand, Christians should be asking how a sexist, hypersexualized culture restricts and shapes women’s choices, and what we can do to correct that.
In a culture built on male power and dominance and in an economic system where women are poorer and have less opportunity, why might women participate in men’s sexual objectification of us? Of course, many women have no choice at all because they are trafficked or have no other economic options.
Women who are ethnically, racially, or economically marginalized comprise the overwhelming majority of women who are sold for sex. So, in a culture that further oppresses women of color, women with disabilities, women in poverty, and women with sexual trauma, are women’s options limited?
Is it possible that some women feel compelled to cooperate with the very system that oppresses them in order to survive?
Stockholm syndrome is a coping mechanism that manifests when a victim feels they cannot escape a horrific situation. A victim may see no other option but to cooperate with an abuser to live through it. They believe that submission will protect them or potentially decrease the violence.
Dee Graham coined the term: “Societal Stockholm Syndrome.” Because patriarchy is a system, Graham argued that all women have internalized survival strategies and adaptations. She believes that women may seem more submissive, agreeable, timid, and dependent than men because they have adapted to their social context. But these supposedly feminine traits some women exhibit are, Graham argues, just a byproduct of women’s collective fear of men’s violence and powerlessness in a patriarchal system.
Interestingly, many male survivors of abuse display these same behavioral adaptations.
Stockholm syndrome is strengthened by a temporary “reward system” which incentivizes victims to conform their behavior to the will of their abuser/oppressor. Abusers may offer affirmation, affection, and kindness; spend large sums of money; make them feel special, empowered, and loved. But the purposes of this build-up and break-down is control.
These rewards are relative to the larger pattern of abuse and exploitation. I once counseled a woman who believed her abuser truly cared about her because he put a gun to her head and decided not to pull the trigger.
The sex industry is an institution where men bribe women to sexually abuse them. In exchange for their compliance, women receive the supposed rewards of money, desirability, security, protection, and the illusion of power.
Women are deemed more likeable; receive male approval; hold the male gaze; and even acquire brownies points for being “fun,” “chill,” and not uptight. We may even be exalted as “one of the guys” and praised for not being like “most women.”
Clearly, women who are not physically forced into the sex trade or into self-objectification are still shaped by a society that actively limits their options in life and rewards them for conforming to patriarchy.
Anti-porn activist Gail Dines argues that because young women are trapped in this hypersexualized culture, women/girls are either “f—able or invisible.” Dines argues that no one wants to feel invisible and too often, the only path to being “seen” in our culture is to allow ourselves to be sexualized.
If women are socialized to see themselves as objects for men’s consumption, what happens when women aren’t used? Well, we become useless. Invisible. Nothing.
Women should not have to choose between objectification and invisibility. We must fight for a third view: God’s original vision for men and women, before sin was systematized in patriarchy.
Sex is meant to be an intimate, egalitarian, humanizing, safe, passionate, and mutually-pleasurable expression of authentic, selfless love and commitment.
Not a weapon. Not a commodity. Not a tool to use, degrade, and dominate others. Not a performance for voyeuristic eyes.
Rather than rebranding a patriarchal system determined to exploit women, we should acknowledge that the world is determined to use women, and women themselves are affected by that objectification.
Rather than shaming women for making choices we don’t understand, we should deconstruct the patriarchal system that seeks to control female sexuality through degradation, objectification, and intimidation. We need to challenge the system that makes exploitation the path of least resistance, because that’s not what God wants for women.
Jesus turned hierarchal systems and Greco-Roman sexual politics upside-down. With Jesus, women felt truly seen; never leered at. Listened to; never ignored. Validated; never brushed off. Touched; never invaded. Invited; never avoided or excluded.
Jesus didn’t patronize women. He never stifled women’s gifts. He didn’t tell them they were “too much.” He certainly wasn’t intimidated by strong women. Jesus didn’t bat an eye when women stepped outside what was culturally acceptable. He welcomed women as ministry partners and students of theology.
He spent time alone with women and didn’t see them as a “temptation” to be avoided. He didn’t tell women to dress differently to avoid “provoking” men’s lust. In fact, he told men it was better to gouge their own eyes out than to sin (including the sin of objectifying women)!
He didn’t see women as either romantic interests or sexual temptresses. Women were neither to Jesus. Women were simply human. Women were partners in Jesus’ ministry, his disciples, his allies, and his friends.
This new gospel ethic was radical in Jesus’ culture, and sadly, it’s still countercultural today. We need to start seeing women like Jesus did, as human beings created in the image of God. Now that is a sexual revolution worth fighting for.
 Graham, Dee. Loving to Survive: Sexual Terror, Men’s Violence and Women’s Live (New York: New York University Press, 1994).
 Dines, Gail. Pornland: how porn has hijacked our sexuality (Boston: Beacon Press, 2010).