Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I Don't Get It

I have to admit I'm feeling a bit confused by all the hubbub surrounding the allegedly racy pics of anti-gay-marriage spokesperson and current Miss California Carrie Prejean. I guess there are a number of issues at play here:
  1. It's unclear to me why women like this are expected to parade around in teeny tiny bikinis on stage during pageants, but posing in a bikini bottom with no top is thought to be morally unacceptable. Seriously? What's the real difference between being photographed in a bikini and being photographed topless? That (maybe) 4 square inches of fabric contained in her bikini top is really that important? Like you can't already see every feature of her body when she's strutting around on stage in a bikini? Seems like a distinction without a difference to me.

  2. We're told that according to pageant rules, Miss California could lose her crown for being "photographed in a state of partial or total nudity," which is deeply ironic, given the fact that she earned her crown by being photographed in a state of partial or total nudity. Perplexing.

  3. And I don't get this whole "I'm a Christian and they're persecuting me because of it" shtick. I guess the story goes like this: Good conservative Christians oppose same-sex marriage on the basis of biblical teachings; I'm a good conservative Christian so I oppose same-sex marriage; My oppressors don't like my view on same-sex marriage, so they're trying to call my Christian credentials into question." The problem with this is that the conservative Christians I know (my entire extended family, and it's a big family...) believe it's immoral and "worldly" for a woman to parade around on stage in a bikini. Good Christian girls are demure and modest. They wear simple one-piece suits when swimming, and only when swimming. They are not supposed to flaunt their bodies or their sexuality. They're not supposed to get plastic surgery in order to conform to the beauty standards of the world, as their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. And in this worldview, we as a culture have a responsibility not to sexualize girls and women, but to value them for the creatures that God made them to be: self-sacrificing helpmeet, mother, cook, maid...
None of this means that publishing the photos, or saying a lot of things that have been said about her, is appropriate either. It's just that this is all really confusing to me. And I don't think it's just me. I think there are deep and pervasive contradictions involved here that tend to be very prevalent in our culture.

This story is cut from the same fabric as the Britney-Spears-is-a-virgin shtick. Or the Miley-Cyrus-took-a-purity-pledge shtick. I can't comprehend why it would matter that these creatures who are sexualized from their heads to their toes actually have teh sexx or not. When every ounce of your physical being is sexualized, what's the function of virginity? In fact, I don't understand the concept of taking a purity pledge at all if you're going to make your living by flinging your flesh around the stage in as sexual a manner as possible. If the implicit message of everything you do is "I am a highly desireable being whose sole purpose and value is sexual," then why would you refrain from sexual activity and from nude photos? It doesn't make any sense. The only people for whom a purity pledge actually makes sense is for the uber-humble, uber-modest, long-skirt-wearing daughters of the Duggar family and their ilk. I mean, I might disagree with all of the most fundamental aspects of their worldview and their values, but at least they're consistent. You wouldn't catch one of them extolling the virtues of Christianity and modesty and virginity while arching her back in order to shove her tits and ass out for the camera.

Just sayin'


  1. Wow, harsh! Sorta true, though. But don't you think that by conveying these totally contradictory messages they're just trying to live up to the conflicting expectations for girls/women in our culture? Cause that's how I see it.

  2. Anonymous5/07/2009

    Rachel, I don't always agree with your views. But I have to say, this is the best commentary on the whole Carrie Prejean/beauty pageant/sexuality thing I've seen yet.

  3. Meg'n5/07/2009

    I would expect a little backlash for this one... But I think you're totally right. And I take it that you're critiquing the culture that expects girls and women to be so totally seualized while also being chaste and "pure" rather than critiquing the women themselves. It's hard to imagine a pop star or other celebrity who wasn't super sexualized in our culture, and I would guess that Brittny and Miley have publicists who coach them on this stuff.

  4. I would be in complete agreement if I felt this post was only "critiquing the culture that expects girls and women to be so totally sexualized while also being chaste and "pure"" as Meg'n said, but I feel like you are also using someone faith against them. That makes me uncomfortable.

  5. Kendra5/07/2009

    I think feminists should stop being so judgmental.

  6. Erin,

    I can see why you get that impression, and that's not my intention. I'm totally agnostic, and wary of organized religion due to the long history of misogyny. But I do respect and defend other people's right to their religion. What I don't respect is casually claiming to be a Christian in order to garner the respect and support of one segment of the population while not seeing yourself as being obligated to live out the principles of the Bible in any way, shape, or form in your daily life. To me, faith is only faith if it runs deep, if it affects your life in some way, and informs your behavior. From what I've seen, that's not the case with people like Prejean, but I could be wrong. But I cannot stand hypocritical opportunism, and I would bet you the cost of a boob job that Prejean only claims to be a Christian because of the "good girl" image she gets from it. But agqain, I could be wrong.

    So that doesn't mean I look down on Christians at all. I have a lot of respect for the people in my family who are deeply religious, even though I disagree with them in so many ways. Their religion causes them to be compassionate and thoughtful, and they strive to really live out the values and principles found in the Bible, even when it's really hard and not the popular thing to do. That I can respect.

  7. Lexia and Meg'n,

    The point about conflicting societal expectations is exactly the one I was intending. I don't think Britney or Miley came up with this shit on their own or are responsible for it - it's simply become inherent in the way girlhood and womanhood are constructed in our culture. The ideal is to be as sexualized as possible - literally from your toddler years on - while also giving lipservice to and/or living the "pure" lifestyle. One would think this was designed to keep straight adolescent boys and men in a constant state of frustrated arousal, since young female sexualized bodies are constantly being flaunted in their faces in an incredibly sexy way while at the same time they're told that these bodies are off limits. It's sorta like forcing a starving person to sit in the bakery surrounded by delicious food but never allowing him to eat any...

  8. Kendra,

    I'm not trying to judge anyone - this is intended as cultural critique, as it's the culture that constructs femininity in this way.

  9. FWIW, I totally took this as cultural critique, but get how it would be problematic if it was intended to be a critique of the individuals.

  10. Ah, ok. I get your intention now. I liked this: "To me, faith is only faith if it runs deep, if it affects your life in some way, and informs your behavior."

  11. Michael5/07/2009

    The question about faith, and whether you can be said to have it without actually living in a way that's consistent with the corresponding beliefs, is a really compelling question. I'm sympathetic to your suspicion that people who claim a belief but then don't live according to it are just trying to piggyback on the cultural benefits of belonging to that group. On the other hand, this is complex stuff, and people are imperfect.

    In other words, I have nothing to add to this discussion.

  12. Bah, see, this post over at Feministing illustrates exactly why I was originally uncomfortable with this post. As soon as you posted it over there, people started using it as an excuse to bash religion.

    I'm not saying that's your fault AT ALL. I'm just explaining why I am a little sensitive about posts like this.

  13. I'm not terribly sensitive about religion-bashing, but am totally sympathetic to those who are, so I get where you're coming from.

    I really admire people who earnestly and sincerely embrace religion and try to honor its teachings and live according to its priciples. And I feel a reciprocal contempt for "bandwagon" Christians. But I have a huge hang-up about authenticity in many areas...

  14. Michael,

    I think this is a really interesting topic too. I agree that it's not a black and white thing where either you have faith and the effects of that are visible in every aspect of your life, or you don't. People are complicated and imperfect, and intentions don't always manifest in action.
    But I think I have to side with Rachel on this one and conclude that Prejean is more like the person who precedes an incredibley offensive racist joke with "I'm not a racist, but..." People know which identities to claim in order to get themselves a get-out-of-jail-free card, and I'm betting this is one of them.

  15. Anonymous5/13/2009

    Rachel is my Bossman, who is also known as Mr. BossLady. She writes a kick ass cultural critique if'n you ask me.