Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On Nude Selfies

Kim Kardashian broke the internet last week with her nude selfie. She previously posted a nude selfie when pregnant with her son with a general explanation that it was to quiet the body shamers who regularly criticized her body. Last week's nude selfie made her feel “empowered.”

She said …
"I am empowered by my body. I am empowered by my sexuality. I am empowered by feeling comfortable in my skin. I am empowered by showing the world my flaws and not being afraid of what anyone is going to say about me. And I hope that through this platform I have been given, I can encourage the same empowerment for girls and women all over the world."    www.kimkardashianwest.com
Shame and power. Most of us are familiar with the tug and pull of these dynamics, particularly around women's issues. But for Kim, these dynamics play primarily in the space starting right below her neck and ending slightly below her buttocks. At some point in her life—and from my understanding of the rest of her family, it was fairly early in life—Kim learned that particular area of her external body was her currency. It held her power. So when she flaunts her power, she is clear that such power is fueled by her sexuality.

That part of her body also held her shame. She has clearly been shamed over the part of her body between her neck and rear end. She's too fat, too curvy, too whatever. She's been criticized publicly on the Internet. But I imagine she has been criticized privately by her family as well. With this nude selfie, she perceives herself as taking back the power that others have had over her by way of shaming that part of her body.

It reminds me of something Zack Eswine said in Sensing Jesus about Jesus' interaction with the Pharisees and the sinful woman who washes His feet with her hair in Luke 7.
… the pastors (with Jesus) only saw the “sort of woman” she was. All they saw was her body and her sexual ability in life. In this, they were no different from the men she had slept with. They too, though they were not pastors, saw only her body and her sexual ability. I should say, rather, that most of her body went unnoticed by either kind of man. 
The religious men and the irreligious men had this in common: they looked at the woman, but they did not see her. Edenic eyes gave way again, poked out amid the haze. The religious denounced her. The irreligious desired her. Both were blind.
It isn't just the men around Kardashian who seem not to see past her sexuality but Kim herself. She's bought into others' narrative about her, and she's playing in their system. Many Christians will turn in disgust from Kardashian over this. “Put some clothes on!” “Have you no shame?” And to that second question, Kim would likely answer, “No, I don't have any shame. That's the whole point of this!”

But really she does. Which is why she posted the picture.

Kim operates in a power system run on the currency of big breasts, small waists, and sexy butt. She runs in a power system in which her primary power is her sexuality. She said she feels “empowered by her sexuality.” Though she has money, owns a business, and is famous, those don't make her feel empowered in whatever power structure she perceives herself. The secondary powers of money or fame are based on the one thing that fuels her power, her sexuality. She does not bank alone in this power system. Many women do similarly though with lesser currency and lesser power. Kardashian and Beyonce are two of the most savvy women in our world at exploiting this currency for their own benefit.

The problem in this system is that women didn't create this currency. They have, however, learned how to build their bank account and spend their earnings in it. If a dictator takes over your world and changes the form of money from euros to won, eventually the savvy are going to start operating in won if they want power or influence under the dictator. Satan changed the currency between men and women at the fall. Men oppress women, and women still desire men to the point that they sell their soul (or their body on the internet) to trade in their currency.

Hannah Anderson explains it this way:
“Rather than dismantling male power structures, (nude selfies) are an attempt to gain power through them. They ARE a form of female empowerment but only because they buy into the established system. Feminine beauty is valuable because the people who want it the most (men) hold biological and sociological power. In other words, feminine sexuality is a commodity that can be leveraged to gain power because of the demand that already exists. 
In a fallen world, men hold power, and sinful men hold onto it for their own benefit; women need to gain power both to protect themselves as well as desiring it out of their own sinfulness. The result? Women use the one thing they have that men want to shift power away from those men. The problem, though, is that it ends up harming other women. It becomes a form of competition for the limited resource of male attention, which is the means of gaining power.”
An obvious disclaimer is needed – not ALL men operate in the currency of sex and not ALL women exploit it for their benefit. But a lot of them do (including the grand example of the likely Republican presidential nominee), and it is helpful to understand the spiritual and sociological dynamics going on when they do. I say it again and again that we can not address a problem until we actually understand the spiritual root issue. I am amazed how often some new pop controversy around Beyonce, Miley Cyrus, or Kim Kardashian clearly reflects back on Genesis 3:16's prediction of male oppression and exploitation along with a woman's turning toward the man despite it.

But there is gospel hope in the middle of this. Whether Kardashian will come to a redeemed view of her whole person is up to God, but many of us will have a chance to speak into the lives of women young and old struggling with the same dynamic.

Hannah also says
“… Christian theology doesn't have a place of clambering or holding onto power. That's the whole point of Philippians 2 and the ENTIRETY OF THE GOSPEL.”
There is such freedom in Christ around this issue, for both women and men. In Christ, women don't have to clamor for power in this fallen sexual dynamic between the genders. Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord shall be praised according to Proverbs 31. And ...
I Peter 3:3-4 Do not let your adornment be outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
While men around us (and women affected by them) may operate on a sexual currency, God does not, and He instructs His children to plow a counter culture, to operate in a new currency. A gentle (strength under control), quiet (peaceful, settled) spirit of a woman in Christ is beautiful and precious (highly valuable like gold or diamonds) in God's currency. We have a spiritual inheritance in Christ that allows us to lift our heads as female image-bearers of God. While we steward our bodies, we are not slaves to others' perceptions of them. They are not our source of power or currency. We have a spiritual inheritance in Christ as daughters of the King of King that fuels our self-identity and interactions with others. May we every day in every way disciple women in this truth.

28 comments:

  1. Nothing really for me to add, but to thank you for communicating this so clearly. Your reasoning is solid. I have feminist friends and relatives who try to make the case that every woman should be free to use her sexuality to her own desire and pleasure, but that is just playing into this system.

    I especially love this truth: "While men around us (and women affected by them) may operate on a sexual currency, God does not, . . . "

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  2. Thank you for the article, I highly appreciated it.

    Unrelated: could you maybe change the description of your blog posts somehow? If I try to share this article on facebook, the "If you have a negative comment..." description appears as the description of the post.

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    1. Yes. I've been trying to fix that, but blogger and I don't always communicate well. I've tried something else. We'll see if that works.

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  3. I think that in discussing such body appearance issues, we typically greatly understate the significance of the role played by members of our own sex. Why do male body builders seek for popping veins and cartoonish biceps? Female attention may be part of it, but not the greatest part (at a certain point many women seem to be more put off than attracted by such bodies). The attraction that such a body holds can be much greater for men than for women, even though the attraction for men is not straightforwardly sexual. Men can also be much more critical of the bodies in question.

    In the case of women, I think that similar things often hold. Women have their own body standards, standards that often float free of (how many guys even know what a 'thigh gap' is?) and sometimes even push against prevailing male preferences in women's appearance (and the fashion industry isn't really dominated by straight males). The attention given to figures such as Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian is disproportionately driven by women. The cult of 'Queen Bey' is not really fuelled by the men that want to have her (although they definitely exist, they are far more widely desired women for men out there), but by the countless legions of women (and gay men) who want to be her (and the things that make her attractive to the latter groups don't necessarily register that strongly with the former). Similarly, the people obsessing over the various aspects of the Kardashian franchise are not primarily men. Whether they like her or they loathe her, it is women's obsession with Kim Kardashian that keeps her on our screens and in the gossip columns. She is a far more potent symbol for women than she is for men.

    The power of the 'female gaze' is immense, arguably exerting a far greater effect over women than the 'male gaze'. The two are not unrelated, of course, and the former does a lot of the latter's dirty work, but it isn't just in thrall to the mastery of the male gaze. It has standards and expectations of its own. Women, like men, want to feel a certain way in their bodies. For men their desire might be to look and feel powerful and dominant, which is often performed primarily for the sake of their standing relative to other men. For women it may be about exude confidence in their body and sexuality, in a way that arrests the gaze of both men and women (and often the latter primarily).

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    1. I think Hannah's words play into the phenomenon you describe. "The result? Women use the one thing they have that men want to shift power away from those men. The problem, though, is that it ends up harming other women. It becomes a form of competition for the limited resource of male attention, which is the means of gaining power." Women are competing between themselves for sure.

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    2. Thanks for the response, Wendy.

      My point is that the competition between women is often not primarily for male attention, the women who are the objects of female obsession are generally not the objects of male obsession to the same degree, and the standards of judgment are often peculiarly female too. (The same holds, mutatis mutandis, for men and male body standards.) Female attention is also a limited resource for women and is also a means of gaining power (and arguably more effective). The biggest female stars in the world have generally been exalted to their status principally through female attention.

      It should not be presumed that all sexualized images of women exist for the male (or even male and lesbian) gaze. Women spend millions each year on magazines filled with images of women and take a level of interest in the fashion industry that men do not. The female and gay male dominated context of a Beyoncé concert is also full of sexualized bodies, movements, dress, and imagery. Neither of these are primarily directed at men, though. It is more about women's fantasies, ideals, and self-image. Male desire may feature in and impinge upon these fantasies at points, but the behavioural evidence really seems to suggest that they are about much, much more than that.

      Women are connoisseurs of women's bodies, with exacting ideas of what they ought to look like. Merely being sexually desirable to a man, while important, really isn't enough. For women (and gay men) the female body may not be sexualized, but it is highly aestheticized. As human beings our bodies do not merely exist for the desire of the other sex, but also as sites of the self, and as expressions of our own sex. Women don't just want to feel sexually attractive to men, they also want to feel confident in and happy with their bodies, and to feel that their body expresses their sexed self in a way that both they and their female peers recognize. These are three separate elements and they do not always neatly correlate. The standards of the other sex (sexiness and desirability), one's own personal standards (body confidence and body mastery), and the standards of one's own sex (often focused upon beauty) often exist in a degree of tension for women, much as they do for men.

      There is a big difference, for instance, between the 'pretty boy', whom women may love but men generally have low regard for, and the 'man's man', whom men deeply admire as exemplifying the virtues of their sex even when women aren't highly attracted to them. Men can often be more driven to pursue the ideals of their own sex than those of the other. Like most guys I know with beards, for example, I didn't grow it because it was attractive to women (most of the women I know preferred my appearance without it), but because both I and my male peers greatly prefer it. Female appreciation of one's appearance as a man is valuable, but male appreciation is no less so. Women's standards of appearance often follow similar patterns. Wholly attributing women's judgment of other women's appearance to the internalization of male influence implies that women are without their own standards and merely act as the over-eager puppet enforcers of patriarchal expectations. It also suggests that their concerns about our bodies largely boil down to that of sexual attractiveness. Even though the male gaze casts a long shadow over women's views of their own bodies, I really don't believe that this is the case.

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    3. I see your point, Al, but I don't think Kim at all fits the dynamic you describe. Her body isn't a woman's ideal but a man's. She is operating fully in male sexual currency.

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    4. This should be my last comment. I think this fails to account for a number of things.

      Kim's followers are overwhelmingly female. She obviously gets male attention, but its scale is dwarfed by the female attention she receives, which suggests there is something else going on. Even the sexualized images of Kim are disproportionately sought after by women. Kim's sexual images and videos are sought out on PornHub 28% more by women and twice as much as any other porn star or celebrity, even though men are hugely over-represented in users of such sites. It is no accident that the other people most searched for by women are often heavily featured in gossip columns.

      Kim exists in the maelstrom of female judgment, where many women love to hate her. She fills the gossip columns because so many women have strong opinions about her and her body. Women are obsessed with her in a way that men simply aren't. While many men might believe that she has a 'sexy' body, she is hardly especially unique in that.

      Kim's self-relation—her shamelessness about her body—is an important part of this. This doesn't really register with men in the same way, because men don't have female bodies. For women, however, Kim serves as a sort of fertility and sexuality symbol, and a lightning rod figure onto which they can project their own anxieties, values, fantasies, and desires both about the way women's bodies naturally symbolize and objectively display sexuality and fertility and about the ways that women subjectively live with this fact. The often traumatic self-relation entailed by this can give women a peculiar obsession with the relationship between Kim's subjectivity and the objectivity of her body. Men, on the other hand, are relatively indifferent to and typically unattuned to the tensions within this self-relation. If the male member were more visible, this might change somewhat, but male sexual identity will never have quite the same degree of bodily rootedness.

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    5. Thanks, Al. I thought about your comments overnight. Your thoughts reminded me of the dynamic between Rachel and Leah. Their competition was between themselves and seemed to have little to do with Jacob at the ground level, but ultimately it was fueled by daddy and husband issues. And I think the dynamic you describe among women is as well. It's helpful to distinguish between the fuel and the wood. Ultimately, such competition between women over external beauty would burn out in my opinion if there wasn't the fuel of male expectation and exploitation regularly thrown on it.

      I have said a ton in previous posts about this topic. I'm going to label a bunch of old ones with the tag Genesis 3:16 if you want to read other stuff.

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    6. Actually, Al, I had a lightbulb moment as I continued to reflect on your comments. You are right about the power struggle and criticism between women. And I think Kim is as you indicated primarily criticized by women. With this selfie, she's pointing out to female/androgynous critics that in big boy currency, she has the million dollar card. Her body may get criticized by the super slim crowd, but it's the body (many) men want. Which is why she is incredibly famous and rich with NO other qualifications on her resume.

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    7. Al, there was a popular song in the early 2000's that had the hook line, "he loves me he loves you not!" I have watched a generation of adolescent girls grow up under this ideology. You are right about girls comparing themselves to and competing with other girls; but ultimately the winner gets to say, "he loves me, he love you not!" They may not even want the man, but they want to win the man and therefore beat the other girls. Therefore, their desire is still for the man.

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    8. Thanks for the continued stimulating discussion, Wendy!

      The wood and fire distinction is an important one in general, but I don't think it adequately addresses the issues here, nor explain the phenomena.

      If it weren't for women, Kim's personal fame and wealth would largely dry up. She is appealing to men, but her 'currency' chiefly comes from women. As an object of male sexual desire, Kim lacks the dominance that she has as an object of female obsession and desire. We are dealing with two different overlapping 'economies' here: they impact upon each other but one is not just an epiphenomenon of the other.

      The dynamic here seems to be that of the 'queen bee'. The queen bee is not necessarily the most attractive or sexually desired woman in her group, but she is the most socially dominant, the most capable of leveraging whatever assets she has into social power. What this social dominance depends upon is the obsession/envy/hatred/admiration of other women. Queen bees can exist where men are largely absent and don't have much of an impact upon the female groups. The desirability of Kim's body to men is part of her queen bee status among women, but so is her fame, wealth, family privilege, connections, etc.

      While men's interest in Kim largely begins and ends with her body, women's interest is far more comprehensive than this. For instance, while men might be interested in Kim's body, women are interested in the way that Kim (unlike most women with bodies like hers) has been able shamelessly to take advantage of her body and other things for social dominance. Kim isn't set apart by her body so much as by her capacity to confect fame. In that respect, far more than in her body, she truly is exceptional.

      Rachel and Leah were competing for the scarce commodity of the love and attention of a single man. Yet not many women are directly competing with Kim for the attention of Kanye, and the attention of men in general is not so scarce. Besides, if they were really competing for male attention, there are other women who are more successful at getting that than Kim is, but who receive relatively little attention from women. The real competition is for the scarce commodity of dominance in female circles and competition for the envy of women is not the same thing as competition for the desire of men (or a man). Male attention can add to this, but it is only a part of something much bigger. The attention received by Kim's body is largely from other women who envy, resent, or admire her for it: Kim's body provides a standard to aspire to, something to be envious or resentful of, or a means by which to pull Kim down from her social pedestal.

      Sexual difference doesn't just mean we are driven towards the other sex, competing with other members of our sex for their attention. It also means we are driven to distinguish ourselves according to our sexes and to seek sexual agency and identity for our own sex over against the other. This second drive can complicate matters, introducing new forms of collaboration and competition. Some of these dynamics could perhaps be included within the theory that male desire fuels female competition, but many others can't.

      This affects our views of the body. Our bodies are attractive to the other sex, but they can also express the distinctiveness and agency of our own sex, and our own personal selves. This desire to express the distinctiveness of our own sex is not necessarily a negative and competitive drive, but relates to our own ideals of manliness and womanliness. Most men love, admire, and want to be manly—a 'man's man'. Such a man exemplifies male virtues. The body features here too: men will tend to privilege ruggedness over softness, roughness over smoothness, heavy muscularity over scrawniness, etc. Many of the most attractive masculine figures for men are not peculiarly attractive to women, because physical attractiveness to women is only part of what defines ideal masculine embodiment.

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    9. (cont.) Women have their own standards too, which again diverge from or function independently of those of the other sex to some extent. Once again, it is shaped, not merely by the desire that men will want to have them, but also by the desire that women will want to be them. Flawless and apparently effortless aestheticization of the body, attention to fashion, body confidence, and that sort of thing, can be features of this. Men can definitely add fuel to this fire, but perhaps most of the fuel is provided by women themselves.

      More generally, I think that the idea almost everything that women do in relation to their bodily appearance is for the sake of or subtly driven by male desire is overly dismissive of the independence shown in women's sense of self and exercise of agency and of the immense power of homosocial dynamics in women's lives.

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    10. Al, you've got a lot in those comments that I'll be thinking about. But I do want to react to your last paragraph. I want to be clear that I do not think that "almost everything that women do in relation to their bodily appearance is for the sake of or subtly drive by male desire." I'm not dealing with Kim's website or her clothing line or her reality show. I am dealing with her nude selfie and her statement that she felt "empowered by her sexuality." THAT is male-oriented currency. And I think the only homosocial dynamic going on in response to that selfie, apart from redemption, is jealousy. Kim's got it. And she's flaunting it, not to men because they like her body all the time, but to the women who would try to put her down in competition.

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  4. Al, you make a lot great points here.

    Women can be incredibly judgmental of other women's bodies. Especially of what other women do with their bodies, because of fear. Gossip gives power to women that do not have the same 'value' in an economy of sex. They wield it against other women as a display of power, and an assertion of superior status. I suspect, most of Kim's female followers are ones that either personally identify with how she uses her body (therefore, creating a tribe), or ones trying to cash in on her exploits by shaming and degrading her as a woman of poor moral character. It's the mean girls syndrome-- I can make myself feel more powerful, affirming my own value, by tearing down others.

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  5. Thanks Wendy for a well written post, again! I have been thinking about beauty and this post gave more to think about. Especially if it is about power.

    Al's comments were interesting read from a male point of view.

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  6. Wendy, well said. All of it! Thank you!

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  7. So what does poor Kim do in 25 years time, when her perceived currency value has started to evaporate.

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  8. Always appreciate Al's perspectives. Always. I think the point of disconnect in this convo, tho, is in answering the question of who's controlling the bank. So while women absolutely compete among each other and while queen bee dynamics exist, you still have wrestle with the larger context in which that competition is happening. Would women even care about fashion mags and beauty secrets if these things weren't a way to cultivate power in broader world? If women were controlling the bank, what would currency be?

    When women live together in groups sans men, beauty isn't powerful. So they don't put as much time and attention into their appearance, at least in my experience. Half of the joy of women's retreats and girls' weekends is slumming it. You don't have to do your hair, worry about makeup, or ever change out of yoga pants. Queen Bee dynamics do happen in female only groups but not via beauty or sexuality. In broader world, Queen Bees gain power through social pressure and mean girl dynamics that use beauty as a weapon. But that weapon only works in mixed gender context. (Watch what happens when group of women on girls' weekend decides to leave beach house for dinner-- suddenly they start primping and preening, but not for each other. It's because they're reentering mixed gender context.)

    I guess I'm saying that it's impossible to evaluate female fixation with beauty apart from male desire for female beauty. Honestly, women enjoy caring for their bodies and we all want to feel beautiful, but the shame comes from feeling undesirable, unwanted. And the subtext of every women's mag is how to become more desirable to men. How to "please him" if you will.

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    1. And women are fixated with Beyoncé and KK, imo, because they are winners in this game. The same way men look up to athletic icons, women look up to female icons of sexuality and beauty. They represent "success" for us as much as great athletes represent success for men. Beyoncé and KK show us what is possible. And we long for that same "success" for ourselves. In other words, male competiveness in sports is the same as female competitiveness in beauty. Both are forms of gaining power--men by dominating other men in displays of physical strength (and as a result having their pick of most beautiful women); and women by dominating other women by displays of physical beauty (and as a result have their pick of the most successful, powerful man).

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    2. And women are fixated with Beyoncé and KK, imo, because they are winners in this game. The same way men look up to athletic icons, women look up to female icons of sexuality and beauty. They represent "success" for us as much as great athletes represent success for men. Beyoncé and KK show us what is possible. And we long for that same "success" for ourselves. In other words, male competiveness in sports is the same as female competitiveness in beauty. Both are forms of gaining power--men by dominating other men in displays of physical strength (and as a result having their pick of most beautiful women); and women by dominating other women by displays of physical beauty (and as a result have their pick of the most successful, powerful man).

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  9. Always appreciate Al's perspectives. Always. I think the point of disconnect in this convo, tho, is in answering the question of who's controlling the bank. So while women absolutely compete among each other and while queen bee dynamics exist, you still have wrestle with the larger context in which that competition is happening. Would women even care about fashion mags and beauty secrets if these things weren't a way to cultivate power in broader world? If women were controlling the bank, what would currency be?

    When women live together in groups sans men, beauty isn't powerful. So they don't put as much time and attention into their appearance, at least in my experience. Half of the joy of women's retreats and girls' weekends is slumming it. You don't have to do your hair, worry about makeup, or ever change out of yoga pants. Queen Bee dynamics do happen in female only groups but not via beauty or sexuality. In broader world, Queen Bees gain power through social pressure and mean girl dynamics that use beauty as a weapon. But that weapon only works in mixed gender context. (Watch what happens when group of women on girls' weekend decides to leave beach house for dinner-- suddenly they start primping and preening, but not for each other. It's because they're reentering mixed gender context.)

    I guess I'm saying that it's impossible to evaluate female fixation with beauty apart from male desire for female beauty. Honestly, women enjoy caring for their bodies and we all want to feel beautiful, but the shame comes from feeling undesirable, unwanted. And the subtext of every women's mag is how to become more desirable to men. How to "please him" if you will.

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    1. Thanks for the interaction, Hannah.

      I would be careful of taking the retreats that you mention as too revelatory. There are many forms of behaviour that can be suspended in more private and intimate settings that don't result purely from the fact of the single sex environment as such. Also, the fact that such competition can be suspended temporarily in functionally egalitarian environments doesn't mean it can be suspended indefinitely.

      More generally, however, one of my key points here is that whatever we believe about what first sets women's obsession with female beauty in motion and even though this obsession almost invariably exhibits the gravitational pull of male desire, as with male interest in male appearance, in its developed practice it displays an important measure of autonomy and divergence from male sexual desire.

      This is not to say that one can detach male and female values regarding appearance or treat one without reference to the other. However, they do not straightforwardly coincide. Nor can the criteria according to which women's appearance is judged be reduced to the sexual interest of men. Women's appearance is also assessed according to non-sexualized principles of aesthetics, often in realms dominated by men who are aesthetically but not sexually interested in women (which is how we got trends like 'heroin chic'). Other standards of fashion and appearance are more context-relative (e.g. the aesthetics of the 'professional').

      Women addressing their appearance to compete for male attention is not straightforward either, as they are fighting on two fronts: seeking male attention and seeking dominance in their female groups. I suspect that many fashions in and expectations of female appearance owe much more to the latter than the former. The importance of male attention may primarily be responsible for establishing appearance as a primary realm of competition among women (although women, like men, don't need the other sex to establish competitive relations between them). However, once appearance is set up as a realm of competition, women can come up with new criteria of their own upon which to compete in this area, quite apart from those prioritized by men. Nor should we presume that men are women's focus in this competition. Rather, men may often be pawns in women's quest to gain dominance over other women.

      And here I think it is important to reflect upon what Kim's nude selfie achieves. It may show her potential power with men, but is it really directed towards men? Rather, I think it is directly targeted at women, designed to prove her dominance in female groups, her more desirable physical appearance, and her immunity to shaming tactics. There are three key things here: 1. Even when the criteria appear to be male, the fierceness of the competition arises from women's own group relations; 2. On closer examination, the criteria often aren't male, even though they may in part be spawned by male criteria; 3. The great pay off to the victor is typically less that of male sexual attention than of social dominance among women.

      All of this, along with my earlier response to Kevin, is to agree with much of what you and Wendy say, but with a few significant reservations.

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  10. I like where you're going with this, Al and Hannah.

    It leads me to this question: Where does shame come from? Is it intrinsic or extrinsic?

    How about the expectation of other people constantly measuring desirability -- is that actual or hypothetical? (Men's magazines are no less saturated with "how to please her" subtext -- this is far from a one-sided gender issue, with men holding all the power.)

    Let's go more concrete: do looks alone actually appeal to men, particularly the kind of man a woman ultimately wants to attract?

    Every person has the potential to control her/his own bank, and to pick its currency. In fact, stating that this is not the case is itself the negation of a person's agency. One problem here is that there is no guarantee that anyone's chosen currency will be compatible with another person's. But perhaps the bigger problem is that we're not pursuing a better metaphor to describe relationships than some kind of transaction.

    Power. Capital. Sell. Buy. Trade.

    If relationships all boil down to mere transactions, then I think there is really no hope for humanity.

    There seems to a sweeping human desire to isolate complex factors of our existence, because we believe that by parsing them out, we can understand them more clearly. We usually call this understanding a system. Ironically, these factors can usually only really be understood in tension. This is why so many systems do not stand up to scrutiny: systems must strenuously ignore exceptions, and factors outside of their scope.

    I think that if we could get away from the posture of system vs. counter-system, or the perception that effective relationships fall within the established tolerances of an acceptable transaction, we could free ourselves (and each other) to ask how we each perceive and value love. We could be empowered to discover and articulate that uniquely and individually, instead of leaning on other people's (non-relatable, if not downright questionable) codifications.

    Indeed, with a deeper, richer, more robust understanding of love -- e.g. great examples of how we earn and give trust -- we will have something to offer the world, instead of more things to try to scold it about. :-)

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  11. This is as interesting dialogue. As an average male I will make avfewvrandim observations.

    The idea that men determine the "currency" is an odd idea as it posits some sort of male plan. Biology determines the general structure of interactions and most can be explained with rather simple biological facts about sexuality with the most basic being the difference between their reproductive strategies owing to women's long gestation and the limitations that poses on the advancement of the species.

    As far as Kim I actually think she is hideous and fat the majority of the time. I find her body and life repulsive. As a person that believes in actively shaming as a means of enforcing healthy society norms I don't mind saying this at all. Women's obsession with Kim is a sad statement on modern women.

    In fact, related to Als comments, this entire post sounds like a rationalization of women's celebration of a disgusting trashy women with an attempt to blame men for the celebration instead of women accepting they have trashy preferences. Women compete on many facets and academic data strongly supports women drive more sexualized clothing and imagery among the general culture, not men. Women's magazines read by almost no men are heavily sexualized. I think Al has successfully highlighted many of these forces.

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    1. Kevin,

      A few things here.

      First off, there is a huge difference between shame directed at someone's behaviour and shame directed at the appearance of their body. When you shame Kim's body as 'fat', you shame many godly women right along with her.

      That men determine the 'currency' need not presume a plot, because 'determine' need not mean 'purposefully set'. The argument is that Satan purposefully set the currency. I think it is more complicated than this. In part, the 'currency' of appearance is a natural and a good one and is commonly referenced in Scripture in positive terms. It is not at all inappropriate that men should favour attractiveness and bodily features signalling reproductive fitness: these are the only things, but they are not unimportant or bad things to value. Nor should Satan's role be overstated, as divine judgment was also involved.

      The problem is less with the currency itself than with the fact that, in many contexts, women's value has been reduced to this currency. As men are, virtually without exception, the socially dominant sex on account of their forms of homosocial organization, their greater capacity and propensity for risk-taking and violence, and their greater freedom for independence from their spouse and children, the value that women will enjoy within a society depends heavily upon the value that men accord to them.

      There are ways in which even a female obsession with Kim Kardashian can display this dynamic. Kim's original rise to fame had a lot to do with her release of a sex tape. In a world where even bad publicity can lead to great fame and wealth, this move really played in her favour. However, the move was a direct and flagrant violation of the sexual norms that many female groups require of their members. It worked because the power and social currency of female groups can often be thwarted by those who can break ranks by making a bid for male currency instead.

      In a fallen world, women are rare—and hence valuable—in a 'sex market', but it is men who are the rare and sought after commodity in the 'marriage market'. When it comes to policing women's sexual behaviour, women are far more active than men. This makes sense because if they limit availability on the 'sex market', their power in the marriage market increases. The problem is with women like Kim who break ranks and cash in on the 'sex market'.

      The female obsession with Kim, then, has a lot to do with the fact that, in her shamelessness, she radically undermines the power of women to set their currency. In a shameless society, women with high sexual currency are well off, but those without are greatly disadvantaged. Being so radically devalued by others and lacking the power by which to assert your own value and force people to take notice of you is a terrifying experience.

      It seems to me that most of the interest in Kim is female and that most of it leans negative, involving the subconscious concern to pull a rogue back into line through collective censure and to maintain the efficacy of norms that give women greater power to maintain their own 'currency'. Of course, there are other 'shameless' women who support and identify with Kim, as her strategy would work for them too. The result is an ongoing drama where women's judgment of other women is both the central issue and form of conflict, but behind which socially dominant men's widespread devaluation of women apart from sex looms large. Ironically, this obsession merely fuels the fame and wealth of people like Kim, making their strategy an increasingly appealing one.

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  12. The discussion about what the "currency" is and who sets its value is interesting because I don't take it as a given that there's necessarily a single "currency" or that there's necessarily one power dynamic at play in defining currency values. If the participants become too set on defining the dynamics at play between the sexes and within the sexes on the basis of just one currency that can replicate the same problem across the various divides, of narrowing the field of conceptual discussion to one currency and how it is defined as if that were the only or primary way for things to work. If there's more than one kind of currency and the currencies can be valued variously that seems to fit more closely with both life and art.

    If there's a single unifying thread in the novels of Jane Austen I'd suggest it's an exploration of how men and women navigate the reality that there's more than one "currency" and that you DON'T have control over how it is valued. When Charlotte Lucas told Elizabeth she had the luxury of being smart enough and pretty enough to turn down a proposal in the hope that another would come along that gets pretty explicit. Austen's dry observation that Mr. Bennett, as contemporary jargon would put it, married the hot but stupid girl and that only Jane and Lizzy managed to turn out to have any sense suggests the author had fun playing with how differently people assess things. As Emma told her father, half of us take pleasure in things the other have can't understand. Had Austen ever been able to marry herself she might not have had the time to observe the currencies in use and how they were valued. She was brilliant at illustrating the various ways in which the dating/mating game was a status assessment game and the closest thing I've personally seen to such a playful exploration of the points-keeping ethos in dating would be Scott Pilgrim vs The World.

    I left Mars Hill years ago but one of the tropes I observed among the more reluctantly single men was a sense that the cards were stacked against them. This led some of them to embrace the onerous red pill/blue pill manosphere ethos that has formulated a narrative in which there's a class warfare in which men are targeted. To borrow Roy Baumeister's phrase for a proposal, there is likely no "war on men" so much as some men discover their "sexual market value" is a whole lot lower than they hoped it was. The irony at work is that men who view themselves as victims of a war on men could only embrace this ethos in the same way as feminists who, however affluent they may be compared to many other women and men, see themselves as victims of a patriarchy. It may be that, as the feminist Hanna Rosin put it, Americans who have the time and luxury to see themselves as the victims in these narratives are not, in fact, the victims at all.

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  13. a variable to keep in mind about currencies is that for women who are sexually attracted to women would the same currencies be in play? Living in Seattle as I do I find it a bit difficult to just assume that only males define the currency of attraction or attractiveness since not all women are interested in being attractive to men.

    Some of the ideas that Al and Hannah seem to be inching toward is the problem that while there are a variety of forms of currency that are possible within and across the sexes in some cultures some currencies have been devalued and it's possible these alternate currencies could have been devalued by men and women alike. But then as a middle-aged guy who isn't sure marriage is ever in my future I keep wondering whether part of the problem is that Christians only talk about the currencies and who is or isn't holding a bank account large enough to make a "purchase" that would be a long-term relationship. The discussion doesn't presume that here but it might be worth pointing out that when Jesus talked about the three types of eunuchs two of the three types of eunuchs fit into the realm of not having a choice about their status. per my earlier comment mentioning Jane Austen's work, it seems that even in Jesus' day (much like our own) whether you're considered paired-upworthy material could be pretty well decided for you in advance of your having an option to make a decision for yourself.

    In conservative/evangelical contexts finding out that you have no currency value in your favor can be bad for women but with the norms of the communities the women can at least wait (as they're expected to) to get an offer. Men who turn out to have little or no sexual market currency value get told that they need to fix the problem and stop resisting God's design. That is at least the sense I got from my time at Mars Hill but it seems indicative of American culture as a whole and not as something I would say was really unique or even uniquely toxic to Mars Hill. A Mark Driscoll and a Dan Savage are not necessarily that different in the end if they both reach a verdict that life is a great deal less worth living without sex.

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