Femininity, Image, and Identity: the role of youth pastors and movies

Hey Julie Clawson !  I could use some help thinking through a couple of things. 

 For those of you who don’t know her, Julie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice, a pastor, blogger, Emergent leader and former podcast guest. She is one of the conversation partners at the upcoming Emergent Village Theological Conversation at the end of January. (www.ProcessTheology.org). Her blog is in my top 10. 

 

Background: I love going to the movies. As a student, I usually only go the theatre on Summer break (blockbuster action films + air-conditioning = awesome) and on Winter break (tired brain + Christmas money = fantastic).

Last week I saw two movies and was quite intrigued by a pattern that I noticed during the trailers: women being tough guys. The three trailers were for Underword: Awakening with Kate Beckinsdale, Haywire with Gina Carano (both action films) and The Iron Lady with Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher.

I have read enough feminist literature to know that there is a principle (which Thatcher made famous) that “In a man’s world …” a women often has to out ‘man’ the guys in order to break into the boys club and be taken seriously.

In a system where we have been socially conditioned to see certain behaviors and attributes as ‘leadership’ or ‘strength’ – or in the church as ‘anointing’ – then women must over-do it in order to overcome the intrinsic biases and gain credibility in a system geared to evaluate by masculine expectations. (people point to Joyce Meyer as a Christian example)

This is a real problem.

THEN I was reading your blog this week and you bring up the Lego Ads making their way around Facebook and tie it into both modesty and obesity. As a youth pastor I have read everything from Reviving Ophelia to Queen Bees and Wannabes ,that explains why girls treat each other the way that they do, and I recognize that there are deep underlying issues. Let’s be honest, these deep issues will not be solved by quoting some Bible verses or ‘going back to the way things were in the Bible’.

 

So here are my questions: 

1. What do we do with the karate-chopping drop-kicking gun-shooting heroines of violence on the silver screen these days? On one hand, it is nice to women getting these big-deal leading roles in major films… on the other hand, are they real portrayals of women-ness or is it the bad kind of mimicry –  like ‘Girls Gone Wild’ as a picture of sexual liberation or power.

2. Are there any resources that you can point me to for Image and Identity? Your blog post on the Lego issue is really sticking with me.

3. As a youth pastor, how would you suggest I navigate the (rapidly) developing sexuality without repression while steering clear of moral permissiveness?  Any thoughts?

 

Thank you ahead of time.
Any help would be much appreciated.
I sure am glad that I mature sisters in faith as conversation partners.

 

anxiously awaiting your response    -Bo

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6 comments
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Robin Black
Robin Black

Bo, I appreciate your blog and your request for input. While I agree with you that there are "deep issues [that] will not be solved by quoting some Bible verses or ‘going back to the way things were in the Bible’." I think that the Bible is the best source of information in regards to the root of these problems. What we have to remember is that God made us male AND female in HIS image. What that means is that ALL of our qualities, traits and characteristics are "God-like" in origin, and as far as I know, there is no place in the Bible where God lists what are "masculine" traits and what are "feminine" traits. In fact, all through the Bible there are female warriors and male fashionistas, male and female priests, prophets, servants, leaders, government officials, brave women and cowardly men and vice-versa. What that means is that it is SOCIETY that tells us what a man or woman is "supposed" to be, not God. When I was growing up, I had 4 brothers and one sister. My sister was the ultimate "girlie-girl" and I was far more comfortable hanging out with my brothers. My father was ashamed and embarrassed that I was a tom-boy and a lot of energy and effort was expended (to no avail) to turn me into a "girlie-girl." Rather than turning me into a "girlie-girl" it actually gave me a severe hatred of all things "girl" and I spent my teen and early adult years dressing and acting like a boy rather than a girl. It wasn't that I wanted to be a boy, but rather that I had spent my life being "told" (in action if not word) that girls weren't allowed to do any of the things that I found to be fun. What it also meant is that I never had a boyfriend, and guys were never interested in me in any kind of romantic way, I was always their "buddy." What it also meant, however, was that I also had no female friends because we had absolutely no common ground on which to build a relationship. It was an incredibly difficult and painful time in my life. Finally, however, when I was in my late 20's I made some female friends that made it their life mission to get me in touch with my feminine side. They opened up a whole new world to me, in which I discovered a great love and passion for mani/pedi's, massages, make-overs, pretty dresses and the color pink. Particularly if it sparkled. But what made all the difference in the world was that I could have the best of both worlds - I could go get main/pedis with my girlfriends and STILL go to the games with the boys. What this is to say is that we are who we are and the importance is not in deciding if the media portrays women accurately, but rather to encourage young women to figure out who THEY are and then to be that. As Solomon said, "There is nothing new under the sun" and at the end of the day the most important influence in a young girl's life is not going to be the media anyway, but her peers and personal support system. If a girl - or boy for that matter - has enough loving guidance from wise counselors, they will find their way no matter what the media tells them about themselves. While on the one hand, yes, women in the media are allowed to be strong and powerful as long as they are still sexy, that's still a step in the right direction from women being portrayed as sexy by sitting and waiting for some man to come rescue them. What is also important, however, is to look at the changes in messages to MEN in the media! What I am excited by is that men are now culturally allowed to enjoy things like fashion and cooking, as well as delving deeper into emotionally fulfilling family commitments. Movies like 3 Men and a Baby, Daddy Day Care and shows like 3 1/2 men are celebrating men navigating the rapids of EMOTIONAL commitment and connection. Even movies like knocked up and the 40 year old virgin are freeing men to not have to live up to the stereotype of being "large and in charge" and having it all together. Movies like Couples Retreat take a WARMLY humorous look at men's attempts to navigate emotional terrain with their wives - who are shown embodying the reality of wearing just as much of the pants in their relationships as their husbands, who are also not portrayed as being BUFFOONS as a result! The point is, I think we're on a really good track towards meeting in the middle - women are getting to be more strong and powerful (even if they still have to be sexy) and men are getting to be more emotional (even if they still can't quite fully share the pants.) In answer to your 3 questions however... 1. What do we do with the karate-chopping drop-kicking gun-shooting heroines of violence on the silver screen these days? On one hand, it is nice to women getting these big-deal leading roles in major films… on the other hand, are they real portrayals of women-ness or is it the bad kind of mimicry - like ‘Girls Gone Wild’ as a picture of sexual liberation or power. What you do is tell young girls they can be anything they want to be. If they want to go out and kick some butt because that's within the nature that God gave them, then let them know you'll be their biggest fan. On the other hand, if their greatest dream is to get married and stay at home and raise 5 babies, then let them know they absolutely don't have to go out and save the world single-handedly to prove their worth as a woman. The ultimate point is to communicate that NO society should be allowed to dictate to ANY woman (or man for that matter) what their purpose in life is or should be. 2. Are there any resources that you can point me to for Image and Identity? Your blog post on the Lego issue is really sticking with me. I think the best resources are the ones they come up with themselves. With resources like Wikipedia so readily available, research is no longer the chore that it used to be. My encouragement to you is to encourage each of your kids to find a role model throughout history that they identify with. Girls who are of the "kick butt" kind may enjoy reading about Joan of Arc or your adventurous girls may want to investigate Amelia Earheart or Annie Oakley. Girls that have a nurturing bent may want to look at Florence Nightingale or Elizabeth Elliot or Mother Theresa. The important thing to communicate is that there have been strong, powerful women throughout history that have accomplished incredible things, but that they have to go and look for them because all we ever hear about are MEN that did great things. I do think, however, that they go and find those women, and if you want to have a positive impact on the girls in your youth group, it might be a good idea for you to explore some of the great women of the Bible and share with both the girls and boys in your youth group what those women did and how God used them. 3. As a youth pastor, how would you suggest I navigate the (rapidly) developing sexuality without repression while steering clear of moral permissiveness? Any thoughts? The most important thing in helping girls navigate their sexuality is to give them a sense of their own power. Sadly, the church treats women just as much as sex objects as secular society does, but the church tends to PUNISH women for it! The church comes up with all kinds of rules and regulations about how women should dress to keep MEN from stumbling, and all it's doing is putting all the focus back on men and giving them all the power! If you really want to help young women, then teach your young MEN to treat girls and women with dignity, honor and respect. Teach them that women are to be respected, valued and cherished and that looking at porn is not okay. Also, don't be afraid of having frank discussions about sex. They're curious, they want to know, and if you won't talk to them honestly about it, they'll have to go find out for themselves. Churches are infamous for saying "don't have sex" but not following it up with any reasons other than "because the Bible says so." God never asks/ tells us to do things that He doesn't have very good reasons for, but it seems churches are the last place you can ever find out what those reasons are! Sex is something that is infinitely precious and special but teens can't value the importance of sex unless they value THEMSELVES! Women who believe themselves to be of high value and worth do not go throwing themselves at men, so you can't tell teens to not throw themselves into sex when they don't value or respect themselves and what they have to offer. So the answer is not to focus on sex, but to do your best to give them a high sense of self-worth and self-esteem, which then protects them from "casting their pearls before swine." But they have to actually believe themselves to BE pearls before they will keep themselves away from the pigs.

Carol Howard Merritt
Carol Howard Merritt

I'm so glad you're thinking about all of this, Bo. I love how art reflects culture--our fears and longings. During my formative years of high school and college, we kept having a recurrence of murdering and/or home-wrecker women--Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction and the Hand that Rocks the Cradle. What did we mirrored there? Was it a fear that something in our home-life would be shattered? We know a couple things about the movie market now: 1) action movies are typically targeted to men and 2) the after-market (foreign sales) are huge. I'm guessing here... but I bet most of the people who are writing, producing, directing, and watching these films are men. So, I would put my money on Julie's conjecture--women action heroes are sexy. Lara Croft proved it, and now that Hollywood know it's a formula that makes money, they'll keep repeating it. I wonder what the international market has to do with it all. I mean, with social media and other factors, women can and will keep finding ways to organize. The Arab Spring has come with Saudi women daring to drive and so many other protests. Could the movies be in response to some of those kick-butt longings? I'm not sure how much these characters will affect girls/teens. I admit, I wore Wonderwoman underoos, and I still kind of wish I had a lasso of truth... It's a good question. I asked my daughter, because she wants to be a director and has strong opinions on film/TV. She said, "I don't know. I don't watch those movies." In all, I guess it's just good to affirm teens--in their strength, creativity, and awkwardness. When you think about it... what a freaking amazing job we have! The church is probably one of the only places where girls can go and the focus isn't on how beautiful, skinny, fashionable, or even super-smart they are....the church can just love them because of who they are. What a sacred space.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I am so happy that you weighed in. I will use your response at youth group this weekend... I think it would mean a lot to a number of people. -Bo

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