Saturday, October 31, 2009

Women- Sexy, Sexual, Feminine

Since Halloween is today, the one holiday where women can get away with dressing in the most sexual version of their favorite animal or occupation, with a recent speaking engagement on women and sexuality under my belt (listen at Irving Bible Church, select "Sexuality"), with a baby boy in my womb, reminding me that I'm currently enjoying the supposedly ultima of all feminine experiences, I think a post on what it means to be a woman, to be sexy, to be sexual, to be feminine, is in order.

Sexy

What does it mean for a woman to be sexy? And is that something we can be without defrauding (arousing desires others cannot righteously pursue) in men (and women) around us?

Can you be sexy without being promiscuous, flirtatious, trampy? What are the core components of a sexy woman? Are these the same as the qualities of a sexy man?

When you say, "She's sexy!" what do we mean by the words? Are we speaking of a woman's power to dominate or attract the opposite sex? Or does 'sexy' mean something about her confidence. I remember C.S. Lewis' comment on a beautiful woman, "Just to watch her watch across the room is a liberal education."

Okay, this is where you comment below :)

Sexual

What does it mean to be sexual? Lilian Calles Barger, author of Eve's Revenge, says we are sexual when we give ourselves; it's our capacity for self-giving. I beg to differ.

The act of sex, or erotic expression is by nature an act of self-giving and therefore an act of love. All self-giving acts are by nature loving, but I would not call all loving acts sexual. Would you?

When God the Father sent God the Spirit to live among men and women, to comfort and guide us, he was self-giving, but this wasn't sexual. Put another way, all sexual acts are self-giving, but not all self-giving acts are sexual. I can give chocolates to my mom for her birthday, but I wouldn't call the gift a sexual expression.

And yet, everywhere we go, we bring our whole selves into the action and part of being human is to have a body that is gendered... from conception we have the capacity for erotic love, we just need time and nutrients to grow the capacity into possibility/actuality.

And in ever encounter in life we are gendered (which has hints of sexuality) beings, whether we're "having sex" or not.


Feminine

Have you ever noticed how every encounter between the sexes (brother/sister, father/daughter, co-workers, pastors on a church staff, bank teller and customer) has a sexual dimension to it. I'm not saying every person of the opposite sex creates a temptation for us to imagine sexual intercourse, this would mean every person struggles with incestuous thoughts.

Keep in mind that men and women's encounters need not always end in sexual intercourse. I think of the tender knowing between Matthew Cuthbert and Anne of Green Gables, when Anne says, "We're such kindred spirits he knows my thoughts." I recall the wry mutual respect between Elizabeth Bennett and her father as they mock the odious Mr. Collins. I notice my grandmother's relationship with her brother in law. They spend hours driving to visit his sister, sometimes my grandpa accompanies them, sometimes not. But they know each other personally and interact with mutual regard and delight.

I sit at an airport and watch male and female coworkers joking and teasing one another, three women and two men, tossing lines back and forth with ease and interest, witty enough for a sitcom script, enough mystery to keep me interested. I enjoy watching the sexes interacting with freedom and respect. After the men leave to de-ice a plane, the three women, all middle-aged, repeat lines, rehearse what they could have said and laugh all over again.

Now, several minutes later another woman walks up and the conversation switches to creating a wishing there were a magical machine that could lift their wrinkles and commenting on one woman's new hair color. The women switch gears, they mutually admire, they joke, but the hues have changed. They can let their hair down with each other in another way; their conversation has shifted into the ways they mutually understand female embodiment.

Unfortunately male and female friendships where the sexual element is neither erased nor swollen into raw erotic desire is hard to find.

Since most of our day to day interaction with men will be in the realm of friendship, if we're afraid that every close female/male friendship will erupt in illicit sex, we will not interact with men well. We will close off our person-hood and femininity and interact in functional ways. Kind of like the way I interact with my car: I expect it to offer a service, I feed it gas and oil and sometimes clean the windows, but I do not want to know what it thinks about, how it feels, what dreams it has. I see women relate like this to men, there's a cold efficiency in their actions, little eye-contact, a mechanical-ism that isolates and dehumanizes both parties. Perhaps it makes us feel safer. I know I whip out this functional behavior when men whistle at me, I stiffen my neck and regard them with the same interest I'd give a fence post. They've reduced me to merely my body, so I return the favor. I do not look into their eyes with any warmth. I can't and remain safe.

In a world where people are wounded and wound each other, I wonder if there are places women can be warm and fully embodied in our femininity with men?

I believe women, for instance, are always aware of the otherness of men (as men are of women), in a way that colors all male-female interaction differently than the hues in female friendship can.

When I meet a man I note the way he is different, no matter how similar our interests, training, upbringing, ethnicity or faith. A man incarnates to me another way to be human. And this otherness imbues my conversation with him with a brighter spectrum of mystery, more discovery, more suspense. This interest between the sexes is in part responsible for our love of movies where the guy and girl meet and navigate their relationship. What will they become? How do they see each other? Who are they individually and separately?

All humans come with a body predisposed to offer love in one of two ways, we give either female or male love. Instead of calling this our sexuality, since sexual can refer to the sex act or our gender, I'd prefer to talk about how we give to others in either feminine or masculine ways. So, how does a man love? What makes his love different than a woman's love?

The answer, I think, will constitute our femininity (or masculinity) and I believe begins when we realize how our souls are wrapped into this body we have, with male and female parts, hormones, experiences.

I believe men and women in the church easily believe that women can tempt a man beyond what he is able to resist (the vice versa is also true), so rules to guard marriage and prevent temptation get set up. Rules like, "Never be alone with a woman (including offering rides, meeting for a meal in a public place, meeting for a project)." Perhaps this feels safer, and sometimes it is.

But when do these rules prevent the divine alliance of masculinity and femininity from learning how to relate in sexually honoring ways. Sometimes stringent male-only and female-only activities keep men from personally knowing any women in their lives, save family members and spouse. It also inflates the mystery between the sexes, which, in my opinion, balloons out into misunderstandings, unBiblical Mars-Venus ideology and even provides more room for fantasizing about our co-workers. It's easier to project upon a mysterious man the ideals we want, isn't it?

Nothing cures a fantasy like a dose of the real person, in a friendship. When I've grown attracted in a base way to the bodies of friends' husbands, I used to think I had only one option: get away from temptation. Cut off friendship with him and maybe even with his wife.

But there is another option, I've found learning to know them better can actually douse my sexual fires with a cold splash of water.

My only rule of thumb: I do not let myself grow close to a married man without first growing even closer to his wife. Out of these friendships I learn about his masculinity, his person-hood that will be inevitably more flawed than who I made him out to be. He's not particularly patient with his children; he runs away from confrontation; he is more fallen and more human than I could have believed.

I believe this was Jesus' way of being so close to women, without giving into the temptation (he must have felt) to make love to them. He knew the dance of personal intimacy without sexual innuendo. This is how I want to treat the men in my life.

26 comments:

Amy said...

Thanks for the wise words on friendships! I am in my second year at a public university, and my first year, it was awfully difficult to find male friends. The ratio of 2 girls to 1 guy doesn't help matters, but it was also problematic to engage in conversation without seeming like you are coming on to the person! This year I have slowly been navigating honest, genuine friendships with males, and has presented challenges. I have found, like you, Jonalyn, that when I begin to feel romatically toward a guy, getting to know him better assauges those feelings. I begin to see him more humanly and not as an object of my romanticism, therefore allowing me to become better friends with him. I have found myself very much enjoying having these male friends, though it took me a while to get there!

A big part of the problem for many young, Christian women has been our prior indoctrination to the topic. Many Christian books that I read on dating or even guy/girl relationships of any kind seem to say that any close interactions with the opposite sex are not honoring to your future spouse. One book even said that any time spent alone with a person of the opposite sex could and likely should be regarded as a date. The girls who maybe need some caution in this area are likely not reading these books, but the girls who are already being cautious ARE reading these books, therefore making them cautious to a dangerous degree that stifles potential healthy and beneficial relationships with guys. This is a problem that I have not yet figured out how to solve. I think one alternative would be to direct girls away from reading too many books on relationships, which can be an easy trap to fall into as a young woman.

Anyway, this topic has been on my mind this summer and school year, so when I read your post, I was appreciative of an articulation of some of my thoughts! (I also appreciated your citation of Anne of Green Gables - my favorite fictional character :))

Fiona L Cooper said...

Thanks for writing this!

On the subject of what's sexy: For me it's about an attitude of mind, rather than a style of dress. I think the sexy people are those who are comfortable with their femininity/masculinity and their soul identity; they're not trying to project a different image of themselves and they're not the ones who are either flaunting their bodies or obviously aware of their own beauty. I also think that watching someone do whatever it is they're really good at can be very sexy.

About femininity and the interplay of the sexes: I think treating men in a 'functional' way is, as you say, not the right attitude to have, because it demeans their humanity. However, I think it's difficult for women to fully express our femininity in the presence of a man without it becoming flirtatious. At least, I have not found the balance:

I have chosen a career path which has always been dominated by women and so, when I get the opportunity, I love spending time with men, because of their 'otherness,' their different perspectives and interests. However, I feel somewhat restricted in my interactions with the men I know when their wives are not present, because I am so very conscious of my status as a single woman. I feel that I need to make sure I am not giving any signals of attraction at all, so that it's absolutely obvious to anyone watching that there's nothing going on between us. And this leads to my constant checking of myself while I'm interacting with them, and, now that I think of it, I realise I very very rarely ever start a conversation with any of them unless their wives are nearby. So I don't actually feel as though I can fully be myself, which is a shame.

[However, when their wives are present, I tend to interact more with the women, and can be much more relaxed, so I do get to be myself around the men, just not when I'm on my own with them.]

I am also aware of acting in a similar way around single men I'm not attracted to, in the hope of not encouraging any interest on their part. I think there is a very thin line between being friendly and encouraging interest, and I've often made a mistake in either offending someone who was just being friendly or unwittingly making someone think I was interested in more than friendship when I wasn't. But my instinct is always to lean towards the less friendly option.

Do you think I'm being too cautious?

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Amy,

Good to hear your experience at college. You're right about it taking lots of time and patience to generate the pattern of healthy female/male friendship. I keep a sharp eye out for stellar examples, but they are few and far between. When I find them I glob on to watching how they maintain their person-hood and their integrity. It's so cool to watch men and women interact well.

I'd agree with you that you can read TOO MANY books on a subject. This is particularly important for me right now with all the child-rearing/birthing books out there and even more significant when so many books disagree or slather on shaming or blaming tactics to get you to conform to their point of view.

I'm all about customizing our theology of friendship to the people we love and to our own unique soul and body situation. For instance, I've recently read about a male and female co-worker whose work constitutes long hours of video editing in a dark, private room wanted to get lunch together. What would you suggest?

To leave the room and have lunch together (well-lit, public, busy) was actually a less provocative environment for them than their editing work. But many books on dating/friendships with the opposite sex say to NEVER have lunch alone with an unmarried, unromantically involved man. So, yes, I'd agree that too many books on a subject (when they're haphazardly chosen) can cloud our judgment and the all-important pipe-line to listening to the Spirit guide us.

p.s. HOORAY FOR ANNE!

Philip said...

This is comment is not really related to the main part of sexiness, but your view of our souls being wrapped up into our body reminds me of the Jewish idea of the soul every time I hear you refer to it. The Jewish understanding of the soul is not that the body has a soul, but that the soul has a body. The body is a dimension of the soul.

I don't know if I mention this to you before, but I thought it might be good for you to study into more deeply. My professor has a whole book on the soul and how understanding our soul relieves alienation in our lives. It's called Overcoming Alienation, and his name is David Patterson.

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Fiona,

Great points about sexiness--I am in wholehearted agreement that this attitude of mind is so key. So when I watch ANYONE do something they're good at I feel attracted to them, amazed at them--and in our culture this is often what we mean when we say someone is sexy. But the word "sexy" is so slippery, it could mean "this is a person who has attributes that I so like I want to have sex with them" or it could mean "this is a person who is attractive to me, someone I want to be close to." Both of which are very related but not identical. The first feels possibly more covetous than the second.

Follow-up questions for you (and anyone else who'd like to respond):

How do you "fully express your femininity" when among women?

And how are these same actions/interactions difficult for you to do with men without becoming flirty?

For you, what does it mean to be flirty?

Do you (or anyone else) feel it's possible to be truly feminine without interacting with men? This one I have no decided answer on, but would love to hear your thoughts.

As far as you being too cautious, I think it really depends on the man, woman or couple in question. One thing I've been very encouraged by is how opening up this very topic with the wife in the couple can ease the tension. Ask her questions like, "I enjoy talking and being friends with both of you so much, do you enjoy being friends with the guys in couples as much as the girls?" Then see how she interacts. A leading couple of questions like this will allow your married girlfriend to express her fear/jealousy or concern she has that women are flirting with her husband.

A lot depends on the husband's tendency toward flirtation (this word again, I'm realizing we really must define it :)) or the wife's perceived opinion about her husband's flirtation. Is there a history of unfaithfulness in the husband? Is the wife habitually jealous? These would lend me to be more cautious.

However, in most situations, where I am not aware of any infidelity, or when I'm interacting with a single guy, I use these principles to guide me.

1- laugh and smile but do not make long, sustained eye-contact. In other words, don't peer too deeply into his soul when we're one-on-one. If Dale is engaged in the conversation I usually go much deeper.

2- ask the questions I love to ask of others, but easily include those around us in our conversation

3- Consciously reveal the less flattering sides of myself, confess little things in honesty if the conversation naturally lends itself to that. Things like: pettiness during a quarrel with a friend, un-forgiveness and quick temper a few days ago, gratitude for the grace of my husband and friends. This allows me to be personal without being false (an adjective I think it bound up with problematic flirtation).

I appreciate your hesitation and caution, but I do think Jesus would be excited about you feeling more free to be yourself with men. Your concern to be wise is a lovely act of sacrifice and love to all your friends. May the Spirit give you wisdom as you navigate these waters!

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Deborah,

I jotted the powers that be at Kyria a note including your problem viewing. That must be very frustrating. I'll get back to you if they have any suggestions.
Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I agree that "to be wise is a lovely act of sacrifice and love to all your friends". The Christian life is one of sacrifice and personally I would err on the side of caution rather than risk hurt feelings (mine or someone else's) or worse.

As far as "rules" in books, as a divorced woman, I find them helpful guidelines in protecting my heart from men who are not appropriate for me (ie. not available, suitable or interested in pursuing me for marriage). I think unmarried women get hurt a lot with pseudo relationships, getting too close emotionally, then getting rejected. It's like going through a mini-divorce each time so again, in my opinion caution is key with something as important as human hearts.

I love the thoughts about being friends with a married man. A wife's reaction is everything but we should take care to "read between the lines" too. Some wives don't want to seem like nags and they allow their husbands much freedom but in a society with a divorce rate as high as ours, likely feel some insecurity they don't talk about. We must be extremely cautious not to cultivate a relationship with a married man that causes him to be emotionally unfaithful, weakening his marriage. RB

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jonalyn. I appreciate your further suggestions in the comments here on how to befriend wives and how to not send the wrong signals to men when alone (I AM one to search the eyes a lot... good to think about). I'm really struggling in that I seem to have a tendency to get to know ministry leaders and a calling to the same... and this usually means that their wives are not present, just by virtue of the circumstances in which we connect. I've had little control over circumstance in these particular cases (to give one example, weekly prayer conference calls with leaders while their wives are attending to home matters). I have found it so very hard to LATER rope the wife in, so to speak. And this HAS caused difficulties, indeed has broken relationships I think.

I am particularly concerned about a couple I will see shortly but whom I only get to see once a year or so in person (we do keep in touch some). Try as I may, particularly with very scant opportunities, I don't feel like I've connected well with the wife at all and find her a particularly difficult woman to connect with even though I think we have potential (just hard to "get there"). I also find her harder than usual to read. On the other hand, her husband has gone so far as to call me his twin in certain aspects of ministry personality and call. They are a good deal older; that is not an issue.... Still. So I have been praying about it, as there seems to be some sort of mentorship thing God is birthing in this relationship, as confirmed many times over, one that is very important to me. But I feel like there are some barriers to break through in getting to a place of sufficient heart connection and trust. This may actually be harder as a single woman.

As for the ways we express femininity around men and women, I think I find it necessary to physically move differently with men. By nature, I might throw some whimsical dance into my body language or step that I might leave out with men as not to seem to be trying to provoke allurement. Ditto for some degree of playfulness in laugh, etc. that I might sometimes feel a need to hold back on.


Deborah

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Deborah.
This from the Kyria technology department:
The issue that this customer reported appears to be a problem on their computer, potentially with the browser they're using. We would suggest that they use another browser and see if the problem replicates itself.

Hope this helps!
Jonalyn

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Philip,
Thanks for the tip, sounds like a valuable concept for me to get my head around. I'll get it!

RB,
Thanks for your insight!

Deborah,
Your situation seems to need extra prayer and insight. What a challenge! I agree that single women (as RB pointed out) have a harder load to bear in this regard. Our over-sexualized American culture doesn't help matters either.

Could you invite the wife/wives over for a brunch or tea to really get to know them better?

I know what you mean about having to limit some "body" freedoms when around men. I want to be myself, but not draw undue attention.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the good thoughts, Jonalyn. I've tried to reach out as I can, but these leaders are all states away... so seeing them is rare and the wives rarer. It's sort of like I am connected and quite called to one part of the country but not "released" by God to live or really travel much there yet. I also feel I got off on the wrong foot w/ one or two wives by accident--only slightly "off" but it is hard to rectify first and/or scant impressions.

Yeah, I'm afraid my computer is fairly messed up. I never should have gone with Vista. No new browsers for me though... I don't need more reasons to pull my hair out! ;-)

Blessings :)

Deborah

Brit said...

Jonalyn, in light of this topic I would love to hear your thoughts on this article: http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2009/11/03/exclusive-joanna-krupa-posing-naked-playboy-new-form-feminism/

What are your thoughts on this models opinions of sexuality and empowerment?

Anonymous said...

I'm certainly not a feminist but in my opinion posing nude for Playboy doesn't empower women. Perhaps the women who pose gain something, money, more fame etc., but women as a whole gain nothing but one more impossible standard to try to live up to. (and we mustn't forget the photos are retouched quite a bit, so we aren't even competing with a real woman)

Women's bodies are beautiful and special and one of the ways the perception of specialness can be retained is by reserving nudity for one's husband. The lack of modesty in women today only turns women into commodities and I think God wants so much more for us.

And sorry Ms. Krupa, taking off your clothes doesn't make you talented, creative or smart (although you may be all of those things).

The most creative, nurturing, and yes, powerful women I've known have never posed nude for a magazine. RB

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Brit,

Glad you posted this link here as it helps us tease apart what makes a woman sexy. I think her interview and pictures bring up the crucial question of purpose.

What is the purpose of having a female (or male) body?

My own view begins in Eden with God making men and women to need one another. This interdependence was shattered with the fall in Genesis 3, but Jesus (as well as Paul see 1 Cor 11:11) are deeply concerned with resurrecting the mutuality/partnership of the sexes (see Jesus in Matt 19:6).

I think our bodies are the only way we can demonstrate our love while on earth. Being a woman in this world means we have the capacity to be sexually alluring/attractive. So, I want to ask the further question of what is the purpose of this capacity to attract is (by the way I think men have this capacity, too).

I think Proverb 5 helps steer us in the right direction (notice the sexual metaphor of water),

"Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.

Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?

Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers.

May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.

A loving doe, a graceful deer— may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love.

Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man's wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?

For your ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all your paths."

I think it's safe to say that Krupa's body prevents women and men from feeling like their bodies are intoxicating ENOUGH. There are many ways to embrace the body of another woman (mentally and physically, both do damage, but in different proportions. How can you drink water from your own well with Krupa's body in mind?

Further, if Krupa is concerned to help women enjoy their bodies, she set up a terribly unfair competition by exposing herself as easy eye-candy with all the accoutrements of lighting, make-up, the leisure of working out, the access of mass-distrubution that a normal wife, mother, girlfriend will never have access to.

These perks have created a culture today where Krupa's job is coveted (note the playboy bunny decals on cars, the key chains and shirts young women choose to buy). But her job is limited to those with a certain size and proportion of body, one that few of us will every attain. She speaks about how her photos "happen to give men pleasure", but this isn't an accidental perk. Women's power to earn more, design the porn shoot and be co-creators of the porn industry (whether this is true is debatable see: Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers and the sexually explicit movie Who Wants to Be a Porn Star?) hings on the "happenstance" of men looking. But few women will every attain this power. If she normalizes her work as a uniquely empowering experiences, she's setting up a hierarchy based, in my mind, on transient (who keeps that body forever?) and selective qualifications. Instead of empowering more women, she's actually dis-empowered most females.

How many women do you know who could physically, morally, psychologically handle the porn industry. Pornography automatically cuts out women who want to bear children, women who are young, women who are old. Porn actually distances women from each other.

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Continued from above:

Surely we can experience the power of being attractive by using this potency in a healthy way, without resorting to titillating strangers' sexual appetite. For instance, engaging men and women with our clothing enhancing but not distracting from our person hood and soul within. I feel like Krupa's pictured distract me from her person hood.

I would call Krupa's photography titillating, sexy, but impersonal. Being cut off from a personal engagement with her as a soul with desires, beliefs, emotions, it feels like the frosting without the cake. She's sexy to look at, but I don't know her in any sense. This is the great tragedy of her work.

Even amazing actresses who bare as much if not more than she, are communicating more about their ideas, their talents, their concern for doing art (acting/communicating truth well) than her pin-up shots. Though the question of nudity in Hollywood is another issue.

Krupa says nudity is natural. Interesting idea but one I disagree with. Modesty, since the Fall, is actually more natural, just try riding up in an elevator with a male stranger wearing nothing but your bikini. You will find yourself naturally wanting nothing more than a cover-up.

To reveal ourselves to people we do no know, physically, emotionally, etc, constitutes a violation of chastity or modesty. And disclosure, appropriate to the level of intimacy is what helps us distinguish marriage from friendship from acquaintances. I will never post a picture of myself in a bikini on facebook, simply because those looking at my pictures on facebook do not know me well enough to warrant that kind of disclosure.

Isn't it interesting that Scripture in the King James Version uses the act of knowing as an idiom to mean "making love". "And Adam knew his wife." Genesis 4:1

Whenever anyone wedges personal knowing away from sexual prowess, they've depersonalized, and thereby dehumanized us and themselves.

I want more for women and men.

Fiona L Cooper said...

Jonalyn,

Good questions!

I fully express my femininity by just completely being myself. I don't think about how I move, what I'm wearing or what I talk about: I enjoy exaggerating my movements sometimes when I'm feeling very comfortable with friends, including things like swinging my hips, which I would never do in the company of men; I like to wear clothes that emphasise my feminine shape (close-fitting t-shirts, hip-hugging jeans, strappy tops) but around men, I definitely feel more conscious of how I might be drawing their attention in these clothes. Not that it always changes my choice of clothes, but it definitely makes me more aware of what I'm wearing and therefore a bit more self-conscious. And with women, I am more than happy to talk about all kinds of personal stuff that I wouldn't talk about around men - I remember one occasion when I had already mentioned to a girlfriend that I was going to go and shave my legs, and later in the conversation, after her husband had joined us, she referred to that and I felt rather embarrassed that he knew a somewhat intimate detail about me!

I feel that if I am fully myself with a man then inevitably my femininity is expressed in contrast to his masculinity and I really feel that whenever I am in a situation where I notice the feminine/masculine contrast then I am in danger of being flirtatious, as I am drawn to think about these differences and enjoy them.

I think flirting for me is giving into my desire for attention from a man and it plays out in my facial expressions and body language, which I believe are a huge big neon sign telling the guy in question, "I'm enjoying your company as a member of the opposite sex and maybe there's an attraction there and we could take it further, what do you think?"

This is a topic which I am working out my own thoughts on at the moment and your post was very helpful. I really like your principles of interaction with men and I guess they're not too far from what I've been doing in practice, without having ever thought it out properly.

I don't want to be over-restricting myself and therefore not expressing all of who God made me when there's really no reason for it. And neither do I want to just 'let it all hang out' all the time and run the risk of attracting attention I don't want!

It does feel to me like 'navigating waters' as you so beautifully put it and I guess I should pray more for wisdom in these issues.

Thanks!

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Fiona,

I love your openness. I agree that it's easier to be more open and even intimate in sharing details with girlfriends than guys who are friends. I feel the otherness of men is attractive and yes, this is something to be aware of and ask the harder questions about.

An excellent book on the significance of men and women's bodies is "The Theology of the Body" by Pope John Paul II. He says in response to the Edenic narrative in Gen 2, "Femininity in some way finds itself before masculinity, while masculinity confirms itself through femininity.” p. 166

I wonder if this has anything to do with our ability to feel quite feminine without a man around, and yet men's longing to have a woman around to make them feel manly. I don't entirely know, just conjecturing.

Here's another interesting perspective from a great book on this called "Sex for Christians" by Lewis Smedes. An oldie but goodie. He says that we must be careful to not mistake the personal amazement, interest and desire for closeness for lust or flirtation.

I found that particularly liberating as I used to think that my attraction to a man (without any predatory feelings) was lustfulness. How we respond to this feeling of attractiveness indicates if we are being flirtatious. Though in doing a quick search for what flirt means I found flirt =
1. to court triflingly or act amorously without serious intentions; play at love; coquet.
2. to trifle or toy, as with an idea: She flirted with the notion of buying a sports car.

I no longer believe that desire a man's attention is necessarily flirtatious. I think you can avoid both definitions of flirt and still feel attracted to a man, even desire closeness without crossing this boundary.

A lot hinges on our intentions, don't you think, our mindfulness of treating the men in our lives as persons, not play things?

When you said, "I think flirting for me is giving into my desire for attention from a man and it plays out in my facial expressions and body language, which I believe are a huge big neon sign telling the guy in question, "I'm enjoying your company as a member of the opposite sex and maybe there's an attraction there and we could take it further, what do you think?"

I think that desire for attention from a man is not evil per se. The deeper and more pivotal questions seems to be: "Why do you want this attention? For what purpose? To show him you care for him? To make yourself feel more important than other women? Or just to enjoy being loved, too?"

Hard questions for us all to answer!

Thank you for your vulnerability.

Corinne said...

Hi Jonalyn,

I tried to leave a comment to this post a few days ago but it never showed up, so maybe I posted incorrectly (I'm still sort of a novice at blogging).

I was just wondering if you think maybe this issue is something that comes up more in a church environment than a secular environmnet, and if it may be changing with each generation. The reason I ask is because it is hard for me to identify with this idea of "otherness" that you spoke about. I don't know what your own background is, but I attended public schools growing up and was really never confronted with the whole "Mars/Venus" ideaology until I began attending church as a young adult. That is, I was never taught in school or at home that I needed to be/feel/act a certain way because I'm a female or that I should be uncomfortable in the presence of men who were not family members.

Now, as an adult I find that I have very few opportunities to socialize just with other women. I'm in school now and almost all of my socializing is group activities involving both men and women. Most of my friends are still single but some are married and this doesn't seem to prevent anyone from forging friendships with one another. I also can't say that I feel less comfortable expressing myself to my male friends than my female friends. We seem to talk about all kinds of different topics without it being an issue (maybe we're just a very open group?).

Anyway, this leads me to believe that maybe the gender-polarization that takes place in many churches plays a hand in some of these feelings. I've noticed how many churches tend to make all of their activities sex specific: i.e. men's/women's bible studies, dinners, retreats, etc. Maybe if churches began making their activites more inclusive of the entire church body, these issues would take care of themselves.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm appreciating this conversation and relating to points both Fiona and Corinne make (and Corinne, I relate to not liking the sort of separation of the sexes and overblown ideas of differences one can encounter in Church, although I also find worthwhile thoughts on gender distinctives or strengths and our co-ed interplay to consider as I develop as a woman.)

Jonalyn, I am intrigued by the John Paul II quote. I really should read more of him. Some of his poetry is astounding. Anyhow, the quote: " "Femininity in some way finds itself before masculinity, while masculinity confirms itself through femininity.” This quote appears to reverse the traditional idea of the woman as responder. Now, whatever the sources (e.g., in cultural issues developing after the fall, in inherent psychology, etc.), I do believe that feminine "family resemblances" such as the ones you describe in your book tend to be responding to environment and to others... and out of THAT leading (not less leaderly in gifting even though we sometimes tend to think of responsiveness that way). But I also think I see truth in your speculation on masculine responsiveness. I wonder (even more speculatively) if this is b/c girls never have to separate their gender identity from mother, but boys have a process of separation in finding their gender identity that involves the instability of bonding to others who are likewise trying to find an identity out of separation. That seems like a harder thing and one that might set boys up to look to others for gender identity, perhaps all the moreso if they didn't have the easiest time getting there (and need affirmation). They may not feel free to look to male others for the deepest needs of this area depending on how safe that early bonding with father and friends was, but then they come to an age where coed bonding is expected and start to find comfort in the identity otherness gives them.

Well, chuckle. Maybe.

Deborah

Nicole said...

Online, there was an interview with the Victoria's Secret Angels answering "What is the most important thing to be sexy?" Everyone of them said it was confidence.

I would change that to peace. A woman who is at peace with her soul and her body will dress in a manner that is both fashionable and respectful. She doesn't walk like she's trying to get attention, her peace keeps her from desperation.

I always thought that this is what the Bible talks about when it says a "gentle and quiet spirit". If her spirit is quiet, it means that there is no internal storm, you can "go fishing" without fear of a "tsunami". The woman could be outgoing or reserved, but she exudes a type of peace, a shelter from the storm of life, that makes you want to be around her.

The most beautiful women I know, may not be the most genetically gifted. But the inner peace overflows from them. The peace brings them contentment, and I have yet to meet someone unpleasant who is also content.

Because she is at peace with her body, she doesn't need to manufacture it to fit the cover of a magazine. She regards her body as the temple of God; something to be honored, cherished and cared for wonderfully. She doesn't fight her body, and can gladly accepts compliments that she's beautiful. After all, the compliments are merely confirming what she already knows.

The most sexy woman is one who knows the power she hold in her feminine body, one who knows that regardless of size, she is extremely sexy.

Anne Boleyn was not considered pretty. Her appearance (dark hair, skin, and eyes) was the exact opposite to the standard of beauty at the time (fair, blonde hair, blue eyes). Well, we all know what she did! :)

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Corinne,

I'm glad blogger finally worked for you. Thank you for these thoughts!

Your comments about this "otherness" being more apparent in Christian above secular environments makes sense to me. The gender specific activites have often bothered me. Though I do think some all women and all men events can be rich and healthy, I think most activities are best representative of God's image on earth when both genders participate.

I think the church culture tends to over-emphasize differences, often to the harm of both genders understanding one another. We are, after all, both from Earth, not Mars or Venus. :)

When I say "otherness" however, I tend to ground that feeling in the biological differences between men and women. This is something that's been heightened in my pregnancy. As I see my body making space for this child, and in the process slowing down, getting winded, etc, I'm finding my body requires others to get "simple" tasks done. I'm more thankful and observant of men's strength than I've ever been. I think the differences are less an issue for me and more a cause for respect and gratitude.

I was not taught to be uncomfortable in the presence of men who are not family members, but I do recall noticing the differences between my brother and me, in the ways men and women interacted, the social cues, the dating steps, these have always fascinated me.

For instance, from a young age the way girls would act around guys was always interesting. The whole giggly nervousness, the awkward conversation, always seems to be pointing to the otherness of each other. I still see it today with pubic and private school teens. Hopefully this changes into more mature conversation. But I still find my conversation with men different from my conversation with women.

Since you are unmarried, I'd imagine this is less obvious because there is a built-in freedom with single people that married people do not always taste. However, how do you interact with married men? Perhaps you can pick up this otherness there.

While I relate to you and also find it easy to share ideas, even personal ones, with both men and women, I have found that the way I interact with a man remains more chaulked with awareness of our sexual differences than my interaction with a woman.

I think secular movies point this out as well. Remember in the movie Juno, when Juno spends a lot of time with the adopting father of her child and her mom calls her out on it, "You can't hang out alone with a married man, there are rules, Juno." And Juno says, NO way, we're just friends. Then she's proven mistaken.

I think the otherness of men actually highlights my time with them with an embellishment that my time with women lacks. I don't see it as an issue, more of an illumination of my interdependence (see 1 Cor 11:11).

In your experience does your interaction with guys mirror your interaction with girls in all respects?

If so, that would be interesting to know. If not, I'd be interested to know how they differ.

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Deborah,

I agree that the tendency for women to bond with their mothers, while boys have to separate sooner is part of the culprit for boys "natural" leadership or separateness/resistance to interdependence.

HOWEVER, I think that if we had more co-parented households, we'd find this changing, substantially, which means this difference is grounded more in nurture than nature. This is part of the reason Dale and I are excited about co-parenting our child.

I also think men are natural responders in so many ways. The sexual act itself, for it to be mutually pleasurable, requires the man to respond to the woman's body, not just vice versa.

Much has been spoken of how men are the penetrators and how this is like the Holy Spirit penetrating us. But what about the ways women reflect God's nature in the sexual act, too. Without getting too explicit, think of the way the woman surrounds, captures, encloses, holds the man. She prepares a place for him to enter. Think of how this enclosure mirrors the way God surrounds, provides and protects us. I think it was Jesus who said he wanted to gather Israel like a hen gathers her chicks.

Both men and women initiate and respond.

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Nicole,

I'm fascinated by your insight that peace is the key to sexiness, not mere confidence. I think I'd agree, but want to know more.

What you mean when you say peace. Would you equate peace with contentment? If so, how would you define contentment?

Would you use serenity as a synonym for peace, or would you link peace to the Jewish idea of shalom?

Shalom = all is right with the world and with me in it, nothing missing, nothing broken, well-being, complete.

I think an interesting challenge would be to reconcile our brokeness and knowledge of it with this shalom type of peace. So we know there is disease and unhealth in each of us (body and soul), how do we make peace with that in a way that reflects God?

It would also be interesting to see how we blend our passion with peace. For instance, I like being passionate and feel God has given me this zeal or enthusiasm for life (enthusiasm coming from the word "in" and "God"). How do you demonstrate peace and enthusiasm?

Nicole/Tasha said...

Hmm, I'm not exactly sure on how I would define peace, but here's a try. (please excuse the rambling)

I equate peace with a type of contentment, not just bearing with your body, but actually learning to like it. I define contentment as acknowledging that things are not perfect, and they probably don't fit into one's plans/ideas, but they are good enough.

There should be an aspect of shalom in that one should think everything is right with your body, even though society and our perfectionist selves may say otherwise (this is excluding illness).

Tyra Banks (former Victoria's Secret model) was talking about how she hates the dimples she has on her buttocks. This is Tyra Banks, supermodel, who managed to find something not perfect with her body.

Reconciling illness with the human body is difficult. Many times I feel my body is the prison of my soul, instead of the visible reflection of it. Sin corrupts everything, it damages everything from marriages to bodies. The best way I have found to deal with a damaged body, is to deal with it in a similar way to my other imperfections; accept, yet battle.

As you said, we have are broken body and soul. Using my body to portray Christ being made perfect in my weakness is the only way I know how to bring Christ into my illness. There have been so many times I have been close to suicide, I do not know how I am still alive. I do not think about tomorrow, because it is too overwhelming. Christ MUST carry me, I am too weak to go alone.

This is an article about Abraham Lincoln's depression and how he dealt with it. It was very interesting and had some good ideas on illness,our body, and soul.
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200510/lincolns-clinical-depression/

Passion and peace, hmm. I think peace with your body would be a springboard for your passion in life. It would make it very hard to love life when the vessel through which you experience life is the bane of your existence. Your body would almost become a ball and chain holding you back.

I believe you referenced it in "Ruby Slippers" when you discussed how women are so sure our bodies are disgusting, that it makes it impossible to accept compliments from husbands, let alone be properly intimate with them.

Personally, peace with my body is something I must continually work on. Much along the lines of my perfectionism and your struggles with lust. When I am winning my battle with perfectionism, life is soo much more enjoyable since I am temporarily free from those bonds. I imagine it must be similar with your battle against lust.

Thank you for being so honest in your writing. It takes great strength to make yourself so vulnerable.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, Jonalyn! (Deborah)

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Nicole/Tasha,
I love ramblings on things like this so no need to apologize.

I like what you said to "accept, yet battle" the pock-marked sin in our lives.

The article about Lincoln's melancholy was excellent (btw have you bought the book?). I highly recommend to my readers to check the article out.

I can see how depressive realism (as the article explains) has given you a truth-edge that many do not possess.

I found this quote a wonder: "Man is born broken," the playwright Eugene O'Neill wrote. "He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue!"

Have you found yourself mending in the way you are "doing battle"? If so, I think I and other readers would love to hear ways of doing battle that have brought you peace?

Love your mind and sharing,
Jonalyn