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.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Article for Kyria

Today's Christian Woman is no more, but before you exclaim in alarm, Christianity Today has a new digital magazine (or digizine) for women.

It's called Kyria, a word that in Greek means "honored woman." It's brand spanking new, which is probably why I got a chance to write an article for the first issue. :)

I originally titled my article"Women and Their Wonderful Bodies" but they've changed it to "What our Bodies Tell us about our Identities" which makes sense give the 1st issue is all about BORN IDENTITY.

I wrote about the chance women have to wonder why their bodies are wonderfully made. You'll find a poem by George Herbert nestled in the article, too.

To read it, and see the nifty graphic design of this new digizine visit Kyria THIS month.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about the magazine and the case for women's bodies being wonderful little numbers.