Victoria’s Secret has announced its attempt to corner the pre-teen market. Of course, it isn’t simply producing simple undergarments, but instead has decided to “sexualize” preteens. The CFO even said that the new line is targeted at young teenage girls to make them feel as cool as college girls. This new line has panties that have “Call me” on them and “Feeling Lucky?” written on them. According to the CFO of Victoria’s Secret, then, we’re left believing that one must be sexual in order to be cool. Essentially, this company is targeting young girls who already suffer from self-image problems, have pressure to fit in, and have added hormones to boot all in an attempt to make a buck. It’s sexualizing young girls, which doesn’t empower them, but instead objectifies them.
Think of what occurred at Steubenville, Ohio. Young boys who thought they could do what they wanted to a girl because they were athletes and she was (allegedly) drunk. What is quite sickening about the whole ordeal is how their peers, both male and female, essentially normalized such an act. They quickly passed around pictures of the act, becoming instant paparazzi, yet somehow worse. They became gossip columnists not concerned at all with the victim, but just being part of a good story in which someone was deeply humiliated. The young victim was not a human, had no feelings, but was merely an object; she became nothing more than an object for sexual gratification to these young boys, but was objectified a second time by the community as nothing more than a form of entertainment. Yet, to make matters worse, she became an object by the national media as the catalyst for ruining these “young men’s” lives. CNN stands out as an example of a news agency that further objectified the victim by focusing on the young boy’s. Granted, while we ought to feel sick that these young boys have thrown their lives away, or at least drastically changed the courses of their future, we should not sympathize with them. However, CNN chose to sympathize with them while ignoring the victim. In the end, the boys, her immediate community, and even the national community objectified the victim.
Yet, should we be so shocked and surprised that rape victims are objectified in such a manner? After all, even today people commonly make arguments justifying rape, saying that provocative clothing or flirtatious actions can confuse a male into acting on his sexual urges. Some, like CNN, went out of their way to point out that the girl was supposedly drunk, as though that matters. In essence, we have created a culture where we expect women to be sexualized, we expect them to dress a certain way or they’re the butt of jokes on television and in the movies, we expect them to act a certain way or we call them prudish. In short, we have forced women to become sexual objects, arguing that this actually gives them power (it doesn’t), encouraged and normalized sexual activity, but then we’re surprised when people are desensitized to rape and further objectify women. But this shouldn’t shock us, mostly because as a culture we’ve raped the essence of womanhood. We’ve forced women into a position where they are nothing more than sexualized objects, ready for the taking. Of course, we’ve done the same thing with men as well, normalized to the point that any male that is still a virgin at the age of 18 is seen as a freak and an anomaly.
The sexual revolution, rather than freeing our sexuality, did quite the opposite by objectifying it and thus enslaving our sexuality. Anyone would tell you that sex is more than just the act, but also what comes before it, the flirting, the seduction, the chase. All of this, of course, is natural and quiet healthy within its natural limits. But when we tell young men that they are nothing more than sexual beings who’s job is to go out and have fun and we turn around and say the same thing to young women, should we be shocked when objectification happens and rape results? We’ve already robbed them of any true meaning in existence, so objectification logically follows.
For Christians, we can look to Mary, or the Theotokos (literally, “God-bearer”), or in the English translation of the name, the Mother of God. For many Protestants, such a name may cause some cringing, but the name does make sense. After all, Jesus is both human and God. He is fully divine and fully human, partaking in both the Divine nature and the human nature. As Christians, we believe that a human comes into existence at conception. Since Jesus is God and Mary held Christ in her womb, it is appropriate to say that Mary is the Mother of God; it is not appropriate to say she is the mother of the Divine nature, but she is the mother of Christ’s human nature. But since Christ cannot be divided we cannot say that she is the mother of Jesus in a sense; she is Jesus’ mother and that makes her the mother of God. Through her, salvation came into the world. Through her intercessions, Christ’s first miracle occurred and His ministry began. Through her tears, she was given over to John the Apostle as his mother and subsequently as our own mother. Finally, she is the first evangelist, the first person to proclaim that Christ was raised from the grave. Through Mary, Christ was brought into the world, His ministry began, and the good news of His resurrection was brought to the world. So Mary is very important in the Christian faith.
Mary, in the view of Christianity, is womanhood perfected. When one understands the importance of Mary to Christ and subsequently the world, one also understands the importance of women to the world. Mary displayed more strength, honor, and independence than any modern secular feminist could conjure up. When the angels came to her and said that she would give birth to our Salvation, she did not lament her position, but instead rejoiced. She lived in a time where an unwed (or even engaged) pregnant woman faced being ostracized and kicked out of society. But she first focused on the joy of the news. Ever present throughout the life of Christ, she was there for His first miracle of turning water into wine. Not only was she there, but she interceded and convinced Him to perform the miracle. She was also present for the death of her Son, laying at the cross while others mocked Him. The strength and honor of Mary is something that all women (and men) should strive to achieve.
But notice how not once did she have to rely on her sexuality. In order to have strength and honor, she did not become some sexualized object. In fact, every Church Father contends she remained a virgin after having Christ (not because sex is somehow evil or wrong, but because she was prophesied to remain solely in the service of the Lord). Many women in the Church followed Mary’s example of becoming very powerful, respectful, and independent without relying on sexualization.
Mary is, in many ways, the new Eve. Whereas Eve had disobeyed God, Mary obeyed God. Whereas Eve encouraged Adam to sin, Mary encouraged the New Adam, Christ, to holiness. Whereas Eve attempted to usurp Adam, Mary served in obedience to the New Adam. Where as eve became the first objectified woman, becoming the object of blame from Adam, Mary became the first redeemed woman, becoming blessed through accepting God into her womb. How, then, can we objectify women when they share a commonality with the Mother of God? How can we look at what Victoria’s Secret is doing to young girls and say, “Well, they just want to be cool like the college girls so it’s no big deal?” The reality is, the college girls have only bought into a form of objectification and thus we’ve created a vicious cycle. There’s nothing wrong with a wife or a husband wearing things that the spouse may enjoy. But when we take these things out of their context, we treat the person as nothing more than a sexual object; we de-personify them. This is the breeding ground for rape.
We should instead teach our young ladies (and young men) to look to Mary as the penultimate female. Here is a woman who gave up sexual desires in order to serve God. While celibacy is not a higher calling than marriage (see St. John Chrysostom’s homilies on marriage), it is still a high calling. But the highest calling is obedience to God, and Mary certainly obeyed God. We shouldn’t teach our young women to treat older, thinner, “sexier” college girls as role models. There is no empowerment for women found in objectification; when you serve the needs of man, even if you do so freely, you are still a slave. Mary, however, was free. She freely submitted to God and followed Him all her days. She is what every woman should be, someone who freely obeys and worships God. And every man should treat every woman as though she were Mary, for she is a daughter of Mary. Every man should treat every woman with the respect due to her, not by exploiting her sexuality, but by protecting it. In many cases, this is as simple as refusing to look at the woman as a sexual object, but instead to look upon her as a person (as who she really is).
Thus, we deplore Victoria’s Secret for encouraging young girls to give up who they are in the pursuit of a false image. We deplore even more a culture that celebrates the objectification of women and calls it “empowerment.” We reject this culture, this culture of rape, that first rapes the essence of womanhood and then rapes the woman. Instead, we turn to the holy Theotokos, pray that we might all learn from her, and submit to God as she did. We pray that in this submission we will find our true nature and realize our sexuality within that nature. We pray that in our submission we will find our freedom.