Objectification and Theology: Part 1

“I hate my body.”
“I’m so ugly.”
“If only I had a gap between my thighs.”
“I’ll go dancing again—but not until I lose some weight.”
“Do I need a boob job?”  “A nose job?”  “Liposuction?”  “Skin lightening?”  “Botox?”

Across North America, as women are looking into mirrors or other reflective surfaces, they are thinking things like this.  According to sociologists like Marika Tiggemann, body dissatisfaction is so common among women in North America that it is now considered normal.  I think that experience bears this out.  I’m willing to bet that if you are a woman, you have had at least one negative thought about your body this week.  There is something about your body that you wish you could change.

This is hardly news, of course.  By now we have also been exposed to great coverage of how the media is affecting our body image.  We know, at least on some level, that the images we see around us are affecting the way we feel about ourselves.

It’s just hard to access that knowledge in a dressing room under harsh lights, or first thing in the morning when we’re still half asleep, or in the bathroom at an office party when our makeup starts to smudge.

Feminists, of course, have plenty to say about why women hate our bodies.  They blame the patriarchy—that political and cultural tradition that says that men are large and in charge—and they point to our philosophical heritage of mind-body dualism.  Together, they say, patriarchy and dualism create a potent cocktail in which women are routinely objectified, treated as property in heterosexual relationships or as consumable sexual objects in the media.

Objectification messes us up.  On the one hand, it makes us feel like we are only bodies, or that our bodies are the only important thing about us.  On the other hand, we feel alienated from those bodies.  That is, we start to feel like our bodies aren’t really us.  They’re just clay that we have to mold to a specific shape.  And because of the influence of a misogynistic patriarchy, we also come to feel that our bodies are dirty, never-good-enough, worth nothing until a man decides they are worth something.

Christianity gets blamed for this attitude, and not without reason.  There is an ugly tradition of woman-hating in our history: men who considered women to be temptresses out to seduce them and destroy their virtue.  There is also some confusion in Christian theology about the body.  Some Christians have come to believe that our bodies are nothing more than meat-suits that we wander around in until we die and then our spirits go to heaven.

These Christians are mistaken.

They’ve (mostly) accidentally inherited some dualism from good old Plato…this idea that mind/spirit/soul is better, higher, purer than bodies/matter.  Sadly, when this dualism comes into play, women get stuck on the body/matter side of things, and men get to live on the mind/soul side.

Because women are considered impure matter under this system, we are treated like objects.  We are treated as if we have no souls, no minds, no spirits.

Is it any wonder that we end up treating our bodies like trash, and at the same time thinking that they are most important thing about us?

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3 thoughts on “Objectification and Theology: Part 1

  1. Deborah says:

    I am struck by how clearly you delineate which gender has received which package:

    Sadly, when this dualism comes into play, women get stuck on the body/matter side of things, and men get to live on the mind/soul side.

    Because women are considered impure matter under this system, we are treated like objects. We are treated as if we have no souls, no minds, no spirits.

    Is it any wonder that we end up treating our bodies like trash, and at the same time thinking that they are most important thing about us?

  2. Thanks! It might be a bit of an extreme delineation, but it’s a fairly “orthodox feminist” way of viewing the effect that dualism has had on women.

  3. Deborah says:

    Yes, I’ve heard it before but not so simply and clearly. I think there’s a lot of truth in it (my facebook caveat aside).

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