I think I’ve shared with you that I’m really into interviews. Not your standard, straight forward interviews but the ones that feel more like a genuine conversation that you’re getting the chance to be privy to. Like Garance’s interview with Amanda de Cadenet that came out today or Cameron Crowe’s interview with Emma Stone in the current issue of Interview. Surely my love of these has a lot to do with the joy I take in conversation.
Not all too long ago, a friend of mine suggested that I participate in a book project about Christian women and sexuality. She said that the writer was looking for women to interview. I volunteered readily, imagining that I’d get a chance to have this type of experience. Instead, I just got a list of standardized questions to answer in my own time.
I don’t know about anyone else but the mechanics of my mind refuse to respond to that style of questioning. Every time I read through her questionnaire the gears in my brain grind to a halt. Nearly a month later, I’ve yet to compose a response.
The idea has stuck in my mind though.
Listening to the chorus of Florence + the Machine’s “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” ended up sparking an imagined interview on this subject. At the risk of making you think I’m a little crazy, or have a split personality, I’ve decided to share this imagined dialogue between Dianne and myself with you. Considering that I don’t personally know Dianne, her side of this interview is a little flat but I’m hoping that all of you can add to this dialogue.
Dianne: You talk a lot about missing New York City. Are there things that you don’t miss?
Lindsey: Sure. There a lots of little things. I didn’t miss the oppressive heat this summer, that’s for sure. I don’t miss how easily you can breeze through money just due to expenses (though I must admit that I consider eating out with friends an “expense”) or the discomforted of being creeped on by men on a regular basis. But these are all petty things. There are also certain aspects of the culture that I don’t miss, like the city’s attitude towards sex.
Dianne: What do you mean by that?
Lindsey: When I’m in Christian company, I like to make this joke that the difference between Christians in the midwest and Christians on the east coast is that Christians in the midwest at least feel bad about having sex before marriage. Out on the east coast, sex is a right. Even when Christian men tell a woman they start dating that they’re saving sex until marriage, it’s often a deal breaker. It seems like most relationships in NYC are initiated by sex and it still isn’t a guarantee you’ll actually get a second date. Even to non-Christians out here that’s kind of mystifying.
I found it pretty disconcerting.
Not only as a Christian but, as a woman…okay, as a feminist (though I like to refuse that title), I find this casual view of sex problematic and troublesome.
Dianne: It seems counterintuitive to me for you to say that you have an objection to this as a feminist. Isn’t feminism about respecting our right to take ownership of our bodies? To free ourselves from the prescribed notion that we must be pure, angelic…?
Lindsey: That’s one definition of feminism. Or one way of framing this, and it’s never struck me as the best way. I find it both problematic and self-defeating.
I take feminism to be about asserting our full humanity (something women have very much been deigned in white, western culture), and participating in the conversation about what that means to be fully human. As well, as freeing ourselves from stereotypes so that we can better define what it means to be a human woman.
The problem with that other framing is that, instead of creating a positive (as in creative and constructive) definition of what it means to be a human woman, we are defining ourselves simply in opposition to how we’ve been defined: “We don’t like that you think we’re pure so we’ll prove you wrong by being dirty.” Beyond how juvenile this response comes off as, reactive definitions are always faulty because ultimately the other person is still determining the definition.
Along with this, feminism in this vein is assuming the white men in the West have already properly defined what it means to be human. We, women, simply need to weasel our way into that definition. As a student of people and of philosophy, I think that the West still has a lot of work to do on its definition of what it means to be human and I think we have a valuable role to play in that work.
How our culture treats sex is one area I definitely think women should have a big role in shaping.
Dianne: How so?
There is a strand of feminism, that feels popular in NYC, that tells women they should have sex like men or however we “like,” that’s absent of the assertion the validity and value of our unique experience of sex. Here I’m thinking about some of Camille Paglia’s work in Sexual Personae. She touches on how our physical experience of sex, the fact that something is coming into us, affects us. She postulates that this is why women struggle to have sex as casually as men because, physically, it’s a more intimate act for us. We also are the ones who bear the physical consequence, because we are the ones who create new life. So, sex by result has more gravity for us. Her purpose for these points is different than my own but her perspective is very perceptive.
To me, the truly feminist act would be to argue that our experience of sex (how attached we get to those we have sex with, how seriously we take it, our ability to create life) is not weak or old fashioned but essentially valuable. I’d love for more feminists to loudly make the case that men have as much to learn about the true nature of sex from us as we do from them. Our “choice” should not be that we have to pretend that we are men, that we can “have sex like men” and that we must cut ourselves off from the consequence of our act so that we can feel and be empowered.
Dianne: That is an interesting perspective. I think that I am going to need to digest it more before I make a response. I’d like to go back to your experience of sex in the city.
Lindsey: More accurately, it would be my experience of being chaste in the city.
Dianne: If you weren’t having sex in the city, why did their casual view of sex bother you?
Lindsey: These ideals that we hold play themselves out in culture and create a certain environment. Since that’s a city that sings of casual sex, it creates a dating scene that feels very much like a high school-ish competition. If you are the most beautiful, driven woman who also happens to be an excellent lover who doesn’t fall in love too easily maybe you’ll win. I couldn’t buy into that. I won’t compete in a contest that I don’t believe in.
Even if you aren’t buying into it, that wears on you. I had some friends imply that being a virgin was a problem, that needed fixing. Getting that “fixed” in the city would have be easy but at what cost?
Lately I’ve been really into Florence + the Machine’s line “This is a gift, it comes with a price.” I think that this is true of all forms of intimacy from emotional intimacy to physical intimacy. I was very turned off by being in a culture that told me that intimacy is a right someone should expect from me, instead of a gift that they should work to be worthy of.
Dianne: Throughout all of this you have been very careful not to bring your faith into your stance on sex. Doesn’t your professed faith as a Christian play a big role on your opinions on sex and dating?
Lindsey: The quick answer for you would be yes and no.
I’ve been very careful about not bringing my faith into this conversation because I feel like whenever Christians talk about the broader culture they have this tendency to impose all of their ethics on everyone else. I don’t expect people who aren’t Christians to practice or believe in the same things as me. But, I think it is easy to make a case that we should respect sex (and as a result ourselves) more, without having to rely on Biblical passages or any religious narrative. As a person and not just a Christian, I think it’s an important case to be made. I have non-Christian friends who share many of the views that I’ve articulated today (minus my commitment to chastity).
When it comes to my personal commitment to be chaste (until marriage), that is directly influenced by my faith. I think that would lead us into a very different, more personal conversation than the one we have had. Most of what I’ve shared with you has grown out of my understanding and observations of people and culture.
Dianne: I would be interested in hearing more about what chastity means to you but, for tonight, we should wrap up. Thank you for being willing and open to share these thoughts with us.
Lindsey: Thank you for allowing me to be a voice in this conversation about women and sex.