Wearing Black

I didn’t actually catch the Golden Globes on Sunday. On Monday morning, though, I watched […]

Ann Lowrey Forster / 1.12.18

I didn’t actually catch the Golden Globes on Sunday. On Monday morning, though, I watched Oprah’s dazzling speech and heard Natalie Portman’s perfect one-liner. I also saw the streaming in of men and women dressed in midnight and ebony and onyx. Oprah telling us about Recy Taylor and a new horizon gives everyone all the feels; and Natalie makes me want to join the fight, burn my bra, and kidney punch my husband just for possessing a Y chromosome. But, given a few days of reflection, something strikes me as a bit off.

When people decline to come to church because of all the hypocrites in the pews, one of my favorite pastors smiles and says, “And we’d love to have one more.” We are all pretending to be something we are not, refusing to let go of our superior, earthly footing. So, it seems a bit useless to lob the hypocrite accusation at Natalie, Oprah, and the crew.

And yet, the current Hollywood sexual morality push does seem a little like my teenage daughter telling me not to be so dramatic. The cabinet full of pots are calling the kettle black, and the entire glitterati are throwing rocks from inside their own glass house. It really boils down to this: The creepy men alone have not made our oversexed culture. We have all made it. None is righteous, no, not one.

Hollywood makes culture. They do not make all the culture, and they do not make culture alone. But, the heart of the postmodern American identity beats awfully loud from the City of Angels. This identity is built with every cover of Cosmopolitan at which seventeen-year-old girls gaze longingly. Covers that many of these actresses have graced, adorned in very little — actresses now adorned in black. Covers that encourage us to learn how to do a Brazilian at home without being reduced to tears.

Hollywood has helped establish a culture in which two million cosmetic plastic surgeries are performed each year, and a proud new step this decade: more than ten thousand of those are women receiving labiaplasty. We live in a world — we have made a world — in which more than thirty women every day are being put under anesthesia to make their vulvas “more attractive.” And it is simply not all Woody Allen’s fault.

Sexual objectification leads to sexual victimization. When we compulsively and unapologetically make women into objects for consumption, we create the culture in which they are consumed.

Beautification can be a holy pursuit, and I very much want that same kidney-punched husband to see me as sexually desirable. As I was reading Cosmo covers while writing this little ditty, he happened to be looking over my shoulder, saw a headline, and said, “Baby — you have all 63 of the sexual skills.” And I like that he thinks that. I’m not arguing for a retreat to Victorian pictures of womanhood. But in our current culture, we have traded sexual desire and appeal for something cheap and, most importantly, something divorced from the whole person. We airbrush beautiful women to make them into unrealistic caricatures. Actresses are regularly told they are too old to be desirable. At forty, women are used up — because at forty, things have begun to sag and wrinkle. Because a woman’s only sexual appeal has to do with smooth and perky. And after she’s been consumed in her youth, we throw her away.

Hollywood is suffering from an old problem — a problem articulated by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans. We see ourselves and we rightly hate what we see, and yet, we continue. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (Romans 7:15, 19) We want to be equal and egalitarian and equitable, and yet, we sit entranced at Game of Thrones and buy magazines teaching us which cardio to use to Boost Your Booty and How to Read His Dirty Mind.

Until we are willing to lay at the feet of the cross what we hold so dearly, we will never move away from the grave and into the light. Hollywood won’t see an end to sexual victimization until it begins a long, painful process of putting to death sexual objectification. That goes for the rest of us as well. The solution does not lie in a list of rules or body parts that are okay to expose or narratives that are okay to tell. There is help in patient and honest reflection and in a willingness to admit that we can, despite the gray and muddled nature of it all, do better. And in the admission that we will never get it exactly right.

So I admire the ladies of the Times Up effort. They are seeing a real problem and addressing it with real solutions. We should not denigrate their work. But we must be clear: they (and we) are not above the problems, and in creating this narrative of good guys and bad guys, we could be missing other real work that needs to be done. The women of Hollywood should refuse to be sold as consumable sex objects, and we should refuse to consume them.

Alas, we probably won’t do that. I know I’ve yet to kill that demon in my own life. I’m going to have a really hard time not watching season five of The Americans. The comforting thing, of course, is found elsewhere in Romans. I’m referring to great Protestant relief, that it is not our job to fix this. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Repentance is what leads to life and joy. Neither the condemnation of the Harvey Weinsteins nor the marshalling of an army fueled by indignance will take us to glory or to rest.

There is always good work that needs doing, but we are not the ones who muster new horizons. We are the ones who repent, turn, fall, and then repent again.

And that is why we should all wear black.