Is the “Purity Culture” Sexist?

When discussing purity as it relates to our awesome, sexually-liberated culture, it’s best to begin with a brief history of the female breast. The bosom has been through a lot, but allow me to point out its place in two distinct time periods, one Christian and one post-Christian.

According to the traditional feminist narrative, a heavily Christian culture that promotes purity — and even virginity — would be a culture busy repressing the hell out of the female breast, while a liberal, secularized, sexually-liberated society would be comparatively at ease with its display. Right?

So it is with some curiosity that we find that the very heart of Catholic culture gives us something like this:

In case it isn’t clear, the image depicts a grown man nursing from Mary’s breast. Now I understand this event — the Miraculous Lactation of St. Bernard, which occurred sometime mid-12th century — gives anti-Catholics a reason to chuckle, look up their favorite Freudian quotes, and otherwise label the whole thing as a phenomenon of repression. A grown man sucking a breast is, after all, entirely sexual, a turn-on even, and the fact that Catholics hold this mystical bit of awkwardness as an image of devotion is only further evidence that they need to get laid. Or something. And even Catholics themselves may recoil, blush, mutter something about metaphorical imagery and otherwise avoid the man at the breast. But whatever the worth of either reaction, neither was the reaction of the 12th century, which not only held the event and its depiction as beautiful, but saw so little shame in the vision that they depicted in their churches, using it as an image to direct the heart and mind to consider the Eternal.

My point is this: What for a Catholic age was beautiful is for our post-Christian age pornographic. What was once so self-evidently sacred that it inspired a deluge of depiction is now, and I think with equal “self-evidence,” a sexual fetish. Both ages view the female breast as sexual. But the Catholic is urged by his Holy Mother Church to view the breast as “sexual” in the true sense of the term, as pertaining to the female sex, as a physical expression of the reality of this or that particular woman, not separate from its function of nourishment, but not enslaved to it either — to see the breast as beautiful because it speaks of the person it belongs to. This makes sense of a culture for which the definition of chastity is “the successful integration of sexuality within the person.” (CCC 2338) It makes sense why there are more breasts in the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum than in 20 years of Axe commercials.

(Obviously, I’ll be the first to call out any one who claims this was every Catholic man’s view of the breast. Men have objectified and pornographied ever since we’ve had the capacity for idiocy. However I do argue that, in a culture at the very least striving to see themselves and others through the clear waters of chastity, the Lactation of St. Bernard is not a source of ew but a source of meditation, and the female breast is seen in a far more holistic light than it is today.)

Which brings me to our current culture, for which the breast is certainly sexual, but only insofar as “sexual” means “that-which-induces-erections”, a sexuality known not by its shining expression of the whole woman, but by its effect on men. In our secularized, liberal culture — in which pornography is natural and healthy – the breast is liberated to the eye of sexualization. Breasts are used to judge the overall attractiveness of women, they are pushed in our direction every time sales of crappy light beer need a boost, they are the primary focus of the media’s camera, and in the bowels of Internet culture — I’m thinking of DeviantArt especially — the addition of a human pair of breasts to an animal of your choice makes that animal sexy.

In short, the world is comfortable with showing the female breast, just not as an integrated expression of the whole female to whom it belongs. The sexual revolution has liberated the female breast as a disintegrated expression of breasts because breasts, breasts as “hot” in themselves, erection-inducing items women happen to “have,” items — indeed — to which the woman is incident. This is entirely evident in the massive demand for breast enlargement surgery. It shouldn’t come as news to us that the ideal breast size for a woman is utterly impossible: Our culture demands women be simultaneously skinny and busty, and the truly “hot” woman is one with breasts that defy physics in their magical ability to be both massive and erect. The ideal breast, and the breast shown to our culture ad nauseaum, is a breast that stands apart from nature, Platonic in pornographic perfection, utterly divorced from the actual, whole, particular woman for whom her breasts are — in reality — but a part. These men want, and these women strive for, compelled by the male gaze to pump silicone into their breasts until they balloon as stiff as Gulag prisoners lined up inspection. What else can we do when our sexual parts are no longer a reflection of ourselves, but now stand shining in their own right, a part more important than the whole? What else besides exaggerate them at the expense of any proportion within the whole human body?

And see, sometimes I wonder, “am I being too harsh?”

So perhaps a post-Christian age bares its bosom at a greater rate than the old, patriarchal age of Christianity. But where a Christian age revealed the breast in comfort, a post-Christian age does so in desperation, for while the promotion of chastity is the promotion of integration, the brave rejection of chastity — couched as embrace of freedom — is really an embrace of disintegration. What else can be said of culture in which women are simultaneously frowned upon for breast-feeding in public and told, in a myriad of situations and for innumerable ends, “tits or GTFO.”

It may be very true that the Holy Mother Church puts limits on the display of breasts. She demands we do not display female breasts as divorced from the expression of the true, beautiful, female self of which they are a part, and of which they are an expression. Her one limit is that we do not limit ourselves. Her one objection is that we work to show all of us, and thus her “no” to pornography, sexting, and stripping is not a slut-shaming that represses the free choices of girls, but a “yes” to the entire body, and thus to the entire person. She simply asks that such decisions be the decisions of the entire girl.

What our culture does with the breast, it is steadily doing to the entire female body, defining every physical expression of female sexuality as only sexual in its effect upon the male penis, whether the mouth, rear, neck, or feet, whether breast-feeding or bathing, being skinny or fat. My heart goes out to girls born into a culture busy crossing out the remaining body parts and gestures yet to be pornographied.  Pornography — whether hardcore or softcore, in media or in advertising, in strip-clubs or on cell phones, subtle or blatant — this is America’s real comprehensive sex education, had we the balls to admit it, and by it we are educated to look at women as combinations of disintegrated sexual parts.

Now in her excellent work, Female Purity is Bullshit, Lindy West argues that our concept of purity is sexist.

This entire “conversation” is just an effort to rig a system in which men get to determine female worthlessness no matter the input. There is nothing you can do to be pure. Meanwhile, they get to do literally whatever they want with anyone, to anyone, at any time. The double standard is so blatant it’s almost too boring to point out.

Again, I find myself in agreement. Expectations of “purity,” “virginity,” “modesty,” and “chastity” fall almost exclusively on women, in telling proportion with words describing unchastity — like “slut” and “whore.”  West, taking the voice of a purity-enforcing man, explains rather clearly why this is the case:

I struggle with the same powerlessness and insecurity that all human beings do, so as a coping mechanism I take advantage of our culture’s patriarchal power structure and exorcize my feelings of worthlessness by perpetuating shame-based proprietary attitudes over women’s bodies. Basically I’m obsessed with controlling women’s lives because I can’t control my own.

Maybe, but I think the reason the “purity culture” is sexist — while not excluding West’s reasoning entirely — is a little deeper than just “guys like being assholes.” “Purity” is not just another chain to control women. It’s a bad reaction to a bigger chain, an unthought, unhelpful rebellion against a choking, thorny, bind that has women by the throat, a bind West mentions, but does not understand to be the motive for vague, controlling definitions of “purity:”

We condition girls (explicitly! Not even covertly!) to believe that if they’re not sexually attractive, they’re nothing. They’re garbage. They might as well not exist.

This is why “purity culture” is sexist. Our “purity culture” takes for granted the idea that purity is an absence — an absence of sex, an absence of sexy mannerisms, and absence of sexy clothes, etc. — and then asks the world to follow it. But meanwhile, back on the ranch, the world has made almost every characteristic of women an erection-inducing characteristic. So of course the weight of “purity” falls far more heavily on women. The demand for an absence-of-erection-inducing-sexuality finds in objectified women far more to demand an absence of. Any expectation of purity described primarily as an absence of sexuality will naturally fall most heavily on the most “sexualized, ” and the man who wishes a woman to “cover up” at the expense of her good, normal expression of sexuality is a man who has been educated — not by Christianity, but by an essentially pornographic culture – to believe that a normal expression of sexuality is and must be erection-inducing.

The Catholic Church — and I don’t have the time to pretend I’m not furiously proud of her philosophy — has the answer, and its the same answer that has her churches full of beautiful nudes, male and female. By defining chastity not as an absence, but as an essentially human project, the virtue weighs no more heavily on women than men. Chastity calls everyone to the easy and terrifying yoke of becoming precisely the self they are, saying that “everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity,” (CCC 2333) begging we strive after “the successful integration of sexuality within the person” (CCC 2337) that  “eminently personal task” (CCC 2344) with the goal that all people, men and women, may own themselves. The Church, by rejecting negative definitions of purity, rejects the sexism which is a natural response of a “purity culture” to a “pornographic culture.” (This is besides the fact that she rejects the all-encompassing, false sexualization of women that leads to a sexist “purity”  in the first place.)

The reason West doesn’t seem to consider that the sexism poisoning the “purity culture” is part of a larger sexism may be because mainstream feminism has its hands far too dirty for comfort. Though we’d like to pretend that those advocating for female equality have been diametrically opposed to a worldview that promotes the false-sexualization of women, the reality is that the promotion of pornography — which educates men to see women as “sluts” for whom no body part, no action, no banal situation, career, or clothing cannot be disintegrated into something erection-inducing — has found a hero in feminism. Mainstream Jezebel-esque feminism, far from decrying objectification, has twisted itself into knots advocating feminist porn, seeking the surface-level goods such as the proper treatment of sex workers (an oxymoron) and criticism of mainstream porn, but ultimately perpetuating a culture that objectifies the human body by its very nature, displaying its every inch to a third-party as entirely divorced from the person, divorced from the infinite human subject for which it is a physical expression, divorced even from sexuality, for it is not sexuality-as-personal-revelation, but sexuality-as-useful-for-arousal.

West wishes to combat the sexism of “purity” by telling girls to “fuck what you like, when you like,” arguing that actions considered “slutty” aren’t bad, “sending naked pictures of yourself is an inherently ‘bad’ thing to do. Nudity isn’t bad. Sex isn’t bad. Nipples aren’t bad. Even chastity isn’t bad. Literally all of this shit is arbitrary.” Her answer to a culture which judges women’s sexual actions is to divorce all sexual actions from a meaningful realm.

West is oriented in the right direction, in that she wishes to place the source for female worth not in a woman’s action, but in the woman herself. The problem with West’s answer, which is the primary answer of mainstream feminism, is that it chokes itself. By telling women that their actions have no meaning, she inadvertently promotes a culture which has lead to our pornographication of women and thus to the very “purity culture” she and I detest. Men are being educated to see women as a pair of breasts, reducible to a series of pixels, and available-on-command, and from this sexism comes the sexism of the “purity culture.” Thus, “sending naked pictures of yourself” is not a meaningless act, but an act that perpetuates the cycle of sexism, the cycle which determines the worth of women by that oh-so-finite amount which can be expressed in a naked picture.

My fundamental issue with mainstream feminism is not its complaint. Its complaint is valid. My fundamental issue is that despite the drive to hold men accountable for our reductionist views of women, feminism promotes the reduction of women by women as a morally irrelevant. It is a moral evil and a detestable act of cowardice for a man to view a woman as a pair of breasts, but a woman taking naked pictures of herself is an act that transcends good and evil in perfect freedom. We are to simultaneously support pornography and an end to the pornographication of women. It’s incomplete and self-defeating. What’s needed is a fuller view, an understanding not just of a woman’s right to be viewed as her self — which feminism boldly proclaims – but every human being’s responsibility to become themselves, to live as themselves, and to act as their true selves, a responsibility over which mainstream feminism has fallen silent.

This balance of right and responsibility, the lack of which has lead to no discernible improvement in our culture’s view of women, is once again held by the Catholic Church. More on that next time.

  • Nick

    *slow clap*

  • James

    Wow. Nice.

  • Andrew


  • Zai


  • n_amy

    Awesome Post love it! It is a very well made argument

  • Nick

    I burst out laughing at #dontobjectifymygoat. . .
    This was awesome

  • Anna E

    LOL I’m on DeviantART. *blushes* *hides under a rock*

  • Edward Carlin

    Well said, Marc. Funny how we both read the same article and approached it from our own perspectives, and yet we both arrived at the same conclusion: namely that “purity” is a project for EVERYONE, not just women:

  • Carl Philipp Gaebler

    Y’know, I’ve often thought that our culture could use a bit more rake-shaming. :P

  • Vision_From_Afar

    I must admit confusion:
    The Catholic Church — and I don’t have the time to pretend I’m not furiously proud of her philosophy — has the answer, and its the same answer that has her churches full of beautiful nudes, male and female.
    Please explain how the nudes which survived the 200+ years of pseudo-destruction of classical Greek and Renaissance art spawned by the Council of Trent constitute “furiously proud”? Pretty sure Pope Pius IX wasn’t “furiously proud”, but rather “furiously censoring”.
    To the main thrust of the article, I think you elucidate your difference with West perfectly. She (and the feminists you mention) is (are) arguing that by divesting sexuality from social judgement and personal purity, they attempt to divest the person from the objectification that society applies. Essentially, a double-life. There is the life of sexuality, where no one should care what photos are posted or actions are taken with whom and how many participate (provided harm is not caused (i.e. – self-harm (your example of attempting to work through early trauma in the previous article is a good example (your nested parenthesis are contagious)) or harm to others (knowingly spreading disease))). As a neoPagan, I have to agree that this is ideal endgame to the situation.
    While I can accept and even see the merit of your argument from your point of view, as a non-Catholic I have a lot of trouble accepting that the Church, for all of it’s loving good intentions, gets to dictate society and its views. The “Purity Culture” that you describe is indeed a sexist cage, but I gotta say, the alternative you lay out just seems like a larger, prettier cage.

    • Marc Barnes

      Oh, that you’d read me a little more charitably! Of course I’m aware of the Reformation Popes and the puritanical censoring, just as I’m aware of the Renaissance Popes and their hedonistic indulgences! You must understand, as I’m sure you do, that there is a difference between the actions of men (which are misapplications of Church teaching (just as many of the liturgical “reforms” present today are misapplications of the teachings of Vatican II)) and the actual teachings of the Church. But the Holy Spirit is with us through thick and thin. The nudes of the Vatican survive the abomination of the fig leaf, and John Paul II put us back on track by requesting more nude art and more images of Mary breastfeeding to combat a pornographic culture.

      I agree that “no one should care what photos are posted or actions are taken with whom and how many participate (provided harm is not caused (i.e. – self-harm),” the only issue is that I probably have a very different understanding of the “self” and thus what constitutes “self-harm.” I hate to be that guy, but “photos” and “how many participants” certainly matters. Have you ever read Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death? This is the self I’m concerned with — the relation which relates to itself and in its relating rests transparently in God, the self susceptible to despair, to the sin of not wanting to be or not being the self that one is, a sin that is not simply defined by a utilitarian view of morality (for which the question is: “is anyone harmed?”) but by an imbalance within the self (for which the question is: am I being who I am?)

      And please, don’t feel like the Church “gets to dictate society and its views.” Obey her only in freedom. Until then, keep fighting her.

      • Vision_From_Afar

        Re: JP II’s requests: I was wholly unaware of this, mea culpa. When I visited the Vactican back in 2004, I didn’t see any nudes in the modern section and hadn’t heard of anything along those lines, thus my assumption that the puritanical view had continued. A touching visit that I thoroughly enjoyed, btw.

        I see your point about a broader definition of self-harm, but we’re still at cross-quarters, since I believe (my inference here only) you seem to be arguing from the point that those photos are an inherently self-harming act. I can understand that point of view, I just don’t share it, but that’s why we’re on Patheos, right? :D

        I don’t feel like the Church “gets to” dictate anything, if history from the Protestant Reformation is any indication ;). I will, however, continue to learn and engage in respectful dialogue as best I can. We do have to share this world, after all.

        Cheers and blessings upon you.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    We don’t need to get rid of the purity culture for women. We need an equally chaste culture for men, in which deadbeat dads and those looking for sexual conquest without actually wanting to know the women- are rapists.

    • Lena S.

      Dude, don’t be ridiculous. The women who allow themselves to be taken by these men are responsible for themselves. Don’t trivialise actual rape with this garbage, please. As for ‘deadbeat dads’; that’s a lot more complex than “it’s all men’s fault”. You are spewing mainstream platitudes.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        “The women who allow themselves to be taken by these men are responsible for themselves.”

        It takes two to tango- and if women deserve scorn for “allowing themselves to be taken” then men equally deserve scorn for doing the “taking”.

        Lust and anger without love lead to the power play that is rape- and non-procreative sex, is lust without love. Lust without love is always a sin against the virtue of chastity.

        • Lena S.

          Ah, but you only said the men involved were ‘rapists’. Are you now saying the women are too? Why not just stick with it being immoral on both sides rather than presenting trumped up charges against men who prey on ‘poor helpless women’?

          If you want to apply this consistently, then you must assert as well that women who go out dressed in a sexually arousing fashion are also rapists, but you didn’t do that. You only accused men, and then threw in some silliness about ‘deadbeat dads’ to further your obvious misandry, whereas I never said those men are any better than the women they bed.

          The men and women of any era and society deserve each other.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            I thought that was already done with the word “slut”

          • TheodoreSeeber

            The special name of a female rapist is a slut.

          • Lena S.

            The difference is that rape is a criminal act, whereas being a slut is not. Surely you’re being disingenuous here and aren’t really that obtuse. Try thinking about what you’ve said rather than trying to ‘win’ an argument at the cost of learning something.

            As to your comment below, so-called date rape is also not solely the fault of a man. If women behaved in a chaste manner rather than going out alone with men and voluntarily going back to their homes, likely having consumed (voluntarily) significant quantities of alcohol, we wouldn’t have this problem.

            That’s not to say the man is without fault, but that you are emphasising the responsibility of the man and in the process absolving the woman. The vast majority of ‘rapes’ could be avoided simply by women behaving more chastely in the first place, not going out at night looking for attention.

            If women are so ‘empowered’ and ‘independent’, why is the agency of women in these things denied? Does it really do women any favours to promote the idea that dressing like a slut, getting drunk, and even going off alone with a virtual stranger is perfectly fine and it’s not their fault if they get ‘raped’? It used to be that simply being in a bar unaccompanied by a man would get a woman branded as a slut, and not without good reason.

          • Broken Whole

            I’m sorry, but with all due respect, I just can’t buy this type of thinking. Suggesting that a woman somehow bears moral responsibility for being raped is absurd. (Note how I didn’t place rape in scare quotes—because rape is actually a thing, not just a made up concept). Furthermore, the suggestion that women “wouldn’t” get raped if they didn’t dress provocatively or get drunk is simply not true—if that were the case, then we wouldn’t see cases of rape in societies where the dress, consumption habits, and movements of women were carefully restricted. However, we see women get raped in Afganistan, Pakistan, and other societies that “police” modesty and publicly shame women who violate social standards of modesty.

            Do I believe that women should dress reasonably and not overindulge? Sure. I believe that men should too. But guess what? The only consequence that men get for being unchaste, drunk, and crude is a finger wagging and a “boys will be boys” attitude; women, on the other hand, have to hear about how it’s their fault if someone rapes them. Of course we should respect ourselves and our sexuality—but our failures in that regard should never be used to excuse, in any way minimize, or shift any responsibility away from men who make the decision to have sex with a woman against her will.

          • Lena S.

            It’s not ‘scare quotes’, it’s meant to imply that there are a lot of cases that are called rape that aren’t actually rape. No need to apologise though.

            A woman does bear moral responsibility if she goes out, gets drunk, and goes home with some man. She put herself into the situation voluntarily. Again, this isn’t shifting the responsibility but putting at least some of it where it belongs. The most men get is a finger wagging? How about a false rape accusation that ruins his life? A woman will never experience that.

          • Broken Whole

            I was uncharitable in my snarky response to your use of quotes and I apologize.

            Allow me to say what I think you are saying—through your language and through the use of quotes—and please feel free to correct me if I am misrepresenting your position. You seem to be suggesting that date rape, as a concept, doesn’t represent a real rape. Furthermore, you seem to be suggesting that many, if not most, cases of date rape involve a woman falsely accusing a man of raping her. If this is your position, I respectfully disagree. I acknowledge that men are sometimes falsely accused of rape; however, I don’t think that this is the “norm” in date rape accusations.

            I agree that certain behaviors can put one at risk—it’s risky for me to walk down darkened alleyways at night with cash on hand. However, I don’t think that makes me morally responsible for being mugged nor does it make my claim that I was robbed false nor should it be used to lighten the sentence given to the mugger. Was I being stupid? Sure. Was I responsible for my mugging? No. I’m just saying we should use the same standards we use for other crimes when we talk about rape.

            Incidentally, women can be accused (even falsely accused) of rape, particularly in date rape scenarios, just as women can be accused of sexual harassment. Obviously men are charged with rape more often than women, but it is also something that a woman can be charged with.

          • Lena S.

            You have misrepresented my position, but I think it is folly for me to continue here, since your arguments fail to address the difference in penalties and the unequal application of laws. I believe I have stated my position clearly enough.

          • Broken Whole

            I’m sorry that I have misrepresented your position—I would honestly like to hear you clarify it. Even if you have no interest in continuing your discussion with me, surely you’d like to make certain that other readers of comments clearly understand what you were arguing? I attempted, in good faith (truly), to state what I believed your position to be. What did I get wrong in my summary of your position?

          • GoodCatholicGirl

            Right . . . . and I’m sure we can call agree that those nun’s habits sure are sexy which is why men rape them, too. Something about those long swishy skirts, I guess . . .

    • GoodCatholicGirl

      If a woman chooses to go to bed with a man, she isn’t being raped, she’may find herself being used. On the other hand, she could very well be using him but in either case, they’ve chosen to do what they’re doing. Of course, promiscuity is never right but it’s a choice, however “disordered”.
      How do deadbeat dads figure into this?

      • TheodoreSeeber

        I have a hard time with the slippery line called “consent”, I just can’t seem to get a handle on it unless there are multiple witnesses and it is in writing (and better yet, when it is a Sacrament and God is one of the witnesses!).

        Deadbeat dads- have fun, make a girl pregnant, take off because you don’t want the natural consequence of making a girl pregnant.

        Using another human being to satisfy lust, is rape. Consent means nothing- that’s why statutory rape exists. That’s why date rape exists. In neither of those cases can you use the willingness of the woman to be used to justify rape.

        • Lena S.

          If that’s how the deadbeat dad happens, the woman is also a deadbeat mom for getting herself knocked up by Harley McBadboy hoping sex would convince him to keep her. Come on man! Think!

          • TheodoreSeeber

            It is possible, under my definition, to have a mutual rape.

          • Lena S.

            I’m beginning to suspect that you are a woman posing as a man, but
            nevertheless, this is preposterous. People have free will and the
            freedom to get into these situations or to avoid them, in the vast
            majority of cases.

            But you are waffling in any case, since you
            started out calling men who take advantage of slutty women ‘rapists’,
            which is what I took issue with. It’s not ‘mutual rape’; it’s
            fornication, plain and simple. No need to bandy about charges of rape where it is likely that there was implied consent. As I said, these people deserve each other.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            No, I’m just autistic. It isn’t a disease, it’s a different operating system.

            In the majority of cases, free will in America has been sublimated either to sexual or fiscal libertinism- and decisions are made in that framework, instead of in true freedom.

            I fail to recognize the difference between fornication and rape. “Implied consent” is about as provable as the existence of a soul- not at all.

          • Lena S.

            I’m pretty sure this has nothing to do with autism; it’s just that you don’t seem to understand the implications of what you are saying.

            Your ‘mutual rape’ idea falls flat since it is men who are charged criminally with rape, while women are the only ones who can decide unilaterally to have a baby killed without any legal consequences. The penalties and rights are vastly different and the man is at a great disadvantage. Also under your definition, the man has the greater responsibility but the lesser authority and is most easily jailed of financially responsible.

            Could you explain what the earthly incentives are for women not to act like sluts and what the earthly penalties are for women who act like sluts? In general societies are governed by laws and salvation is not a matter for the state to enforce or promote.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Lena, I’ve been saying all along that the legal system and American Culture is illogical and WRONG on this topic.

            If it was up to me, a woman who behaved as a slut would get the same five years in jail as the man who raped her.

          • GoodCatholicGirl

            Fornication and rape are two different things. You’re making it sound as though women don’t have brains or aren’t capable of feeling lust. They may make unwise choices but in the case of fornication, it is their choice.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            I never said women weren’t capable of feeling lust, nor did I say they didn’t have brains.

            I said we needed equal purity for men as women.

          • GoodCatholicGirl

            True, these people deserve each other until a baby is born and the taxpayer winds up supporting the baby and the “baby mama”. Then it becomes our business.

          • Lena S.

            I’m beginning to think you are a woman posing as a man, but
            nevertheless, this is preposterous. People have free will and the
            freedom to get into these situations or to avoid them, in the vast
            majority of cases.

            But you are waffling in any case, since you
            started out calling men who take advantage of slutty women ‘rapists’,
            which is what I took issue with. It’s not ‘mutual rape’, it’s
            fornication, plain and simple.

            No need to bandy about charges of rape where there was likely implied consent.

            [Apologies if I double post; my comment seems to have not posted].

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Got to wait. Disqus.

          • GoodCatholicGirl

            Well, yes – the woman is equally responsible but she may not have had sex with the guy because she wanted to hook him. As I mentioned earlier, there’s this frightening hook-up culture where people just have sex for the fun of it and damn the consequences. And don’t even get me started on the concept of Baby Mamas and Baby Daddys!

        • Broken Whole

          But both the Catechism and any remotely pragmatic approach to civil law disagrees with your questionable definition of rape as “using another human being to satisfy lust.”

          The Catechism clearly separates, under Sins Against Chastity, “rape” from “fornication,” “prostitution,” and “pornography” even though those activities almost always involve a lustful attitude towards the other. Rape is defined as “the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person” and is the only sin against chastity which is declared “intrinsically evil.” Furthermore, there is nothing in the Catechism’s definition of lust as “sexual pleasure sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes” which would preclude it from occurring between two married people—though you seem to suggest otherwise. Of course, there’s also nothing in marriage that would preclude the possibility of rape.

          In terms of civil law, “consent” is—in fact—a meaningful concept that undergirds many of our laws. For instance, children can’t enter into a contract on their own, precisely because we don’t think they have the ability—or the appropriate level of knowledge—to be able to consent. At the end of the day, statutory rape does have to do with consent because we deem people under a certain age incapable of meaningfully consenting to certain agreements. As to “date rape”: first, it’s worth noting that date rape can, in fact, involve physical force. Even in cases where it doesn’t, it still involves a lack of consent: a woman who has been drugged or a woman so drunk that she can’t stand is not able to consent because unconscious people and people who are strongly impaired by substances can’t consent. It’s the same reason why a contract would be invalid if you got someone drunk in order to convince them to sign it.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            So a drunk man is never guilty of rape?

          • Broken Whole

            Rape involves forcibly having sex with someone—it’s an act of objective violence—so, yes, a drunk man (or a drunk woman) can commit rape just as a drunk man or woman can shoot someone. However, at least in many states, (voluntarily) having sex with a man who was severely intoxicated and appeared to be giving consent to sex could still be prosecuted as rape. In short, there is a difference between (1) legally determining if a person is able to give consent to a sexual act (or a marriage contract or a loan application) and (2) legally determining if a person committed an violent action, regardless of their state of mind at the moment.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            And I find myself incapable of understanding that legal determination. It seems entirely random and arbitrary to me- but then again, that’s my complaint about most of our legal system (if it was up to people like me, the entire legal system would consist of boolean true-false judgements in a very large if-then-else tree, with NO ambiguity whatsoever).

          • Broken Whole

            Personally, I don’t think that it’s possible to create a legal system with no ambiguity: this is why we have judges decide cases and not computers. Something general like law can never easily be carried over into the realm of the particular. It’s messy by its very nature. I do understand the desire to try and remove ambiguity from the equation, though.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            I’m saying that after the last 40 years or so of Supreme Court Decisions, the computers would do a better job.

            Justice has become a joke, mercy rules, but only if you have enough cash. If you have no cash, or God forbid, you’re still dependant on your mother’s lungs and stomach, you can be killed for any reason whatsoever.

            I see nothing of value left in Lex Rex. Bring back Dei Lex, and maybe we’ll have a judge worth the title. If we have to have it messy- better the priest than the king.

          • RayIngles

            I suggest an exercise in humility: Go ahead, attempt to draft such a tree. Good luck, and let me know if you succeed.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            I should take that up. I wonder if I can translate Canon Law into some form of pseudocode? First, though, I need a base 6 binary for the Truth to Falsehood and Innocence to guilt spectra…..

        • GoodCatholicGirl

          It’s sad but there are people out there who absolutely do consent to being used time after time. We can’t get into their heads so we can’t know why they keep repeating what I;m guessing for many is a pattern; however, I think we can assume that a good many of them like what they’re doing. They’re out to have fun. Read up on the “hook up culture” that seems to be prevalent in US colleges (including Catholic colleges). It’s just fun! As for statutory rape, that is a whole other animal. The underage boy or girl can give consent but the older person has to take responsibility although sometimes, the “older person” is a teen themselves. Let’s not assume, either that every victim of statutory rape is a girl – boys can be taken advantage of by an older man or woman, too.. Date rape is nothing more than a vile crime and has nothing to do with consent, since the victim is very often drugged.
          Yes, you are right about deadbeat dads and I now see where you were going with that.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Anybody engaging in the hook up culture so prevalent among teens and young adults, it is because they are still a teen themselves mentally.

            As far as I’m concerned, the hookup culture is rape, on both sides, as is all fornication. There is no love in it, only lust. Yes it is fun. Sin contains its own short term rewards.

          • Good Catholic GIrl

            Of course there is no love in it but it seems young people don’t care, which is very scary. It’s almost a extracurricular activity, like sports or the glee club. It’s bad enough they are ruining their lives when they are young but I’m afraid that this behavior will carry over into their adult years. These young people grew up watching shows like Sex in the City that all but glorified a promiscuous lifestyle but disguised it as young women “empowering” themselves.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            We’ve had three generations of this behavior since the Sexual Revolution- and each generation it gets worse.

            I’m to the point that I resent the entire generation that started this mess.

            Liberty itself has become evil under pressure from the Sexual Libertines on the left and the Fiscal Libertines on the right, and I don’t see any way left to save the American Experiment.

          • Luke Burgess

            The Catholic Church has been through this before with Rome and the Kings and Queens leading the protestant reformation.

            Everyone wants to look at the people in the Catholic Church who have done evil deeds (today the pedofile priests). Then use that to justify there own wrong actions, so they can continue with such actions.

            What should happen is what has happened before to provide a temporary fix. The Church will divide those who have a desire to continue with such actions from those that do not because they know it is wrong.

            It is far worse to justify a small sin into continued existence than to have had a large sin one is repentant of.

          • TheodoreSeeber
  • RayIngles

    What else can be said of culture in which women are simultaneously
    frowned upon for breast-feeding in public and told, in a myriad of
    situations and for innumerable ends, “tits or GTFO.”

    Ah, but you’re conflating multiple threads of a culture. At the very least, I am skeptical you can find many individuals who say both that “women shouldn’t breastfeed in public” and “show us your tits”.

    • GoodCatholicGirl

      Perhaps I’m not understanding you properly but there are many women who would never breastfeed in public (thank goodness for that) yet have no problem at all wearing low-cut clothing at the most inappropriate times such as the workplace, Mass, the supermarket. Thanks to TV, young women and unfortunately, now older women also seem to think that cleavage is fashionably correct. There is a time when decolletage is perfectly acceptable but most times, it isn’t.

      • Broken Whole

        I think that RayIngles’s point is actually about how the culture perceives women, not about what individual women may choose to do. The question is not whether an individual woman might both choose to show some cleavage and choose to not breastfeed in public (though I am far less likely than you to think that these are largely incompatible choices), but whether an individual (who seems to be implicitly framed as male) would simultaneously want to both put a stop to public breast-feeding and would be apt to cry “show us your tits!”

        • GoodCatholicGirl

          Ah, got it. Yes, men and I suppose lesbians would be very likely to abhor public breastfeeding but still want to see “the girls” as much as possible!

          • Broken Whole

            Why do you think that people attracted to women be “very likely to abhor public breastfeeding”?

          • GoodCatholicGirl

            No, I didn’t mean that. I meant that even if some people would be against breastfeeding in public, they might still be all for women showing cleavage because the one thing has nothing to do with the other.

      • RayIngles

        Why “thank goodness” that women wouldn’t breastfeed in public?

        • GoodCatholicGirl

          Oh, for goodness sake! Because it’s unseemly! You wouldn’t floss your teeth in public, would you? That’s a lot less intimate than breastfeeding. There is a place for everything and the subway or food court is not the place to breastfeed. A little decorum never hurt anyone.

          • Broken Whole

            I do eat in public, though, and that’s a thoroughly intimate, physical, and sensual act: inserting food into my mouth and beginning the digestive process by masticating. That’s all, at the end of the day, that breastfeeding is: feeding. I don’t see why there would be anything “unseemly” about it: there’s nothing unsanitary about the process and, unless we assume that the breast is solely a sexual object, then there need not be anything inherently sexual about it even though it remains, like eating, a sensual act.

    • Broken Whole


      I think you’re right that we wouldn’t be likely to find both sentiments in the same individual. However, I think that Marc’s point stands because both sentiments stem from the same cultural logic: namely, that women’s breasts exist solely for the sexual excitation of men. A puritanical banning of public breastfeeding out of fear of sexual excitation and a demand to see breasts for the purpose of sexual excitation are both ultimately concerned with the breast as a sexual object and only as a sexual object.

      • RayIngles

        Of course, there are plenty of people who agitate for public breastfeeding as well. And there’s a subtle re-contextualizing in claiming that (some forms of) feminism is “telling women that their actions have no meaning” – I think they’d reply that they are saying that a woman should decide what her actions mean.

        Note that my wife’s family (who, CS, is also big-breasted, FWIW) is from Italy, and she retains a very European approach to nudity and breastfeeding. Given how many people decry how secular Europe’s become, it doesn’t seem that such prudishness is an inevitable outcome of a secular outlook.

    • C S

      Um Ray Ingles I am a woman with large breasts and a lotta experience with the SUYT’s!!! genre of boy-man. And you are definitely wrong. Part of the anger over breastfeeding in public comes from the revulsion some men feel at the the thought of a baby close to the sexual toys that they see as their own property.

      • RayIngles

        CS – How do you know that “Part of the anger over breastfeeding in
        public comes from the revulsion
        some men feel at the the thought of a baby close to the sexual toys”?
        Have you actually run into a particular man who’s expressed that to you,
        or are you hypothesizing that because you think it makes sense?

  • Ashetalia Staatz

    Re “This is entirely evident in the massive demand for breast enlargement
    surgery. It shouldn’t come as news to us that the ideal breast size for a
    woman is utterly impossible: Our culture demands women be
    simultaneously skinny and busty, and the truly “hot” woman is one with
    breasts that defy physics in their magical ability to be both massive
    and erect.”

    Impossible body shaping is not a modern phenomenon. As evidence, see 16th-18th century corsets which turned the torso into a rigid cone, the 10″+ high Italian Renaissance chopines, 19th century obsession with tiny waists, and panniers/crinolines which created unnatural shapes below the waist. The only reason women did not have surgery to achieve the ideal shape back then was lack of anesthesia and sterile technique.

  • Marty Sullivan

    “It is a moral evil and a detestable act of cowardice for a man to view a woman as a pair of breasts, but a woman taking naked pictures of herself is an act that transcends good and evil in perfect freedom. ”

    You need to brush up on your feminism. Neither sexual desire nor being sexually desired are moral wrongs. Hell, even being desired purely for your sexuality is necessarily a bad thing in feminism. Not many feminists these days even have problems with sex workers so long as there are laws and rules to protect them. What is wrong is when the wills of others prevents women from acting out their own desires. If a woman truly wants to be seen as a pair of tits, then shouldn’t she have that right?

  • Nick

    That may be of help for some people struggling for purity…

  • Elisabeth M

    “Feminism promotes the reduction of women by women as a morally irrelevant” – I like your whole article, but that line is an error. “Feminism” doesn’t promote anything. There are a whole spectrum of feminists and they promote a whole spectrum of things. I only bring it up because I’ve been noticing, lately, a pattern of Christian people referring to “feminism” and “feminists” as if these terms refer to a homogenous whole, a whole which comes with certain strengths and certain problems. Wrong-o! You can debate the claims of this or that feminist, but – having dug pretty deeply into the many various voices calling themselves by that name – I can say for a fact that “feminism” is WAY more varied than you’d think.

    Also, you should check out _Female Chauvenist Pigs_ by Ariel Levy. Your paragraph about how the movement “twisted itself into knots advocating feminist porn” and so on gets a chapter of its own in Levy’s book, and it’s really something. One of those books I think everyone should have to read.

  • Christina

    “I struggle with the same powerlessness and insecurity that all human beings do, so as a coping mechanism I take advantage of our culture’s patriarchal power structure and exorcize my feelings of worthlessness by perpetuating shame-based proprietary attitudes over women’s bodies. Basically I’m obsessed with controlling women’s lives because I can’t control my own.”

    This characterization of a man who objectifies women does not just boil down to “guys like being assholes.” It’s actually a pretty good characterization of a symptom of what Scheler would call ressentiment, or a value inversion. It’s an embittered revaluation of some good or designating some positive attribute as bad just because you can’t obtain it. (I.e. “It’s only the inside that counts.” Well, no. There’s an outside. External beauty is a legitimate good.)

    I think in this case it only expresses a small aspect of the phenomenon (as Nietzsche and Scheler describe it) but it expresses a line of thought based on a perverse type of value system that uses traditional moral claims to justify some impotency. This kind of “justification” is immoral if you grant that there’s an eternal hierarchy of values and order of love present in the universe. This is an essentially non-loving and perverse way of viewing women and I think that’s what West is intuitively sensing.

    I would take this particular claim a little more seriously. Nietzsche saw ressentiment as a legitimate evil as well… and well, it fuels his diatribes against Christianity in the “Genealogy of Morals.”

    I just want to point out the importance of distinguishing the true aspects of her argument even if her conclusion is fundamentally flawed.

    • Christina

      Oh, and sorry I forgot to mention this but this is a great article! I didn’t mean to sound nitpicky…

      West’s argument was moving, also. The quote from Elizabeth Smart’s testimony practically moved me to tears (that is, only one tear slid down…) as well as the statement “you are good, you are whole, you are yours.” I know what it’s like to feel that, as a woman, you are only worth your sex appeal and once that garden has been trampled on well… too bad so sad.

      • Teresa

        “I struggle with the same powerlessness and insecurity that all human beings do, so as a coping mechanism I take advantage of our culture’s patriarchal power structure and exorcize my feelings of worthlessness by perpetuating shame-based proprietary attitudes over women’s bodies. Basically I’m obsessed with controlling women’s lives because I can’t control my own.”

        I don’t think this is an entirely fair characterization in the first place. How does she know that that’s what the man is thinking? Is that just how she feels, and thus wants men to be thinking?

        What about who will only marry a male virgin? How does that fit in?

        • Christina

          Any discussion involving a psychological assessment is bound to be riddled with uncertainty. Obviously no one can know exactly what someone else is thinking. Her characterization is not a definite example of the exact thoughts occurring in a particular man’s head. I do not think she is even attempting to capture that. She’s attempting to capture (with something more like a biting caricature) what she perceives is a wrong yet pervasive attitude in America towards women.

          I do not see how looking at the case of women who will only marry male virgins is relevant since we are talking about specific aspects of our purity culture that are sexist towards women. There are tons of different kinds of sexism. That question would probably be best answered in a separate article.

          • Teresa

            “particular man’s head”

            It was more categorical than that.

            “She’s attempting to capture (with something more like a biting caricature) what she perceives is a wrong yet pervasive attitude in America towards women.”

            She can’t just imagine something to be true, then subsequently pass it off /as/ true. Beyond that, I don’t see how her fictionalized psychological assessment somehow addresses a “pervasive attitude.” There can be many causes for behavior, some of which might even be concern for a women’s well-being, not the malicious intent that West likes to ascribe. If you object to something in Christianity (purity), the easiest way to challenge it is to make it part of a “patriarchal power structure” and then create oppression. You don’t have to address any of the arguments because you resort to ad hominems instead.

  • Nicole Resweber

    “…until they balloon as stiff as Gulag prisoners lined up inspection.”


    I will also take this opportunity to register my disgust with the large number of commenters who do not seem to be able to differentiate between premarital sex and rape. You realize that sort of thing is a big part of why people dismiss Catholic sexual ethics, right?

  • Thursday1

    The dirty little secret here is that a lot women _like_ being objectified, and are happy to objectify themselves. It is a great source of power. That doesn’t make it right, of course, but one can’t rationally oppose it with a autonomy/utilitarian based ethic.