Sex and Power and Christian Education

My wife and I are always behind on television shows because we wait for them to come out on Netflix. We have only gotten through the end of the third season of Game of Thrones and have therefore not watched the scene that has raised such a kerfuffle these past few days, the scene in which Jaime rapes his twin sister Cercei over the corpse of their son. When we were watching the third season of Game of Thrones though, my wife did comment on the show’s use of naked females versus naked males. She has a problem with the way the HBO series depicts women.

She isn’t the only one of course. It has received a lot of attention. Saturday Night Live did a hilarious skit about the creators of the show, one of whom is a horny thirteen-year-old boy whose sole job is to see how many scenes, no matter what is actually going on, he can fill with naked boobs.

Critics are asking, why all the gratuitous female nudity? Doesn’t this undercut the effect of having strong female characters by objectifying women?

This is not just a matter of entertainment, as the rape culture in the military and on college campuses—and the scandals surrounding men like Woody Allen and Bill Cosby, who weathered their short scandals and are back to work—seems to indicate.

Now it appears that those in power at several Christian institutions are hoping for their scandals to blow over quickly. In recent months, a spate of scandals have cropped up in Evangelical education: rape scandals at Bob Jones University, Patrick Henry College, and Pensacola Christian College, Bill Gothard’s shameful undoing, and other scandals as well. In each instance, the institutional response has been to obscure and obfuscate.

As ever more stories of male misconduct at Christian churches and schools comes forth, the obvious question is how many do we have to see before we call it a trend?

These problems aren’t just suddenly sneaking up and biting them on the ass either. My sister attended Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles over thirty years ago, and she knew he was creepy then. I have personally been aware of similar behavior by prominent men at other Christian institutions, situations that were public secrets.

These Christian colleges, even as they publicly decry the moral decline of our culture, scramble to do damage control. An ever more troubling picture emerges about men and power and sex within the church as part of their tactics is to shame and discredit the women who they have harmed.

It appears that when they talk of moral decline what they’re really talking about is who gets to say what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Why is this problem so deeply entrenched in a culture that supposedly stresses moral purity?

In an article written for Aeon Magazine, science writer Matthew Hutson discusses new studies related to human nakedness and objectification, and according to Hutson, it is more complicated than the mere objectification of women.

He writes, “Objectification has been defined in feminist literature to include several elements, including the denial of autonomy and the denial of subjectivity…she becomes, in the viewer’s mind, an object, a ‘piece of meat’, devoid of any internal life.”

Recent research seems to indicate that something different is going on. “In most cases, thinking of a person as a body does not lead to objectification in a literal sense, in which the person becomes an object. Rather, [the person] is dehumanized…becomes a sensitive beast.”

The naked person becomes a sensitive beast in the viewer’s mind. This is rooted, according to Hutson, in a Platonic dualism between the spiritual-intellectual ideal and the vulgar physical body. It seems the research is bearing out Jonathon Swift’s depictions of naked Yahoos that feel with great passion but are stupid brutes, and Houyhnhnms that can reason but do not have disgusting human bodies.

These Christian organizations are not showing any naked women, but boy, how they do obsess over the female body as a source of temptation and shame. Sensitive beast is a good representation of their attitude toward women—poor, weak creatures, ever ready to feel with great passion but not equipped for the manly work of thinking.

I remember hearing a Baptist preacher explain why women should not be leaders. “Satan chose Eve because he knew she would be easy to fool,” he said. Satan knew she would think with her heart instead of her head, which of course leads women to all kinds of silly decisions. “That’s why he had to make sure Adam wasn’t around,” he also said, because Adam would not have fallen for Satan’s ruse.

I was talking with a friend about this recently and she told me her father, a minister, recently admonished her brother that he had a responsibility to his wife because, we men “were made by God to be the lords of this earth.” He said, “Your wife needs you…she needs your lordship to deal with her emotions.” Another friend was watching her daughter at gymnastics recently, and a man from a local Christian institution asked her what she does. “I am a college professor,” she told him. His response: “Well, good for you.”

The Game of Thrones show runners defended the rape scene, claiming it “becomes consensual by the end.” Men are used to telling women what they really wanted, or pretending it is what they really wanted even if it is not.

You might say that it is ludicrous to compare a Christian institution to a dark and brutal show like Game of Thrones. I say that when it comes to the treatment of women it is apt. For many of these men in power, the fact that women are speaking out at all, standing up to usurp the authority that is clearly a man’s birthright, is the real problem.

It is easy to dismiss a sensitive beast and still feel good about yourself. What is not easy is allowing a sensitive beast to question your authority, or worse point out that the moral high ground from which you have been proclaiming all these years is actually a mound of stinking refuse.

Vic Sizemore earned his MFA in fiction from Seattle Pacific University in 2009. His short stories are published or forthcoming in StoryQuarterly, Southern Humanities Review, Connecticut Review, Portland Review, Blue Mesa Review, Sou’wester, Silk Road Review, Atticus Review, PANK Magazine Fiction Fix, Vol.1 Brooklyn, Conclave, and elsewhere. Excerpts from his novel The Calling are published in Connecticut Review, Portland Review, Prick of the Spindle, Burrow Press Review, Rock & Sling, and Relief. His fiction has won the New Millennium Writings Award for Fiction, and been nominated for Best American Nonrequired Reading and a Pushcart Prize. You can find Vic at

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  • Anita Chapman

    I always enjoy reading what you have to say, and I often find myself nodding in agreement. Will we ever stop blaming a woman for a man’s inability to control himself? I can barely imagine what that world would feel like.

  • Marcelo Asher Quarantotto

    Vic, as always, your words are incisive and truthful.

  • Jan Vallone

    Thank you for this powerful essay, Vic. It struck me that the Baptist preacher you mentioned hadn’t really read his Bible. Adam was with Eve when she ate the fruit, and he ate it too. When the two of them were caught, he blamed Eve for tempting him, a now familiar maneuver among those who have “fallen for Satan’s ruse.”

    • stevereenie

      “a now familiar maneuver” ……isn’t this a bit presumptive of the Garden scene? I would think if God wanted it in the canon he wouldn’t permit a chauvinist lie and leave it at that, would you? I prefer to see you complaint about an otherwise legitimate point to be what we would call a familiar maneuver since you were clearly not present for this Garden event.

      • disqus_cfBevsr42L

        “6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, WHO WAS WITH HER, and he ate it” Gen. 3:6 emphasis mine.

    • Thanks for pointing this out, Jan. One of my college professors said that this common misconception comes from Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” which portrays the scene without Adam there.

      • Jan Vallone

        That’s interesting! I didn’t remember that. Thank you for letting me know.

  • H gear

    The “rape culture” in our society I see as directly related to the wide spread easy access to porn. Only 30 years ago if you wanted to see porn you’d have to go and buy an actual magazine with the plastic cover on it. Now it’s everywhere. It’s teaching young men that women are objects for their pleasure. It’s seeped into every aspect of our culture including entertainment. That’s why it’s okay to see old farts like Bono and Mick Jagger up there with all their wrinkles still considered artists with something to say but not one woman that age is considered relevant. Women have to be half naked, spraying whipped cream out of their boobs on the crowd to make it in the industry, where a dude can be butt ugly, out of shape and old and still be considered a hot commodity with something important to say. It’s a man’s world.

    • Joyfully

      It’s mammon’s world.

      • beatrice652

        4my Aunty Amelia got a new blue Land Rover
        LR4 only from working part time off a home computer… helpful hints C­a­s­h­D­u­t­i­e­s­.­ℂ­o­m

    • disqus_cfBevsr42L

      rape culture has been around alot longer than 30 years….It just wasnt all out in the open for everyone to see.

      • H Gear

        exactly my point. Technology makes it one click away for 12 year olds. Unless we found it in the woods or something when I was twelve, we just didn’t see it.

  • Phil7

    The names Bill Clinton or Herman Cain could have been substituted into your article with similar results. Are all politicians corrupt? Maybe your most accurate line is: You might say that it is ludicrous to compare a Christian institution to a dark and brutal show like Game of Thrones….

  • “It appears that when they talk of moral decline what they’re really
    talking about is who gets to say what is and isn’t acceptable behavior.” Thanks for this insight, Vic. Yes, this is the temptation for all of us, isn’t it? “Sure, I sin, but those people over there commit the really serious sins that have never held any attraction for me and that everyone should obviously shun.”