Note: After I wrote this post and slated it to go up today—I frequently write posts in advance and then schedule them—I noticed that Samantha of Defeating the Dragons had just posted an awesome look at it herself. Check it out.
I recently came upon a Christian blogger explaining why she doesn’t wear bikinis—using all the standard purity culture rhetoric of course—and this one paragraph really stuck out at me:
Let’s try and put ourselves in a guy’s shoes. I think we can all agree that as girls, exercise is important to us. We want to stay healthy and are often working on getting fit. We work out and stay away from carbs or sweets. We use all of our willpower to not eat the chocolate cake on the counter! Now, let’s pretend that someone picked up that chocolate cake and followed us around all the time, 24/7. We can never get away from the chocolate, it’s always right there, tempting us and even smelling all ooey gooey and chocolate-y. Most of us, myself included, would find it easy to break down and eat the cake. And we would probably continue to break down and eat cake, because it would always be there. Our exercise goals would be long gone in no time.
Taken simply, this analogy is very rapey. It seems to suggest that all men are rapists who may break down at any minute and rape some poor woman who wasn’t properly dressed. After all, chocolate cake can’t consent. It’s an inanimate object. You don’t have to get its permission before eating it—you can just take it. And in this analogy, you get so overcome by desire at the sight of it that you “break down” and devour it. But women aren’t inanimate objects. We choose with whom we want to have sex, and when. Unless he’s a rapist, a man who is around attractive women in bikinis won’t be able to jut “break down” and have sex with them. It doesn’t work like that. This analogy might make at least a little bit of sense if the author was discussing a guy being surrounded by attractive consenting women throwing themselves at him. But she’s not.
There’s an alternate interpretation, of course. It could be that the analogy isn’t supposed to be pointing at sex but rather simply at lust. The trouble is, that’s a bad comparison too. Actually eating the chocolate cake isn’t analogous to lusting after a woman—thinking about eating the chocolate cake would be. We women are not consumed when a man thinks about us sexually (or when a man actually has sex with us, for that matter). There’s something else, too. There’s no reason for chocolate cake to be paraded around a person besides trying to entice them to eat it, so the analogy suggests that women dress sexy simply to tempt men sexually, taunting them and keeping them on the brink of “breaking down.” And that’s both incorrect and an incredibly destructive way of viewing women.
The blogger goes on to say this:
Girls are walking around all the time with barely any clothes on at the beach or pool! Guys can never get a break from it, even if they’re trying to see past all the bodies to find the smiles and personalities within the girls.
Coming right after the above analogy, this is confusing. There’s nothing deeper in chocolate cake. It has no purpose whatsoever other than looking delicious and being eaten—no purpose but to pleasure the senses. Comparing women to chocolate cake right before arguing that women need to be seen as more than just sexy bodies to be consumed is just weird.
I don’t actually think the author herself was clear on whether she used the chocolate cake example to illustrate how immodestly clad women tempt men to rape or tempt men to lust. And perhaps that elision is part of the story here, part of the problem with the rhetoric of purity culture. The way the author talks about “how easy it is to break down” and eat the cake when it’s staring you in the face is problematic regardless of which way she intended it to be taken.
It’s interesting to note the ease with which the author can argue that she wants men to see women as people, and not as sex objects, while comparing women to inanimate objects and without ever mentioning the term consent. It seems to me, after all, that teaching consent is a primary way we can help ensure that men see us as people rather than sex toys. As long as they keep reading analogies about how women are chocolate cake just begging to be consumed, they’re not going to see women as fully equal individuals who are able to make their own decisions about sex. In fact, rather than seeing them as equal individuals they may even end up resenting women as cruel temptresses who just want to torture them.
And there’s also the fact that covering up doesn’t fix anything—besides adding all sorts of problems, it doesn’t even actually make men stop thinking sexual thoughts about them (remember that picture of those two men leering at a woman in a burka?). Women have breasts and vaginas and hips and curves, and it’s impossible to cover up enough to erase men’s knowledge of that. This makes a good segue into the photo of a “modest” swimsuit the author included in her post—a photo to contrast to what women look like in bikinis. Here is the photo:
The thing is, that woman is incredibly hot. Maybe it’s just my type or something, but she’s extremely sexy. And yes, men (and some women!) will feel what the author of this post would call “lust” for that woman when they see her in that swimsuit—and, for some, even when they see just the picture. And given that this is the picture the author chose to showcase good modest swimsuits, she must not realize that. And I find that highly, highly ironic.