Viewing Women through the Lens of Their Availability

If this whole writer thing doesn't work out, I'm going to revert back to my original vocation: rapper.

In high school, my friend Jay and I composed a Christian rap group, Watchmen. Over the course of several years, we played shows at churches and roller skating rinks, and recorded one EP. Those songs mostly embarrass me now; they almost always immaturely considered complex concepts, the greatest of which, for a couple of high school boys, was girls. One song, "Godly Girls," was our way of lamenting the lack of Christian girls we knew—or, more accurately, their lack of availability to us. So, in an effort to express these frustrations, and putting forth our best effort to appear to be the kind of guys who were sensitive to the difficulties of being a "godly girl," we rapped about it.

I thought of this song as I caught up on a recent blog-based discussion about "biblical womanhood," and specifically the question of beauty. Popular blogger Rachel Held Evans started it off way back in February as a part of her "year long experiment in biblical womanhood." Then, at his blog, Tim Challies' brought Evans' post back into the limelight with a rebuttal last week.

Here's a brief recap: Evans' main point from her February post is summed up thusly, "I've found nothing in the Bible to suggest that God requires women to be beautiful." That many pastors and writers are saying this is so, she says, is misogynistic. Challies counters by saying that he is not convinced that this emphasis on physical beauty "points to a new kind of misogyny." He then launches into an explanation of why wives must be beautiful for their husbands. His argument rests on the assumption that God cares about inner beauty. He reasons that inner beauty is reflected by outer beauty, and therefore, he concludes, a woman must make an effort to be attractive.

Challies' ideas about inner beauty and outer beauty struck a dissonant chord with writer Matthew Lee Anderson. In his response he writes, "I've never been terribly satisfied with 'inner beauty' language (though never quite sure why)." Well, I know exactly why I'm not satisfied with it. "Inner Beauty" as a concept reflects a kind of lazy man's psychology. That a person's appearance often reflects his or her inner state needn't be Christianized and made to sound like a theological concept; it is a plain fact of psychology.

The argument about 'inner beauty' and beauty is an important example of how a popularly accepted idea, whether or not it has biblical origins, is Christianized and presented as "biblical." In Rachel Held Evans' response to Challies' post, she identifies this impetus to stick the loaded word "biblical" before equally complex subjects in order to add gravitas to them. In her words, "We have forgotten that behind every claim to a biblical lifestyle or ideology lies a complex set of assumptions regarding interpretation and application."

This is the crux of the issue, and there is actually a lot about Challies' post that indicates, if I may, that he and I share the same flawed "assumptions regarding interpretation and application" as many other men, Christian or otherwise. Most men unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) view women through the lens of their own satisfaction. That is, because of our historically patriarchal society, the reach of which touches everything from popular culture to our interpretations of scripture, we have come to regard women—and particularly wives—in light of their utility and availability to men.

The language of Challies' piece betrays this bias. I acknowledge and appreciate his clarification that the definition of beauty with which he operates is not equated to "Hollywood starlets" or "whatever society determines to be perfect," but I'm afraid he substitutes this definition for a more mild sense of the same. That is, for Challies it seems that a woman's beauty is determined by her "availability" to her husband.

When he attempts to understand why a woman might "let herself go," he writes, "by dressing as she does she makes a statement to her husband about her regard for him and her unavailability to him." He states that a woman's effort should "display beauty, availability, respect." As a way of saying that for a man beauty ought to reflect deeper intentions he writes, "what a man finds (or ought to find) beautiful in his wife is more about care and respect and effort and availability than it is about figure and proportion." (emphases mine)