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Raunch Culture and Mormonism

by Jessawhy

Watching an amusing older clip from the Colbert Report introduced me to Ariel Levy and her book, Female Chauvinist Pigs.  I picked it up at the library and was impressed with her thesis. Citing pop-culture and the waves of feminism, Levy concludes that the feminist and sexual revolutions of our parents’ generation have resulted in a raunch culture, where women idolize porn stars, strippers, and other sexual idols, like Paris Hilton.  Instead of shunning the red light district and the Playboy bunny symbol, many women are embracing them.  She explores the depth of this trend and the rationale behind it in startling detail.
A journalist by trade, Levy’s writing is precise and engaging. She explores the difference between sexiness and sexuality and explains that they aren’t always the same thing. Our culture has come to see sexiness as the same as worthwhile, with business and military using the term, “sexy” to describe something that has nothing to do with arousal.
She interviews women in “Girls Gone Wild” and teens who flaunt their sexiness only to find that they don’t do these things for any personal sexual gratification. They’ve taken to imitating women who’s job it is to fake sexual arousal.  What kind of a role model is that? It’s as though the turning on of others is the sole purpose of their sexuality.

As a Mormon and feminist, I was a little shocked at some of the trends she points out in her book, but also glad to see the puzzle pieces that I’ve noticed put together in a coherent picture. Abercrombie sells thong underwear to girls ages 7-12, Girls Gone Wild is a hit, Paris Hilton is a star because of her porn, and I’ve received coupons inviting me to have my vagina surgically altered to look more attractive (like a porn star).  While I don’t think Mormon women are as extreme as some of the examples in Levy’s book, many are deeper in that we admit. The focus on tanned skin, bleached blonde hair, breast implants, and sexy clothing (albeit garment worthy) are part of many of the LDS women I see around me.
Like other national trends, Mormon women don’t seem to be excluded from the “raunch culture” but just affected to a lesser degree.  Just like the average teen is sexually active before high school, my experience is that Mormon teens are also increasingly sexually active, as evidenced by the increase of civil marriages with the intention of temple sealings later.

So, following the instruction to remain chaste until marriage is a difficult thing to do by any measure, but is it impossible in our current ‘raunch culture’? Can LDS moms with tans, fake boobs, and clever phrases etched over the behinds of their too-tight sweat pants really pass on the message of chasitity to their teen sons and daughters?  Or, maybe it doesn’t matter. Perhaps the sexiness is part of our liberation, as many in the newest wave of feminism seem to believe.
I’m, not convinced. As Levy writes, “The rise of the raunch culture does not show how far women have come, it only shows how far they have to go.”


Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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39 Responses

  1. FoxyJ says:

    A good counterpoint to read would be “A Return to Modesty”, if you haven’t read it yet (it’s by Wendy Shalit). Her thesis is that raunch culture actually hurts women more than empowers them, because it leaves them vulnerable and puts them in the position of object of sexual desire rather than subject. I agree with many of her conclusions, especially the one that many young girls are not ready for sexual activity, but feel that the only way they can get ahead or be accepted in this culture is by using their bodies. While I do wish Mormon woman would accept sexuality and their bodies more, I also feel that flaunting it does no good either. There needs to be a middle ground, and I do think that modesty can be empowering because it allows women to retain control over their bodies.

  2. Jessawhy says:

    Maybe I need to rewrite the ending. I am convinced by Levy’s argument. I am not convinced that some feminists think that raunch culture is a sign that women have come so far in society that they can do whatever they want.

    I did read “A Return to Modesty” a few years ago, but was not as impressed with it as with this book. They do seem to be on the same side of the issue, that blatant sexuality isn’t in the best interest of girls or society. Where Shalit advocates modesty, Levy doesn’t seem to have a prescribed solution, she is describing the culture she sees and it’s negative effects. (she does advocate HS sex education in place of abstinence only education)

  3. sarah says:

    I know this is nit-picky, but the statement “Mormon teens are also increasingly sexually active, as evidenced by the increase of civil marriages with the intention of temple sealings later” is a conclusion drawn from insufficient information. A civil marriage does not equate with premarital sex, and I desperately wish people would stop assuming that it does.

    My one big regret in life is that I married in the temple, with my mom, my 3 brothers, my aunts, uncles, cousins, and best friend all outside, waiting and missing out. It didn’t occur to me that I could have a civil ceremony, then a sealing a year later, mostly because I knew it would be assumed I’d had sex.

    I despise the notion that the sealing ceremony is somehow mocked, or less valid, if a couple opts to wait the year, more especially since it is only a local (US) thing, anyway, and Mormons across the world have civil ceremonies first.

    I hope those young people are choosing to make their unions a family affair without the inevitable exclusion that occurs with a temple sealing, and not just doing it because of “unworthiness”.

  4. sarah says:

    But otherwise, great post! The raunch culture prevalent in Mormon circles (American Fork, anyone?) is disturbing, and may be what Holland(?) was getting at a few years ago with the talk about not getting cosmetic surgery.

    I do like Levy’s conclusion, and it is reasonable to assume that any movement will at first swing too far, before coming to rest. I do think it is unfortunate that “beautiful” nearly always means “sexy” and that women try so hard to be appealing to males, rather than glorying in their uniqueness.

  5. vicki says:

    Jessawhy…I read this blog faithfully and this is the first time I have read a post and thought the whole thing raised valid points. A lot of the LDS women I know do behave and dress as described in the post. I think it is so prevalent that it explains the incredible success and popularity of http://www.seriouslysoblessed.blogspot.com. The author of that blog makes fun of the ridiculous and sometimes demoralizing way that many LDS women behave. This behavior has become part of the LDS culture and it is definitely not allowing women in the church to be taken seriously or to contribute in any substantial way. Looking sexy while wearing our garments should not be our priority.

  6. vicki says:

    We are counseled not to seek after a civil ceremony if we are temple worthy. I, too, was sealed in a temple while every other person I knew waited outside but I was not getting married to have a show for my memories or for those I love. That is secular. I don’t think that civil ceremonies are always equated with sex before marriage, there are many reasons for them. Mormons in other countries have civil ceremonies because it is the law of the land that they must get married in a public place not because they are fulfilling their Cinderella dream. I understand your longing for your loved ones at your wedding but that is not the way we are supposed to do it.

  7. FHL says:

    I realize this is counter to your argument, but the author (?) looks great in that picture! (Reminds me a little of Karen Allen from the first Indy movie.)

  8. AmyB says:

    I’ve read an article by Ariel Levy before, and was impressed. This brings up a lot of thoughts for me.

    In response to FHL, I agree that the picture of Ms. Levy is appealing. She is a beautiful woman. I look at this picture and I see a woman who seems to have intelligence and thoughtfulness behind her eyes. She’s wearing little, if any makeup, she looks natural. She is not emulating the saccharin pop culture images of women that we see so much of.

    I’ve focused on and off over the last year or two on noticing and appreciating all types of beauty, and about being more concerned with an inner radiance than my appearance. I’m not always successful and I’m often ashamed at the degree that I want to be thin and sexy.

    I don’t think that putting down other women, Mormon or not, who have fallen prey to the raunch culture or generally heightened focus on appearances is the most fruitful. We need to look for role models who display the characteristics we want to see in women. We need to appreciate ourselves as we are and try to look past the exteriors of others, whose focus on appearance is simply showing their natural human desire to be wanted, noticed, and loved.

  9. sarah says:

    Yeah, vicky, I know that’s not how we’re “supposed” to do it. I think it’s bunk. That’s what I’m saying.

  10. Starfoxy says:

    I need to read this book (along with several others).

    I think that extreme modesty (ie dressing with the main goal of disguising ‘sexy’ body parts) and extreme raunch are two sides of the same coin- that is both hinge on the idea that a woman is sex personified and that she must either hide this, or exploit it to get ahead.

    My solution wouldn’t be a return to modesty, it would be a return to functionality, both for the body and the person. Teach a girl that her body can *do* things, that *she* can do things; it will then follow that how she looks isn’t her defining feature and at that point practicality in dress will be of more importance than dressing to hide or enhance sexiness.

  11. Jessawhy says:

    Your point about my assumption is right on. I didn’t think the first half of the statement could stand by itself, I don’t have any stats on hand that show LDS teen sexuality, just what my 18 year old sister tells me about her friends.
    She is the reason I agree with you about the sealing thing. She and her boyfriend (who was sexually active with his previous girlfriend are going to have a civil marriage despite the fact that they aren’t having sex (yet, I should say 😉
    That’s another post in itself, tho. 18 yo sis getting married to 19 yo boy after dating for 2 months. Aaaaughh!

    Thanks for your comments. I’m interested to check out your link. I also appreciate women who read this blog even though they don’t agree with it. It’s hard for me to be that open-minded.

    Yes, she is beautiful. You should watch her clip on Colbert Report. She is also funny, articulate, and engaging. As I was searching for a link (before I read the book) I discovered pictures of her and her partner. Discovering that she is a lesbian was a little strange to me, but she does deal with the way Raunch Culture has affected the gay community (my least favorite chapter, btw).
    I’m not sure if it should have affected my reading of the book, but since it was about sexuality, and she’s not attracted to men, it did.

    You’re right, she is beautiful in a natural way. At one point, she mentions the reality series “The Swan” where women get surgical, dramatic makeovers that she says take them from one kind of average woman, to another kind of average woman (the blonde, big boobs, perfect teeth kind). It was a really accurate assessment.

    I like the idea of functionality. I was talking to my husband about that not too long ago. Maybe I was quoting a great comment at FMH, but I do think my body is amazing because it can do so many things. And, I can do so many things. Women need to focus on this instead of attracting men. It would be good for all of us (especially if we can teach this to our young women)

    Thanks for all of the comments!

  12. Kli says:

    When I attended BYU I was amazed at the number of females I knew who had breast implants…and even more amazed that it was their LDS parents who were paying for them. It is so strange to me that while our Prophet discourages tatoos and second ear piercings, there is no stance taken on breast enlargements. Anyone else have thoughts on that?

    I also wanted to comment on Vicki’s post: “looking sexy while wearing our garments should not be a priority”.

    I think that what one person may think is sexy- another person may not! I remember one of my Bishop’s talking about how disgusted he was with the sisters who wore short skirts into the temple during sealings. I was confused, because I thought that only endowed members were allowed in temple sealings. So I said, “but no one would wear a short skirt, if they’re wearing garments…” and he said “well, they wear them right to their knee, right below the garments, and it’s so distracting”.
    SO, this Bishop, felt that even wearing a knee length skirt, could distract him from “pure thoughts”. In my mind- this a problem with the guy…not the “sexy” knee-lenght skirt wearing sister.

    Another thought comes to mind…in regards to the word of wisdom and no coffee,tea, and alcohol. I think that the true word of wisdom puts as much emphasis on health- eating meat sparingly, eating in moderation, sleeping early, etc. So I don’t think it’s vain to want to have a healthy body….

  13. Douglas Hunter says:

    Starfoxy writes:
    “both hinge on the idea that a woman is sex personified.”

    exactly, and to extend the point, both rely on slightly different notions of biological determinism while at the same time being responses to the sexual(& sexualizing) male gaze.

    One of the helpful things that came out of the feminism of the 70’s was the various attempts by women to describe, understand and claim their bodies on their own terms. Alas, as with so much from that not so distant era such efforts seem to be largely missing from the public sphere today.

    My daughter is old enough now that she is really being bombarded by the more common understandings of womanhood and the female body, so as a parent I am seeking ways for her to understand herself that are not described by the poles represented by this post about “raunch culture” and the post a week ago concerning the difficulties of how women (their bodies, their potential, their roles) are proscribed by the Church.

    Its amazing to me that we are still stuck in a version of the old “Madonna / Whore” complex!!

  14. Jessawhy says:

    I’m interested to know when you went to BYU. I don’t remember seeing breast implants when I was there (98-03), but I wasn’t very aware at the time.
    I also heartily agree that health is an important part of the word of wisdom and of real self-confidence. But, health is not the same as looking like a porn-star.

    Douglas Hunter
    I agree that it is sad that the whore/Madonna dichotomy still exists in society. I’m not an expert in feminist literature, but Levy’s book had a good overview of sources. One that she mentioned that I’m interested in reading is called Our Bodies, Ourselves. I wonder if someone here has read this or any other book that would help a girl during her formative years.

  15. Kli says:

    Hi Jessawhy- I was at BYU during 99-04, so more or less the same time as you. I’m not saying everyone at BYU had them- just that I was surprised to find out how many actually did. I had a few friends who lived over in Belmont, and they all said that their ward in particular had a lot of silicone. I also remember a classmate of mine proudly telling me how her grandparents were giving her hers as a graduation gift. That’s my own BYU experience. Obviously it’s a big school.

    Just to be clear- I’m not equating health with looking like a porn star by any means- I do think that being fit is a good thing, and very much aligned with gospel principles of taking care of our bodies.

  16. Douglas Hunter says:

    Our Bodies Our Selves is perhaps the classic book in some regards. (read it in college with my girlfriend at the time.) It deals with sexuality, self perception, women’s health in terms of legal and medical history (for example abortion before and after Roe V. Wade) etc. It also celebrates women, but its older so I don’t know how it would play to women today. I think some would find it too steeped in the feminism of the 70’s and 80’s.

  17. Douglas Hunter says:

    Just checked Amazon. Sure enough, there have been several updates to Our Bodies Ourselves since I read it. including updates in 2005 and 2008.

  18. Jessawhy says:

    Yes, BYU is a big place, and I didn’t know many of the wealthier variety of Mormons, so I’m sure that’s where most of the implants were located. wink, wink.
    Yes indeed, health and porn are separate and not equal.
    I did check out the Seriously So Blessed link and it was hilarious! (I had to read the news links on the right to figure out what kind of parody was going on)
    She’s spot-on with her imitation of the young married grad-student blogs.

    Douglas Hunter,
    I’m glad you’ve read that book, and now that you say it’s been updated, well, I’ll have to grab that one at the library next time!

    Thanks again for your comments.

  19. kalanier says:

    My sister recently told me of a good friend from her ward who was thinking about getting a boob job. She is a beautiful smart spiritual mother of three. But apparently, she said that she didn’t feel “sexy” in front of her husband.

    I couldn’t understand this. It came shortly after a conversation with some co-workers (who can be quite raunchy in talk after hours) who were railing on boob jobs as awful, “because it alters the way the breast function as sexual organs for yourself and because most men would admit to not really liking them without clothing. And what was the point for doing something just for show, when you could wear a padded bra”. It had surprised me that even they who embrace the world’s view of sexuality questioned what seems to be embraced by Hollywood.

    But more than that, it is just something I would never think to do to myself. But my sister’s response to my startle-ment surprised me “Not everybody was raised like us.”

    And then I realized the impact my mother has made on me. I say this in the best possible way – she is a bit frumpy. Is very very modest – almost to an extreme. Our brains were always valued more than our looks and when my sister decided to wear make-up, I remember the lecture we both got on it’s good to look beautiful but don’t let it become a distraction. We were never allowed to wear anything questionable and as a teenager, she emphasized that we should be comfortable in clothing that would cover hypothetical garments. So I never had a desire to push the borders so to speak.

    But she was also very forthright about sex – almost to an extreme, as well. This was partly due to several of my church friends getting pregnant at 14 (one by rape, others by choice which forever shaped my ward’s chastity talks). However, the conversations at home were always natural. So I guess you could say that my mother wanted to make sure we understood ourselves, chastity, and what was appropriate. It has helped me understand my sexuality over time – which I don’t think a lot of mormons appreciate because it was never talked about.

    As a consequence of my upbringing, I have my own issues, but what I am trying to say is that for a parent to teach modesty they have to be modest. They don’t have to be extreme but when there are mixed messages, it is indeed hard. And for a girl to learn rightly about what it means to be chaste and the importance of sexuality, they have to be taught by example.

    My sister blatantly said that for her friend (who had been raised with a different notion of beautiful, and who also struggled with the garments), it meant that she struggled with the idea of what it meant to be sexy. And was therefore considering a boob job.

    But with that said, I have to say that I have found great empowerment personally to dress a little bit nicer, to maybe show off a little bit of my form without entering the world of raunchy. My mission president’s wife pushed this with the sister missionaries. Because you see there is a difference between being frumpy and modest. Although I guess you could say that I still don’t follow all the rules because my latest trend is that I wear tennis shoes to church – a nice pair of keds that go with my outfit, that have been complemented as cute and comfortable. But I don’t care what others think as long as I feel good about myself. And truthfully, if I am thinking about my appearance too much or not enough, it does the same dis-service to myself.

    I think an underlying problem is that as Mormons we are quite judgemental when it comes to chastity. If someone wears a sleeveless dress, a dress-shirt that is not white, if someone is gay, if someone has a baby unwed, or gets married outside the temple – the chatter makes assumptions. We need to stop and accept each other for who we are. As is. Imperfections and all. Just because someone else’s struggles are apparent doesn’t mean that you are better. And we should not let the world’s perceptions influence how we see each other.

    That is my opinion.

    Kelly Ann

  20. Tacy says:

    i read this book several years ago when it first came out.

    i struggle constantly with the concepts discussed in this post, and many of the comments as well.

    perhaps i am power hungry. perhaps i have bought into the caste system our culture presents as the norm, i dont really know. but i do know this:

    i believe i am a smart, ambitious, beautiful person. all of those adjectives indicate some type of power, and i have found that in order to achieve personal objectives and goals in our society, one needs a certain amount of power to leverage against the forces that be thereby initiating change. i often muse that achieving what i want to out of life would be easier if i could up my power in some way. of the three listed attributes, in our culture, beauty is often the easiest manipulated.

    i get more attention/perceive that i have more power with makeup and hair done than without

    i get more attention/perceive that i have more power when i am dressed in a figure flattering way than when i am not.

    it is always difficult for me not to grasp onto this seemingly infinite source of power and wield it as a force for achieving my goals.

    i understand from my perspective why women have embraced overly sexualized images and acts. i too am tempted by the possibilities it represents for my life.

    i believe the fundamental wrong it introduces is rooted in pride. wielding sexuality as a source of power temporarily elevates the individual woman while subjugating the gender as a whole.

    women who do so are not interested in the effects their behaviors have on others self image, self worth or dignity. they are interested only in what the sexualizing of their body, can do to elevate their position, with little or no concern for the fall out.

    that is the real crux of the issue. selfishness and pride form the foundation for these physically mutilating practices that are so common place we cant even see them in society anymore.

    and in the end, the women playing at that power play are still outside the real game, as evidenced by the way the are not revered or venerated when they age and their star of surgically kept beauty diminishes or finally goes out.

    everyone knows men get better looking with age, and women just get older looking. no amount of surgery, botox or silicon will change that perception, worse, it will permanently encourage it.

    somehow we have bought into the fact that at the very least a womans job is to be as beautiful as possible. thats the very least she can do in this life. and if she achieves many other things, if she does not achieve beauty, she is not living right.

  21. gladtobeamom says:

    Excellent post. I came across the good girls revolution by Wendy Shalit, which is very interesting as well. It states much of the same as above. The author talks about teaching girls to empower themselves by choosing to reclaim their identity by being modest etc. and not falling into the trap of being “bad” It also talks of the double standard that exists between young men and women. Girls are looked at a sluts etc when they sleep around, but boys don’t quite get the same treatment. You unfortunately find the same thing in the church on occasion. I for one am glad that the majority of young men that engage in sex in high school can no longer sew their wild oats, “repent” and then go on a mission, leaving girls behind to pick up the pieces. The author wants there to be one single standard for both sexes.

    We have our own raunch culture in the church. One where I see many pushing the envelope saying and thinking it is ok because it covers yet are constantly touching or tugging to keep things covered. Whose clothes may be long enough but are so tight everything is revealed. It does send a message and most of the time not a good one. They often put so much emphasis on looks that they often put down others or just group together with others that fit these standards. Unfortunately it is easy for me to judge I am always on the outside looking in. I have never been on the blond, skinny, perfect body side of things so I have had to battle and learn to define myself in other ways. I have had to learn where my beauty lies. I am not against looking your best. Frumpy is not good for women either. It is just getting over what we think or teach is beautiful or empowering and also how to recognize that beauty in others. Their are extremes on both sides in our culture.

    I don’t think that many women in the church realize how far backward we have gone and how it is affecting our young women. There are many links between lack of modesty and immorality, though not all people who are “immodest” are immoral. I think there is more to modesty then how we dress and there is more to teaching how to be chaste.

    I personally am trying to teach my girls the power they have in dressing, acting and definingly themselves differently then society would have them do. It is hard when all the clothes for a 8 year old girl makes them look like a slut. Sigh. I am trying to show them examples of women who made something of themselves with out having to demean themselves or having to embrace attitudes or actions unbecoming to themselves.

    I don’t buy magazines that push those agendas for women and I don’t idolize stars and other women that have to flaunt and be rather raunchy.

    I want them to know they can be beautiful and smart and successfully with or without a tan and size d boobs and that they don’t need to be, nerdy, harsh, bitchy, or slutty either. I would like to see a revolution where women would get behind this kind of thinking so as my girls get into high school they are not put down because they choose to show who they are in other ways then reveling their bodies and acting “sexy”.

    On a side note any women who doesn’t feel sexy for her husband unless she has bigger boos etc should beat her husband. What does he want a good wife or a porn star. I refuse to be a porn star for my husband but then again I am lucky he looks at me through rose colored glasses and even thinks I am beautiful in the morning when my hair is all over the place etc.

    Maybe a big part of this is also teaching our young men where beauty lyes and the difference between having sex and making love. (boy that sounds corny) We need to be open with both ym, and yw. I think we need to teach them it is a beautiful thing when it is giving yourself and pleasing each other and not just getting gratification for yourself. Women are not here for their pleasure and should not have to look or act like porn stars to get them off. It should be more about mutual respect, love and emotional connection.

  22. anon says:

    Forbes printed an article last year naming SLC at the nations #1 Vainest city, with the highest amount of cosmetic surgery.


  23. ESO says:

    I think our consumerism is a bigger issue in the Church than a “raunch” culture. I do occasionally see some questionable dressing, but I generally attribute it to immaturity or a lack of self-esteem, both of which feed into consumerism.

    I really wonder about the presumed increase in sexual activity. Certainly, porn and casual sex are more in the air than ever, but I am unconvinced that it is more a part of our youths’ lives, unless they choose for it to be. I went to a HS with very few Mormons, but remained very much in my chosen bubble–sex and drugs were not a part of my HS experience, even though I am sure they were readily available. I just never saw them.

  24. rach says:

    Great post! This is EXACTLY why Seriously, So Blessed! has taken off and is cracking so many of us up: TAMN (the character from the spoof blog) is the superficial shopaholic counterpart to the old Molly Mormon stereotype.

  25. Janna says:

    A few disparate, conflicting thoughts:

    1) Something that escapes many of us is that being sexy is just plain fun sometimes.
    2) I wonder if the focus on outward appearances in the church feeds into our vanity. While I don’t “believe in” Satan, I reminded of the concept that he/she takes the truth and twists it just one degree to the left (or to the right!) 🙂 (i.e., it’s important to look good…)
    3) Research suggests that girls who remain “androgynous” (i.e., don’t prescribe to either traditional female or male activities) into their early teens engage in less risky behaviors. They just sort of “be.” The longer they “be,” the better. (good advice for all of us, I suppose)

  26. Jessawhy says:

    You are absolutely right about consumerism. In fact, Levy makes a point that in Raunch Culture, sex isn’t something that’s shared by people who love each other, it’s something that sold: it’s a commodity. Sadly, it does reflect on the insatiable affluenza epidemic that we see all around us.
    Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, the blog Seriously, So Blessed! is really funny because it so closely mimics many of the LDS newlywed blogs out there. I got a link from a friend to a blog that where the woman (who’s preggers with her first girl) swears that the Nordstrom shoe department will be their mecca when her daughter is born. Apparently she already has quite the shoe collection. 🙂

    It is absolutely fun to be sexy. For me, it’s just a matter of examining my motives. Do I want power or attention? From whom? Why?
    In a safe relationship, being sexy is great, it’s part of my sexuality. The problems come when we exchange our sexuality with it’s individual nuances, for society’s generic version of sexy, with stiletto’s, stripper pole, and thong underwear.
    (One interesting comment in the book was that Paris Hilton’s boyfriends describe her as sexy, but not sexual, which was evidenced by one of her tapes where she actually answered a cell phone call during intercourse)

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.
    I’ve had email requests for more suggestions on how to address these questions as we raise our daughters.
    Any resources you would recommend?

  27. Janna says:

    Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher.

  28. Kaimi says:

    Good question, Jess — it’s a fascinating topic.

    On the one hand, I cringe at the prudeness of some Mormons. One of my wife’s relatives from the older generation would mention with pride (to women — I hear it secondhand) about how her husband has never seen her naked (!). Seriously, there are some messed-up, repressed cultural ideas in Mormonism. (See also the cupcake lesson.) To the extent we can push away from these, towards a more sex-positive culture, I’m all in favor of that.

    But it’s also true that taking it too far leads to its own potential problems. If people are triviliazing sex, it’s not really an improvement. I don’t want my wife or daughter to be the super-prudes that Mormon culture sometimes generates — but I don’t want them to be Paris Hilton, either.

    Finding the happy medium is the tricky part.

  29. Douglas Hunter says:

    In a Different Voice by Carol Gilligan

  30. Jessawhy says:

    Kelly Ann,
    Thanks for your thoughts on breast implants. It is something I have considered. That’s why I read and write about these topics, because it is so tempting to me, and I am glad to look raunch culture in the face and see that it really is like the Emperor with no clothes.

    Hey sister! Glad you stopped by.
    It’s so funny that you read this book a few years ago and I didn’t even hear about it until last week. Shows how much we don’t talk 🙂
    Thanks for bringing up Levy’s concept that when a woman uses her sexuality to get ahead (and becomes a Female Chauvinist Pig), she throws the rest of the female species under the bus. That is a very important theme in the book.
    It is empowering to be sexually attractive, I remember the first time I got blond highlights in college, I got a lot more attention from boys than I was used to. But, it’s not really the kind of power that we need, or the kind that we can pass on to our daughters. This is a very important topic and we need to support each other in the effort to resist this culture and develop our own kinds of beauty and skill.

    Thanks for your comments. I read your line to my husband this morning, “she should beat him . . .” and we both laughed.
    I can’t imagine how hard it would be to raise a daughter in this. Luckily, whatever part of raunch culture that was around in the late 90’s escaped me in the total nerdom that was my HS experience.

  31. Kiri Close says:

    and I don’t think we’re past the libidinal charges of ‘sexy’ in relation to our self worth. this is an astronomical problem with…being born in this material, animal world—nowhere near divinity.

    i’d like to hope we are trying to think/UNthink out of it.

  32. G says:

    It was an excellent and eye-opening book, thanks jessawhy for doing a post on it. I wrote my own post about it here.

    you recommended (in your goodreads review) skipping the chapter on lesbian sexuality- I actually found that chapter highly informative about how misogynistic ‘female-objectification has now permeated the female lesbian community. I guess it just gave me a little insight as to how all-pervasive this trend is.

    my own little anecdotes about surgical enhancements in The Church- well, I have multiple sisters, cousins, etc… all planning on getting them.
    But what really made an impact on me, was the contradictory messages sent by the patriarchs of my family: at one family dinner he went on and on about ‘disgusting wrinkled old shriveled up 40 yr old breasts” (in referring to Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction) and the next night he was going on and on about all the “stupid dumb idiotic spiritually dead” women in the stake who were getting implants.

    interesting message those two dinnertime conversations made.

  33. Christi says:

    LA Times Magazine did a piece on the founder of the “Girls Gone Wild” videos that I thought was really revealing of this “raunch” culture. Harrowing. The line between felon and icon is just so thin. http://www.latimes.com/features/magazine/west/la-tm-gonewild32aug06,0,2664370.story

  34. Ziff says:

    Thanks for this post, Jessawhy. I enjoyed Levy’s book too. Regarding the sexy vs. sexual distinction, one term I remember Levy using to describe women like Paris Hilton was “waxy.” I really liked that because it captures so well the kind of unreal not-alive way that celebrities like that look.

    Kli wondered many comments back about why GAs tell women how many earrings to wear, but don’t mention breast augmentation. I suspect that they don’t because they don’t want to say the word “breast” over the pulpit in Conference. 🙂

    And Tacy, I really like your summary point here:

    somehow we have bought into the fact that at the very least a womans job is to be as beautiful as possible. thats the very least she can do in this life. and if she achieves many other things, if she does not achieve beauty, she is not living right.

    So true! G’s story about the male relative who criticized women both for daring to let age change their appearance and also for daring to do things to try to prevent it also highlights the impossible situation that even trying to keep up with this beauty standard puts women in. Not only do you have to be beautiful, you have to make it look effortless. If you look like you’re working too hard at it, then you’ll be condemned for that too. Just one more reason, I guess, that women shouldn’t have to hang their self-worth on beauty.

    Sorry–I guess I’ve strayed a little from the topic.

  35. Jessawhy says:

    Janna, thanks for your recommendation, I’ll have to put that on my Goodreads “to-read” shelf.

    Wow, a woman whose husband has never seen her naked? That rivals a friend of mine who, after 10 years of marriage, had never orgasmed, nor did she know exactly what part of her body made that possible (and apparently, neither did her husband).
    The LDS church could be a lot more sex-positive, and that would make a good post (note to self, or any potential guest posters!). You are right about the balance needed between prude and waxy, as Ziff described. It really shouldn’t be that hard to have examples of healthy sexuality, should it? I guess when it’s the most private part of a person’s life, I guess.
    It’s frustrating that the negative influence gets the most screen time. Raunch culture is out there, but the alternatives are hidden in the bedrooms of healthy marriages.

    Thanks Douglas Hunter, and others who suggested books in this area. But, the more I think about it, really, this is something we need to SEE, to counteract. Or, at least talk about among women and teen girls.

    I’m not sure exactly what you mean here.
    “I don’t think we’re past the libidinal charges of ’sexy’ in relation to our self worth”
    But, I agree that we should try to think/unthink ourselves out of this perspective.

    Thanks for your perspective on the book. I agree that it was good to understand the way that female objectification permeates the lesbian community. But, for some reason, the details were even more disturbing to me than the others throughout the book.
    Speaking of disturbed, that’s how I felt when I read that comment about your family “patriarch” and his double standards for women (another good post idea, all the double standards). Ziff made some very good points there as well.

    I read that entire (very long) article, and I was deeply disturbed. I don’t imagine situations like that happening to journalists, and I was so sad for her. The Girls Gone Wild phenomenon is really horrible, and I imagine my grandchildren asking me how we could have a culture where something like that is not only accepted, but lauded.

    Thanks for your comments! I hope that you have settled in nicely to your new place, but know that we miss you in AZ.
    As far GA’s speaking out about breast augmentations, I thought there was a talk not too long ago (maybe by RG Scott) about beauty, and he said something about avoiding the knife. But, maybe I’m making it up.
    I can’t imagine anyone saying “breast” in GC, either.
    Yeah, Tacy’s right on about how a woman’s job is to be beautiful. Even our mother didn’t wear makeup or do her hair everyday. It really must be a cultural thing (even in the LDS culture, where you have to be beautiful for church on Sunday).

    Thanks again for all the comments!

  36. Ziff says:

    Thanks, jessawhy, we miss Arizona a lot, but we’re settling in.

    Now that you mention it, I may have a vague recollection of what you’re talking about–an oblique reference to elective surgery without the use of terms such as “breast.” Either that or you just successfully created a false memory in my head. 🙂 Either way, I’m sure that you’re right that if the GAs felt it was important enough, they would address breast augmentation even if they avoided such direct terms.

  37. Caroline says:

    Jess, are you thinking of Holland’s talk from a year or two ago, in which he addressed his teenage granddaughter and talked about body image? I vaguely recall he did mention plastic surgery in that one.

  38. Melanie2 says:

    Here’s the pertinent quote from Elder Holland (“To Young Women,” Oct. 2005):

    In this same vein may I address an even more sensitive subject. I plead with you young women to please be more accepting of yourselves, including your body shape and style, with a little less longing to look like someone else. We are all different. Some are tall, and some are short. Some are round, and some are thin. And almost everyone at some time or other wants to be something they are not! But as one adviser to teenage girls said: “You can’t live your life worrying that the world is staring at you. When you let people’s opinions make you self-conscious you give away your power. . . . The key to feeling [confident] is to always listen to your inner self—[the real you.]” And in the kingdom of God, the real you is “more precious than rubies.” Every young woman is a child of destiny and every adult woman a powerful force for good. I mention adult women because, sisters, you are our greatest examples and resource for these young women. And if you are obsessing over being a size 2, you won’t be very surprised when your daughter or the Mia Maid in your class does the same and makes herself physically ill trying to accomplish it. We should all be as fit as we can be—that’s good Word of Wisdom doctrine. That means eating right and exercising and helping our bodies function at their optimum strength. We could probably all do better in that regard. But I speak here of optimum health; there is no universal optimum size.

    Frankly, the world has been brutal with you in this regard. You are bombarded in movies, television, fashion magazines, and advertisements with the message that looks are everything! The pitch is, “If your looks are good enough, your life will be glamorous and you will be happy and popular.” That kind of pressure is immense in the teenage years, to say nothing of later womanhood. In too many cases too much is being done to the human body to meet just such a fictional (to say nothing of superficial) standard. As one Hollywood actress is reported to have said recently: “We’ve become obsessed with beauty and the fountain of youth. . . . I’m really saddened by the way women mutilate [themselves] in search of that. I see women [including young women] . . . pulling this up and tucking that back. It’s like a slippery slope. [You can’t get off of it.] . . . It’s really insane . . . what society is doing to women.”

    In terms of preoccupation with self and a fixation on the physical, this is more than social insanity; it is spiritually destructive, and it accounts for much of the unhappiness women, including young women, face in the modern world. And if adults are preoccupied with appearance—tucking and nipping and implanting and remodeling everything that can be remodeled—those pressures and anxieties will certainly seep through to children. At some point the problem becomes what the Book of Mormon called “vain imaginations.” And in secular society both vanity and imagination run wild. One would truly need a great and spacious makeup kit to compete with beauty as portrayed in media all around us. Yet at the end of the day there would still be those “in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers” as Lehi saw, because however much one tries in the world of glamour and fashion, it will never be glamorous enough.

    The ellipses and edits are in the original. According to the footnotes, the actress he’s quoting is Halle Berry.

  1. September 11, 2008

    […] really takes me by surprise when these things are directed at me personally. A comment was made in Jessawhy’s last post that keeps ringing in my ears–that women are seen as sex […]

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