Can a Jesus Feminist Wear High Heels?: Evolutionary and Incarnational Reflections on the Male Gaze

This post is inspired by a recent post--Mama's Rules for Dressing Well--by one of my favorite bloggers and theologians Jeanine Thweatt-Bates. JTB doesn't blog a ton, but when she does I read it.

In her post JTB reflects on, from a feminist perspective, how she is teaching her daughters to dress and how to model those injunctions herself. She mentions some learning she is having to unlearn in this regard, the temptations to wear clothing that is "attractive" or "sexy" but is uncomfortable. The issue in play here, from a feminist perspective, is the degree to which female notions of beauty and attractiveness are being driven by the "male gaze."

Can a feminist wear high heels?

I'm a feminist. And I'm also a Christian. And, following the lead of Sarah Bessey's new book Jesus Feminist, I'm a feminist precisely because I'm a Christian.

So that's the framework I'm trying to write from, a Christian feminist perspective, albeit in an error-prone and faltering way given that I'm a man.

The issue of female attractiveness, beauty and sexiness is a bit ticklish for Christian feminists. Which is why I'm interested in JTB's reflections about wearing heels.

Again, the problem is rooted in how female beauty is being defined by men, female bodies placed under and judged by the eyes of men. Because of this a woman's sense of self worth, in our culture, is obtained by appearing or looking in ways that men find acceptable. And because the male gaze is often lustful this creates an additional pressure for female appearance to become increasingly sexualized, all across the age spectrum. Overall, then, the demand for women to look "sexy" becomes a form of patriarchal oppression. And it's an insidious form of oppression because young girls and women internalize these male-driven standards of beauty and judge themselves, often harshly.

So when I'm speaking of "high heels" I'm gesturing toward that whole phenomenon, women wearing things (like shoes) and suffering (because the shoes are uncomfortable, but that's a small thing in the face of all the psychic suffering) into order to satisfy the judgments and appetites of men.

Now, statistically speaking the male arousal system has a visual bias. More on that in a minute. For now we simply note that male sexual arousal tends toward the opticical. Consequently, there is this tension. The male gaze is oppressive, yet women--even Christian feminist women--want to appear sexy and attractive to the men they love. Thus JTB ends her post by saying this:
My anniversary comes up in a few days and you can bet I'll be rocking some #feministheels and showing my daughter that Mama can be fancy as well as sensible, sexy as well as grubby, fun as well as hardworking. And that when it comes to Dressing Well, it's about feeling good in your body, and accomplishing what you set out to accomplish--be that dazzling your students with a philosophy lecture or dazzling your spouse at an anniversary dinner. 
Now, if you're a feminist you might not agree with her conclusion. It might be argued that female notions of beauty should be completely extracted from the male gaze. Male notions of attractiveness should never contaminate or influence how a woman wants to dress.

That's one side of the equation. But that's a hard line to take if you want to be sexually desired by your spouse.

And yet, we don't want to go too far in this direction. Because on the other end of the spectrum is the benevolent sexism you see in many conservative Christian circles: since males have visual "needs" a Christian wife should try to "satisfy" those "needs." Being sexy is, thus, being godly. The job of a good, Christian wife is to look, at all times, sexually "captivating." All this is just a baptized version of the oppressive male gaze.

So a Christian feminist is trying to thread the needle between these two poles. JTB's post, as I read it, is one personal story about how to thread that needle, for herself in her own marriage and as a mother raising girls.

And all that brings me to the reflections I had reading JTB's post.

What struck me in JTB's post is how she grounded her decision to look sexy in some locations of her life--to wear heels for her anniversary dinner--in an incarnational theology. Before her conclusion she writes:
But most often, I wear heels for a couple hours at a time in a context where there's more sitting than walking, and when the point is to be extravagantly, flagrantly fabulous. Maybe even (gasp!) sexy…which for me, like a lot of women brought up in the kind of purity/modesty culture of American conservative Christianity, is a reclamation of our bodies and their goodness.
Rocking some high heels and looking sexy for your husband as "a reclamation of our bodies and their goodness." That's the theological bit that got me thinking.

It got me thinking about the male gaze, particularly from an evolutionary standpoint.

Why is the male arousal system visually biased?

And to be clear, this is a statistical trend that exists between the genders. Not something that holds for all men and women. Still, we wonder why the trend exists.

Some evolutionary psychologists have argued that the answer to the question is rooted in a biological asymmetry between the genders in their respective investments in producing offspring. Biologically speaking, pregnancy and having a child is high stakes for women. She is, and we need to think of the hunting/gathering contexts where most of human brain evolution occurred, quite literally putting her life on the line whenever she has sex. By contrast, sex is low stakes for males. Males risk little, biologically, from casual sexual encounters. If anything, from a Darwinian perspective, males benefit from casual sexual encounters (more sex = more offspring).

The upshot, so the argument goes, is that males and females developed very different sexual psychologies to maximize their reproductive success given these asymmetries. Females, given the biological burdens they are carrying, would attempt to identify and select a "high investment mate." A partner who would invest--materially, relationally and emotionally--in her and her offspring. Thus females attend to emotional and behavioral cues that signal love/investment and fidelity.

Now, what this creates is a demand that women place upon men. In evolutionary theory this is called "sexual selection" (as opposed to "natural selection"). Sexual selection is driven by mate selection, often female mate selection. The traits the female selects become selected for. Sexual selection is what explains the extravagant colors and forms--from the color of a male cardinal to the peacock's tail--that seem maladaptive in light of natural selection. (For example, bright coloration, while very sexy, makes you more visible to predators.)

In short, there is a female gaze in sexual selection. The things that women are looking for, the things they find attractive and sexy.

But if the female gaze is seeking high investment--that is, if the female gaze is inherently an adaptive preference for monogamy--then the male will have to forgo all other extra-marital sexual opportunities, opportunities that, strictly form a Darwinian perspective, would have promoted his reproductive success. So if a male makes this sacrifice, if he submits to the female gaze and settles down with her, does he have any reciprocal demands?

According to evolutionary theory he does. The male's counter-demand is reproductive potential. If he is to pass on extra-martial opportunistic sex to create additional offspring then his demand is that he have as many children as possible with the woman he settles down with in marriage.

What does that have to do with the male gaze? Well, so the theory goes, the only way to judge fertility in hunting/gathering cultures was the eyeball test--visual cues of health, youthfulness and vigor. Consequently, females developed a sexual psychology that attended to behavioral/emotional cues and males developed a sexual psychology that attended to visual cues.

And that, according to some theories in evolutionary psychology, is the origin of the visual bias in male sexual arousal.

Now, maybe none of this theory is true. But if it is (at least partly) then I'd like to make some points about Jesus feminists wearing high heels.

First, if the evolutionary scenarios described above are true then the male and female gazes are intertwined. They grew up together, pushed each other, shaped each other. These gazes have been tangled up over a long evolutionary history.

And this explains, I think, why it's hard to wholly extract a woman's feelings of attractiveness from the gaze of the man she loves. The conflation of female conceptions of beauty with the visual sexual psychology of males is not rooted in patriarchy but in a long evolutionary past. The genders have been gazing at each other for millions of years, gazes that have, quite literally, shaped and selected the minds and bodies of both genders. So it's very, very hard to extract and sever conceptions of "attractiveness" from the gaze of the other gender. Attractiveness and the gaze of the other gender, historically speaking, are inextricably and biologically linked.

Now, let me rush to say this. This evolutionary frame is not given as a justification for the patriarchal oppression of the male gaze. Nor should it be taken as a normative description for anyone outside the heterosexual experience. We're talking about evolutionary history, not your personal history. This isn't about your sexual psychology or the bodies you find attractive. Nor should the adaptive account be taken as an argument for gender absolutes as, again, what we are trying to account for here is a statistical trend between the genders. And most important, even if there is a visual bias in male sexual arousal everything I said at the start of the post about the exploitation of women under the male gaze still holds.

But what I'd like to tentatively suggest is this. The visual bias in male sexual arousal isn't inherently patriarchal. It's just an adaptive feature of the brain. A feature adaptively intertwined with the female gaze. I'm tentatively suggesting that the gazes, being adaptive features of the brain, are morally neutral, adaptations that are similar to why we find sugar sweet.

The problem, I'm suggesting, comes when the visual bias is conflated with power. That's where the oppression comes in, when the male gaze is conflated with power and women are asked to submit to the male gaze. Simplistically,
Visual Bias in Sexual Arousal + Power = Oppression
This is the mix that makes for the patriarchal oppression of women and the benevolent sexism in Christian circles.

And if this is so, then I'd like to return to JTB's incarnational reflections about being sexy.

We generally think of incarnational theology as being about embodiment. And when we think of embodiment we tend to focus on individual bodies. But those bodies--and their sexual psychologies--didn't drop out of the sky. Those bodies were products of other bodies, both male and females bodies. And those bodies from still other bodies. In short, and here's my theological proposal, should not an incarnational view of sex take into consideration the long evolutionary history of our bodies? Theological discussions about embodiment, it seems to me, need to wrestle with our adaptive past and how that past has shaped our bodies and minds.

Incarnational theology has to be evolutionary theology if it wants to fully respect our biology and bodies.

If so, an incarnational approach to being "sexy" will recognize and enjoy the evolutionary and biological aspects influencing both the male and female gaze. Males and females have been gazing at each other and finding each other sexy for millions of years. And there is a creational goodness in how these erotic feelings spontaneously emerge within us. How you catch my eye. How that gesture melts my heart. And, being humans, we've reveled in all the ways we can creatively and artistically enhance those feelings. From love songs to diamond rings to, well, to high heels. We become chefs to enhance the pleasures of taste. We do the similar things to enhance the pleasures of sexual attraction and arousal.

But like anything, when conflated with power (and in our time and place this power is mainly being exerted through media and market forces, the buying and selling of the female body) this creational goodness becomes oppressive and exploitative. For most of human history that has been the story with the male gaze. But I think the problem is with the power, and not the gaze.

As a heterosexual man--the product of a long, long evolutionary history--I don't know how to look at Jana and not find her sexy. And I love how she, joyously, creatively, and artistically, surprises my gaze. I love the way Jana dresses. Does her hair. The whole thing.

And yet, if I start to demand that Jana dresses a certain way. If I start to privilege my gaze--if anyone, in any sort of romantic context, heterosexual or otherwise, starts to privilege their gaze--we begin in that instance to conflate our gaze with power. When we begin to lord over our partners to indulge our visual appetites we are back to oppression.

Which means that the gaze--of both genders--needs to be cruciform. The gaze is never primary for Christian feminists. Never the demand: You must meet my needs! More, and perhaps most Christian of all, we are willing to sacrifice the gaze in the face of age, injury, deformity or debility.

You know, scratch that. Let's throw some Eastern Orthodox theology at this. The object of love isn't the sacrifice of the gaze but the divinization of the gaze. No doubt, mortification may be a part of this process. But the goal isn't to repress and sacrifice the biological and erotic aspects of love but to have our bodies taken up and transformed by the love of God. 

The gaze is, simply, a creational, incarnational given. One of many bodily goods that both genders enjoy, from the taste of good coffee to the pleasure of a symphony. The male and female gaze is embodied pleasure. Which can be used, as all pleasures, for good or ill.

Which brings us back to the question, can a Jesus feminist wear high heels?

My personal opinion?

I think where there is mutualism and cruciform love, yes, for the joy and play of it, yes.

Rock those heels.

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68 thoughts on “Can a Jesus Feminist Wear High Heels?: Evolutionary and Incarnational Reflections on the Male Gaze”

  1. A lot is said about the ‘male gaze’ and its relationship to the evolutionary urge to look for fertility. However, I wonder whether this really explains the phenomena. It fails to account for the fact that a significant amount of the judgment upon women’s bodies—perhaps the majority—comes from other women. One could argue that this is ‘internalizing the oppressor,’ but I am not convinced that it is that straightforward. The standards by which this oppressive self-directed ‘female gaze’ operates are not the same as the male gaze. Most men don’t even know what a ‘thigh gap’ is, for instance.

    Similar things could be said about the self-directed male gaze. Men seem to be far more obsessed with huge muscle-bound bodies than women are and the competitive attitudes that can develop between men about bodies cannot simply be boiled down to their relationship with women. These body obsessions often fly right in the face of the gaze of the other sex and are often contrary to the seeming evolutionary drive (I suspect that most men really would prefer if high fashion models had a little more flesh on their frames, for instance, and it wouldn’t hurt their reproductive potential either).

    The oppressive skeletal ideal body of high fashion is not an especially heterosexual male invention (just as heterosexual women don’t drive extreme male body-building). In fact, I would suggest that this skeletal body is idealized precisely as a means of veiling the procreative meaning of the body in order that the body might be rendered a suitable aesthetic object for the ‘art’ of high fashion, detached from the order of nature and bodily relation. Such bodies are not designed primarily for use or relation but exist chiefly as expressions of our artistic self-mastery and self-realization.

    The exclusive focus upon the sexual gaze, real though it is, misses the importance of the aesthetic gaze, a gaze that is not bound to natural desires in the same way, but which subjects the body to artificial ideals of appearance. The body is rendered art for art’s sake, beyond or detached from its natural ends. Sometimes I think that people are far too obsessed with fitting everything into conspiracy theories about the patriarchy to notice what is right in front of their eyes.

  2. I would quibble with only one, relatively minor point. To state that females are sexually attracted to romance is to frame evolutionary theory exclusively within the bounds of humans over the last several hundred years (at best). Sexual selection theory would state that females are attracted to status (i.e. the alpha male) and resources for her offspring (e.g. food, shelter, protection, genes). Male bower-birds who can make the most elaborate nest and perform the best mating dance are not promoting fidelity so much as courting a female by showing her how resourceful he is at making a nest. The female will gladly mate with a different bird the next time, so long as the nest is sufficiently fabulous. Most species are NOT monogamous and the females who live in groups have
    no real issue with infidelity so long as their offspring are protected
    or receive superior genes from the alpha male of the group. The relative attraction of male peacock tails, lion manes, ram horns, etc... typically reflect overall health, absence of pathogens, and thus the ability to gather superior resources or even just the presence of superior genetics for the alpha male. You can offer a more cogent critique of the science, but there are even studies in humans where females will rate rich, well-dressed nerds as more attractive than poor, but good-looking guys. This seems to occur across cultures and not just in America.

    You make an excellent point with the larger theme of the post and with the idea that sexual selection can work both ways and that the female gaze has just as much influence as the male gaze. I just wanted to voice a concern about placing too much emphasis on the human worldview (e.g. commitment, monogamy, fidelity, romance) when describing the millions of years of sexual selection.

  3. Good points! I think they are tied to Richard's post because they are concrete examples of power entering the equation. He uses patriarchy as one system, but there are many ways the powers operate.

  4. I really like the point you made about divinization of the gaze. It seems to me that a person working towards seeing the Imago Dei in everyone is trying to do the same thing.

    In other news, someone has started an automated Twitter feed of your blog posts for folks that like to follow people there. The handle is @RichardBeckBlog .

  5. Richard, I love this piece of yours.

    I wonder if you could help me. Lately, I've been comparing a level of human experience that gets called "existential" to a level/dimension that gets called "psychological". One thing I'm realizing in this thought experiment, is that if we were to translate Jesus' work into modern frameworks, I can't see psychology being that framework; as powerful as psychology may be, somehow it doesn't reach into the very power of being itself. (Not that existential philosophy would translate Jesus' work any better.)

    So as I read your work here, the way in which you patiently continued "threading that needle" may have led me to an insight that I've been searching for, and it has to do with the abuse of power that you parse as patriarchal: though any suffering encountered in the abuse of power is felt psychologically, the underlying 'cause', or 'disease', or 'force' is that the woman's (in this case) power of being is no longer hers. Or is transferred from the One who is truly that power, to another who doesn't have any more power of being than she does.

    JTB, it seems to me,experiences her own power of being that can only be had in a shared experience between herself and god. Because this power is not contingent on her husband, she feels a profound freedom to play in a real psychological dimension and rock her heels.

    Any thoughts?

  6. Brian, I would quibble with your quibble :-)

    I think we have to begin recognizing that in evolutionary history, something divergent happens in human life; something takes place that makes for the human organism an ability to transcend natural processes. Not in any absolute way- we still have to live symbiotically with nature- but in ways that are truly profound.

    So I think we have to at some point differentiate our evolutionary history from that of the rest of nature at some point.

  7. I see that. Is this summary getting at what you are saying:

    Suffering shows up in psychology (it's where we feel it) but that pain is just a symptom and not the source. The source would be things like the misuses of power. So psychology might put us on the track of the problem (like the runny nose of a cold) it's not the source of the problem (the virus).

    Is this what you are trying to say?

  8. The power of the erotic: joy and fulfilment. An interesting quote from the feminist Audre Lorde here

  9. I saw that. Many thanks to the kind soul who set that up.

    I keep going back and forth about getting on Twitter. But the thought of it--people tweeting stuff at me--overwhelms me. I have enough trouble keeping up with the comments on this blog.

    About the divinization of the gaze. In my first draft I just had the sacrifice of the gaze. And what I was going for there was how a desire for a youthful sexy appearance in a wife is let go of as we age or if something happens to her body (women in my family are cancer survivors and have had mastectomies).

    But then I realized that what is truly Christian here isn't some sort of "sacrifice" the husband makes in looking at his wife but that his eyes are transformed and that the erotic component is never lost but folded into something so powerful and huge that she grows more and more beautiful and sexy no matter the changes in physicality. Eros taken up into agape. In short, the way God looks at us.

  10. Perhaps an extra complication: I've usually found that my clothing choices are influenced more by what other women will think rather than what men will think. And this definitely includes clothes at both ends of the spectrum of what's considered "sexy". There's a lot of really interesting things to think about fashion in the context of feminism, and I feel like boiling that conversation down to sexiness and the male gaze misses a lot.

  11. I'm just glad people are taking the time to read it.

    Viral title, but tl;dr for the post. Which is sort of the industry standard for this blog.

  12. Yeah, I think I am. "Symptom" is really becoming even more interesting to me. They are not the disease itself yet they communicate and communicate in ways that are coherent- they're not disjointed from that disease.

    As you say, a source may be some misuse of power, but even this phrase hits my ears with tones of morality or politics or psychology again (which probably points to my own conditioned way of hearing). So I'm not claiming this phrase innately connotes my hearing. Maybe there's a move to be made to hear this phrase denote specifically, that the misuse of power at its core, erodes -if not eradicates- a person's own power of being, they're existence in a truly personal way.

    What do you think of your summary as an experimental psychologist?

  13. I don't want to be too critical, because it's an interesting post and if there's stuff I think are missing from the conversation I should just write my own post, right?

    But I guess what I'm trying to say is: What if it's not about the men at all?

  14. Hi Mike,

    You have a point if you wish to view evolutionary theory through a theological lens - at least when it comes to humans. While I may not, as a Christian, have a quibble with that approach in some regards, others who look at evolutionary theory without any theological/spiritual lens would argue that humans reflect their evolutionary history as much as any other species - no more, no less. Arguing that something "transcendental" happened to humans during evolution is to impose a non-scientific agent/process into the scientific argument of sexual selection. Of course, that's some of what this blog reflects from time to time (at least from my perspective - Richard may disagree).


  15. The phrase that I'm not too clear on is "a person's own power of being." That can mean a lot of things, some psychologically reductionistic, some more metaphysical. As a psychologist my default would be to unpack "a person's own power of being" into a suite of things from self-esteem, positive affectivity, confidence, self-efficacy, vitality, etc. The "substrate" of these things being unspecified.

  16. Richard, thanks so much for your thoughts on my post! I'm all squealy with joy at the blog love! :)

    I especially like your point that incarnational theology must be evolutionary theology. Yes. Understanding our bodies means employing all the interdisciplinary knowledge we can generate--all the while, of course, acknowledging the fallibility of our theories and interpretations and all that. The sciences, after all, have their own problematic history of sexist practice & interpretation, and untangling that in the context of interdisciplinary discussion on theological anthropology and gender is…well, big. [Which, hint hint, is why you'd be awesome for that panel we talked about, no pressure, just a little public nudge! ;)] I think it's right to contextualize the "male gaze" in this way (have you read Maxine Sheets-Johnston? She critiques Haraway as overly social constructivist on gender--I think she misreads Haraway a bit, but anyway, she offers an evolutionary account of sex and the role of the male gaze as it interplays with embodiment and the development of bipedality), but a lot of sociobiological narratives are as reductionist in their biological determinism as theology tends to be with its gender essentialism…

    Also: I love the phrase "divinization of the gaze." I think that's a wonderful way of making explicit the theological underpinnings I didn't dig into (this was a quick post for me, more personal than anything else)--that when the gaze is invited, welcomed, elicited, safe, then you can own fully even the vulnerable aspects of embodiment without fear. And unfortunately, women learn that being sexy is dangerous: to be sexy is to invite rape and assault, to be sexy is to make your fellow Christian sin. But sexy is part of embodiment, and sacrificing it in the name of prudence or virtue means losing a part of what God made us to be.

    I'll be rocking the #feministheels Thursday for a late anniversary dinner after our ballroom dancing class. :)

  17. Also--more complication--sexy for Brent, but also, just generally sexy. I think it ought to be okay for women to choose this without condemnation--whether internalized or externalized. But as you note, it won't be "okay" for a woman to choose "sexy" until gaze is uncoupled from power.

  18. I like your default unpacking. Especially "the substrate of these things being unspecified." Together your thinking is pointing to incarnation isn't it? The substrate can't be pointed to in some definitive way like pointing at that couch or that experience of self esteem.

    Maybe where our standard christian thinking is getting it wrong is that incarnation is all around us as invisibility becomes visible every where; incarnation isn't an isolated event that happened when Jesus showed up.

    Maybe then, psychology at its best is an inextricable partner with this "substrate" that is about some 'ground of existence' or 'ground of being' -which themselves can only be invisible, and only become visible through incarnation.

    What is psychology then if this incarnation element is ejected, and in its place, a "contraption" model is conceived, and the therapist as mechanic is charged with repairing their client to get them back into "productivity" and contribute again to their shared system?

  19. Richard, it would be interesting to see you add Rowan Williams' (already classic) "The Body's Grace" to the mix of your thinking ...

    Williams would surely agree with you on the distortion of sexual intimacy by power and and its restitution by mutual vulnerability, or as you put it, by the cruciformity of the gaze. " [T]he moral question, I suspect," Williams avers, "ought to be one of how much we want our sexual activity to communicate, how much we want to display a breadth of human possibility and a sense of the body's capacity to heal and enlarge the life of other subjects." Hence, the "body's grace".

    However, Williams also observes that "if we are looking for a sexual ethic that can be seriously informed by our Bible, there is a good deal to steer us away from assuming that reproductive sex is a norm, however important and theologically significant it may be"; and, rejecting the natural complementarity defence, he goes on to claim that for same-sex relationships too we might think (as you put it) of a "mutualism and cruciform love, yes, for the joy and play of it".

    I know this comment takes us beyond the specific argument of your splendid, stimulating post, but I also think the post itself, in its telos, is suggestive of the case Williams makes..

  20. Thanks Kim. My stuff about the cruciformity and divinization of the gaze was very much informed by The Body's Grace. A limitation to the post is its focus on heterosexual sexual attraction, mainly prompted by the feminist question regarding wearing certain clothing for men. William's essay, IMHO, is the place to go for a more general account.

  21. First of all, I love that you're a feminist... I think it's sort of a no-brainer, and on a personal level, I think I'll probably never date a woman who isn't a feminist to some degree.

    However... I think it should be pointed out that heels-as-sexy is a complete cultural construct, and perhaps because I grew up in a weird cultural situation (missionary center in the middle of the amazon), my mind never came to associate them with sexiness.

    I mean, I get the idea -- that it's supposed to make a mental association with the image of a toes-pointed woman, with her back arched in the act of sex -- but that brain-visual connection isn't made for me because no women where I grew up wore heels. It wasn't just the missionary-stodginess thing, either -- heels were impractical and dangerous and stupid on the mostly-uneven surfaces where we lived. Make-up was also impractical, and most women and girls wore very little, to none.

    The end result of this (for me, at least), is that when I look at heels and makeup, all I can see is the impracticality of it, the unhealthiness of it, the facade of it. I don't want a woman I'm with to wear heels and makeup, because the image of it doesn't make sweet, sexy love to my brain -- it just speaks of conformity, pain, foolishness, etc.

    But even if a woman wanted to roll with that, the cultural pressure (mostly from other women) is just too high, and I am left pining for my oneday hippie-chick.

  22. Love all around. :-)

    Great points about the limitations of science, particularly very speculative evolutionary "just so" stories. But I do think there's some interesting theological work to be done in getting things like evolutionary psychology into conversation with things like social constructivism. An interdisciplinary theology of sexy would be a really interesting area to work in.

  23. Matthew Fox, Creative Spirituality scholar and teacher, deals with the divine power of the erotic in his book, ORIGINAL BLESSING. Its well worth the read

  24. I tried to gesture toward this when I talked about creative, cultural and artistic expressions. Like being a chef. We all don't like the same cuisine, or high heels. Tastes are so very diverse. "High heels" is just one sort of pleasure-techne and like with, say, seafood, some like it and some don't. But the underlying psychology of pleasure--taste or sexual arousal--is still there.

  25. The thing is Brian, I don't think I'm looking through a theological lens at all. I may not be looking through the lens of today's science culture, but I am looking at the same stuff.

    The common frame work seeks to understand the evolving complexity of biological organisms through mechanical expenditures of energy and selection based on survivability. As I observe this arrow of time that begins BB, a parallel arrow shows up- most prominently on this spec we've called earth- that depicts an increase in complexity. As agency shows up in bacteria, something is happening that doesn't for Jupiter. Jump ahead to the grizzly bear, and in this frame work you have its epitome i.e., it's an omnivore and can hibernate when food is lacking during winter.

    Yet this arrow of complexity continues into human life where something else happens that doesn't in the grizzly, though we all participate through agency. What ever this something else is, it has a responsibility to Beauty as much as it does our bodies for instance. I live in the northern state of Minnesota and am listening to my furnace run; I didn't go out to the furnace grove and pick it....

    Nature tells me it's winter. I reply, so what; I have a heated home created by a society of human creativity that transcends the domain of nature. What ever Evolution is, when human life is produced, with it comes the ability to have a say for a natural organism to have a say in its evolution... Nothing theological there, and I'm only pointing to the features before us- am I not?

  26. Agreed. But don't you think that when a cultural expression is demonstrably unhealthy (as are heels, and bound feet, and rings-around-the-neck, and genital mutilation) that we ought to campaign to change that expression? Do we have to merely accept it? And could we fix this quickly, so that the things that I, personally find sexy become the standard? :)

  27. I'm disappointed. I thought this article was going to be about you in high heels, which of course were strictly men's shoes (enforced by law in some jurisdictions) when they were introduced in the hosen days to ensure that gentlemen had the right shaped booty to fill out those tights under the doublets.

    I'm also disappointed your longest article this month is an opinion about women's clothing. What about what you're wearing to a fancy dinner with your wife? What about a man dressing to please his spouse? Ah, yes, there's another other tricky part-- you presume very heavily in this article that the woman is dressing for her partner who is heterosexual.

    Or even partnered, because single people of course are not actually worth talking about unless it's talking about how to marry them off.

    You're talking here about a brand of mainstream feminism that many people are now rejecting because of its very superficial focus. I mean, high heels? SERIOUSLY?!? This is where you're going to stake your feminist flag? What about wage inequality? What about intersectionalism? What about ableism (presuming a woman can physically wear high heels-- foot injuries, amputations, spinal cord injuries) and heterosexism (it's all about the men and the partnering of course)? What about the fact that there's a Rebranding the Kingdom conference going on right now where stars of the church all gathered to make a game plan and they all happen to be men?

    Really, really, realllllly disappointed.

  28. Sorry to disappoint. And I appreciate your calling attention the the bigger issues and picture.

    So to be clear, this isn't a flag in the sand. It's just some thoughts I had reading a post about wearing heels.

  29. Well, as you rightly point out, you are certainly not looking at it through a scientific lens. I'd rather not hijack the overall thread, so I'll leave you with this. Evolution is not concerned with increasing complexity and evolution certainly doesn't consider agency as a mechanism for change. Our ability to digest milk as adults, resulting from a single genetic mutation within the last 10,000 years or so, had much more influence over human proliferation, domestication (and evolution) of some animals, and overall human survival than the ability to create furnaces. Evolution always reflects reactive changes by a species, not predictive changes. From a strictly scientific viewpoint, organisms (or even whole species) have no agency that gives them "say" in their evolution. A furnace may give you comfort from the winter, but it does nothing to affect the future evolution of the species (I'm intentionally ignoring the possibility of carcinogens from faulty furnaces potentially damaging your DNA and thus passing on these changes to your kids and other biological mechanisms). Again, I'm not saying your viewpoint is invalid from a metaphysical perspective - just that it's not scientifically accurate

  30. Incidentally, I don't think the phrase I used "flag in the sand" is real. I think it's a weird conflation of "line in the sand" and "flag in the ground." Regardless, this wasn't a post about anything big but about a small little thing that, when examined, can unpack some issues that are of interest to feminists (e.g., the male gaze).

  31. hi Mary Sue,

    Since Richard was responding to a post on my blog, I thought it might help to clarify that I was writing in response to an op-ed by Charlotte Raven opining that "a feminist in high heels is like Dawkins with a rosary." This struck me (and lots of other people) as ridiculous, and my blog post was a personal reflection on the ways that I've had to explicitly articulate some sort of working philosophy of dress as my mom with a daughter, and how my basic rules of thumb on the matter intersect with my feeling that pronouncements like "a feminist can't wear heels" is bad feminism. Soooooo…don't blame Richard!

    I also appreciate your points about the ableism/heterosexism if my personal context (since it was a personal post, not a more academic or theological one) is universalized. The scope of my post was small and personal--a mommy-blog post more than a feminist-theologian post, and though of course those intersect for me, I wasn't trying to be prescriptive, just talk through how I negotiate these issues within my own household. To broaden the conversation to take into account other embodiments, I think it would be great to ask if there's anything to add to the general rules of thumb originally suggested--because I was hoping that they are flexible enough to cover all sorts of embodiments and self-expression [they were: (1) Anything you wear shouldn't hurt any part of your body; (2) What you wear should keep you warm (or cool) enough; (3) What you wear should let you do what you plan to do in it (that is, be functional and appropriate to the specific occasion); (4) You should feel good about what you're wearing.] If you have suggestions to add or improve them I'd love to hear them (here or at my blog either one)!

    Anyhow, I hope that ameliorates your disappointment a bit.

  32. I'd also point out that the fashion industry is largely run by gay men and other women, not heterosexual men. The blogger Steve Sailer always says that whenever he hears about the heterosexual male power structure setting beauty ideals, he always tries to imagine Colin Powell and Alan Greenspan in a room somewhere plotting next year's hemlines.

  33. This is exactly the conversation that prompted my blog post (Charlotte Raven published an op-ed that feminists in heels are like Dawkins with a rosary). There was a backlash on twitter, complete with hashtag #feministheels. Disclosure: I've never been a fan of heels really, and have worked at an orthopedic shoe store and have seen the evils that bad shoes can do to feet (!!!), and a few years ago I probably would have been like, yeah, what sort of feminist would wear heels? Clearly someone with some internalized self-objectification to unpack, a bad feminist! So part of the reason my response to this convo went to the ways my philosophy of dress with my daughter is because my philosophy has evolved under the pressure of her very logical questions and having to parse the fine line between affirming her desire to self-express and feel good about her clothes without allowing external expectations (you must wear dresses, you must wear pink, you must want to sparkle, etc) to completely set the agenda. And the rules for dressing well come out of that. The best thing about them, I think, is that there's no reference to what other people think about what it is you're wearing. It's about self-expression, it's about functionality, it's about you feeling good about it. Ideally, it's dressing in a context where the gaze you anticipate is first your own, and secondarily (if at all) others'--but without the problematic power and judgment that collectively we've granted "the male gaze."

    I still think that nothing you wear should be, in our household parlance, "ouchie." This is how I phrase the rule because it seems to me that in order to defeat your own instinct to avoid physical stress and pain, you'd have to be very much under the sway of the male gaze.

    But in the end, the problem with making a universal dictum about whether or not someone should wear heels, or a plunging neckline, or whatever, is that it perpetuates the problem it purports to solve by continuing to police women's decisions. As you note the problem is social, not individual here--and the way individuals, feminist or not, choose to respond within a social context is the wrong place to intervene with a judgment.

    Tell that girl you love how beautiful she is without the fancy makeup--and then when she wears because she wants to feel fancy, tell her how beautiful she makes that makeup look. :)

  34. I think you are missing the point of Alastair's post. As I understand him, he is saying that people have other innate motivations than simply appealing to the opposite sex. Sometimes they desire to conform to a particular non-sexual aesthetic or may simply wish to exercise power over their own bodies. These things don't necessarily have anything to do with power structures in society.

  35. Nice response Brian. I would clarify that I said I wasn't looking through the predominate lens of contemporary science culture a la Kuhn et al. A generation from now, what I'm saying now may be part of that lens. Look up Stuart Kauffman; he's a theoretical biologist and an example of a stalwart scientist seeing the limitations of some of our current frameworks and so is exploring further into more theory that comprehends better what's before us.

    So who's to say that a human society moving to relate with each other in ways that center on love rather than greed isn't every bit as evolutionary as some genetic mutation? Whatever evolution is, we're stuck observing it from inside of it: we can't get the outside look that we can of the things that make up our run of the mill methods of objectivity.

    We're left to pick out a group of features from the whole of it, and count those as relevant. But relevance hinges on premises doesn't it? Here's where I like Bohm's understanding of theory: more than being about right or wrong, theories let us see into a thing; and when we need to see further, we make further seeing theories. A further seeing theory doesn't negate an earlier one, it merely lets us see further.

    In the end, my theoretical thinking doesn't lead to an existence of god. It does however, lead to a way of human life being real in this universe in terms that are fully human- especially in the context that the potential of human expression is unique on this planet. (I say potential, because the exercising of that potential is not automatic- it requires work on our part.)

    I'll end with this. I may be developing a different framework of seeing than you. This isn't to say that this framework is out to be better than yours; in fact it might not ever be as good. More, I even recognize that the relationship you have to your frameworks may be part of your calling. As such, I depend on the insights you'll be able to create through your theoretical work.

    The question is, how do we share insights among ourselves that remain insights and not morph into dogma?

    Thanks for the mini dialogue Brian, it has let me some things I've been trying to grasp lately.


  36. You should move to Los Angeles, where many women wear flip flops 9 months a year - and I know a whole lot of women who rarely, if ever, wear makeup. (although you will need to avoid anyone who works in the entertainment industry.) Or try Burning Man - hippie chicks galore.

    Having said that, high heels aren't always about sexy. I don't wear the pointy shoes, because they hurt my feet, and I don't think I could even walk in 4 inch heels, but every single one of the shoes and boots that I wear in professional situations have at least a two or three inch heel - not because I'm trying to be sexy (that's what cleavage is for), but because heels make me taller. I'm 5'8, so give me a couple of inches, and I'm as tall as your average man - and the amount of physical space you take up really does make a difference. I work from home now, but whenever I knew I would have a challenging situation to deal with, I always pulled out my red boots of power.

    I know a number of short women who wear heels to be taller in professional situations. If you're five feet tall and a woman, it can be hard to be taken seriously, and a few extra inches can really matter. So, I would be very careful about judging a particular woman's choice as "conformity" or "foolishness". Women have their appearance judged all the time from a number of different directions, so more of that is rarely helpful.

  37. Fascinating how readers get all lathered up when you (or any blogger) don't make every incidental point they want to see covered. I mean for god's sake, Richard, you didn't even mention the hell that cross-dressing men with particularly large feet have to endure to find stylish pumps at a sensible price.

  38. Hi Mike,
    I confess to being somewhat "dogmatic" when it comes to emphasizing the limits of science. My scientific training emphasizes a reductionist approach to describing mechanism. I'm as leery to attempt to use science to answer aesthetic questions (e.g. existence of God, what makes art beautiful, etc...) as I am of inserting non-science theoretical frameworks into areas where modern science does a pretty good job of explaining things.

    In terms of sharing insights, I think communicating things openly and cordially is a good start. I do see where you're coming from at some level. You're correct that your frameworks are not what I typically use, but that's OK. My original comment was really reacting to Richard's post as he was presenting sexual selection theory from the current scientific perspective.

  39. I love the last part of what you wrote: "But in the end, the problem with making a universal dictum about whether
    or not someone should wear heels, or a plunging neckline, or whatever,
    is that it perpetuates the problem it purports to solve by continuing to
    police women's decisions." A little while ago there was a funny thing going around on FB, something like: ladies, if leggings were pants, they'd be called pants, or something like that. I liked it because I have a pet peeve with girls running around with essentially tights on their lower halves and nothing else. But I've been learning more and more about the modesty culture of our churches and how we fault girls and women for the actions and thoughts of men. I know that's not what your blog was about, but to me they are all merging together in my mind. What women look like and choose to wear/not wear and who gets to decide and why. It's a huge and multi-faceted question!

  40. According to Clement of Alexandria, Christian women are allowed to wear sandals, if they are not too fancy. For the stronger sex, such effeminate luxuries are forbidden.

  41. Good points, Christy. I generally try not to judge any individual's choices, so I'll try to keep that in mind. On the other hand, you've just pointed to another problem I'd rather not accept: sexism. Which is to say, even though men can be patriarchal jerks, I'd still like to see us striving for the no-heel ideal.

    The choice to wear power-boots in order to feel a certain way is of course yours to make. But wouldn't it be better to fight for a world where you wouldn't feel at all obliged to make it?

  42. I'm having a lot of trouble with this post, mainly because it functions off a premise that I don't buy - that men are somehow more visual than women. Not only is this perspective heteronormative, but it has the tendency toward reductionism and gender essentialism. If a reader (eg, me) doesn't buy that initial premise, the entire point made throughout the post is moot. Science, as JTB already said, isn't free from sexism and evolutionary psychology is even hairier - often we think the studies are saying far more than they actually are.

    Additionally, the hetero and cisnormativity of this perspective functions to erase and ignore the existence of people who either don't fit into the gender binary or who are not heterosexual, which naturally limits the applicability of such a theology. And if a theology isn't applicable to all people, what good does that do?

  43. Hi Dianna,

    Point well taken. Regarding the merely descriptive issue--Are men more visual than women?--there has been a lot of psychological and neuropsychological work in this area. For example, this recent study looking at brain structures processing visual sexual stimuli:

    The conclusion of which:

    "Our results replicate and extend prior findings, proposing a common neural network for the processing of visual sexual stimuli in men and women comprising hypothalamus, NAcc, ACC, as well as orbitofrontal, occipital, and parietal cortex. Apart from the observed similarities, overall stronger responses in men were observed, possibly reflecting stronger sexual responsivity of men."

    This is in regards to visual processing, the "stronger responses in men." To be sure, this is one study and it has its own limitations. But the larger issue, as I see it, is empirical in nature. I'm a psychologist and I sift through data like this. And based upon my literature review, this seems like a fairly stable data point. From there the issue is: Why is the data point the way it is? It could be culture. It could be evolution. I tend to think it's both.

    Those issues aside. My focus on heterosexual arousal isn't meant to be exclusive. Gay men also show the visual bias. And there are evolutionary accounts of homosexuality. The point is, this post is hetero-narrow, yes, but it's just a beginning. A fuller and more inclusive account, one still informed by evolutionary psychology, is very much possible.

  44. Heterosexuality has always been The Big Show because that's how the next generation comes into existence. Our bodies reflect that history.

  45. Feminism is losing its voice. Should women wear heels or burn their bras? Is exotic dancing female empowerment or exploitation? Often 'Male Privilege' is brought up as a rhetorical equivalent to fake sobbing. Depends on who you ask. Then there is a lot of talk about minorities not really related to women. Perhaps the idea that there could be a singular movement representing women is becoming as ridiculous as Men's Rights Activism.

  46. I probably share your well honed sense of leery-ness more than you might believe. When I hear a conversation that substantiates the basis of mind via QM, I'll be quick but kind to persuade them that QM and Mind aren't linked by necessity or that it takes a lot more than human observation to make something real- so QM can't serve as a basis for some kind of conjuring magic. For example.

    By the way you present them Brian, it's enjoyable to move through your ideas. And while they initiate a history of thinking happening in my mind and spur a dialogue, I also just take them in and encounter them as they are. Your response that includes citing the genetic mutation for dairy digestion I thought was very poignant. I'm still reading it.

    So thanks again for working with me. M

  47. But your focus on particularly binarist male/female heterosexual arousal, while not *meant* to be exclusive has the end result of being so. I've really no care for your intentions in writing if the end result still creates a reductionist, essentialist framework - as this hetero and cisnormative reading of the male gaze does. You leap from the results of such studies into buying an assumption that the male gaze is evolution-based, when it is literally impossible to do a study proving either cultural or evolution-based formation. The data simply isn't there to form the evolutionary argument, regardless of how much we acknowledge the limitations of science. In the end, you're basing an entire theological framework off of an assumption from science that is heavily limited, and that's a problematic approach. it reads like you are attempting to reframe the male gaze into something more palatable and natural, without offering us a framework for how power and historical sexism even enter the picture.

  48. I can only apologize--and I do, sincerely apologize--for those mistakes and how the post can and will be read as exclusionary.

    A few thoughts by way of defending the post:

    First, my goal in the post was to address a very narrow issue within a heterosexual marriage. You are correct that the post never turned to address other couples and arrangements. My stopping short, yes, left out many whose experiences are not discussed in the post. All I can say is that when I was writing the post I was responding to the reflections of a wife about dressing for her husband.

    Second, in the post I tried to deploy the evolutionary theory tentatively rather than dogmatically. When I finish summarizing the theory I say this: "Now, maybe none of this theory is true. But if it is (at least partly) then I'd like to make two points..." You're right in pointing out that I'm building a lot on that assumption. The post recognizes that very point. The theory might not be true, but if it is partly true, then... That might not be circumspect enough, if it's a far cry from me saying "This is indeed true." I thought I was clear we were out on a hypothetical, speculative branch.

    Third, this is a bit of push back. I agree that science is limited and often biased. But there is also a quickness in cultural studies to dismiss science. I'd like that to be admitted so that we can all play fair. Not saying you, personally, are doing that this in this case. Just to say that I think from merely a descriptive stance men, on average (this is a statistical rather than essentialistic statement), process visual sexual stimuli more strongly than women. This is not hetero-normative as we see the same in gay men. (See the many studies like the one I cited earlier.) Now, we can sweep those studies under the rug by saying they are all biased. But that'd be a prejudice, not an example of critical thinking. Or we can, tentatively, take the data point in hand and proceed from there. That's what I'm trying to do. And contrary to what you say I'm doing--foreclosing on a framework for how power and historical sexism even enter the picture--I felt I was trying to do just the opposite. If I point to the adaptive aspects of the male gaze I'm not justifying it on ethical grounds. Hume's dictum holds: you can't get an ought from an is. So that leaves the field wide open to explore how this particular adaptive quirk became a locus of oppression. It's the same with skin color. There is an adaptive history behind skin pigmentation. Noting that adaptive history doesn't justify oppressing people based upon it. Same goes, I'm arguing, with the male gaze. The framework you are asking for in exploring how men have exploited the gaze to oppress women is as wide open as it is for those wanting to explore how whites have exploited skin color to oppress people of color. I don't think the adaptive backstory forecloses on anything you are wanting to do.

  49. JTB, "when the gaze is invited, welcomed, elicited, safe, then you can own fully even the vulnerable aspects of embodiment without fear." - this is a beautiful statement that captures so much of the tenuous beauty of embodiment.

    RB & JTB, I think that some work on a spirituality of sexy would be a rich piece to add to the interdisciplinary conversation.

  50. I take to heart the your concern about the patriarchal power element that could creep in. Just the other day, my daughter-in-law put a pretty blouse on my 9 year old granddaughter. Shes a tomboy in the classic sense. Even for this occasion, she was wearing a t-shirt and jeans when the blouse was simply put over her t-shirt. I instantaneously told her how very beautiful she looked (the way a proud grandfather would) because she rarely dresses up in this manner. My granddaughter quietly began to cry. I asked my daughter-in-law if I did or said anything wrong. My daughter-in-law said she herself was that way when she was a girl - very self-conscious and uncomfortable when receiving that kind of attention, even compliments. I apologized greatly and assured my granddaughter how proud I am of her - how beautiful, smart, courageous (collects and studies spiders and scorpions - yeah), creative, compassionate, sweet - all the things that make me so thankful to God for her. As a fatherly figure, I'm meaning to give all affirmation possible to my granddaughters (the oldest being 10) during their formative years. It's also me trying to help prevent them from growing up ... feeling like they have to "look for love ... in all the wrong places". I certainly would not want to make the mistake of unwittingly perpetuating patriarchal, societal expectations upon my granddaughers - that would be terrible. I need to digest this more.
    Thanks again Dr Beck - Gary Y

  51. The attempt to divine the unformed biology that lies beneath the work of all of these forces is for the most part a fool’s errand, especially if you limit yourself to a rather homogeneous W.E.I.R.D. (Western, educated, industrial, rich, democratic) sample.

    I'm not really sure this critique applies to the evolutionary psychologists who study sex. Differences between the sexual mores in different societies were so obvious that people like David Buss went out of their way to make their studies cross-cultural.

    Furthermore, even in other areas, one of the main goals of evolutionary psychologists was to see if there were cultural universals, those being more likely to have a strong genetic component. You can't do that by not studying other cultures.

  52. One thing I've noticed that's common
    on blogs, message boards and the like, is that when someone post something like
    this there's an abundance of replies, but when someone post something like the
    blog previous to this one, there's FAR less. Is it because we (including
    myself) like to come across intellectual a lot of the time, so these sort of
    blogs appease that? And do we (including myself) not have much to say about
    those other blogs because there's no arguing the good and the beauty of them so
    we got nothing to appease our ego?

  53. I was particularly thinking of the brain scans that Richard referred to in one of his comments as proof that men are more visual. Given the plasticity of the brain, such research really should take many different cultures into account, rather than making judgments about all men on the basis of results obtained from a sample drawn from a single (and arguably outlying) culture. Before evolutionary psychologists suggest mechanisms whereby men's more visual nature might have arisen, at the very least they need to make sure that this is in fact fairly uniform across cultures.

  54. One point of clarification Brian; when I suggested a say in how we evolve shows up for a biological organism, I'm only referring to the human one. This is some thing else than agency. Which like I mentioned, bacteria have but planets don't.

  55. Thanks for this post. One of the reasons I dislike the word "patriarchy" is that I usually see it used to weight our perceptions of power, so that we mainly see male power rather than female power. Sure, it is often true that "females internalize male-driven standards of beauty"--but it is also, glaringly obviously, often true that males internalize female-driven standards of beauty.

    Are the male standards (statistically) more likely to be sexual and/ or based on physical attractiveness? Yes--males (statistically) have higher sex-drives and higher vision-stimulation. But there are all sorts of areas of life--physical strength, level of schooling, income--where I suspect females are (statistically) more likely to judge males. There are social/ evolutionary reasons for that, as well.

    It seems to me that an incarnational evolutionary perspective, especially one that deals with gender and procreation (not just "sex"), would have to deal with the social/ evolutionary "norm" as well as all the "exceptions." It would have to deal with the way we are all powerful, and we are all vulnerable.

    It would have to deal with deep reasons that women and men may both feel "needs" that are easy to mock--a need to feel desired, a need to feel courted, a need to feel protected, a need to feel provided for, etc. I'm still afraid of the shame involved in critiquing these needs too deeply. The liberal individualistic story, in which men and women can't need one another (or, of course, members of their own gender), is just the ugly shadow of the romantic-sexualized story in which men and women idolize one another.

    I think a bit of evolutionary sociology helps remove some of the shame. It may give some redemptive wiggle-room to move forward from the back-and-forth recriminations (including self-recriminations) that seem to cluster around patriarchy-versus-feminism discussions.

    More personally: the men I know are constantly doing things to be more attractive, to try to receive as well as give love, to try to find a way in which their own deepest needs (and these can't be ignored) can coincide with a gracious life of mutuality. We are looking for other women (and men) who will join us in this place.

  56. Well, yes, but if it's Tuesday, and I have to go toe to toe with my boss on Wednesday, I don't really have time to dismantle the patriarchy between now and then, do I? (And I also genuinely like wearing big boots, even outside of professional situations.) These things aren't either/or. Yes, it would be lovely to live in a world without sexism, but that comes under the heading of "things that aren't happening anytime soon." In the meantime, I have to live in the world as it is, and in the world as it is, it helps to look men straight in the eye. In the world as it is, I respond in the way that is best and safest for me when I get catcalled on the street. In the world as it is, I have to be aware of what I wear and how I present myself in professional situations and respond quickly whenever some guy tries to "Well, aren't you a pretty little thing?" me.

    And for what it's worth, the most destructive, blatant, soul-destroying sexist bullshit that I've dealt with in my life has all come in the context of evangelical churches and institutions, where sexism is endemic, and in many cases, presented as god-ordained. Feminism saved my life and my sanity - and I mean that literally - so I can assure you that, yes, I am already fully aware of sexism, and when it comes to taking down the patriarchy, "choice of footwear" is really, really, really, really, really low on the list of my issues to tackle.

  57. More sexism and misoginy from the infamous Return of Kings site

    If you haven't signed the petition to remove that site from the internet yet, then please do so now:

    Good news- we got over 12,000 signatures now.

  58. Because Christian people are inhibited from owning the fact that they have sexual feelings, attraction to other people, and a desire to be attractive, this energy comes out in all kinds of funky ways. Men get the message that their erotic energy is an uncontrollable force, women in the church are often expected to adhere to a Duggar like "modesty" that is in itself shaming, and are told that if a man finds you attractive it is your "fault". I know women who have been so shamed for their sexuality they gain weight as an unconscious way of sidestepping the issue. I know sexual assault survivors who do the same thing. Truth be told finding people attractive is a real joy in life. It doesn't mean you will be a cad a slut or an unfaithful spouse, unless of course you don't have the resources to deal with these feelings and have to act on them. (Why aren't we teaching kids that, overtly? I don't know.) The energy that draws us to people and to passions is of God for us to use for good or for ill. Dressing carefully is important because anything we wear sends a message, and some clothes are a distraction….looking down people's cleavage when giving them communion is distracting and the best sermon in the world can't compete with a mini skirt or a message T shirt. (Funny I read this today, because after a decade of clerical collars and robes I'm wearing a dress for Christmas eve. I'm way too excited about it on this Feast of the Incarnation.)

  59. in most of history, the one with the most clothes has the most power. I don't wear sandals or show my toes when I want to be an authoritative presence in a church or professional setting. When I'm in "Trophy wife" mode or with my kids at the pool, I totally do. I sure don't go to Clement for my fashion questions ;)

  60. And here's the thing: for some people, some high heels are really fun to wear. They aren't intrinsically unsafe or unhealthy either. For us short people with short legs, or at least for me, totally flat shoes are very uncomfortable. In church I literally hit my chin on any podium if I'm not wearing at least a 2 inch heel, and that is REALLY uncomfortable and I'm not coordinated enough to stand on a box. The same could be said about a lot of the other stuff that was ostensibly created to "objectify" me. The women's studies/feminist theology years when I had the sinead o connor haircut and wore the same green sweatpants for weeks at a time were not fun years, although I was sure not going to objectify myself by combing my hair, putting on a bit of lipstick and something that fit, and maybe even smiling….I was then and still am a feminist, but my understanding of power and of authority has developed. If I'm honest with myself I was afraid of the power being attractive held, and I worked hard to minimize it. I am not digging back to use all the right academic theories and concepts to describe my experience, but know I really resonate with what you say here. I have boys, and I hope that they both enjoy looking at attractive people and know better than to objectify them. Life is a lot more fun that way for everyone.

  61. Flip flops are really bad for your feet, and intrinsically unsafe. Wearing heels is comfortable for a lot of us, particularly short people like me. Neither has a dang thing to do with genital mutilation or even bound feet or rings around the neck, all of which have life limiting consequences that a pair of pumps absolutely does not. (seriously, my feet are like little hams, perfectly round, and I find heels that do not pinch in the least. Zappos is my friend). Since you don't, apparently, wear high heels, maybe it isn't up to you to change the cultural expression of people who like to?

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