There’s a great scene in the Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman movie Far and Away in which the two actors are sharing a boat ride from Ireland to America. While on deck, two passersby stop to leer at Kidman’s exposed flesh. Cruise protectively peeks to see the source of their lustful attention, then advises: “You’d better cover your ankles!” Kidman’s character ashamedly whips her dress back in place. The gawkers move on, disappointed.
Two ankles. Not exactly a sight to inspire this these days. And yet it was still enough for two men to notice and lust after in the late 1800s.
For humanity, the knowable is less enticing that the unknowable.
Connor Fridersdorf wrote this about the English-speaking world’s stigmatizing of women’s breasts:
At first my female classmates sunbathed in the American style. 45 minutes later they said to hell with it, took their tops off, and left the guys feeling slightly awkward and titillated for about 5 minutes, when everyone’s notion of normal re-calibrated. That’s how fast the mental adjustment happens.Most people have the same experience at nude beaches. It feels weird, and soon enough… it doesn’t. In places where women must wear head scarves, exposed locks can turn heads. In New York City, exactly no one thinks bare heads are sexually provocative, and New Yorkers have their heads turned on beaches in Rio until they don’t.
Fridersdorf begins the article with the tragic story of Amanda Todd, a high school student who died last week, reportedly by suicide.
In seventh grade she met a guy online who told her she was beautiful and successfully persuaded her to flash her breasts during a video chat. He contacted her months later, having somehow figured out her identity, and tried to blackmail her with a screenshot. She shared her story in a heartbreaking video, chronicling how the photograph of her breasts was circulated among peers. It prompted merciless bullying.
After two years, two new schools, suicide attempts, counseling sessions, bouts with drug abuse, and endless anxiety and depression, the remnants of Todd’s life are summed up in her biographical video. Why?
Because showing your breasts in public is forbidden–and therefore fascinating.
The Burner is not advocating for a change in Puritan dress codes–just that if a certain Duchess has pictures of her private time released to the world that we respect her privacy and not flip through her shame in the grocery store aisle.
Obviously, the horror and turmoil stemming from Todd’s admitted mistake (and Duchess Middleton) was not about body parts; every adult knows what most body parts look like. Nor were the body parts exposed belonging to anyone of popular notoriety. Todd was a victim because of a shared fascination with the forbidden, and a shared impulse for cruelty.
Why is this on The Burner Blog?
This is something to speak from the pulpit. This is something to be shared and mourned as a church community. A young girl’s life was ended by the same judgmental cultural norms the church supports, and by a malicious desire to know something that should be unknowable to the public.
But TB fears that the sexual nature of Todd’s mistake will deem it unfit for pristine worship services, and that people will look past all the injustice foisted onto this girl to condemn her for an unwise decision in the face of flowery compliments.
Lust is wrong. Violence is wrong. Looking for affirmation in anyplace outside of Jesus is wrong. But cruelty, gossip and judgment are just as evil.
And just as deadly.