Family

A Woman Is Not A Sex Machine: Modesty Is Built On Lies


I have a lot of friends who are really into modesty.

To be perfectly honest, I guess I err toward being pro-modesty myself. Ultimately, however, I think the concept is built on lies.

This blog post is supposedly about the stigma surrounding breastfeeding. That’s how it started out. My wife thought I should call it something like “Boobs Are For Babies: A Father’s Perspective On Breastfeeding.” I really like that idea (enough to include it here), but this issue has a far deeper root than being about comfort levels around someone exposed to nourishing a child. The only reason breastfeeding is an issue we need to talk about is that we have all accepted a much larger lie: the human body is meant for sexual use.

The human body obviously has a valuable sexual function; we can’t abandon that even when we think we should. The problem is that we have all bought into a hyper-sexualization of the human form. The pro-modesty crew are often some of the biggest proponents of the hyper-sexualization myth. I’m talking about those who get nervous about marble statues because they think any nude form must have been designed by ancients to insight mass arousal. Those of us who want to protect sexuality as a special thing while going along with the assumption that it is the main purpose of the human form are actually buying into a falsehood sold to us by both sides of generations of culture wars. Those who scream for sexual liberation make life out to be all about sex. Those who have screamed for censorship have agreed that human bodies are there to be used and we must lock them up for the appropriate context.

I’m telling you that there are thousands of non-sexual purposes for the human body, but that the human body is never a valid source for building an identity.

Whether we fight for sexual liberation or modesty, we actually accept the idea that everything always comes back to sex; it doesn’t. It might seem like it does in a photoshopped, air-brushed, sensory-overloading culture that is constantly pitch vague siren-songs on how to become perfectly satisfied. Even the most conservative among us tend to think of a marriage existing mainly for sex.

Public breastfeeding is awkward. It’s okay that we find it awkward. But our question at that point becomes “does this awkwardness mean that we should discourage the practice or that we should be very intentional about recognizing the valid purpose of the practice?” I would argue wholeheartedly that we should take this awkwardness as an opportunity to recognize that a breast is mainly a tool that gives a mother the opportunity to give life and strength from her own body into the body of her child. The greatest strength and beauty of a breast does not pull from sexual sources. Myth broken.

Loving other people’s physical bodies is really hard work, and it rarely has anything to do with sex. Changing thousands of diapers, bathing an elderly loved one, and helping a sickly spouse use the bathroom are all tasks that are a stronger form of physical love than sex. A form of cherishing a person’s form in their immense vulnerability. Becoming comfortable around breastfeeding is just one such task.

New mothers have a serious load of stress building up on their shoulders. Weird hormones, little sleep, milk supply issues, and who knows what else is keeping them at their wit’s end and ready to throw in the towel. In case you don’t realize it, breastfeeding is often very hard work. It taxes the body physically and doesn’t usually work without a great deal of struggle. Breastfeeding moms rarely desire to showcase their breast publicly, but they’re attempting to care for someone who is utterly defenseless and solely reliant on them.

Am I saying people should get comfortable staring at breastfeeders? Obviously not. Am I suggesting that moms shouldn’t show some sort of decorum according to their location? No.

Am I suggesting that things like lust and rape should be ignored or that they can simply be idealized away? No, we can’t avoid sexual deviations and we should stand against them. We should stand against them by seeing and valuing the body on a vastly wider spectrum.

Sex is a sacred thing, but the human body is more sacred than sex. We should be willing and able to become Good Samaritans regardless of the nakedness of those in need.

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Further Reading

What Daughters Should Expect From Fathers

The Tragedy Of Having A Baby

How My Wife Transformed From A Weak, Doubtful Girl Into A Nurturing Momma

A Week With My Wife – A Mother’s Day Tribute To A Warrior Of Love


The week leading up to Mother’s Day 2014 has highlighted time and time again the incredible power my wife has as a mother and the effect her strengths as a woman have outwardly beyond our children, on myself and other mothers and families and friends.

When we got married about 4 1/2 years ago, all we really knew what that we wanted to make a family and care for other people and we really wanted to do it together. God gave me perspective on how this girl who thought herself weak and incapable would become someone who would boldly encourage others to have confidence and hope against their own fears. We were young and people told us before we got married that it would be really hard. We often struggled to wade through difficult seasons of our early marriage and some friends even said that they felt like we were changing for the worse. While I knew before I married her that my wife was designed to nurture others and that growing through really hard experiences would make us both more available to care for others, it still sucks to live through the actual hardships and try to maintain the belief that it’s worth it.

In the past couple of years we have started to hit our stride a bit more. We’re coming into our own identities as a family and as individuals in a way that makes us secure enough to pour out into the lives of those around us. Here’s a quick overview of the past week to give a taste of why I’m so blown away by who my wife is becoming.

On Sunday, when she was about 42 weeks pregnant, I sobbed on my wife’s shoulder because of how strong she is and how much stronger she is becoming. This is the first time this has ever happened. If she keeps growing like she has been it probably won’t be the last. On Monday, labor started around 4pm. It lasted through the night. In the midst of the insanity of hard labor, she suggested that I go take a nap so I could be rested(!?) Tuesday morning around 5:30am, after roughly 14 hours of sleepless, emotional, physically torturous labor, my wife gave birth to our third child, our first son! On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, we had countless helps from my visiting parents and friends who have dedicated themselves to making our home less stressful. Throughout this, my wife was more engaging and involved than I would have thought she should or could be. Her mind consistently went to making sure our two preschooler daughters felt like she was still interested in them. On Thursday, she started venturing out to sit in the living room. On Friday night, she started cleaning around the house again. On Saturday, she asked to go out for a drive to get some fresh air. This morning, on Mother’s Day, she was up with all three kids before I had a chance to know what was going on. She expresses worry that she won’t be able to handle three kids, but the truth is that there is no stopping this woman.

I expected her to be in bed for at least a week or two; I thought that was more than fair. She has been blessed with a pretty quick recovery, but her eagerness to get back into the game has alarmed and humbled me. She is doing things that she never thought she could do and recovering from them ready to do more. She’s pushing through all sorts of pain and she’s aware enough to be looking after the lesser needs of others. She is a seriously powerful mom.

Mary Berry and What She Expects From Her Father


“It is hard to imagine now that until coming back to live permanently in Henry County in 1964 we had lived in Europe, California and New York City, with stays in Kentucky between those moves. We moved to Lanes Landing, where my parents live now, when I was 7 and my brother, Den, was 3. . .

Daddy was encouraged to seek his fame and fortune elsewhere; in fact, he was told that coming home would ruin his career. I don’t have to imagine, however, the great happiness that was his when he knew that he could come home because I experienced that. When I was away at school, for instance, I don’t think anyone was thinking that I was blowing a shot at a brilliant career by returning home. Coming home was not encouraged by any influential person in my life except my family. And this is where my unending debt begins in my heart and in my memory. . .

I was asked once what it was like to be a Berry child. I answered that it was fine except for the constant humiliation. I believe that I went along with my father’s plans for us very agreeably until I was 12 or 13, the age when I think many children realize that their parents need guidance.

Daddy had come home to live and farm. He bought a rocky hillside farm overlooking the Kentucky River. He and my mother have added some acreage over the years and the place has been their home and their fascination ever since. . .

I went right along with all of this until I was old enough to have a reputation to protect. That coincided with the addition of a composting privy to the rest of an ever-more-embarrassing way of life.

Unfortunately for me, my father didn’t understand at all that he should. . .never mention the composting privy to a journalist. I was in a difficult predicament. I never really thought that my father was wrong about anything. In fact, the reasons for the things we did at home were talked about all of the time, and I understood and even honored those reasons. But, to have details about your composting privy reported in the Louisville Courier-Journal was just too much to be borne. . .

The very public privy opened the floodgates and suddenly I knew how abused I was: no television, no junk food, no trips to amusement parks, and I had to WORK outside in the dirt. And, my father was always protesting something: wars, dams, strip-mining, airports, etc.

Well, to make a long story short, I expect that by the time I left for college there must have been a general sigh of relief. Some of the freshman English classes at the college I attended were reading The Memory of Old Jack, a novel written by my father. I had not read it before I left home. In fact, I had read almost nothing of Daddy’s by then. He read things to us that he was working on and I guess I thought that was plenty. I suppose I experienced positive peer pressure at school because girls in my dorm were reading The Memory of Old Jack. So I read The Memory of Old Jack, myself. That book gave me back my home and it gave me the chance to make amends with my father and then to find out that no amends were necessary. . .

A heartbreaking part of Old Jack’s story is his estrangement from his daughter Clara, who, like me, had wanted something else, something better. I called my father when I finished the book and asked, “Am I Clara?” I remember being reassured by the phone call. I still have the letter he wrote me a few days after we talked. He said that he was moved by my question and told me that of course I was not Clara. The letter is long and beautiful and I treasure it because of its kindness, its good sense, its understanding of a flawed young girl. . .

Trouble has come to me in my life as it does to all and I have made mistakes. The gift that my father gave me so many years ago was the knowledge that I live in his love, and if forgiveness is needed it has already been given. What greater gift could a parent give a child? Daddy has kept alive in my head — even in the worst of times and in the face of awful news — that if we actively choose it over and over everyday, we can indeed live in the world of affection and membership that he honors in his life and his stories.”

 

– Mary Berry-Smith, from Wendell And Me, published in the May/June 2013 issue of Edible Louisville Magazine (emphasis mine).

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I find so many details about this story life-giving, but the real solidifying agent for my respect of Wendell Berry is that his child knows and can articulate why she respects him so greatly as to devote her adult life and the family she started to following in his footsteps. Many great leaders of men have inspired the masses while leaving wreckage at home, but those devoted eternally to their families carry a certain weight that should not be overlooked.

As a parent myself, the greatest impact of this story is the fact that above all else in their relationship, Berry’s daughter has been moved by a realization that she has always existed in her father’s love, affection, and forgiveness. She came to realize that, whether she knew it or not, he cherished her, delighted in her personality, and was always ready to pardoned her missteps.

Things like obedience are valuable. Social skills and a drive to learn are developmentally key. But after about 18 years, obedience becomes completely obsolete in the parenting relationship. Social skills and learning generally fall out of our influence range. So when my daughter it 25 or 30, what is my deepest desire for our relationship? The answer is intimacy.

More than I want my daughters to make great decisions and live to the fullest, I want them to know that any failures or tragedies that befall them can be safely confided in me, without any negative repercussions. The deepest, underpinning goal is that the relationship may always be authentic, open, and capable of enduring all things.

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From the text of The Memory Of Old Jack.

“In all their minds his voice lies beneath a silence. And in the hush of it they are aware of something that passed from them and now returns: his stubborn biding with them to the end, his keeping of faith with them who would live after him, and what perhaps none of them has yet thought to call his gentleness, his long gentleness toward them and toward this place where they are at work, they know that his memory holds them in common knowledge and common loss, the like of him will not soon live again in this world, and they will not forget him.”