Listening to this week’s crossovers between Melissa Gira’s Whorecast #11 and Ellie Lumpesse’s Bedroom Radio #9 was quite an experience. Ellie’s little break in Whorecast was lots of fun, a bit of levity in an otherwise heavy podcast. And Ellie’s reaction to the clip of Whorecast she played was certainly powerful. Though Ellie apologized to her listeners for what she thought was an unprofessional show, I found her honest, emotional reaction to Melissa’s words did nothing but pull me in and make me love her that much more.
Melissa was discussing the idea of real vs. fake, particularly in the sex industry. She pointed out something many of us are guilty of; we look at the people on stage, on screen or wherever as somehow not real. We see bleached hair, augmented breasts, french manicures (see, even writing this I have to consciously not type “fake tits and nails”) as signifying that the person with those characteristics is somehow fake themselves, she’s not a real woman, not a real person.
As a guy who is primarily attracted to darker-haired, thicker women I know I’ve been guilty of referring to those women as “real women” over the Barbie-Doll looking women that are so often in porn. Melissa points out quite rightly that this view of them as less-then-real is the first step toward dehumanizing them, saying that they don’t matter. I can’t argue with that, and being so directly confronted with my own prejudices and the effects they can have was a sobering moment.
This is going to be something I’ll have to work on.
I think so many of us were force-fed this ideal of beauty and sexiness that when it didn’t fit with our own senses of beauty and sexiness that we rebelled not against the ideal, but lash out at those who fit or are attracted to that ideal. That’s ridiculous and puts us in no better position than those who tried to enforce their own ideals. No, women with wide hips and meaty thighs are not more woman than those with flat tummies and saline breast implants.
People have blamed the Barbie ideal for self-esteem issues girl’s face. The problem is not the ideal, but that it’s presented as the ideal and not an ideal. Perhaps if we were willing to accept that people have different ideals of beauty and desirability we could stop demonizing those who either do or do not fit it.
But there I go saying what “We” should do. No. I need to focus on what I should do.
It’s tough to see each person I encounter as a valuable, autonomous, whole person. When I start adding in ideas of real and fake people, that’s only going to make it harder.
I’m in the process of reading If God Is Love by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. It’s a phenomenal book about how Grace can and should effect those who accept its power. The authors’ first book, If Grace is True laid out their beliefs about universal salvation, that there is no eternal damnation for those who don’t follow the right theology. The second book shows how that belief, that there is no eternal “other” among our fellow humans, changed the way they interact with others. It forces them to see everyone as equally valuable and to remain open to their experiences as equally valid, and perhaps more valid. It’s a difficult way to live, yet it’s one that is most in line with the teachings of Jesus. It’s a life of grace, our own and God’s. If no one can be written off because they are going to hell, rejecting God, living in sin or in some other way being “other” then many from the Christian tradition have to reevaluate they way they interact with everyone
Reading the book I was able to see my own failings as well as those of the authors. They wrote:
Having said all that, there are occupations we should probably abandon. Work that inherently diminishes our worth or the worth of others should be avoided. I encouraged the woman in our church who was dancing in a club to seek other employment. I’ve also asked people employed in manufacturing bombs and tanks to reconsider their vocation.
Here the authors state that both dancing or stripping and building bombs are inherently demeaning. Okay, my own prejudices lead me to agree with the bomb-building portion. There’s no gracious way to kill people, especially en masse. But is it so shocking to think that people working in the sex industry can be in the business of building people up and not tearing them down?
I’ve known people with major esteem issues who danced and for whom the experience was probably harmful overall, but dancing is not inherently degrading any more than being a janitor is. And believe me, I’ve had years of experience in janitoring. Even in churches (which I will never, EVER do again). The authors even go on to discuss Henri Nouwen cleaning the toilets of the retreat where he lived and worked as an example of living graciously in a seemingly ungracious environment.
Perhaps it would do the authors well to listen to Melissa’s latest podcast and hear her talk from the frontlines about what is real and where emotional connections can be made and how people connect with one another on so many levels, including in the sex industry. Can grace be shown by a peep-show girl? Obviously so. You can hear it in her voice as she records her show from work.
And then perhaps the authors of the otherwise outstanding book can ask themselves what effect writing off an entire industry as degrading can have? Who can that demonize and turn into the “other?” What does viewing the sex industry as inherently diminishing worth do to people’s view of those within it? Can it make it easier to not confront issues like safety and health care for those involved? If the industry is somehow inherently flawed, does that make it easier to resist organization of the workers for their own betterment? I would say probably so.
So, readers, help me out here. If you notice me saying someone or some grouping is somehow not real or less real than another, call me on it.