BY BRITTANY TYLER
“ It’s going to offend you,” my mother predicted, after I told her my plans to attend a performance of The Vagina Monologues (VM). After the show, which I much enjoyed and appreciated, I remembered her comment. I wasn’t offended by the Monologues; if anything, I was a little offended that she thought I’d be offended. But I can’t really blame her. Stereotypes originate because they are based on some truth, and it’s true that plenty of Christians disdain the body. But despising the human physical form is not Christian at all. Sadly, I think many of us Christians subconsciously buy into the Gnostic position that says the body is evil. It took the VM for me to realize my own heresy.
The VM seeks to empower women to love their bodies. Various individual women approach the microphone and share their experiences discovering their anatomy and exploring their sexuality. While I may not refer to my body with the same terminology the performers used, I did not resent anything that was said. The show does not intend to universalize female sexuality or prescribe certain forms of behavior, but rather to give voice to many women’s individual experiences. It is not persuading women to start having rampant sex, but rather to “know thyself”… physically. This is definitely not a high priority for most Christians, because we struggle to disassociate the body’s sexuality from lust. But there is a whole spectrum between Puritan and prostitute that it’s high time we explore.
I personally was not able to relate to most of the women’s experiences in the VM. So, was it corrupting me to hear their stories? I don’t think so. It is important for women to have a venue in which to channel their feelings and other/self-perceptions. The VM is revolutionary because women were, for a long time, not free to speak of such issues publicly. I actually felt like most of the women’s descriptions of their bodies are right in line with Christian theology. They celebrated the design of their bodies, appreciating each intricacy. We should view our physical form as a masterpiece, because we have a relationship with the Artist. The Gnostic religious tradition denies a physical resurrection, because it claims that materiality is the work of an inferior and malevolent deity. By contrast, Christians believe that we are going to inhabit our physical bodies for eternity…if so, we’d better learn to love ’em!
I recently read an ethnography about Afro-Brazilian Christian women. John Burdick, Blessed Anastacia: Women, Race and Popular Christianity in Brazil (New York: Routledge, 1998), 135. In Brazil, racism is very prevalent, and many women are ashamed to be dark; marrying someone “lighter” is seen to be a step up in society, and a favor to one’s children for “whitening” them. The author discovered, however, that these norms were not present in the Church. His interviews with many of the black Christian women revealed that it was not until they converted that they finally felt comfortable in their skin. Christianity “made available a new set of ways to praise the black woman.” This is because they believed the message that God had created them in His own image and thus that they were beautiful just the way they were.
Why do many of us Christians in the United States struggle to accept this same message? I think American cultural attitudes toward the body have colonized our minds, and we need to reclaim them. This was why the VM was created. Though their stories had no overt spiritual edge to them, these women still praise the beautiful Creation of their bodies. We Christians can learn from the VM to celebrate our bodies without objectifying them.