Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why I boycott

Edmund Burke, statesman, said “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. I maintain that it is also a victory for evil when good women SAY nothing. Week after week, my blood boils as I cannot help but view the Cosmopolitan magazine cover at area stores (particularly Walmart). It is so prominently displayed at a child's eye level at virtually every check out lane.

Repeatedly I have voiced my objection to the content of the magazine and shared my concerns with store managers. I routinely ask that they move the magazine to another location, if not remove it from their store altogether. My husband has joined me in this quest. It has made a difference in the placement of the magazine in the Greensburg, Indiana Walmart store. That store manager deserves to be commended. Regrettably, that particular store stands out because it stands alone. Cincinnati Walmarts, noticeably the Mason store, where I have shopped almost exclusively for the past several years, appear not to care. Their aisles still display Cosmo on nearly every end cap.

My dismay and disgust regarding magazines that reduce the self worth of a woman to her ability to perform in bed, and that objectify women in general, was turned to another magazine this past week. I am absolutely appalled by this year's edition of the Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated. This is pornography masked as "sports" material. What is the point of this edition? Are these women competitive swimmers? Hardly. Are they even athletes? Apparently the barely clad model on the cover is actually a skier. Why don't we see her in her ski outfit? She isn't even wearing a bathing suit. She has a barely there bikini bottom and her arms are crossed provocatively across her bare breasts.

Why do we as a society place greater value on female breast size and buttocks, than on character, integrity, or even athletic ability? If every other edition of Sports Illustrated throughout the year features men and their sports capability, what is the point of this particular issue? Are there ever issues that feature scantily dressed men posed provocatively on beaches? No. Do the editors devote an entire issue each year to nearly naked MALE bodies? NO. This is a magazine supposedly dedicated to emphasizing athletic talent. What is the talent being displayed in the swimsuit edition? What message is being given, about the value of a woman? Is it that women are only to be valued for the way their body appears?

Society, why do we embrace this? Women, why do we tolerate it? Christians, how can we ignore it?

Don't try to justify it. Don't present the argument to me that men are just wired this way, and so it's okay to devote magazines to such material. Don't try to convince me that it is "art", and therefore we are merely "admiring" the human body. That is a lame argument and I am not buying it. It is a load of garbage.

A friend recently shared a story with me about dairy farmers that he knew years ago. Apparently the dairy farm regulations were quite strict because bacteria has the ability to grow very easily in milk. Therefore, the barns needed to be kept impeccably clean. The walls were painted white, making it easy to spot any filth that accumulated, so that it could then be washed off. One particular farm got into trouble for trying to skirt the rules. Rather than spend hours cleaning, the farmers tried to get by with merely painting over the filth so that it gave the appearance of cleanliness. The problem was, glossing over filth does not remove the filth. Thus, the bacteria was still able to grow and spread. This story applies to what is happening with these magazines. Regardless of how many attempts are made to gloss over and minimize the content, the "filth" is still having an impact on society and the evil is growing.

Perhaps the afternoon that I first noticed the SI magazine, it hit a nerve because I had just spent half the day helping a woman escape from a situation of domestic abuse. I was feeling particularly raw after spending the morning in court with that young wife, as she was granted a restraining order so that she would receive a modicum of protection from her husband. He is a man with a history of substance abuse, who has appeared before the court other times for domestic violence issues. This is a man who viewed his wife as merely an object meant to serve his needs, and she was desperate to escape this man's frightening, menacing behavior.

I heard her story and witnessed her fear and desperation. It hit close to home because I have lived that same story. It is my privilege, and a testament to God's amazing grace, that I might be of some service to another human being moving through, moving beyond their brokenness on the path toward healing.

However, I continue to feel a sense of outrage when I witness oppression and degradation, when I encounter anything or anyone that attempts to convey that another human being has little or no worth. Last summer, on a mission trip, I met another woman who was victimized in such a manner. I was working on her home, and I overheard this woman, with a charming, husky voice, singing to her toddler. I remarked on how touched I was by the sweetness of her song to her little boy. She was embarrassed that I had heard her singing because, as she told me shamefully, “I have a terrible voice”. Her comment was so far from true that I was quick to reassure her that her voice held a lovely quality. She disagreed, telling me that ever since her accident, she’s hated the sounds that come from her throat.

I assumed that perhaps this woman had been in a farming accident, as she lived in the country, or perhaps she had experienced a bout with cancer. As she showed me the circular milky, white scar at the base of her throat, I was horrified to learn that the “accident” of which she spoke occurred when her ex husband had grabbed her by the throat and attempted to choke her. He pressed so hard against her skin that his thumb poked a hole straight through her larynx. She is fortunate to be alive, let alone able to sing. How in the world can one human being do such a thing to another? I believe it is because that human being does not view the other as a living creature, but rather as merely an object. It is difficult to feel compassion or experience empathy for something…for someone… that has been objectified and is viewed as inanimate.

I am certain that I was unable to convey the depth of my conviction and passion as I stood in the BP gas station last week, in front of their display. I know that I did not regal the clerk with the entire tale of my experiences. I merely stated, as I often do, that their store display bothered me, & that I take issue with magazines that objectify women. Her attitude, conveying to me that she neither had anything to do with the placement of the display nor believed that there WAS anything she could do about it, troubled me. She implied that I didn't have to look at it if it bothered me. (Does anyone have a can of white pant? The filth is starting to show. Let's cover it up with another layer.)

When I attempted to persuade her to consider what I was saying, I mentioned that I was feeling raw from a morning in court with a domestic abuse survivor whose husband treated her as an object so that viewing this magazine that portrays other women in this light was particularly disturbing. What was her unsympathetic response? She stated quite firmly "women in those situations (where they are being abused) deserve what they get so I don't want to hear about it!"

I knew it was pointless to continue then, how do you expect compassion from someone whose mind is closed & heart is sadly absent? (The walls may be white, the filth glossed over, meanwhile the disease continues to grow and spread.)

My stomach was churning when I left that store, my heart racing, my ire aroused. No one, I don't care where she has been or what mistakes she has made in the past, no one deserves to be treated as an object and abused. Every human being deserves to be valued & treated with respect. Every human being has worth to Christ.

Maybe BP gas station attendants or Walmart store managers think it is pointless. Maybe other women have given up hope. Maybe other Christians have forgotten their voice. But I'm not handing anyone a paintbrush today. I'm rolling up my sleeves & asking, how might I work to eliminate this problem? I am going to pause and look deeply into the eyes of everyone I met, and implore them to see...truly see..other human beings as having value and worth. I am crying out to all of you who support Cosmo or Sports Illustrated, all those publications that portray women as objects, to please stop. Stop reading them & stop buying them. Stop allowing this to continue by supporting them with your dollars.

Christians, hear these words from Paul, “and now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Before you look at or purchase another such magazine, or support a business that promotes these ideals, examine your thoughts, and search your hearts.

3 comments:

Eric Christianson said...

PART I
I am also enamored of Edmund Burke’s famous quote that Susan quoted in her blog. I truly agree that all that is necessary for evil to thrive is for good men to do nothing.

My concern (and if you will allow me to play opposing advocate to a point) and counterpoint to the objection raised is as follows: what is “evil”, and what is a “thing”.

Vague, I know. I will attempt to explain.

The blog asserts that “Cosmopolitan” and the annual swimsuit issue of “Sports Illustrated” are essentially evil for the objectifying of women. They are evil. They are not art either, as they portray the female body in a manner that reveals the majority of their flesh uncovered. Further, the blog asserts that this is, at worst, a cause of spousal abuse and, at best, a contributing factor to it.

Okay, to tackle the first point: are these magazines evil? I would argue that they are just “things”, not “evil”.

Take the same logic and apply it to a much more commonly debated arena where we see this exact same argument: gun control. Are guns “evil” because good people have been shot? Of course not! The gun does not choose whom to shoot. The gun does not decide if a shot is a warning, wounding, or killing shot. The gun simply exists… it is a thing. The evil was in the actions and intentions of the person who wielded it, not the gun itself.

Or how about a swimming pool? I drowned when I was 15 years old. My heart and lungs had completely stopped and I needed to be resuscitated by the paramedics. To apply this same logic, the water was evil for killing me. Again, of course not. The water simply existed. It was a thing. The evil was not in the pool… in this case, there was no “evil” at all.

So back to the magazines we discussed earlier: are they evil? I would argue not. They are things with no intentions, no thoughts, no consciousness… they simply exist. Now, can someone take one of those magazines, think inappropriate thoughts, and perform evil acts? Certainly they can. But, just as the pool and the gun, the magazines are simply not the problem.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the freedom of the press. This freedom does not make it obligatory that we all read every type of media that is published, only that we have the right to do so. Let me illustrate with another anecdote from my own past.

For the majority of the 1990’s, I managed the Brentano’s Bookstore in Tower Place in downtown Cincinnati. We carried pretty much everything, including a very large religion section, as well as (plastic sealed) Playboy, Playgirl, and a couple of other “nudie” mags.

Eric Christianson said...

PART II
One day, an older lady came in, said I must not be a Christian because the company had those in our title selection, and began to give me a very long dressing-down about it. As this scene rolled out, Catholic Archbishop Pilarczyk walked up behind her (he shopped from me often), cleared his throat and, excusing himself, asked if the book he ordered had arrived yet. After explaining that it was not due for a couple of days, he thanked me, complimented me on the fine establishment I ran, blessed me and left.

Now, the woman that was chewing me out was flabbergasted! “Do…do…do you know who that was?” she stuttered when he had left. “Yes ma’am,” I replied, “the Archbishop shops here every week. Would you like to know how many times he buys Playboy?” I pressed. Horrified, she asked “How many???” “None,” I replied. “He appreciates the idea of the First Amendment very much and respects it.”

To the next point, is the female body “art”? I’ll go brief on this one. Art is, in my experience, in the eye of the beholder. I cannot stand the work of Picasso, and I love da Vinci and Rossetti. To me, Picasso is not art (but try telling that to an aficionado of Picasso!)

At the risk of being cornered as some “typical male”, I’ll leave this part behind with this observation: if the human body is not art, then we’d better empty a lot of our greatest museums of all the Greek sculptures they house (yes, the primary theme in art to the ancient Greeks was the human nude!)

I am very, very sympathetic to the plight of abused women and children in our society, and if I thought for a moment that if we curtail part of our First Amendment right to remove a few magazines we’d be able to stop or lessen the problem… I’d be sore tempted to go along with it.

The danger in this, however, carries me back to the story of the old lady and the Archbishop: if I had allowed everyone to come into the store and remove one item they found offensive, then guess what? There would have been empty shelves! Just do an online search sometime for banned book lists in the USA sometime (books that school districts have banned “for peoples protection”). Such lists even include William Shakespeare and Mark Twain!

While I appreciate the intent and the passion of the argument in the blog, perhaps the answer is not in censorship, but in ministry and social education. These magazines are printed, that doesn’t mean that everyone has to buy them.

This dialogue opened with a wonderful quote from a wonderful statesman. Allow me to close with another quote from an even more famous American Statesman, Benjamin Franklin:

“Those who give up liberty for safety deserve neither”

Sonia said...

Susan,

I love your heart and your passion. If only everyone had your fire we would have a lot less evil in this world.

I agree with you, but I also agree with what Eric said. Both of you are correct. We should do all we can to rid the world of evil and bad and demoralizing, but we can't eliminate it until those who chose it stop choosing it. We all are free to choose good or evil. God gave us that agency. And until we all choose good - there will be the bad in the world. I know that is a sad thing to say, but I believe that until Christ comes again, there will be evil in this world.

Thank you again for your words and your love and passion of good. I hope your new husband realizes just how good a woman he married.

Love ya girl.
Sonia