There are times one needs to back way up to foundational ideas. This is one of those times. My final point will just not make sense without it.
We believe foundational ideas. I believe that when I sit down on a chair, it will hold me. Rarely, do I wonder or doubt. I just sit. I expect to be able to walk into a restaurant, order food, and have a meal. That’s just what’s done. Some of our foundational ideas are so foundational we cannot fathom (nor do we) challenge. Later, I want to challenge a foundational system. But, let me try an example first.
What if I said, “Eating is wrong”? What makes this statement so shocking is that it is hard to imagine any place on earth where it would not be shocking. Everyone has always eaten food. To be sure, there have been groups or individuals who have made this claim. People regard them as insane or quacks. We all eat. We need to eat. It’s a matter of survival. But, what if I posted mounds of scientific data? I may convince a few, but my statement “Eating is wrong” so contradicts our foundational beliefs, most would dismiss it. Year after year, I can produce proof, but it would not matter.
Cultures have shifted lesser foundational ideas. Smoking used to be accepted as a norm. It took years of science and education to show people, “Smoking is harmful.” The difference between “Smoking is harmful” and “Eating is wrong” is the smoking statement is not quite as foundational as the eating statement. I’m hoping to challenge a foundational idea like we did with smoking.
Let’s agree that foundational ideas are hard to change. But, some can be changed.
Now, let’s appear to change the subject, but it will fit later. What is the difference between a thing and a person? We’ll list the obvious:
Have intrinsic value Value is relative
Made in the image of God. All that exists made by God
Soul that lives forever. No soul.
Has mind, will, and emotions. Simply exists in time and space. Unconscious.
Cannot morally be owned. Can easily and morally be owned.
Cannot morally be used. Can be used and/or used up.
Attach via relationship No emotional attachment.
So, while obvious, people have much more immeasurable value than things. Sometimes, things are ascribed more value than they should have. Someone may adore their car, but it is still a car, a thing. It will not last forever. Indeed, sometimes people are treated like things. An individual will consider another individual or a race of individuals to have less than personhood value. While convinced in their own mind, it does not make people things. Racism, for example, lowers the value of certain people to things or less than people. The Nazi holocaust shows that Jews (not to mention other groups like Gypsies) were less than people. Late in the war, Eichmann tried to trade Jews for trucks. He clearly did not understand the difference between people and things. Biblically, it does not matter if someone thinks someone is less valuable, for they have value as a person. People are not things.
- Cultures have foundational ideas and things they hold as true. While difficult to do, some foundational truths can be shown to be false or rebutted. Some truths are so in the realm of tautology, they cannot change.
- One of those foundational truths are that people have value. Some have tried to change that, but they still have value. Their value is far beyond that of things.
So, the base has been laid. My purpose here is to challenge a foundational truth. It is so intertwined in our psyche, many will find it to be impossible to refute. And, it is also so offensive, some will not agree that this foundational “truth” is true for our culture. I do not attempt to justify this foundational truth or support that it is true.
Here’s a foundational “truth” that is really a lie: Women are things. This can be extended to men or to children. But, most of the evidence regards women. Absurd? Offensive? Did we not establish that people have intrinsic value? Are not all women people? Yes! This is the point. While we would all agree that women are people and they have value, we do not live this way. And, we’ve been so conditioned to treat them as things without value, we hardly stop to consider it. We grow up wired this way. When I say, “We…”, I include myself. Over the years, I have discovered this latent belief deep in my soul. I fear there are more aspects of it that I have yet to uncover.
Where do we see it?
- Pornography. To be sure, this is the primary and most egregious evidence. Some porn does not even include the face of the woman and merely includes her body parts. She is on display for pleasure of some other man she does not know. She is nameless. She is a thing to be used for (usually) his own individual pleasure. He tosses her away when someone else prettier or sexier comes along. Like upgrading to the next smart phone, he abandons her like a thing. If he ever met her in real life, he would likely be disgusted by her. Hugh Heffner, publisher of Playboy, has done more than few others in lowering the value of women in our culture. When a man buys or uses porn, he is guilty. When a woman allows herself to be dehumanized this way, she too contributes to the problem while a victim herself. As another example, notice the camera angles of professional cheerleaders. Sometimes, her face is not even seen. (Note: this is not a knock against cheerleading per se. It’s how these women are portrayed and used).
- Movies/television. Analyze almost any modern movie or television show that includes relationships between a man and a woman. They both give all of themselves physically to one another. It’s just accepted as normal (foundational truth). It’s what couples do. They break up and everyone is content and satisfied. In reality, they both have just used each other as things. They gave themselves in the most intimate way possible, but now both are discarded like a thing.
- Music. Regardless of style, lyrics abound of references to women in terms of her body and sexual prowess. Until someone else better comes along, she is just a thing.
- Clothing styles. Modesty is not a popular option. Often, I hear complaints from teens and their parents of how difficult it is to find clothing that is not sexually suggestive.
- Relationship idolatry. Young men and women today build idols of relationship. They feel that they have value if they have someone on their arm. Conversely, they are worthless if they do not have the significant other. Their boyfriend or girlfriend is not someone to love but someone to make them selfishly valuable. They are using the other person like a thing.
- Human trafficking. Like porn, this is another clear example. Even children are enslaved to someone else’s desires. All the victim gets is money, drugs, or food. They are treated worse than cattle.
- Culture: To hold a woman as valuable is weird in our culture. Public figures who do so are criticized and mocked strangely enough even by women!
So, there are several responses possible:
- Yes, this is true. Women are viewed as things, and no one seems to care.
- Yes, women can be mistreated, but our culture is not so bad that they are consistently thought of as things.
- No, this is off base. There’s nothing wrong with how women are viewed and treated.
What’s the answer? First, stop our involvement. No, you don’t have to boycott the Super Bowl. But, do you bring media into your home that condone the dehumanization of women (movies, magazines, TV shows, etc.)? Guys, deal with your porn issue. You would not tolerate your wife or daughter used that way. Yes, it’s a huge, life long battle. But, you can find consistent victory. Talk to your pastor. No, you’re not the first one who’s come to him with that issue. Second, talk about it. Dads need to talk to their sons. Model treating a woman with respect and dignity that every person deserves. Make it a big deal. When you see it, address it. Don’t put up with it.
What’s your response?