catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 8 :: 2005.04.22 — 2005.05.05


On becoming a Diva for Jesus

There are many females who never feel any sexual excitement whatever; others, again, to a limited degree, are capable of experiencing it. The best mothers, wives and managers of households know little or nothing of the sexual pleasure. Love of home, children and domestic duties are the only passions they feel. As a rule, the modest woman submits to her husband, but only to please him; and, but for the desire of maternity, would far rather be relieved from his attentions.

- From Know Thyself or Nature’s Secrets Revealed, a holistic health manual published in 1911

Would I be revealing too much if I said I’d recently been liberated by the Diva Cup? Well. At the risk of embarrassing myself and those close to me, I’d like to talk about how I discovered that Jesus is Lord of menstruation.

A group of my friends recently saw a performance of The Vagina Monologues at Goshen College, of all places. While the college allowed the performance, no outside advertisement was permitted and the event was condemned to a Tuesday evening. The administration seemed to be speaking in symbol, saying, “We know this is important to some of you, so we’re going to permit it, but we don’t want too many people to notice what you’re doing.” In keeping with the piece’s goal to introduce women’s common experiences into discussion, the performance was accompanied by a display of menstrual blood art.

My initial reaction to the art display was that it went too far, shocking people with an unexpected confrontation. In combination with the performance, the experience caused one young male friend to feel as though he had “lost his virginity.” However, I quickly questioned the way my reaction typified the culture of polite silence that keeps women’s experiences hidden behind euphemisms and cutely-packaged products. Why should we keep menstruation behind the proverbial locked door, shyly referring to it not as what it is, rather as an abstract “period” of time (which is only slightly better than the old-fashioned “monthly sickness”)?

I don’t think it’s too extreme to suggest that there’s a link between the undervaluing of women and disposable feminine hygiene products and that this link represents an unholy distancing from our created nature. With fully half our society subtly defined as a “sub-culture”, menstruation and even pregnancy have a shadow of shame. Welcoming these topics into open discussion is not just an effort toward the abstract goal of “liberation”, but toward engaging in community the question of how to enter into the mundane faithfully.

For most women, monthly menstruation represents the mundane. Generally, we desire as quick, clean and painless a process as possible. And so, ignoring the risk of toxic shock syndrome as well as the financial and environmental consequences of purchasing disposable bleached feminine products, we assume there are only a limited number of options for dealing with the monthly flow of blood—“necessary evils”. However, when we start discussing the realities of life as women in community, we can learn that there are choices that don’t condemn us to embarrassing strings or bulges or decades of unnecessary waste. For those who are accustomed to using tampons, there are the Diva Cup and the Keeper. For those who prefer pads, there are Glad Rags, among others.

Fortunately, cultural phenomena such as The Red Tent and The Vagina Monologues are jumpstarting the conversation about women’s experiences, opening the way to talking more honestly about how to cultivate a faithful female culture. However, the journey into the future is not entirely a fairy tale for womanhood. The prevalence of advertising in combination with the passing away of certain traditions is piling new problems on top of those generated by the code of silence.

Most notably, opportunities for us to be comfortably naked around people of our own gender are disappearing and nudity can cultivate a confidence that no other kind of vulnerability can. I realized this in reading a recent article in Utne magazine about a group of 16-year-old Jewish girls who knew each other from summer camp. At a reunion sleepover, they began talking about their bodies and discovered that none of them were really disappointed about any of their specific parts. They traced it back to the communal showers at the camp, where campers as young as eight years old showered nude with older campers and camp staff alike. The author, Anna Schnur-Fishman, recounts the conversation:

“It’s like the Great Equalizer,” said Toni through a mouthful of Cheerios, “a place where you see all these differently shaped bodies that make you realize how ridiculous it would be to spend every minute of every day miserable about how you look.”

“And when you’re 8 or 10 or 12,” someone else chimed in, “and you see all the older girls you completely idolize having very not ideal bodies, but they’re singing and chatting and doing the naked hokey-pokey, discussing what kind of potato chip they like, you see that they’re 100 percent comfortable being naked, and you want to have that comfort, too.”

Schnur-Fishman goes on to articulate beautifully the ways in which the showers, an extension of earlier traditions parallel to Asian bathhouses, run counter to the dominant culture and allow girls to approach false messages about body image with confidence.

Sexuality, menstruation, body image—a culture that values women will be open to discussion about these key aspects of a woman’s experience. A culture that doesn’t value women will continue to perpetuate destructive myths that generalize and shame. There is a unique freedom in sharing that we pluck hairs from odd places, that we use alternative forms of birth control, that our sexual desires are not entirely unique, that we think pregnant bellies are beautiful. In conversation as mothers, daughters, aunts, sisters and friends, we can learn from one another how to be better women, created good in God’s image and filled with the Holy Spirit. And the man who is willing to approach women’s issues with an appropriate respect and curiosity should be welcomed into the dialogue as well. He should strive to reach a place where such topics are not shameful, but where he can be openly encouraging to the valued women in his life who are here tending the Kingdom in full partnership.

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