The Dignity of A Woman Who Will Not Be Divided

Regardless of which side of the political aisle you stand, only the morally blind could find it impossible to admire the gallery of honor that marks the life of Judge Barrett. It's a gallery that glistens with the gold of true grit, grace and gravitas. At the center of that gallery hangs a painting gifted by Patricia O'Hara, Notre Dame Professor Emerita of Law.  It's a portrait of Amy Coney Barrett, one that captures the beauty of her personal strength more skillfully than any professional piece.

"If I had to describe her in just a few words, I would tell you that Amy Coney Barrett is a woman who leads an integrated life of mind, heart and soul."  Patricia O'Hara 

This integrated life. It's the framework of functioning of a healthy woman who is whole. Built on the foundation of integrity, it's a framework that doesn't support the dividing of oneself into compartments of contradictory functioning. With ironclad stability, it's a framework of functioning that supports the strength of a woman who possesses herself with dignity.    

The strength of this integration is that it reverbates beyond the borders of a brilliant intellect and pulsates beyond positions of power. The strength of integration that Amy Comey Barrett owns is available to all who embrace a functioning that refuses to be parsed into pieces.    

In 2014 the Iraq conflict precipitated a surge in atrocities against women. In September of that year a particularly horrific account of violent sexual crime hit the news, and I wrote the following comments in response: 

Hearing of the sexual abuse of women in Iraq who have been stripped naked and publicly shamed— women otherwise required to remain fully veiled— unsettles my stomach as much as my heart. It's horrific. It's symbolic. The Father of Lies is hell-bent on our destruction, dismembering us in order to chew us up and spit us out. What better way to dismember a woman than to isolate her sexuality in a way that makes it the crux of her worth? Whether through shame (cover up!) or through exposure (uncover!), over-sexualization destroys. It's death by dissection. Because modesty is about remaining intact. Modesty is about possessing ourselves with dignity. About commanding a respect and regard for our body, mind and soul. Modesty doesn't either hide or highlight sexuality, because it flows from the heart of a woman who values the entirety of herself too much to diminish herself by dividing herself.  May God grant us the grace and courage to possess ourselves with an honor and dignity that can never be stripped from us, no matter how much evil we face.

Wholesome. It’s a word that suggests good health and physical well-being. “Whole” because it’s a complete package with no fragmentation. It's all parts working together instead of pitted against each other. When social science research has subjects being asked what makes a woman wholesome, it's this functioning of integration that has them consistently identifying traits that highlight the mind, the spirit, and the character in context of a beauty that is never sexualized. That's because a wholesome woman is considered to be fully intact, not diminished to an object of lust.  

In spite of the endless promotions of female empowerment from platforms of positivity marked by a shameless parading of the body in sexualized display, there is good reason why the mental and emotional health of women is rapidly declining. It has always been the business of the Enemy to dismember women, and his bag of tricks is endlessly deceptive.  

In 1997 there was a launching of research by social scientists to assess the damage of the rampant objectification of women in western society. (Objectification being the action of degrading someone to a status of a mere object.) Those studies ended up turning attention to what was discovered to be far more problematic than women being objectified—  the problem of women objectifying themselves. The “theory of self-objectification” was born, and it has been the source of ever-increasing discussion with research findings shedding fascinating light on how it negatively shapes values and perceptions of worth.

It has disturbed me to no end that discussions of modesty have run off the rails recklessly enough in Christian circles to have made it nearly impossible to address. The rightful rejection of silly “modest is hottest” mantras and the even sillier rules and regulations that put the onus of male purity on the shoulders of women have unfortunately stripped us of thoughtful conversation. Forget how the fallout is affecting the hearts of men, I want to focus on the fallout for women. Because what is being framed as newfound freedom is proving to be fatal not only to emotional and mental stability, but also to physical security.

Few would argue that we don't live in a highly sexualized society that that objectifies women. But in spite of knowing that, few that believe this have any serious understanding of how that objectification is unfolding. And that's because the dismembering of women in our society has been such a deceptive process. A subtle process that has moved slowly enough to lure even wholesome women into dividing themselves in a way that isolates the body from their heart and mind. And not only isolates the body, but that then parses that body by prioritizing form over function. Whether we discern the treachery or not, the truth is that unsuspecting women are routinely being seduced into believing the lie (or shades of the lie) that there is sweetness to be found in being “eye candy.” Sweetness of attention. Sweetness of desirability. Sweetness of worth. In others words, sweetness in objectifying ourselves.  

But there's nothing sweet about objectification. Because viewing ourselves as an object to be consumed and used for pleasure (visual or otherwise) always ends up strangling the spirit with chains of self-surveillance that breed anxiety. Chains of self-surveillance that tighten with time, choking the needed air from our lungs to say "no" to disrespect. It’s exactly why childhood abuse is so horrible and hideous. It’s objectification that often leads the deeply wounded to the worst form of objectification: self-objectification.

There's a reason that the "body positivity" movement has completely backfired, leaving women fighting against insecurity more than ever. Tweets of confidence underscoring photos of exposure are incapable of masking the fallout of objectification. No amount of brazen positivity could ever make up for the internal struggle with negativity that objectification breeds.

It's important to note that the visual images women put on social media is a very intentional activity. They are not thoughtlessly uploaded. It might not be the kind of thought that lovingly considers viewers, but we're only going to care about the healthy integration of the heart, mind and soul of others if we're caring for the health of our own. Though uploading images is not a thoughtless activity, the activity itself is often set in motion thoughtlessly. It's this mindless engagement with social media that frees a woman's intentional thoughts about social media to be subtly shaped by a culture that boldly upholds objectification. 

The mental health crisis of women has prompted much research about where objectification is wreaking havoc the most. It's not surprising that one of the primary places would be the fitness world where it's become not just acceptable, but wildly popular to motivate women with the advancement of bodily form more than healthy bodily function. Afterall, every wise woman knows her worth is in having a big booty. And what woman in her right mind isn't going to shimmy and shake her brains out to find value?

We’ve found ourselves in a society of such intense objectification, that even pregnancy (a beautiful time for women to enjoy the gift of bodily function) has been sexualized enough to now to be eclipsed by bodily form. Indeed, objectification is a dangerous seduction with no boundaries. And it is ridiculously naive to reduce the ever-increasing cultural immodesty of words and actions to newfound expressions of female freedom. We can only remain mindlessly indifferent to the trajectory of this train for so long before we watch it running off the rails in our own life. The collisions with deep insecurity are growing exponentially, and the collisions with ruthless objectifiers who prey on the self-objectified are trailing close behind. The wreckage is simply too overwhelming to ignore.

Please do not misunderstand what I've written. This is not about diminishing the beauty of bodily form or denying the sweetness of desirability. And it is not a covert diatribe about the Bible belt, or bikinis, or bearing arms. This is about the seed of an idea that is bearing rotten fruit. The seed of an idea that believes living as a wholesome woman is not essential to good mental and emotional health. This is about the importance of choosing to function within a framework that doesn't support the dividing of self.

I have no clue what is in store for Amy Coney Barrett, but I do know this. If the dignity of an undivided life is truly hers, she can be chewed up and spit out without a dot of dignity or honor stripped from her. Because women functioning within a strong framework of integration remain intact no matter how savagely they are dismembered.