The Sinner’s Dilemma

31 03 2008

By Jill Ettinger

Christian ideology is as American as store-bought apple pie and rising oil prices. Whether or not one calls themselves a Christian, our culture has adopted beliefs and behaviors espoused by this doily-trimmed dogma. Media and marketing outposts deliver suggestive invitations guiding Americans into these “guilty pleasures” and abashed self-serving rituals. We collectively covet the seven “deadly” sins we’re supposed to be avoiding.  Whether (1) gluttonously consuming foods we know are decadently destructive, or having one-too-many drinks after work while we (2) wrathfully or (3) enviously judge and ridicule our bosses, employees, co-workers, spouses, friends and neighbors to boost our own (4) pride, or we (5) greedily pile into shopping malls (a.k.a. corporate-mega-churches), excessively spending on meaningless junk that we then take home and sit around staring at like (6) sloths while choosing to ignore the many ways in which we could be making the world a better place. But none of our offenses are as un-Christian as the American rated-X obsession with (7) lust – that evil pleasure-dome where sinners line up to burn in eternity. (Please stand clear of the V.I.P. line for politicians only.) This is not happening on occasion, but all the time. It is the American Dream: indulge, and then of course, renounce and condemn.

The anonymity of the Internet has opened up a world of sexual predation once requiring brazen acts much too bold for many to consider. Internet pornography is the largest and fastest growing segment of the World Wide Web. The days where the only options for adult entertainment were found in seedy, dark adult video stores and strip clubs have transformed themselves into polished websites just a credit card click away from every turn-on imaginable. But thanks to the Church, sex has transformed itself from a basic human behavior into confession-worthy infatuations and that awfully unfitting word “naughty” preceding what is most often anything but.  And though we are now connected in ways never before possible through technology, it is also isolating, creating seclusion and delusions about the organic world we are an intrinsic part of. Humans are social creatures. Though sexuality can be explored anonymously, there is nothing like the real thing.

Energetically, sex and sensuality revolves around the female form. (Certainly that’s not true for everyone, but we are a largely heterosexual society, you know, perpetuating the species and all.) The odalisque exploitation of this powerful force results of the inability to control it – as men are wont to do. Ripened sexuality has become glorified so massively, defining the merit of women that a qualified-but-aging female presidential candidate will surely lose because nothing lacks power like a woman who is deemed un-sexy.

So what is sexy, exactly? Strip clubs are home to some of the unhealthiest, over/underweight, drug addicted/alcoholic women, yet men still pay to see them naked. This is how powerful female sexual energy is – even in its most vulgar deviations, men are still drawn to it.  Women reduce themselves to fit into contrived categories of sexy through elective surgery, excessive dieting, cosmetics and so on. Much more so than men, they define themselves by their desirability. That’s not to say being – or rather feeling – sexy isn’t a good thing, it most certainly is a significant human experience, but it is not something defined by bra or waist size.

If women have evolved to understand this sexual energy, then it is no surprise that it has come to be used to our advantage. This goes for the drug addict as well as the corporate ladder climber. These self-serving exploitations occur constantly but go largely ignored, rather, accepted and expected. HOWEVER, as soon as a woman uses that energy to deliver a powerful message, like a group of vegan strippers in Portland have done, criticisms fly out of control. Feminists are outraged at these women  (and the club owner, a vegan for over 20 years) for using their bodies to stand for an important cause, while the regular old stripper whose only “cause” is herself appears to be of no concern.

Portland is a progressive, vegan-friendly artistic community. Its laid back sensibility is an idyllic backdrop to a counter-culture seeking respite from the frenetic corporate world and the exploitations of women so often used in big business. As forward thinking as Portlanders seem to be, this rally against sensibly using sexiness obviates that bigger issue rampant in our sinful nation: Guilt.  It happens every time the food issue is put on the table. Americans are fastidiously obsessed with sterilizing their homes and over-medicating the smallest ailment, yet they can’t seem to let go of eating infectious disease-causing “food.”  They rally behind hot dogs and twinkies even though study after study reveals health and longevity are largely linked to predominantly plant-based diets.

Though not conventionally sexy, PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk learned to capitalize on other women’s mainstream sex appeal early on in her animal rights endeavors. “Lettuce ladies” wearing nothing but green leaves where bikinis should be or super models and sexy stars like Pamela Anderson going naked in anti-fur campaigns to garner attention for the un-sexy plight of animals in captivity. It has worked incredibly well – PETA is the largest animal rights organization with close to one million members worldwide.  Their controversial choice of using sex appeal in many of their campaigns strikes a nerve with feminists, preachers and (apparently) confused citizens.

While there are still places in the world, in this country even, where people grow their own food, not just a little herb garden or tomatoes, but the whole meal, Americans for the most part are oblivious to food without packaging, no nutrition fact boxes, no price tags, but real, fresh whole foods eaten as a form of sustenance and survival. This can and should be pleasurable, but as food is first and foremost fuel, it’s got to have a nourishing value to warrant consuming. At least that was how humans related to food until the last century. Put a can of Pringles in front of a Moroccan shepherd and eating them is probably one of the last things he’d consider. Food in America, like sex, is defined and controlled by corporations. Companies invested in our addictions and diseases are obviously interested in their being an association between things that are bad for us being indispensable. It’s why we cycle between binge eating and dieting, idolizing sexuality in others while one in two marriages in this country ends in divorce.

If we want to break this cycle and stop punishing ourselves, we’ve got to start asking those questions that make us tense up. What’s sexier: A woman eating a greasy hamburger or biting into a juicy summer peach? Is there really something un-masculine about eating vegetables?  Certainly men will find the woman with fruit on her tongue more appealing than a chunk of gristle, so why then would he assume a woman finds it sexy if he were gnawing on the leg of a helpless chicken? It never got weird enough … Hunter S. Thompson said that. Well, what’s weirder than eating things that are making us sick and being repulsed by healthy sexy women?  Maybe the only thing weirder would be to stop doing it.




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