The Bikini and The Chocolate Cake: Samantha Field’s Thoughts
Samantha Field blogs at Defeating the Dragons, and she was recently featured in a Christianity Today story entitled, “Finding Faith After Spiritual Indoctrination.” This piece was originally published on her own blog, and is reprinted with her permission. Also by Samantha on HA: “We Had To Be So Much More Amazing”, “The Supposed Myth of Teenaged Adolescence”, and “(Not) An Open Letter To The Pearls.”
[trigger warning for rape culture]
I feel that we need to sit down with a cup of coffee or tea and just chat about something. If you move in the same circles I do, you’ve probably heard about this post from Made in his Image. There’s a lot of good things being said about how destructive the modesty culture can be, so I’m not going to rehash a lot of that here. I wanted to shine some light on the biggest problem with this specific post.
I got sunburned on my ass a few weeks ago, when nothing else on me got sunburned at all. We were only at the beach for an hour, and I ended up having to spread aloe vera all over my butt for a week and sit down funny for a few days. Why did I only get sunburned on my bottom?
Because it’s the only part of me that’s never, ever, seen the light of day.
I grew up in Northwest Florida– the part of Florida known as the Emerald Coast. It is a stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful beach. We rarely ever went– only when family came to visit, usually, and those visits were sparse– because it was considered ungodly to go the beach. And if we went, I wore a t-shirt and culottes. My mother made swim-culotes out of a really light, swimsuit-type material.
Even in college, when I’d left a lot of those childhood beliefs behind, I couldn’t bring myself to wear a swimsuit to the beach. I bought an amazingly cute tankini– I still think it’s cute, even today– and it generously covered my badonk-adonk, but I still felt incredibly nervous wearing it. I ended up wearing cute-off shorts on top of it when I went to the beach with some friends, and faked being asleep when I overheard them making fun of me for that choice.
Yup. “Modesty” is a sacrifice. It’s a sacrifice I made for most of my life, and paid for my standards with humiliation and embarrassment.
But, when I went to the beach with my husband a few weeks ago, I wore a bikini for the first time. It wasn’t “skimpy,” not that it matters, and I was able to take off my cover-up without shame, without the sharp knife in my gut telling me that I was dressing as the “strange woman” from Proverbs. It was a victory for me– a small triumph over the shame and oppression I’d known for over half my life.
That’s the only thing the modesty culture does.
It doesn’t stop men from ogling us– not even Christian men. I’ve gotten cat calls, jeers, shouts, obscene gestures, propositions, and whistles all while “modestly” dressed. I’m talking full-blown “modesty.” High-necked t-shirts, a-line and loose knee-length skirts. Sometimes I looked cute, sometimes I looked dumpy. It doesn’t matter. How I’ve been dressed has never made a difference whatsoever in how men have treated me. I was raped while wearing a knee-length skirt and a long-sleeved, loose and flowing top that covered my collar bone. Modesty has never, in my experience, stopped a man from doing whatever he wanted to do with my body– whether it was physically manhandle it, goosing me or grabbing my vagina through my skirt in the middle of chapel, or simply objectify it.
Let me say it again: men could not give a flying f*** how a woman is dressed. She’s a woman. She has boobs and a vagina, and that makes her public property in a world where I’ve been screamed at, cursed at, for refusing to even acknowledge a cat call from a car.
When I started dressing however I wanted, modesty be damned– when I started wearing shorts and tank tops, for example, none of that sort of behavior increased. It stayed exactly the same.
But, this article, like every other article I’ve read on modesty, emphasizes that it a woman’s obligation to help protect men from our bodies. It’s our duty to make sure that we make it possible for men to forget that we’re a woman– which is, frankly, impossible. I don’t care how loose your clothes are– if you have T&A, there’s no getting rid of it, there’s no hiding it.
So what happens?
We have articles where the author has to stubbornly insist that she’s not “insecure about her body,” and clarify that she is “independent in her swimwear choices.”
We have articles where the author compares women to an ooey-gooey chocolate cake.
And let’s look at that for a second. Rachel has this to say about her metaphor:
Now, let’s pretend that someone picked up that chocolate cake and followed us around all the time, 24/7. We can never get away from the chocolate, it’s always right there, tempting us and even smelling all ooey gooey and chocolate-y. Most of us, myself included, would find it easy to break down and eat the cake. And we would probably continue to break down and eat cake, because it would always be there. Our exercise goals would be long gone in no time.
I’m going to try to be fair here: Rachel was probably, in her head, only referencing masculine lust here. When she wrote out this dandy little metaphor, she was probably only thinking that “breaking down” didn’t mean anything besides a man thinking less-than-platonic thoughts about the woman in the bikini.
However, regardless of what I’m positive were the best of intentions, Rachel has just contributed to rape culture.
Because, in this metaphor where a woman is a chocolate cake, the woman has no choice. A woman, plain and simple, just is a chocolate cake, and the fact is that, as a woman, there’s nothing she can do to change that.* She doesn’t have a say in the matter. She’s a woman. She’s ooey-gooey and smells like heaven, and so she gets eaten. No one asks her if that would be ok. No one asks her if that’s what she wants.
Because she’s a cake.
She exists to be eaten.
*I would like to point out that gender and sexuality are a sliding scale– I’m not trying to exclude transgender people, just dealing with the essentialist and gender binary nature of the article.
I included the original post in this modesty roundup, for anyone interested in reading more thoughts on the subject http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/modesty-a-roundup-of-posts-and-thoughts/
Words are so inadequate from someone who can’t imagine how painful your experience must have been. I hope that as more brave people speak out, more people will understand the need to combat & destroy rape culture.
I think that men and women both have to exercise self control of their minds, bodies and actions for the good of everyone else. A man has no right doing any thing to any women with out permission and vise versa. What do you think about this article? http://www.time-warp-wife.blogspot.ca/2013/06/if-she-only-knew-thoughts-on-modesty.html
Isn’t it really about everyone respecting each other?
I am so sorry that you were raped and treated poorly by men. That is unacceptable! I hope you are getting the help you need to work through that.
I can’t find this article – tried searching a few different ways. I think it has been taken down.
I love the point you made about how the chocolate cake metaphor objectifies women’s bodies. I didn’t notice that when I read the bikini article the first time, but holy cow, you’re totally right.
I’m a little late to this conversation. The cake analogy is insulting to me. I have celiac disease and other food allergies so I am always always exposed to tempting foods I cannot eat for the sake of my health. And ya know what? In over 5 years I have never cheated once. I do not ask people in my life to avoid eating things that are bad for me, including that darn chocolate cake, because it is more important for me to control my own impulses than to deny another person their freedom to act according to their own needs. Nobody else is responsible for keeping me from “breaking the rules” of my dietary restrictions. Every time there is food available, from restaurants to grocery stores to social gatherings, I am required to ignore the tempting foods and make the proper decisions. I would argue that I am exposed to far more food temptations on a daily basis than any man will be with the swimsuit issue. I also wear a bikini to the pool for physical therapy because the lack of extra material that you find in tankinis actually makes it safer for me.
I also don’t find the analogy works. I may think the cake smells good, but if I’ve just eaten, I have no interest, if I’m not in the mood, I have no interest. I can know it is the perfect cake, and not eat it. I’m not a person who eats when I’m not hungry. I think most people with a healthy relationship to food are that way.
Thank you for sharing this perspective on that incredibly sexist article. Women are not objects made for consumption, so the analogy is completely flawed. And even if we were to run with this analogy, just to make things interesting, who in their right mind thinks it’s ok to run around eating cake that hasn’t been offered to them or doesn’t belong to them? I walk by the pastry case in the grocery store all the time and don’t eat the cake. I’ve seen people eating cake at a picnic and was not the least inclined to go over and steal their cake. The author reduced women to cake, and men to cake thieving, picnic raiders.
The sad thing here is that a man would likely be prosecuted for stealing actual cake from a grocery store, or crashing someone’s party and running off with the cake, but when it comes to rape culture, he just lacked the self control and it’s her fault for not disguising the cake as a loaf of whole wheat bread.
Women – not your cake. More importantly, not cake.
“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the whole bag, and there will still be someone who doesn’t like peaches”. Dita Von Teese.
I feel your frustrations and agree with your thoughts on the cake analogy. Rape and sexualizing stem from control. Very little of the behavior itself has anything to do with actual attraction or “needs”. It is a control method and women being cast as forever the weaker sex, are the prime targets. My mother hates men. Was engaged 3 times, and married for 45 years. She hates men because she firmly believes they are incapable of controlling themselves around anything remotely female. And she believes that women who own their sexual nature are inherently bad and inviting bad things to happen to them.
We are not cake. We are not peaches. We are not our physical appearance. We are human beings….plain and simple.
Brava for the post!!
I read pretty much every article on HA but never comment. Couldn’t keep quiet on this one though. First off, to the writer- I’m so sorry for your experience. No one should have to go through that.
My thoughts on the cake- I do dress in a way that would appall most people who are part of “modesty culture.” In other words, I dress like the average college girl- leggings, tank tops, cute dresses, tight jeans, whatever. I’m generally considered attractive. But I seldom, seldom get harassed on my heathen (haha) state college campus. In fact, the majority of my experiences with inappropriate comments or advances were from men who are part of modesty culture! In my experience women attract less attention in the secular world, where women in tank tops and tight pants is a common sight instead of a big freaking forbidden deal.