Why Carrie Prejean can’t just shrug this off
Hortense at Jezebel has an interesting article up about how the revelation that Carrie Prejean not only had a one-time sexual adventure in making a masturbation tape, but had a whole slew of them, is rocking the fundie world. At the end of the day, the one thing the fundies can’t take is a woman who gets caught having shameless sex that involves the woman taking pleasure in the physicality of it, instead of merely seeing it as a vehicle for man-pleasing. And boy-o, does masturbation do that. Prejean’s public disavowals of her “mistake” are so patently phony that even the fundies can’t ignore it; the sex tape revealed (along with the assholery of her former sex partner) that being a sex object like a beauty pageant queen is about sex. Dirty, female-orgasm-involving sex, too. And the fundies are having trouble dealing.
But it’s interesting, because reading the comments from livid, misogynist Christians, you have to ask yourself: Why on earth did they turn to this woman in the first place? You’d think the inherent dangers in embracing someone as an anti-sex icon when she parades around in a bikini, showing off her breast implants, would be rather obvious. But the reality of it is far more complicated than that. American fundamentalist Christianity is fascinating (and growing) in no small part because they are so determined to be both pious and enthusiastic about capitalism. And American capitalism is all about indulgence, because that makes money, and part of that is using female flesh to sell products. Or, as people like to say reductively, sex sells. But it’s not “sex” that’s used to sell, but a specific kind of sexual imagery, one that erases men’s bodies as objects of desire, and focuses strictly on highly airbrushed female ones. And modern American fundies, being highly pro-capitalist, have decided they can embrace the “sex sells” mantra to sell their own worldview, up to and including their anti-sex message.
It’s not as contradictory as it seems. The advertising industry version of “sex” is actually pretty prudish, as I theorized in my post at Double X about plastic surgery for female genitalia. Female bodies have to be sanitized and morphed to an unrecognizable shape before they can be deemed safe for sexual objectification. What I said then:
The airbrushed plastic perfection promoted by Playboy and Maxim magazine are to sex as EPCOT Center is to world travel: experience simulation for those too cowardly to truly dive in, but too egotistical to admit their cowardice.
Plastic surgery, airbrushed images, and the extremely lucrative hair removal market are our modern version of the menstrual hut—ritual purification in order to prepare the female body for sexual use without getting the man fucking/looking at it dirty. Taboos prey on the human mind very easily, which is why the Brazilian went from unheard of 15 years ago to something that many young men feel is mandatory so that touching a ladygarden isn’t gross.
In this atmosphere, the Christian fundie tendency to fetishize virginity, and to use sexual objectification to sell itself and an anti-sex message makes perfect sense. On top of plastic surgery and Brazilian waxes, virginity is no big thing, right? That’s why our minds aren’t actually blown by a woman in high heels and a bikini talking up the strict Christian message about sexuality. They’ve been using sex to sell an anti-sex message for a long time now, actually. Tom Perotta satirized it in his book The Abstinence Teacher, where this abstinence lecturer gets up and vamps and coos and does everything in her power to make virginity seem sexy. And it’s effective, because the message isn’t all that different from what you see in a lot of porn, which is that female pleasure is about servicing male pleasure. The difference is you see women faking orgasms in porn because giving blow jobs is all they need to get off, and in the Christian fundie sales pitch, women’s pleasure is derived from being validated by marriage.
Which is why Carrie Prejean is just one in a long line of beauty queens pitching the fundie message. Or conservatives theorize that feminists only hate Sarah Palin because she lost her baby weight so quickly. (Because the only thing that really gets women out of bed is man-pleasing; it couldn’t be a substantive disagreement.) Or use cherry-picking pictures to argue that anti-choice women are sexy, whereas pro-choice women are ugly. In a fundamental way, this is a debate over what female bodies are “for”: are they for the women who inhabit them, or are women’s bodies the property of a male-dominated society? Sexual objectification might initially seem opposed to the virginity fetish, but if you think about it from this perspective, it’s all the same thing. It’s about diminishing women to objects to be owned and used by men.
Women are for being virgins that can be fantasized about and put on a pedestal until they marry, and then they are for man-pleasing and baby-making. Anything that falls out of that is a threat, of course, but I suspect the fact that Prejean was masturbating on the tape was the final straw. Sure, she was doing it as a performance thing, and most of us don’t really see the issue. But in this tightly constricted fundie worldview, a woman masturbating shamelessly like that is probably seen as straight-up emasculating. Not that there is much she could do on a sex tape that wouldn’t be seen as self-indulgent sexual behavior, but masturbating probably blew all circuits. Maybe they’ll get over it, but I suspect she’s done.
I will point out that no fetuses were aborted, so once again, we’re forced to wonder why “pro-lifers” care so much, since it’s about “life”, isn’t it?