I think what lies at the heart of the mix-up between jealousy and envy is not only the result of many of us zoning out during English class, but may also be a consequence of the way our culture objectifies people. An easy example of cultural objectification is the way women are often portrayed in movies, TV shows, ads, and other forms of media. Women are often the passive recipients of a man’s sexual desire, a designer’s clothing, or a corporation’s product. The message communicated through these portrayals is that women are not people who have dignity, but are objects waiting, and wanting, to be used. Other examples of objectification are bountiful and are sadly all too common in our world.
The objectification of another human being runs directly counter to the Gospel message. By virtue of the fact that all people are created by God — and even made in God’s image, as we are told in Genesis 1:27 — all humans possess a God-given dignity that should not be overlooked. This dignity includes being seen as a unique person with whom a relationship can be nurtured, the ability to lead and contribute to a community, and just being valued and loved for the very fact that the person is God’s creation.
Jimmy Carter offered an open letter a few years ago explaining why he divorced himself from the Southern Baptist Convention after six decades as a deacon and Sunday School teacher. Basically, he contended that the SBC continued to legislate gender inequity from the top-down, cherry picking select verses to serve a desired patriarchal end, to which Carter responds:
It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.
It’s easy, in the daily course of events, to forget how pervasive such judgments against the equality of women really are, especially as we have examples of powerful women in political office and business. But just as having a black President doesn’t solve racial inequities, neither do a handful of high-profile women indicate there isn’t an ongoing struggle for parity among millions of other women without such power.
Last week, a member of my youth group texted me this picture of a pregnant Kim Kardashian. It’s a recent cover from Star Magazine. She added these sarcastic words:
What? How dare she gain weight while carrying another person in her stomach!
My heart broke. We have a big problem of objectifying women in our culture. I’d just written about the Steubenville rape case and the need to finally answer the ancient question “Am I my brother and sister’s keeper?” with a definitive yes. Rape is an extreme and obvious example of the objectification and violence against women.
But what about the cover of a magazine whose central thesis is: OMG, a pregnant person gains weight?
So the ‘thinner-and-sexier evolution” series is kind of winding down, as there are (thankfully, I think?) only a limited number of consumer products that have been around long enough so as to be able to undergo some kind of thin-and-sexy transformation. Besides, at this point, it’s kind of "clicked there, browsed that," you know? Especially since every toy/image transformation does some basic variation on the theme of “thin down and sex up.”
Call it the Barbiefication of toys for girls.
Or, you could call it what the American Psychological Association does, which is sexualization. Sexualization, as opposed to healthy sexuality, is defined (by the APA) as any one of the following:
- a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
- a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
- a person is sexually objectified — that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
- sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.