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The Rise of Raunch

What's a Christian woman to do in today's hypersexed culture?

Recently my sister bought me a gift certificate to a popular lingerie store. As I picked out a bra there, a girl no older than 15 walked in with six guys ranging in age from roughly 14 to 18. The boys—their laughter awkward, edgy—nudged the girl toward a rack of revealing lingerie and took turns picking out several sheer, barely-there outfits for her to try on. As they placed the outfits in the girl's arms, her face looked young and vulnerable. But as I tried to catch her eye, the boys veered her toward the changing area.

I saw her feet as she dropped her jeans. A sales clerk stood near me, so I pointed to the boys lounging against her open dressing room door. "What are you going to do?" I asked.

"There's nothing I can do," she said. "This happens all the time."

As a woman and as a mom, I was appalled. I mentioned that the girl was underage, but the clerk shrugged her shoulders, turned away, and started folding underwear. I spotted the store manager across the room. She frowned as she studied the scene. I held up my hands as if to say, Do you see this?

She also turned away.

I walked over to the changing area and placed myself between the boys and the open door. "You have to leave," I said.

One boy leaned forward. I could feel his breath on my face. "Who's going to make me?"

As a woman and as a mom, I was appalled.

"You're not my mom," another said, backing up his friend.

"You're right, I'm not your mom. But this is really wrong, and I'm not going to let it happen."

One guy busted through the tight circle and pushed close. "I'll see her later anyway," he said. "What's the big deal?"

"She's the big deal. I'm not going to let you do this," I said.

I could hear the girl pulling on her jeans. The guys turned and walked away. She cautiously slipped out of the dressing room and followed them. The store manager stood at a distance and stared at me—the woman who'd created a scene. I was so angry I wanted to cry.

Girls Going Wild

On a recent Oprah Winfrey Show, the popular host spent an entire hour discussing the "culture of raunch," the increasing vulgarity permeating our media, fashion, and celebrity culture. One of her guests was Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. Levy, 30, prompted a national debate when she concluded in her book that by exploiting themselves, women have become, in essence, female chauvinists.

"Only 30 years ago, our mothers were supposedly burning their bras and picketing Playboy, and suddenly we were getting breast implants and wearing the bunny logo as symbols of our liberation," Levy wrote in a 2006 op-ed piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald. "How has the culture shifted so drastically in such a short time?"

That's a great question. Today's average 14 to 16 year old is familiar with sexual innuendo and with a woman's body being used to promote an image. She knows what oral sex and STDs are. Her celebrities—the Paris Hiltons, Britney Spears, and Lindsey Lohans—flash flesh and cash, and have sex with little or no consequences. On average, she watches 15 hours of television a week, following programs such as Desperate Housewives.

Even if you're a woman over 35, you're not immune. You're a target, a number in the coveted adult demographic age group, where television shows like Grey's Anatomy reign. Each week "McDreamy" gets steamy with Meredith, the intern who slept her way through several one-night stands while waiting for her love to leave his wife. Even though 20 million viewers in the coveted adult demographic tune in each week, do we stop to question the message behind the entertainment?

Boardrooms and Bottom Lines

What's behind this rise in raunch? Is it reality shows like Pussycat Dolls Presents: The Search for the Next Doll, which features scantily clad dancers? Is it fashion that dismisses style over overt exposure? Or that incest, cheating, rape, and sexual violence have become everyday entertainment on shows like Jerry Springer?

Many point to youth as the real problem, but adults are the ones in the boardrooms brainstorming ways to paint larger dollar signs on the backs of the next generation. It's they who place cultural icons in the public eye.

Whatever the root cause, our response can't be one of fear. Isolating ourselves from our culture isn't reasonable or responsible. Here's our opportunity to assert the view that being raunchy isn't progressive—that we want to break through glass ceilings in education and in excellence rather than through sexual boundaries.

Penny Kampf, a marketing director at my local mall, questioned how she could make a difference. She believes that somewhere along the way, women have allowed themselves to be viewed as objects of desire instead of women of substance. "Raunchy is a trend. Trends are merely advertising hypes," Penny says. "The only way I know how to change that is to create a new one."

So Penny launched a community program called 2010 to connect with local high school freshmen girls, and asked several women to serve with her as mentors. Her goal? To redefine what makes women attractive, to show we're more than our appearance, size, and age—even though we're most often judged by those three things. To date, Penny and 30 other women meet with 400-plus girls in four area high schools, promote a "dare to dream" contest, and work on community projects.

The Value of Other Voices

After that incident at the mall, I didn't want to point fingers yet do nothing. So I prayed. And I thought of that one girl standing alone in the dressing room. My efforts might not be world-changing, but even if they affect a few, that's enough. I joined Penny and the other women in my community as a mentor. Now I speak twice a month to freshmen girls and make myself available to them. While the program isn't faith-based, it's as much a ministry as anything I've ever done.

Prayer can change our attitude so we'll see our culture as a mission field. And we should never underestimate our influence upon it. As we build relationships as a Sunday school teacher, coworker, Bible study leader, neighbor, or mom, we can show the next generation a woman can be beautiful and modest. We can be honest about the fact we too are influenced by media messages. And we can begin a dialogue about what enriches real-life love, which lasts longer than one hour on primetime. It's important the next generation sees healthy relationships.

Recently I spoke to college-age students at a Saturday night church service, and afterwards, as I walked to our car, my husband, Richard, opened my door. "You rock!" two college girls called out.

Later they confided they thought it was cool I had such a great relationship with my husband. Moments such as these give me an opportunity to serve as a gentle example. I talk with my 20-something friends about loyalty and committed love, and have lengthy discussions on how sex is an amazing gift within a lifelong relationship between husband and wife. We chat about how real value and self-worth are found in Christ.

In addition to serving as a role model, we can add our voice to the mix of women already asking for change. One powerful network is One Million Moms (www.onemillionmoms.com), a group that's expressing their views to firms that support inappropriate programming. They've also enlisted the help of fathers and men with One Million Dads.

We also can write network and fashion executives. Many marketing execs and media moguls are disconnected from the average person's lifestyle or values. Sharing our opinions rationally and succinctly—without finger-pointing and spouting Scripture—is more effective than we realize.

For example, a few years ago, 23 Pittsburgh girls protested T-shirts sold by Abercrombie & Fitch that had emblazoned across the chest demeaning slogans such as, "Who needs brains when you have these?" They staged a "girlcott," and the result was a meeting with Abercrombie executives. The next season these tees weren't included in the fashion lineup, and shirts with less tawdry messages were promoted.

But we don't have to stop there. Let's vote with our dollars and with our support of quality programming. Let fashion and media companies know when they're doing something positive. Most companies only hear from believers when a product or program offends. Applaud those that offer creative family-friendly content.

Together we can stand up for our girls and for ourselves. Let's send a clear message that we're not afraid to speak up—and we won't look away anymore.

T. Suzanne Eller is a TCW regular contributor and the author of Making It Real: Whose Faith Is It Anyway? (Kregel). A speaker to teens and women, she can be reached at tseller@daretobelieve.org.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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