I’m a bit slow with things like this, but the first time I realised there was a problem was when I looked at the Facebook status of a good friend of mine. A Christian woman. A godly woman. A smart, switched-on woman with a lot going for her. But her status said, “I like it on the…” (I’ll keep it general, to protect the guilty).
I thought someone had hacked her Facebook account.
But then I scrolled down. One woman after another, telling me where they “like it.”
It’s about then that I started to figure out there was some viral marketing campaign at work. It was a little while longer before I bothered to find out what the campaign was about. But it wasn’t until the next day that it really struck me: this was a highly sexualised, and therefore completely inappropriate, attempt to draw attention to a very real issue for women.
In case you missed the whole thing, someone dreamed up the idea of letting people know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month by encouraging women to update their Facebook status to say, “I like it…”. You were meant to finish the sentence with the place you like to keep your handbag – ‘but keep it a secret from the men’ (insert girlish giggle). The reason it would successfully raise awareness is that it would all sound sexually suggestive, and would therefore grab people’s attention. I suppose the idea was that people would then ask, “Hey, what’s with all the ‘I like it…’ status updates?” To which you’d reply, “Well, it’s breast cancer awareness month, you see…”
And well done you – you’ve just done your bit to raise awareness of breast cancer.
But here’s the problem it took me a while to see: You’ve also done your bit to contribute to the sexualisation of breast cancer, and to the overall sexualisation of women that is rampant in our society (especially young women, the dominant users of Facebook).
There are two reasons I’m bothering to object to this. The first is by far the least important. Whoever was behind this ‘clever’ marketing ploy is really not clever at all. They’ve just pandered to the lowest common denominator of sex. A trained monkey could’ve done that. It’s lazy, and in the process it makes them part of a big problem.
The great thing about social media like Facebook is that it’s now so easy to genuinely raise awareness of something like Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Why not get women to post somerthing like (as one friend of mine did), “Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women between the ages of 15 and 54, and the second leading cause of cancer death in women 55 to 74. Ninety-six percent of women who find and treat breast cancer early will be cancer-free after five years”?
If every woman on Facebook wrote that, you have actually done a great job of RAISING awareness of breast cancer – not just using sex to make people ask, “What the…?” Cut out the middle-man of unnecessary sexualisation, and achieve an even better result!
But beyond that, for me as a Christian (and as a Christian pastor), there was a much more worrying aspect to this: How many solidly Christian people seemed to go along with this campaign without a second thought. In short, it showed how many Christians are swallowing the world’s way of thinking about sex.
Maybe there’s someone out there who was blissfully naive enough to not see the blatant sexualisation involved. Maybe. But I doubt it. I suspect that for most people, they saw it as a harmless, innocent campaign that would achieve something good – and all the prudes out there can just get over it.
But therein lies the whole problem. It made me realise how deeply we as a society – and therefore we as Christians today – have succumbed to the sexualisation of anything and everything.
In Ephesians, the apostle Paul tells Christians in no uncertain terms that they must steer clear of this type of stuff. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs.” (Ephesians 4:29)
He goes on: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” (Ephesians 5:3)
I know all this might make me sound like a sexually-repressed prude. That’s alright with me. This campaign has made me realise something: I would rather give 50 people reason to believe I’m a sexually-repressed prude, than give one person reason to believe I support the sexualisation of women that goes on everywhere and leaves people deeply damaged.
Once my five-year-old daughter becomes aware enough to pick this stuff up, that’s most definitely what I want her to know (not to mention my two young sons…). They’ll figure out soon enough that I know sex is a great thing – a gift from God to be received with thanksgiving and enjoyed within marriage. But for now, I’ll risk being written off as old-fashioned and prudish if it means I can be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
I know on the surface this campaign was kinda harmless. But we can’t deal with problems like sexual immorality on the surface. We need to go deeper. We need to see that people are deeply hurt by giving in to our world’s view of sex, and Christians need to swim against the stream with all their strength at this point.
We need to understand that the world is watching, our friends and neighbours are watching – and they’ll pay attention to Christians and to the gospel NOT when they think we’re really just the same as them after all, but when they see that we’re different! You don’t get to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world and a city on a hill by giving in, one little bit at a time.
Christians have something far, far better to show the world: a view of sex that brings real freedom and lasting joy, revealed to us by the God who offers forgiveness and healing to all who seek it, through the cross of Jesus.
Not even a hint…!