The more I pay attention to our culture, the more I wonder if C. S. Lewis owned a crystal ball. Many of the works of this Oxford don who died almost fifty years ago seem more accurate today than when he wrote them. And this is especially true of “The Screwtape Letters.”
In an especially prophetic chapter, Uncle Screwtape explains to his demon nephew, Hell’s strategy for using imagery to derail human sexuality: “We have engineered a great increase in…the apparent nude (not the real nude)… It is all a fake, of course; the figures in the popular art are falsely drawn; the real women in bathing suits or tights are actually pinched in and propped up to make them appear firmer and more slender than nature allows a full-grown woman to be. As a result we are more and more directing the desires of men to something which does not exist.”
If there’s a more perfect summary of how our culture views women, I haven’t found it. These images women have to compete with are always the same: flawless, impossibly slim and well-endowed. This standard is crushing for women because it’s not based in reality. Women are being compared to women who don’t actually exist.
And that’s where the real damage happens — and not only to young women, but to men. As Timothy Dalrymple argues in a recent blog post at Patheos.com, pornography is devastating the next generation’s sexuality not only because it’s addictive, but because it’s wildly inaccurate. Just like Screwtape, porn directs young men’s desires toward things and people that don’t really exist. It alters guys’ expectations of women. Where nature offers real women, porn offers edited actresses. Where God creates daughters in His image, porn creates fantasies in our image — free pleasure without any requirements.
Meanwhile under all that paint, porn stars are still broken, little girls. “Someone rocked them to sleep,” writes Dalrymple. “Someone comforted them when they were afraid of the monster or the spider or the thunder. They have histories, dreams, they have souls.”
Mark Regnerus makes this even clearer in a groundbreaking piece from last year in “Slate” magazine. In it, he describes today’s “sexual economics” where the availability of fake women who look perfect and are interested only in sex has created a sort of market competition that distorts both genders’ ideas of what real women are actually like. In order to live up, many women start to act like their fake competitors. Meanwhile, men, says Regnerus, are only too happy to oblige. Thus, the vicious cycle of illusion keeps producing more brokenness.
So how do we break this cycle?
Well, for starters, we could imitate Julia Bluhm. Julia, a 14-year-old ballet dancer from Waterville, Maine, recently started a campaign that’s already changing the way her generation views women. Partnering with media activist organization SPARK Summit, Julia started a petition to “Seventeen” magazine to drop the heavily-doctored images of young women, and instead use real photographs. "Seventeen" agreed, and now, thanks to Julia and the 84,000 signees who joined her effort, the nation’s most influential teen magazine is promoting true beauty, without the airbrush.
We can learn volumes from Julia’s victory in our culture’s very real “war on women.” She’s making a difference because she rejects the illusions — and we’ve got to do the same.
On tomorrow’s "Two Minute Warning," I talk more about how sexual brokenness victimizes people, but especially women. This is part 2 of 4 in a series on sexual brokenness you can view at ColsonCenter.org. If you missed part one, it created quite a stir on YouTube — over 5000 views and dozens of comments. And I hope this one stirs comments, too — we’ve got to confront this confusion for the sake of our girls.