Between installments of our series on Mary Magdalene, a social media firestorm raged over a Twitter post by Ayesha Curry, the wife of Stephen Curry, point guard for the Golden State Warriors.
She tweeted this: http://
Everyone’s into barely wearing clothes these days huh? Not my style. I like to keep the good stuff covered up for the one who matters ???
Just one tweet, and lines were drawn immediately between so-called good church girls and feminists, black Christianity and conservative black Christianity; you name it: camps were formed. I am not here to condemn Ayesha Curry for having an opinion. My concern is the school of thought that demonizes women both in church and society: the Madonna/Whore trope. This way of thinking about women goes back to psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. He argued that men see women in one of two ways: as virginal and saintly, or as lusty garden tools. It sounds very limiting, right? Surely women have more than just two ways of being in the world. But you don’t have to scroll your social media platforms for too long before you come across a meme that tells you that if you dress a certain way, you won’t get a good man or proud proclamations of being a queen and not a __________ (insert your favorite anti-woman sexualized insult here), and all kinds of put downs and respectability claims that do not address other issues at play such as class: high quality clothing is not cheap, and neither is the cost of alterations.
The assertion these claims have in common is the claim that women are allowed only two ways of being: virginal, good and holy or nasty, slutty and bad. With very little wiggle room. Many churches are known to cast wide aspersions when it comes to sexual sin—particularly when it comes to women. A woman in a fitted dress will raise eyebrows and looks of consternation but a man in a tight shirt is never condemned for looking too “sexual.” A lot of contempt is disguised as Godspeak (“the Lord told me to tell you”), and people seem to think they are helping you with their unsolicited commentary about your hem length, your hair, your size, your praise style, your any and everything.
When you assess women in terms of the sexual (and other) sin you assign to them, it becomes easier to “blank” them. To discount them. To disrespect them. To blame the victim. We’ve seen this done too many times, and we should be good and sick of it. Right now a police officer is on trial, accused of raping over a dozen Black women, and the strategy used by the defense: blame the victim. This strategy should not work. But the lack of attention given to this case, which is outrageous, sadly proves the theory that nobody cares what happens to Black women right.
But can we expect anyone to care about Black women if we don’t care about us? We have got to stop this practice of uplifting ourselves while standing on someone else’s neck. I would have no issue at all with Ayesha Curry’s opinion were it not for the subtext that suggests that wearing provocative, body-fitting clothing makes you less than the woman who keeps herself covered from neck to ankle. Ayesha Curry is beautiful. She is a chef, she is married to a successful black man and has two beautiful children. There is nothing wrong with aspiring to achieve likewise. Many Christian singles hope to have the same. However, when Christians presents their ideals in ways that are not loving, in ways that require any other version of the ideal to be put to shame, it is a problem. The kind of problem that Jesus had with the Pharisees.
Ultimately, what is the point of all this package examination? It is to make us feel better about ourselves? To give insecure people a quick infusion of superiority? It is worth repeating that how a woman dresses is not an algorithm for her sexual self. Shaming women has reached a level of sport that is disturbing. I believe all sin stinks the same to God; there is no small, medium or large sin. Yet, can you imagine any other sin being the spectacle that sexual sin is? Imagine if people who judged other people were brought before the church and shamed the way some pregnant girls have been.
We have to expand the lenses through which women are viewed because we are so much more than what we put on our bodies. We might do better to question why Black women always have to “be” something in the first place. We have no tangible “queendom” to aspire to, and we are seldom afforded the opportunity or the space to just “be,” let alone be messy.
And this is where Mary Magdalene is helpful. She is so much more than just some random woman that Jesus cast seven demons out of. There is no telling of the hope of all Christianity, that “he is risen,” without a messy woman. Pope Gregory falsely assigned ‘prostitution’ as one of Mary Magdalene’s demons. But the persistent image of Mary Magdalene as the repentant sinner is helpful in the sense that she gives us space to be messy. It is hard to live up to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The image cast of her as sinless, virginal and perfect is something many women struggle to approach for various reasons. But Mary Magdalene reminds us that there is room for the messy at the cross. There is access to God even for the messy. Mary Magdalene was an imperfect woman, but she found Jesus. And how she was dressed had nothing to do with it.