15 December 2017

Consider: Rihana – problems caused by the provocative…

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Rihana – problems caused by the provocative portrayal of women.

A number of weeks ago Northern Irish journalists reported on a local story centred on the international pop superstar, Rihanna. This was the most read news report on the BBC news online service at the time, and it was repeated on news networks across the globe. What caused such a sensational stir? The simple courage of a man who had the backbone (or audacity as some would see it) to voice his disapproval of the way Rihanna was presenting herself.

While recording her latest video on location in a field in Co. Down, Rihanna was dancing to her new single wearing little other than provocative underwear. The owner of the field, Alan Graham, had given permission to Rihanna and the film crew to use his land for the shoot. However, when he was passing on his tractor and saw the nature of the video and the appearance of Rihanna he asked for the filming to stop, clearly stating that he felt the scene was inappropriate. Rihanna accepted the farmer’s point and they shook hands, drawing the confrontation to an amicable conclusion. Alan Graham was the embodiment of the Biblical recommendation that we should, “approach a brother as if to win him over.”

This report, and the fact that Alan Graham was willing to voice his disapproval, caused me to pause and think about the number of scenes and images, particularly portrayals of women, I have blithely accepted, simply because they fall under the umbrella of ‘entertainment’ and our ‘modern culture’. ‘Loose Women’ are welcomed into the homes of over 1 million people on a daily basis, within which we are privy to the sexual exploits of most of the panel in each episode; page 3 girls still exist in ‘The Sun’, drawing a daily readership of over 2 million; Gok Wan continues to encourage women to reveal themselves naked in public; and the ‘ball gowns’ on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ become increasingly miniscule with each passing series.

The recent incident involving Rihanna was met with much eye rolling as some people felt the comments made by Alan Graham were prudish and outdated. However, we as Christians are called to be light in the world. We are called to hold to God’s principles and values rather than being swept along with popular culture. Alan’s stand has caused me to wonder about what problems the provocative portrayal of women cause in our modern society. Consider this with me…

If we were honest we would have to admit that Rihanna is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how women are choosing to be conveyed in the media. We struggle to see a simple TV advert, billboard, music video or programme without encountering some level of sensuality or overt sexuality. This is largely unnoticed by female audiences as they are not, on the whole, impacted sexually by visual stimuli. However, for men, this is a constant challenge. The desire to look, dwell, and fanticise is incredibly strong.

These images, and the resulting sexual sin, in either thought or deed are major stumbling blocks for men in our society and in our churches. In the New Testament, over half of the books contain warnings and advice on the problem and pitfalls of sexual sin. This should give us some idea of the seriousness of the problem. It isn’t a simple case of a ‘harmless bit of fun’. The Bible makes it clear that there are severe consequences for those who indulge in sexual immorality: “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8). Surely it is imperative that we, in an appropriate manner, take a stand against the images that have the power to cause our men to be lost.

The predominance of sexual images is having a negative impact on marriage. In his book, ‘Every Man’s Battle’, Stephen Arterburn claims, “I’ve found that sexual sins are the termites in the walls and foundations of today’s marriages.” The photo-shopped images of female ‘perfection’ are so alluring that they can cause men to fanticise about a kind of woman that doesn’t actually exist. The reality of one’s wife does not compare favourably to the imagined, and therefore discontent enters the marriage. When sexual temptation is all around, many men fall prey to the power of pornography. If and when wives discover their husbands have been indulging in this vice they can often experience strong feelings of betrayal, disgust and a lack of trust in the man they thought they knew. This can, as Stephen Arterburn suggests, corrupt and weaken the holy institution of marriage. In a society with a high divorce rate, isn’t it time we protected our marriages by recognising that how women are portrayed is a fundamental issue?

It must be remembered that it is not only adult eyes that are witnessing these explicit scenes. Many of our young people will watch Rihanna’s pop video, and, as fans of her music will quite naturally see her as a role model. For young girls this will certainly have an impact on their perception of themselves. As they strive to be more like Rihanna they experience a sense of not being slim enough, or pretty enough. They begin to dress more provocatively in order to gain the popularity enjoyed by their pop idol. There are no two ways about this – if we stand by and say nothing about this issue we are guilty of a great disservice to our daughters.

Just over 100 years ago it was deemed shocking and explicit for a woman to show her ankle. How times have changed. If we don’t take the issue seriously I shudder to think where we will be in 100 years from now. Perhaps we should all take note of the gracious behavior of Alan Graham and begin to take steps to protect ourselves, our men, our marriages and our children from this modern malady.

Christine Cordner