I accidently came across the The Centerfold Syndrome: How Men Can Overcome Objectification and Achieve Intimacy with Women the other day at Trinity library while I was looking for another book on the shelf. I was delighted to find this book written in 1995 by Gary Brooks. Although written from a secular perspective, this book would serve as a great springboard for conversation in the Christian community.
Brooks plunges right into the heart of the nature vs. nurture debate when it comes to sexuality and sexual behavior. He definitely believes we have to grapple with the fact that sexuality is socially constructed. For many conservatives, this is such a hard thing to embrace for it has deep ramifications in the way in which we relate to each other. I believe many Christian men and women (married and single) are caught up in what Brooks describes as "the centerfold syndrome."
I am sad to admit, that I was caught up in the syndrome for many years. Who knows the number of Christians who are not only caught up in this syndrome, but have no way out of it, but death or the Lord's return for they accept the syndrome as something hard-wired in male-female relationships. If though, one accepts the assumption that sexuality is socially constructed (or permits some kind of fluid, malleable movement and play between nature and nurture) then, sexuality, and expecially "the centerfold syndrome" can be deconstructed. This, no doubt, would be wonderfully healing for teenage sexuality and adult sexuality.
I have no doubt, if we could move beyond the syndrome, the divorce rate in Christian marriages would be dramatically reduced, we would see flourishing cross-gender friendships, same-sex friendships, and we would lower unwanted pregnancies and abortions within the Christian community. I believe many of the deep-seated fears in the Christian community about cross-gender friendships are centered on romantic idealism, Brooks' "centerfold syndrome," and--the accompanied possibility of gay sexuality. If sexuality is socially constructed, it leaves the door open for physically intimate same-sex relationships. Although I believe the gay issue is separate from intimate cross-gender friendships, it comes into play when you crack open the door to the theory that sexuality is socially constructed.
Brooks has no Christian or religious worldview. But he thinks the centerfold syndrome has five elements to it:
- The Need for Validation
- The Fear of True Intimacy
Brooks believes, the syndrome is "deeply interwoven with the fabric of our culture" and I would say even more so in the Christian community. My book is all about making the statement and pushing the conservation that close, intimate cross-gender friendships within marriages are not a threat to marriage--the real threat to marriage is found somewhere between romantic idealism and Brooks' theory of the centerfold syndrome. Brooks does not focus on intergender friendship--and that's where books on cross-gender friendship would provide a path to come out of the syndrome, out of the idealism, and into the virtue and depth of wonder, beauty, and justice and cross-sex friendship within marriages and the Christian community.
This statement below by Brooks, I believe is not only true in our Western culture, it is pervasive within the Christian community--and has deep ramifications for Christian dating (both for teenagers and adults) ministry, friendship, and marriage:
"While men have been encouraged to glorify the objective physical aspects of women, in many ways women have been encouraged to believe that men are naturally preoccupied with looking at them, fixated on their body parts, and forever dependent on the comfort of a women's nuturance." Men he writes, "have been encouraged to compete with each other, and with women's bodies as prizes. We have been led to believe that manhood must be validated through performance, often through sexual conquest of women. We have been allowed to seek comfort and nuturance from women's bodies, but conditioned to restrict our awareness to only our sexual needs, and strongly forbidden to seek physical comfort from men."
Writing on his experiences and thinking caught up in the syndrome as a young adult, he writes, "Amid the male bonding and joint celebration of the joys of catching glimpses of naked women, or in extremely wonderful cases, of actually getting to touch and fondle them, was the reality of that our most intense desires would rarely be fulfilled. We were continually stimulated, teased, tantalized, yet almost always denied and frustrated. We would be bombarded by unrelenting images of women we would desperately desire but never touch. Surely, we thought, these women knew this. Probably they did it on purpose and enjoyed the reactions they stirred in us. What was rarely admitted was the degree of our desperation, confusion, and feelings of powerlessness. Women had phenomenal power to stimulate and excite us, making it totally impossible for us to focus on anything else, yet they seemed to get sadistic pleasure and interpersonal leverage from withholding fulfillment of our desires. It wasn't hard to tap our resentment over the actions of women as 'prick teasers'--those women who specialized in provoking us with provocative displays of nipples, butts, and crotches through tight clothing. At its most hostile, this all-male adolescent environment was a fertile ground for misogyny...and tacit support of rape."
I'll delve into this a little more in future posts.