Women Aren’t Cake, Part 2: The Cake Is a Lie

Earlier this week I wrote a primer on rape culture and Christian modesty teachings and how they overlap; now I want to spend some time deconstructing the analogy used in this post on modesty, in which the author tries to understand how difficult it is for men to be around women in bikinis by comparing women to cake:

Let’s try and put ourselves in a guy’s shoes. I think we can all agree that as girls, exercise is important to us. We want to stay healthy and are often working on getting fit. We work out and stay away from carbs or sweets. We use all of our willpower to not eat the chocolate cake on the counter! Now, let’s pretend that someone picked up that chocolate cake and followed us around all the time, 24/7. We can never get away from the chocolate, it’s always right there, tempting us and even smelling all ooey gooey and chocolate-y. Most of us, myself included, would find it easy to break down and eat the cake. And we would probably continue to break down and eat cake, because it would always be there. Our exercise goals would be long gone in no time.

This is how I imagine it is for guys. Girls are walking around all the time with barely any clothes on at the beach or pool! Guys can never get a break from it, even if they’re trying to see past all the bodies to find the smiles and personalities within the girls.

There are some major problems with this comparison, and while I don’t think the author of the post intended to write an analogy that promotes these problems — I think she was genuinely trying to be empathetic towards her brothers in Christ and exhort young women to do the same — I do think it’s important to examine the issues that are present, intent or not.

First, she’s assigning a moral value to the act of eating chocolate cake, and she’s making the assumption that trying to “stay away from carbs or sweets” and “using all of our willpower to not eat the chocolate cake” is a normal state of being. But eating chocolate cake is not, in itself, a sin. Food doesn’t have a moral value (sometimes the provenance and/or production of food can be a moral issue, but let’s leave that aside for now); kale and yogurt are not more virtuous than cake and ice cream. It’s morally neutral. Food is, in fact, something that all human beings must eat, on a regular basis, or they will die. God made us as biological creatures that can get energy and nutrition and pleasure from a vast variety of foods. And living in a state of constant dieting, of constant self-denial and rationalizing and obsessing — not to mention doing all of this while keeping a chocolate cake on your kitchen counter — is evidence of a disordered relationship with food, not a “normal” one.

Second, chocolate cake is not sentient. It has no wants or desires. It does not have to consent before you eat it. It exists solely to be eaten. While some foods may have a secondary artistic or aesthetic quality, the primary purpose of food is to be consumed. To not consume a food is to allow it to spoil, and thus to invalidate its designed purpose. Women, on the other hand — and more broadly, bodies — are designed for many purposes, none of which is to be consumed without agency. To treat a body as a consumable object, a commodity, is to vitally degrade the personhood of that body, and to dishonor the image of God reflected in that person.

Furthermore,  there is (unfortunately) no universe I’m aware of in which cake chases you around and forces you to eat it. You are in charge of what goes in your mouth. You get to choose whether to eat the cake or not eat the cake. Hunger is an innate biological mechanism that is beyond your conscious control, but — assuming access — you get to choose what food to satisfy your hunger with. Just as you get to choose whether to think lustfully about another person. Sexual attraction is an innate biological mechanism that’s often — usually — beyond our control; but when we use our sexual attraction in order to objectify someone, that’s an active choice we make.

When potato salad goes bad
Like this, only cake

Except, of course, this particular chocolate cake isn’t just sitting in a bakery, minding its own business, being chocolate cake in its natural environment, is it? No – it is being a chocolate cake at you. This cake is deliberately, maliciously chasing you around, leaving you no escape, demanding that you succumb to its ooey-gooey deliciousness. This isn’t a cake you can say, “Hey, do you mind, I’m dieting” to, it’s not a cake you can decide you can’t safely be around and retreat to the cakeless confines of your own apartment — it’s a cake that follows you to your house, to the office, to church, a cake that violates your boundaries and harasses you. This cake is personal; this cake is targeting you. Getting this cake to respect your boundaries would take a restraining order. Equating this sort of cake-harassment to women who are wearing bikinis in their natural environment — the beach, the pool — is a tremendously false comparison, one that assumes that if a woman is wearing something “immodest” she is doing it at men, deliberately, in a malicious attempt to sabotage their self-control. 

And sabotage their self-control to — what? Here’s the most insidious thing about the cake analogy. When the author writes about being followed around by chocolate cake, she says that after all that time being tempted, she would “break down and eat the cake.”  In the same way, she implies, when a man is constantly surrounded by the temptation of women in bikinis, he will eventually break down and — do what, exactly? She doesn’t clarify. What is it the girls in bikinis are making the guy break down and do? The implication of the Cake Analogy isn’t that he’ll break down and think about boobs; it’s that he’ll break down and consume the women’s bodies. Not just consume as in lust; consume in a way that has a direct effect on physical body of the cake, er, woman. The implication, in other words, is that he’ll rape them — or not rape, exactly; he’ll have sex with them, and it couldn’t really be nonconsensual sex, will it, when they were making themselves available to be consumed like that, so irresistibly enticing? Cake doesn’t have to give consent to being eaten because cake exists in a state of consent by its very nature. Do girls in bikinis exist in this same state?

That’s the problem the author runs into by creating this parallel between women and cake — she doesn’t fully flesh out (ahem) the analogy to explain what it is a guy who is unable to escape the sight of women’s bodies will be driven to do. She elides attraction into consumption. She leaves it open to interpretation, creating a vacuum in which a woman who wears a bikini is responsible for anything and everything a man might do to her. She drove him to it. You know, it. Whatever unspecified sin it is. The woman you put here with me, God — she made me eat it.

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The underlying problem with Christian culture’s modesty rules is that they’re part of a vision of the world in which the male experience is preeminent, and women’s experience is secondary. You can call it patriarchy or kyriarchy, if you want; the bottom line is that even though this seems to be a world that revolves around women’s bodies and sexuality, everything the women do is in relationship to how it will be seen by the men. Men are the central characters in this story. The Cake Post describes a world where a woman’s clothing choices must be dictated not by her own comfort, or her sense of style, or her budget, or whether she likes to feel the sun on her tummy when she’s at the beach — all the ways that our clothing choices can be expressions of our own unique God-given selves — but foremost by how she is seen by the men around her. It idolizes the male gaze.

And at the same time that it does this, it debases men into children who cannot control their thoughts or their bodies, who are powerless against the irresistible temptation of women in bikinis.

And it negates the power of Christ in their lives. The men in this vision of the world are unsupported by Christ against temptation and lust; His grace is not sufficient for them, His power is not made perfect in their weakness, and it turns out He will totally allow them to be overtaken by temptation beyond their ability to bear.* This is a world in which the destructive sexuality of the female body and the helpless attraction of the male viewer are more powerful even than the Holy Spirit.

This is the idolatry of the male gaze. This is rape culture. And this is why the cake analogy is a lie.

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Stay tuned for Part 3, coming Friday (probably), about being fat in the face of modesty rules and where we can go from here.

*Thanks to Bethany for these scripture verses and for sending my mind that direction.

UPDATE: Here are the links to Part 1 and Part 3 of this discussion.

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16 thoughts on “Women Aren’t Cake, Part 2: The Cake Is a Lie

  1. Wow again.
    I keep trying to type a coherent response to this beyond wow, but …wow. Thank you again for putting into words what has long been in my heart.
    And now I really want some cake. I may CHOOSE to go find some. 🙂
    Seroiusly, thank you, this is so well said.

  2. You have put this so very well. Not only by debasing this well-meaning perhaps, but terribly unfortunate cake analogy, but by hitting a point I rarely see made –
    It is deeply INSULTING to men to suggest that they have no willpower, no moral compass, no control over their own bodies, no choice somehow except to “consume”, While at the same time idolizing the male gaze it somehow strips men of their character – of their souls. This kind of approach to modesty, when it makes of what ought to be a protection of one’s OWN self-dignity some kind of shield against the lasciviousness “inherent” in men, destroys the dignity and value of both women and men, and accepts as natural a state of being either which truly rejects the truth of men and women as made in the image of God.

    Thank you for your continued insights – this is very well done.

  3. First of all, I love this post. I think you really hit the nail on the head, and it inspires me to not only write responses to articles right away, but to mull over them and write a processed response to it – so thank you for that. 🙂

    Secondly, I love that you said “The cake is a lie.” I’m a total video game nerd, and that reference was awesome. 🙂

    Thirdly, I think my favorite part was when you talked about the idea of “modesty culture” idolizing men’s gaze. This is what I talked about when I tweeted about modesty rules created a false external morality.

    Thanks for this post, and thanks for the credit for the verses! 🙂 Looking forward to part 3.

  4. Loving this. Especially the point about how this prominent role of men’s experience above women’s experience in our society is damaging for them in the first place. Feminism sometimes can take too narcissistic tones for my liking, but your piece is what I think it should all be about.

  5. Excellent post- especially this part: “The underlying problem with Christian culture’s modesty rules is that they’re part of a vision of the world in which the male experience is preeminent, and women’s experience is secondary.”

    I have done a lot of thinking/writing about modesty and that’s the exact conclusion I have come to too. The main problem is that whatever a horny teenage boy thinks when he looks at a woman is treated as the authoritative perspective on the matter. There’s no room for a woman to say, “You thought I was bending over to show off my butt, but you’re wrong. YOU’RE WRONG. And I will not let your misperceptions dictate my life.”

  6. “To treat a body as a consumable object, a commodity, is to vitally degrade the personhood of that body, and to dishonor the image of God reflected in that person.”
    Great post. You put it so succinctly right there. What we are dealing with is objectification masking itself as morality. Thank you for putting it so well.

  7. Really enjoying this series! Keep up the good work. These kinds of ideas need to be debunked.

    In relation to the whole “the woman is chasing me around, I cannot help but give in” argument, I hereby offer the story of Joseph, found in Genesis 39.
    The woman (Potiphar’s wife) was LITERALLY chasing him around, trying to get him to sleep with her.
    What did Joseph do? “Break down and eat the cake?” No! He ran away.
    That’s right. The woman was throwing herself at him, she was very beautiful, yet he Ran Away.

    To say that men do not have the power to run away, regardless of what a woman is doing or wearing, is ridiculous. God has given us his spirit; how can we doubt him and say he is not strong enough to help us bear temptation? That’s a huge point that some Christians have wrong: blaming a man’s inability to do right on a woman. Lol.

    Sorry for the mini-rant, I just had to comment!

    Love your scripture use too btw. 🙂

  8. an excellently reasoned and written post!
    “Getting this cake to respect your boundaries would take a restraining order.” – heehee 😀 one of the few posts on modesty that made me laugh 😀 (rape culture is kind of icky..)
    “Cake doesn’t have to give consent to being eaten because cake exists in a state of consent by its very nature. Do girls in bikinis exist in this same state?” sadly a lot of modesty-culture people would say yes :/

    your point about men being the central characters and modesty idolizing the male gaze were good – i think that’s the big deal – men’s experience being the normative… sexism, ya’ll :/

    http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/modesty-a-roundup-of-posts-and-thoughts/

  9. you are my hero. you have put into words exaclty how i feel! THANK YOU! i want to shout every word of this article from the rooftops.

  10. This is wonderful! I’m a 20 year old college student currently working in mentoring and with our anti-rape/assault organization on campus. As a woman, I love posts like this. As a Christian, I’m so incredibly blessed by them. Even the church I attend and mentor in is unintentionally skewed toward men and that can easily take a toll on my opinions and habits. It’s so refreshing to have someone else speak what I dearly need to hear! Thank you! I’m spreading them around (hope that’s ok…)

  11. This is one of the best philosophical deconstructions on modesty I have every read. I am so happy you wrote this the way you did. We’ve had a lot of posts explaining why this type of thinking is so harmful, but never have I seen someone actually breakdown the argument on the argument’s turf…for lack of a better word.

    This is amazing because you managed to write in the exegesis-typed language conservatives write purity nonsense. I know that doesn’t sound great–heck you might have been insulted, but I think speaking the language of the women most oppressed by this system is a crucial step we must take. A Conservative would get this post and have some serious reconsidering to do!

    Thank you.

  12. And at the same time that it does this, it debases men into children who cannot control their thoughts or their bodies, who are powerless against the irresistible temptation of women in bikinis.

    And who need PROTECTION from this irresistible temptation by the Truly Righteous, whether by screaming from the pulpit — or by the whips of the Saudi or Talibani Religious Police.

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