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Check out the first three installments of Susan L.M. Goldberg’s series:

June 6: A Biblical Feminist Confronts The Girls Goddesses, Part 1

June 16: Sex Mitzvah’d: Virginity Isn’t Easy for Girls

June 23: Money: Is That What Girls Goddesses Really Want?

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 ”I once told a guy to punch me in the chest and then come on that spot so I’d know what that felt like.”

To Hannah Horvath, that was an experience worth asking for, living through, and writing about. To the critics, disturbing sex scenes featuring a range of pornographic behaviors, including role-play lingo with a pedophile twist, are “realistic” depictions of Millennial relationships. These discomforting sex scenes aren’t just the show’s trademark. They’re reflective of a larger trend in pop culture, one that favors the kind of dominant male/submissive female dynamic railed against by previous feminist generations. Lena Dunham has become a hero for portraying sex like it is: unenjoyable, humiliating, and at times enslaving. By disenfranchising women in the bedroom, she has become a goddess feminist icon.

Dunham and the critics who praise her are not alone in viewing pornography and pornographic imagery as tools for female empowerment. According to feminist pornographer Tristan Taormino:

Images of dominance and submission are not anti-feminist in and of themselves. … Feminist pornographers don’t want to do away with sexual power dynamics; many of us want to explore them in an explicitly consensual and more diverse, nuanced, non-stereotypical way.

Girls, with its raw, unromantic view of sexual relationships and power games, is anything but stereotypical and invites one to take a closer look at the intersection between pornography and pop culture in terms of power and art. In terms of power, how has the proliferation of porn culture transformed the sexual dynamics of modern dating? How do secular goddess values differ from biblical values in balancing the masculine and feminine in monogamy and marriage?

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Goddess mentality bears an ancient habit of intertwining the concepts of sex and power.  Take, for instance, the description of Greek goddess Aphrodite:

Aphrodite does not suffer, however, as did the “vulnerable” goddesses. Although she is known for her numerous sexual liaisons, she is not bound by any man. …Unlike the “vulnerable” goddesses–Demeter, Persephone and Hera–Aphrodite was never a victim of a man’s unwanted passion for her; the desires were mutual. …Although an independent figure in her own right, this independence does not preclude emotional involvement with others. On the other hand, she is not attracted to permanent relational bonds like her “vulnerable” sisters.

Often depicted nude, Aphrodite was “born as a nubile, infinitely desirable adult” and held power over love, beauty, and sexual rapture. Adherents would sleep with Aphrodite’s priestesses as an act of worship. Her power lay in her ability to have sex without emotional attachment.

Unlike Aphrodite, the Amazon Women emasculated themselves physically, through the removal of their right breast, as well as mentally and emotionally taking on the traditionally male role of warrior. However, like the Greek goddess, sex remained their primary power:

In some versions of the myth, no men were permitted to have sexual encounters or reside in Amazon country; but once a year, in order to prevent their race from dying out, they visited the Gargareans, a neighboring tribe. The male children who were the result of these visits were either killed, sent back to their fathers or exposed in the wilderness to fend for themselves; the girls were kept and brought up by their mothers, and trained in agricultural pursuits, hunting, and the art of war. In other versions when the Amazons went to war they would not kill all the men. Some they would take as slaves, and once or twice a year they would have sex with their slaves.

It should come as no surprise then that a building block of goddess feminism is the idea that power derives from sex through gender, physical form, and intercourse, as expressed in a number of modern feminist venues. Contemporary pagan goddess ritual revolves around the intertwining of power and sex, often tying the two together in ceremony through nudity as well as actual intercourse:

In the Wiccan ritual of the Great Rite, a priest-ess would embody the energy of the receptive, nurturing lunar Goddess while a priest would take on the role of the active, vital solar God. By inserting a blade into a cup, or by engaging in heterosexual intercourse (usually in private), celebrants would enact a pri-mal, erotic union of active and receptive forces that mirrored and participated in the ongoing creation of the universe. This sexual polarity was seen as essential for worship and for performing ‘‘magic,’’ a ritual practice intended to create positive changes in consciousness and in the physical world. As an expression of both freedom and sensuality, most Wiccan rituals were performed skyclad, or ritually nude.

While even the most radical of feminist political subcultures clings to a worldview grounded in sex-based authority with claims including, “Radical feminists believe gender roles are harmful to women. We seek freedom from ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity.’ Gender only exists for the benefit of men, as a class, at the expense of women, as a class.” Ironically, these “RadFems” echo the Amazons, seeking to escape these perceived gender boundaries by embracing the physicality of the opposite sex, an act that only serves to reaffirm the idea that power is defined through sexual terms.

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The key difference between goddess and biblical feminism ties directly into the intertwining of sex and power.  Compare the following two definitions of marriage:

The word matrimonium, the root for the English word ‘matrimony,’ defines the institution’s main function. Involving the mater(mother), it carries with it the implication of the man taking to woman in marriage to have children. It is the idea conventionally shared by Romans as to the purpose of marriage, which would be to produce legitimate children; citizens producing new citizens.”

[Biblical] Marriage is not solely, or even primarily, for the purpose of procreation. Traditional sources recognize that companionship, love and intimacy are the primary purposes of marriage, noting that woman was created in Gen. 2:18 because ‘it is not good for man to be alone,’ rather than because she was necessary for procreation.”

While goddess feminism demands “what can you do for me?” biblical feminism asks “what can I do for you?” As I recently detailed, biblical feminism is a servant, not a slave, mentality. It is also a perspective devoid of graven images. Authority is not related to sex, but comes from God, who transcends artistic depiction. Instead of focusing on physicality, attention is drawn inward, to the intertwining of heart, soul and strength where the two most important commandments reside. It is a worldview based upon positive relationship-building for the purpose of physical, mental and spiritual growth, as opposed to a physical dominant/submissive relationship to meet the purely physical demands of the cult or state.

Moreover, sex itself is recognized as an act shared between two people, as is the responsibility for the outcome: “The potential power of male-female relationships is like atomic energy. When used in a positive and holy way, there is nothing more powerful and valuable in the world. But when used recklessly, and not in a sacred context, it can be the most destructive force in existence.” There can be no better illustration of this than the fact that critics can approach the most brutal, graphic sex scene on Girls with the comment: “So it’s a little mini-porn-ish, but who cares? We don’t care about that.”

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In an article titled “Today’s Young Women Have Betrayed Feminism,” Yasmin Alibhai Brown chided the S&M pop-culture trend as an insult to women’s empowerment:

Catharine MacKinnon, radical feminist campaigner and theorist in the 1980s, wrote compellingly of how “the eroticisation of dominance and submission” creates social norms for male/female relationships way beyond the bedroom. So what do we get now? The bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey, a God-awful S&M trilogy, mainstreaming the idea of male domination and “knowing” female submission. The almost total pornification of Britain is now used without any embarrassment by males, aided and abetted by females. Internet porn sewage swills around and is defended in the name of “freedom”. In one Sunday tabloid I found a full page advert for porn DVDs. You too could have Black and White Babes, Uni Girls in Sex Heaven, Gang Babes, Teen Group Sex costing a pound each. Meanwhile most modern girls suffer from body image problems; many find it hard to say no to sex; too many boys associate sex with porn images where females are roughly taken and look like Barbie dolls.

“Total pornification” is a problem that transcends Britain. According to Sifat Azad at PolicyMic, “the relatable display of sex in Girls normalizes the experience.” This experience includes physical, mental and possibly even emotional abuse in the bedroom, based in a goddess-driven mentality that intertwines sex and power. Forget critical acclaim. If Girls is meant to be a vehicle that truly empowers women, Dunham would do well to critique the goddess feminist sex/power dynamic, rather than continually holding herself and her characters to the “total pornification” of self-defined “sexual slavery.”