I love living in Northern Ireland. I have continually chosen it as my place to live and bring up my family. I committed my life before God, in whatever small ways I could, to its improvement, healing and transformation. However, living in Northern Ireland has many uncomfortable moments. One such moment arrived this week with the story that rang out across the world that Rihanna had been told to put some clothes on by a farmer from Bangor whose field Rihanna was using to shoot her new video. How embarrassing. It took me back to the early nineties when the world sniggered about my home town of Ballymena when they banned ELO from playing in the town because of drink, debauchery and the devil. It was Mr Blue Sky for goodness sake; they were hardly Black Sabbath!
So here we are again, our particularly conservative corner of the Emerald Isle all red faced because of some farmer. Could he not have found the fun in his fundamentalism! And yet, that is not what makes me uncomfortable. What makes me uneasy is the space I find myself in, somewhere between the farmer and the pop star. Yes, though I immediately scorned the religious nutter for being so uncool and 19th century I then started to ask if I thought it was ok for a woman to not only get her kit off in a field in Co. Down, where only a few passersby would see her and head to work to share their coup, but then show her cavorting to my young daughters who will watch the video on MTV and be sexualised about their gender and suggested what they should do with their bodies.
Last Christmas when X Factor showed some more than dubious sexual innuendo by both Rihanna and Britney Speirs, and called it fit for children’s viewing, I was one of many who wrote to Ofcom to share my thoughts. Just last week I was appalled during the Queen’s University Fresher’s Week when a local night club 411 drove a truck around the campus with very scantily clad young girls on the back. I am no prude. The fundamentalist farmer won’t be inviting me to preach in his Church but we need to make sure that our society begins to readdress our loose values around sex and the way we portray women. Having been a University Chaplain I have been close to the effects whether it is girls with low self image because they cannot look like Rihanna in skimpy clothes, a low self image that many times leads to self harm or eating disorders. I have had to walk out of the Students Union staring at the floor in case my eyes met with girls wearing next to nothing and as I left I have worried about the possible dangers that their state of dress added to their alcohol consumption might put them in.
MTV videos, magazine covers and the like have taken its toll on how men see women and what importance we put on sexual intimacy. Much as I cringe at the thought of an Ulster farmer telling a Barbadian superstar to put some clothes on and meet God I am also very uneasy about Rihanna’s contribution to the cheapening of women and sex. I’m uneasy because I might just think that of the two the farmer has done the least damage and perhaps most good. Could it be to quote Steve Taylor we are so open minded that our souls have leaked out!