Working my way from fundamentalism to freedom (without losing my mind)

On being a female body at a Christian college

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[I wrote recently about learning to love my body for Lent. Part of that loving so far has involved some deep contemplation about where the fear and hatred come from. And I’ve realized something.

Part of my body hatred, and by extension part of my self hatred, comes from the fact that oppressive people have used my female body  to justifying oppressing me.

I hate my body and myself because, deep down, I blame my body (and thus myself) for the ways in which I’ve been hurt by others.

7128_173502622984_2193630_nTwo examples stick out clearly in my mind. Both from experiences at my former Christian school, Grace College.

It was the first week of my freshman year. We had a meeting for everyone in our all-women dorm to go over the basic rules. Don’t burn popcorn and set off the smoke alarm. Be in before curfew. No sex, drugs, or rock and roll (okay, maybe rock and roll was okay. Just not during quiet hours!).

During this meeting, the husband of our Residence Director came in to talk to us ladies about, you guessed it!

Modesty.

He started out by telling us to never let any Christian man blame us for their sins. Then he proceed to…well, blame us for his sins.

He told us of his own porn addiction and of the porn addictions that other men on campus have talked to them about. He was blunt, and even made subconscious hand motions while talking about masturbation.

And what was his point?

“When you wear those tight jeans, your brothers in Christ go home and masturbate to you. Your selfish clothing choices make it hard for your brothers in Christ to break their addictions. Thanks to God’s grace, it’s been weeks since I’ve looked at porn, but it hasn’t been months. And the way women on this campus dress doesn’t help.”

I talked to many women who were present in that meeting who expressed that they left feeling ashamed and dirty. I know that every time I passed that man on campus from that day on, I wanted to turn invisible. I’d tug my skirt down and pull my jacket over my chest, and I’d resist the urge to get sick to my stomach thinking about him masturbating to me, and it being my fault.

My body was shameful. It was dirty. It could ruin lives and marriages just by existing.

This is the first thing I learned about my body at Grace College.

It was the second semester of my freshman year. We were required to attend chapel three times a week, so there I was. This week we were learning about relationships between men and women, how they were often broken in this world, and how we could fix them.

We did this by learning our roles.

And we could learn our roles, not just from Scripture, but from our bodies.

The speaker told the Biblical story of King Joash (and I’m still to this day not sure why). “Joash drilled a hole into the box,” he said. “Joash femaled the box.”

According to this man and his strange desire to associate being female with having a hole drilled into you, the reason men and women can’t get along is because men and women (mostly women) are rebelling against the nature revealed to us by our bodies.

“Men are supposed to give the life-bearing seed of the gospel to all the world,” he said, while making disturbing hand motions from his crotch to the audience. “Women are supposed to receive that seed.”

The moral was that female people were trying too hard to give when they were made to receive and weren’t letting male people to what they were meant to do (which is apparently to spiritually ejaculate on everyone).

Female bodies were not built to give life (apparently child birth doesn’t count and we’re just the incubators) but to be fulfilled in receiving life.

It wasn’t patriarchy holding me back, according to this man. It was my body. This is why I could not be a pastor, or a spiritual leader in my family. This is why I could not speak my mind too loudly or be too bold. Because I had a vagina, and vaginas are not for giving.

But I fell for it for years and years. I saw myself as stuck in this body with its sinful breasts and its useless vagina.

I saw my body as a prison.

And in seeing my body as a prison, I blamed myself.

Oppression is tied to bodies. It often happens in bodies and to bodies. It often comes from other bodies. And oppressive people use the bodies of the oppressed to excuse it.

Loving my body for Lent means recognizing that it is not my body’s fault when I am treated as “less than.” Loving my body means recognizing that others have used it to tell me I am “less than.” Loving my body means recognizing that those people were lying to me about my body.

Loving my body means affirming that they don’t decide what my body means. They don’t decide what I mean.

[Note: Though I learned some harmful things at Grace College, it was also at Grace College where I began the process of loving my body. That may be a post for another day]

 

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72 thoughts on “On being a female body at a Christian college

  1. Hi Sarah,

    I attended the same Grace College and got the same talks and blame regarding modesty. It has taken me quite a few years to deprogram myself from the messages I received about that and several other topics while living in the “Grace Bubble.” Keep loving yourself!

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  3. Spot. On.
    Thank you. I grew up in a church with similar gender stereotypes and oppression, and you have no idea how good it is to hear that I’m not alone.

  4. I went through abuse and felt it was my fault because the abusers were attracted to my body, I felt that was the only reason people wanted to get close to me, I was terrified to say no, and I’ve had people say come on!!! you were an adult at that time, but I was not a strong person, I even thought about burning off parts of my body so that I wouldn’t feel dirty, when I shared this with a friend, I quickly so this totally disturbed look on her face, thankfully she pulled me to her and cried and prayed over me : ) I have had so much deliverance through her and her prayers, she’ll never know, and also the prayers of so many : ) thank you for not being quit!!! Thank you so much for sharing this story!!!! I ABSOLUTLEY love who I am know, But I just recently got it and I’ll be 50 next year. don’t wait for ever like me to get it : ) God BLess

  5. This notion of rooting our morality in the revelation of our bodies is not genuine christianity. its an adoption of a greco-roman way of doing moriality that continues to entrench inequality in our time. Nature is not revelation.

    Love is revelation.

    Love your body, but don’t let anyone tell you its some secret coded message from God they can decipher for you.

    You rock.

  6. I’m addicted to this blog. You have such great thoughts that more people need to see.

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  8. I don’t consider myself a feminist. I tend towards fundamentalist viewpoints. But I completely agree with you Sarah. Well said, and thank you for saying it.

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  10. My experience with men in a fundamentalist context, church and missions organisation has been a sordid tale.

    I grew up being taught well, most of the things everyone else has commented on here, and I took it all on board. For me, I discovered that the most righteous zealots on the topic of sex, purity and women were the men who had the most issues.

    As a teenager on the “mission field” I was raped by one of them, a good christian leader respected by all as a righteous man after Gods own heart. When I told – guess who was believed and who was the sinful whore? I must have led him on, I must have dressed provocatively (if it even happened at all). Oh he put on quite a performance – worthy of an oscar. The only people who “believed me” were those non-christian “unbelievers” who were always looked down on. Those unbelievers saved my life – literally and figuratively. If I had stayed in the church environment where I was a liar and a whore I believe I would have taken my own life.

    I married one of those evil unbelievers and it was the best thing I have ever done. I am free to be a woman, free to be me and in a relationship where I am equal and valued for my brain, my opinion, my thoughts, my experience (oh and he likes my body to).

    From time to time I visit the family Church for family events but usually find I sit there shaking, feeling sick as I listen to the old familiar language of fundamentalism. I still believe in God, I still talk to God but its not done in a way that its found acceptable by family etc. But God can judge me – He knows my heart. There is so much more I could say – but won’t. But be careful around those men who spout such weird ideas about women – in my case they were the ones I should have been very wary of. Stay 100 miles away from such men. 19 years later I still battle every day to value myself as a woman. But I do it and I will continue to do so because I will be the very best mother I can be to my daughter.

    By the way – the rapist is still in that Church/mission, still talking about the evils of women, still admired. Who wants to bet he has had other victims since me?

    • My dear friend, when you google Prairie Bible Institute for sexual abuse, you will find a few people that came forward and tell their stories. There is nothing wrong with your body, or mine, there is everything wrong that suppresses natural instinct and deified the purity god so that we all fall for the same rapist, with our mind or body. I would blame their god, their angry, hateful and lustful god. Go free and live a life, full of life, without this Christian god.

  11. Just wrong. A sex addict like the husband of the Residence Director needs treatment and a ton of accountability to get over his addiction, in the meantime only minimal with women who might tempt him. It’s his problem and he needs to own it, not blame innocent women. Sheesh.

    And the preacher saying Joash “femaled” the box is just crude. He should not be speaking in church.

    So I too am sorry for your having to deal with these two and any damage they caused. It sounds like a college to be avoided unless and until they address this nonsense. The men and the university owe you an apology.

    You are NOT dirty, not to be shamed in any way. If this is typical of Christian schools than people should stop attending them, because they are NOT representing Christ, period.

  12. Definitely heard the first story in my life over and over. So much so that I believed it for awhile and am sorry to say passed it on to other young women. Then I went to college and had it drilled into my head more. There were even instances where we were blamed for men’s sexual struggles and if they were in the ministry then we were also faulted with destroying God’s work. Now that is a heavy burden. Even other women who mentored me in many other ways and that I still love dearly made me feel shame for my body as uniforms (for my major, not the school) had to be adjusted to hide or camouflage my female form. It may me feel as though my natural body was wrong and a hindrance.

    The second one is weird and way creepy. Sets up a whole cycle for women being abused and mistreated even in their own minds.

    I no longer feel the responsibility for keeping men from lusting after my body. God made it beautiful on purpose and I don’t flaunt it but hiding what He made and gave to me (myself) doesn’t honor Him either.

    I believe more in appropriateness for modesty rules as well as honoring other believers. Dressing in an old style doesn’t make you godly. It just makes it look like God robbed of knowledge in fashion, current ways of thought and creativity and maybe even that God is as outdated as those clothes. Dress should reflect ones gender as well. If in being modest a woman dons clothing that takes away her feminine qualities and makes her or her silhouette manly how does that glorify God? He made us different on purpose and we should honor and enjoy those differences.
    Truth is men can lust after a woman in a long canvas sack and women can do the same for men. Seeing something or someone that is powerful and/or beautiful is not wrong. God made us to enjoy those things and be attracted to those which manifest His character. As with many other things the sin comes in with the misuse of that appreciation. When we take it for ourselves when it is not ours to have then it is prideful, sinful and wrong.
    I am thankful that through supportive and loving people I no longer carry a ‘burden’ with my body being female but a joy that I am made the way I am for His glory.

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  14. Most of my reaction has been covered in previous comments, but I’m always reminded of Jesus teaching his disciples in Matthew 5. He never tells women to stop showing skin above the wrists and ankles, but he sure as heck tells us fellas that we’re breaking a commandment by even looking lustfully. He certainly never recommends women cut off a body part to prevent sin, but he’s serious enough about our responsibility for our own purity that he says it would be better to lose a hand or an eye. He’s serious enough that he doesn’t even mention a woman’s role in adultery there. Certainly, there are other scriptures that support the idea of women dressing and behaving modestly, but none of them take any responsibility away from men for their own thoughts and actions. As a man who struggles with this in a big way, any man who blames women for his sexual sin is a coward and is willfully ignorant of what God has actually said about the matter.

    But my real comment is that I searched for a solid minute trying to find the closing bracket in your intro. It hurts so very much.

  15. i’ve had much the same experience.

    I recall attending a youth conference a few years back, as a youth minister rather than a student. There was an artistic “live-drawing” story done in sand. The main character of the story was a young male. He experienced temptations of many sorts, including a beheaded female form. A curvy woman’s body (without her head or face attached) stood among all the other symbols of temptation, including drug needles, money, and wine bottles. How thankful I was for my co-youth minister, a dear friend and a man. We were able to discuss the not-so-subtle meaning of that lesson…

    The message sent by such things is very, very clear. And believe me, I get it.

    What is difficult is how to respond. The relationship of anger and love is hard to navigate, for anyone. For women, it is certainly no less so.

  16. My comment is more academic in nature, but this isn’t to diminish those two disgusting experiences. You need to read the book Body and Society: Explorations in Social Theory. The author discusses a myriad of ways bodies (mostly women’s bodies) are suppressed and controlled, a favoring of reason/culture over nature/desire. However, the author doesn’t make the mistake (I don’t think) of saying men embody reason and women embody desire. If he does state that, it is only to elucidate social thinking historically. He ultimately wants to deconstruct that ridiculous dichotomy.

  17. Wow, very articulate post. Thank you for being so open. I would also like to add that my hope is Christian women and men who resonate with these feelings will choose to go back into the church and transform it, rather than walking away. Equally important to naming these problems is responding to 1) the victims by encouraging them with an accurate, self-loving, Biblical view of their bodies and to 2) the perpetrators in love by exposing the underlying assumptions of such oppressive sentiments which are totally out of line with true Christianity. While it is valid and important to be angry it is also equally important to respond with wisdom and merciful action; I am encouraged by many of the comments here that there are articulate, critically-thinking Christians out there who still believe in the relevancy of the church and wish to see it renewed rather than discarded.

    Also (this is my soapbox speech), if women were not intended to spread the Good News about Christ, then why did he reveal himself to three women after his resurrection even before he revealed himself to the apostles (who were told about the resurrection by those three women first, yet they expressed disbelief)? Why did he choose to send the savior into the world through the body of Mary when he could have created him from thin air? Great observations Sarah–very clearly yet civilly put! Bravo!

  18. I’m sorry that you had this experience as well. I go to Westmont College and the same thing happens here. Girls are taught “not to be stumbling blocks” like the guys here can’t control their dicks and somehow any pretty girl in a pair of shorts has committed a terrible crime in ‘tempting’ the men on campus. Unfortunately, this demeans both the men and women of our school! It implies that men are incapable of controlling their sexual desires and that women are inherently sexual temptations. Thank you for reducing my self worth to being a sexual thing only. Awesome. Thanks a lot.

  19. Thank you for posting this. I grew up Catholic (Catholic High School, Catholic College), and I internalized similar messages about my femaleness. I’m almost 50, and I’ve been struggling to “love my body” for most of my adult life.

  20. (Hugs) to you, Sarah! Thank you for sharing this. I’m so glad you can recognize those harmful messages and fight back against them.

    I never had a teacher mime masturbation while speaking, but I had a really horrible “lesson” in the youth Sunday school class at my church when I was about 14 or so. The (male) teacher brought in a peach. He passed it around the class to everyone had the opportunity to hold it for a moment. He encouraged people to toss it back and forth across the room. He threw it up against the wall, brusing it badly and leaving a splotch on the wall. He rubbed it along the inside of the trash can in our class room. He asked, after all of that, if anyone would like to eat it. And, when we all declined quite emphatically, he then drew an analogy between that battered, soiled peach, and a girl who had lost her virginity.

    It was the most graphic, appalling, and disrespectful delivery I ever saw of that message; but the message was delivered to me a hundred other ways over the years. Your virginity = your purity = your value as a woman, and your only chance of landing a good man.

    So when I fell in love for the first time, far too fast and rather recklessly, as young love often happens… and when I slept with that man, who I did sincerely love… and when, as time went on, I found him to be far less kind than I’d first believed, and even cruel at times… I stayed. For four years. In spite of his unkindness, his constant rejections, his emotional abuse. I stayed for four years because I saw myself as damaged goods and I could not imagine, now that I’d wasted myself on a man like this, that the sort of man I longed for could possibly find me desirable. When I finally left my ex, I was absolutely convinced that it meant I would be alone for the rest of my life (I’d just finally reached a point where I thought it would be better to be alone, and at least be able to love *myself*, than it would be to stay with him).

    In fact, my lost virginity didn’t prevent an absolutely amazing man from loving me, and we’ve been happily married almost nine years now. I’m grateful to be where I am today. But I am absolutely teaching/ going to teach some very different messages to my daughter, about her body, about her sexuality, about her worth.

  21. This may be repetitive as I attempted to post and think it might have been lost. I love what you share here. Outrageous, but sadly not surprising. As evidenced by the Oscars last night, objectification of female body parts has become a normalized part of life in the USA. For the most part, the church and the broader culture offer only negative, problem saturated stories to guide female development. Thankfully, the subjugated knowledge of better stories, like the one you are sharing, of female empowerment, courage, honoring of our bodies, is slowly making it’s way into the world–especially here on the web. Thanks for speaking up. May your work here and elsewhere continue to spread a better story.

  22. I am glad I’m not the only one learning to love my body at this point in my life! My reasons are different, but I’m sure if I really thought about it I could pinpoint some of it back to modesty or sexuality talks from the church, but the point is I’m learning too. Thanks for sharing your struggles and being blunt and honest. If you are interested in listening to podcasts about women in the church that are really empowering, two of my favorites are by Kris Vallotton called Powerful Women and Jesus: the Founder of the Women’s Liberation Movement (you can find them on itunes). They don’t necessarily talk about body image, but they teach about how much God loves women. Really, Jesus was RADICAL in his love for women.

  23. Thank you for this articulate exploration of something that I recognize from my time as an undergraduate at a Christian college. I teach at a Christian university now and try so hard to correct some of these messages that I know are being sent out to the students in my classes, but I really don’t know how to do it yet.

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  25. This put me through a range of emotions (anger, validation, disgust, shock), but then this: “The moral was that female people…weren’t letting male people to what they were meant to do (which is apparently to spiritually ejaculate on everyone).” that. was. hysterical. And also sad. but mostly funny.

  26. I have been told so often that women are not meant to be leaders in the church. I was ordained in 1975 and have been having a fine time, thank you. I often wanted to ask if I hung on a bag of male organs…plastic…if I was now okay? I know LOTS of men who have been horrible church leaders, so I don’t really feel a set gives magical wisdom and power.
    Frankly, I just tend to avoid those people and remember that it is God who calls, God who enables, and God who sends out gifts to each as God desires. My audience to please is always God, not other people.

  27. Wow. I’m so sorry you experienced this. Both of the stories you shared here are bizarre and disturbing.

    That being said, I find the idea that “vaginas are not for giving” interesting in that it puts women always in the opposite role, and while you’ve juxtaposed “giving” with “receiving,” you could also have used “taking.” And, of course, the idea of women as the “takers” of society would lend itself well to the whole narrative of greedy-lazy-welfare-moms and the devaluation of women’s labor.

  28. I made a similar post about this a few weeks ago, talking about sex. Sadly, Christians tend to demonize certain aspects of sexuality in order to try and keep people from sinning sexually. Sometimes, though, they take things too far and end up damaging people. There is never ever EVER an excuse to blame others for your sins. EVER. Your sins are your own problems. No one has the right to blame those sins on other people. It’s their conscious decision to sin.

    Great post. I’m going to link it back to my post on Christian sex if you’re okay with that. =D

    Psst… here’s that blog post if you wanna check it out.

  29. Wow, that was intense, and sick. Ironically, those men seem more sexual in their thinking than most other men – I mean, equating “giving” with ejaculation and hearing the gospel with recieving sexual penetration?! The biological determinism also seems to centre on the genitals, with a female body being defined by its genitals as inferior and vice versa.

    • So, in this man’s theory world, men are only allowed to spread the gospel to receiving women, and it would be wrong for them to talk to other men, who are not receivers.

  30. Reblogged this on Make Me a Sammich and commented:
    I recently started following Sarah on Twitter, and she tweets stuff pretty much every day that makes me say “Yeah, that!” Today I found my way to her blog. Her latest post is a grim reminder that women of faith often experience–and fight–sexism from the people who are supposed to be their spiritual leaders, teachers, etc. It’s like this whole other front that I don’t have to deal with. Thanks for the perspective, Sarah.

  31. I went to fundamentalist Baptist school for ten years, from age 9 to age 18. The things you describe are exactly the things I experienced. At my school, the teachers split up the boys and girls for “health” class. This “health” class was really a fundamentlist-ized form of sex-ed. The boys were taught about porn and desire, and the girls about modesty, their periods, and pregnancy. Us girls were treated as if we simply didn’t have sexual desire. (LOL)

    Ironically, I knew that was far from the truth. I had discovered sexual pleasure by accident when I was very young. I remember how I always wanted to be in the boys’ “health” class rather than the girls’. I felt that the girls’ class was *irrelevant* to me. This feeling of irrelevance was exacerbated by the fact that I have Asperger’s Syndrome—my Baptist school told me I was relational and emotional, but I was a natural loner who didn’t understand others’ emotions whatsoever. While I may have been spared believing the lies they told me about women, women’s bodies, and women’s very real desires, I was still denied proper help and guidance throughout my teen years in regards to my sexuality. Naturally, this lack of help and basic socialization had dire effects upon my life after graduating from high school.

    The way fundamentalists often treat women is completely irrelevant to how women actually are. It degrades them. It makes them out to be second-class humans. I could go on about this for days.

    In any case, thank you for writing this post and dedicating these 40 days of Lent to loving your body. So many girls could benefit from your example.

  32. I think maybe part of the problem with people like the first guy in your story is that they see porn addiction as a sin against God alone, not against the people who make porn movies. I’ve heard that a vast number of women in porn were abused as children, that they may be in it as a form of trauma re-enactment, that they are often drug addicts, that they feel obliged to go further than they would ever choose to in order to get work, that they catch all kinds of STDs.

    It’s ridiculous for a man to hunt for porn online, pay for it, download it, watch it knowing he’s breaking his wife’s heart and ruining his marriage, watch it knowing he’s maybe watching someone catch VD, watching and vicariously participate in the fruits of child abuse, watching a woman do things she may not even want to do – and then wag his finger at Christian women in slightly-tight jeans for causing him to stumble. No, sorry. This is ALL on you, pal.

    • The man is objectifying the woman as an object for his lust. That is definitely sin…and not the person who is being objectified’s issue.

    • Actually, you are wrong about the porn. The vast majority of women and men who are involved in making porn get a choice about whom they have sex with. They enjoy what they do. And they practice safe sex.

      You are quite right about the hypocrisy of the man who told Christian women to dress modestly because he had a porn addiction.

      Also, recent research suggests that watching a lot of porn makes people more open-minded about sex, and therefore more tolerant of the idea of same-sex marriage.

      • I’m not wrong about the porn.

        I don’t buy the idea that people who routinely have sex without condoms are ‘practicing safe sex’, even if they get tested every few weeks. The performers who do things like A** To Mouth are naturally going to be more vulnerable to catching diseases.

        They may get a choice about who they have sex with, but they are under pressure to do things in order to get work that would otherwise go to women who are willing to do more and more extreme things. A choice to have a certain kind of sex isn’t a choice if you are doing it under pressure, because we’re talking about sex here, which is all about genuine consent and intimacy. OK, it’s the life you sign up for when you become a porn performer – but that doesn’t make it OK that performers are under pressure, and it doesn’t mean Christians should shrug their shoulders and say ‘well, each to their own’.

        People should be tolerant of same sex marriage based on reason and compassion so I don’t accept that as an argument in favour of pornography. Outside of making people more tolerant of gay people, ‘more open-minded about sex’, is morally neutral and not necessarily good depending on how terms like ‘open-minded’ are defined and how that ‘open-mindedness’ is implemented.

        Some performers, I’m sure, straightforward enjoy what they do. But a great deal of others ‘enjoy’ it in a way that suggests they are using it as a way to avoid their issues or to cope with trauma in an unhealthy way. I know that for certain. Of course they’ll say they ‘enjoy’ it.

        Regardless of all these factors anyway, Christians should have nothing to do with the commodification of other people’s sexuality. How do you KNOW if the woman you’re watching is doing it because she enjoys it? How do you know when she’s holding back tears or in pain or simply not enjoying herself? How do you know she isn’t doing it as a response to hard times or earlier abuse? You probably don’t know. If you watch it without knowing and without caring whether you know, then you’re deliberately hardening your heart towards your fellow human when she’s at her most vulnerable. The Christian response to porn should not be acceptance or participation.

  33. Have you read Denise Ackerman’s book After the Locusts? When you talk about oppression is tied to bodies, it reminds me a lot of her book, which is one of my favorites!

  34. WTF????

    Wow, that first guy is quite a creep… The second one is a freak and even worse.

    If that’s the state of the Christianity you grew up in, something’s really really wrong. And some form of feminism might be needed to fix the mess…

    I was t

    • Something went wrong (that happens when bottlefeeding babies and commenting at the same time…)

      I was taught that man and woman were both made in the image of God, and that women (and men) always should respected in that matter. And that self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit…

      The second guy I’m not even reacting too. Some people should better switch religions, ancient Greek phallic parades or their Japanese Kanamara Matsuri counterparts would fit them more for example…

  35. I think that there is a universal and, dare I say it, sinful, temptation to blame one’s own shortcomings and sins on someone else. It’s not tied to religion, but it has contaminated it even so. Christians follow a Savior who did the reverse–took the punishment for sins he didn’t commit in order to rob those sins of their power over us. The idea that a guy’s lust for a woman is the woman’s fault is both incredibly stupid and incredibly harmful. Women have literally been killed because they were seen as “temptresses.” Real men take responsibility for their thoughts and actions. Neither men nor woman should dress provocatively, but one is still responsible for one’s own thoughts and actions.

  36. I find this unbelievable, genuinely unbelievable. I am utterly disgusted. To objectify young women in such a way. It is an abuse of power. Scrap that. It is abuse. And what the hell was that chapel talk?!!! As an aside, have you tried any forms of dance as a way of reconnecting with your body and sexuality? I’m a dancer and dance teacher and have found in the right class and supportive environment it can be a very powerful and healing thing (I know that makes me sound like a total hippy, I’m not I promise!)

  37. It’s amazing how Christians so often make what they want to out of things. Vaginas, in a very basic sense, take things in and release things out. Both functions are important. Leave it to Christians to cut in half reality and then only talk about the part that supports what they already believe (and I say that as a Christian myself–we are just not good at this stuff sometimes!).

  38. I experienced this same kind of “modesty” dorm meeting while at Liberty University. Thank you so much for this post. It gives me hope to see that I’m not alone in questioning a mentality that blames women for male sins.

  39. This whole situation makes me so angry! I remember when I was in seminary and we were doing Matthew 5:28-29 But I say to you, That whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if your right eye offend you, pluck it out, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into hell.

    And the tutor managed to turn it around and make THIS verse about women should cover up to avoid dragging the men into sin. THIS verse, which IMO is all about how it is NOT the woman’s responsibility to prevent the man from seeing something, but HIS responsibility to manage his sinful tendencies. And yes, he used *his* porn addiction as a reason why *I* should cover up! Grrrr.

    And the rest of the tutorial group just sat there and then everyone took a vow of silence to protect his “confession” to us so that he wouldn’t lose his job or get reprimanded by his professor.

    No hand actions to this tutorial though, so I guess I’m better off than you were!

  40. Love this, and love your choice about how to observe Lent! On the ‘woman as mere incubating vessel’ thing: ancient Greek doctors literally believed this, and even imagined that children, particularly boys, made their own way out of the womb without significant help from the laboring woman – the pain was thought to be due to the child’s movement, not the mother’s own muscle contractions. It makes you fairly certain that they never actually asked a woman’s opinion on the matter. And it’s so tiresome, isn’t it? Blarg.

    • Some of the weird, oppressive teachings I’ve heard from Christians seem to stem from the ancient idea that women are sort of like inverted, inferior men. For this reason, in early modern Europe there was an assumption among doctors in some areas that a vagina must obviously look like an inverted penis. I remember a friend insisting that women shouldn’t have clitoral orgasms because men have external orgasms and therefore it’s a masculine thing that ought to be prohibited to women. She heard that from some preacher.

    • Just Google for Quiverfull women if you want to feel completely horrified about how far this attitude can go.

      If you are a “Quiverfull” woman, pleas check out the blog site No More Quivering to find resources and ways to get help.

  41. wow – I really am lost for words. We do just accept things that are said to us, perhaps on some level feeling that they don’t sit quite right, but you are right about the shame and oppression being tied to our bodies. This has really given me food for thought as I go through my own process of trying to learn to love myself.

  42. “and even made subconscious hand motions while talking about masturbation.”

    Ohhhhh… my…………..

  43. So that’s where Victim Blaming comes from….it has it’s roots in Christianity.

    • I’d say that victim blaming has its root in kyriarchical systems–that is, any society where power is concentrated in the hands of authoritative and privileged figures. Various Christianities of course fit the definition, but not all.

      • “but not all”

        The “Not all” are newer sects that are simply newer sects that are wasting their time redefining their religion while cowering away from it’s original source material that is made clear. Christianity IS the main source of the problem and order to remove victim blaming and set up a egalitarian society, you have to remove Christianity and it’s Pre-dominated hold on society there is no other way.

        • If you’re looking to get into one of THOSE debates, you might want to move along. Try YouTube. You’ll get plenty of people who want to fight over whether or not religion poisons everything over there. Here, we celebrate the interfaith (yes, that includes some branches of Christianity–and not just newer ones. You might want to brush up on your history) movement toward a more justice world.

      • What Connor said! ^

  44. I had no idea that the attitudes that were somewhat normal when I grew up (early 60s) could be taken to this extreme.

  45. This is actually one of the biggest reasons I stopped going to Sunday School, and then church.

  46. This post captured the heart of what I think everyday discrimination against women looks and feels like. Reading it made me feel icky because it brought back examples where I’ve heard similar things. It is this same mindset that people who touch women as they exit mass transit or walk down a crowded street have. Purity culture is rape culture because it is based on the same premise that if you are attractive to them, you are suddenly there for their viewing pleasure and they can do whatever they wish, indeed are powerless to one degree or another to stop themselves from doing whatever comes into their head to do about it. Ugh!

    • That was my thought exactly, Heather. Reminds me of so many things I’ve heard and even repeated, without batting an eyelash. To read it again and be reminded of the times I heard this taught and the shame that was being heaped on my female friends, classmates, youth group coeds, etc. just makes my stomach turn.

      I wonder though, how the church ought to treat, and teach, modesty. It must be done differently, but I really don’t know how. It seems like a valuable concept for men and women, but I feel like it has to be divorced from the sins of the other. It’s helpful to me in the sense that it reminds me that I am valuable and lovable regardless of how I dress or look, and without an attitude of modesty with regard to my personal appearance I can easily forget that my worth does not come from what I hope others will think of me. This lesson seems equally applicable to men and women. The default setting of evangelicalism though, is to connect the prior public behavior of women to the “resulting” private sins of men, which is unloving, shame perpetuating, and damaging to relationships.

      • I think it comes down to the very simple idea of Honor. Rather than saying “Be modest because otherwise you’re driving everyone to sin,” *Honor* your body and others,’ because we were made with love in the image of the creator. Loving each other is a private and holy act, and other forms that don’t honor the body, the person, and the act of love bring only emptiness and disconnection.

    • That was my thought exactly, Heather. Reminds me of so many things I’ve heard and even repeated, without batting an eyelash. To read it again and be reminded of the times I heard this taught and the shame that was being heaped on my female friends, classmates, youth group coeds, etc. just makes my stomach turn.

      I wonder though, how the church ought to treat, and teach, modesty. It must be done differently, but I really don’t know how. It seems like a valuable concept for men and women, but I feel like it has to be divorced from the sins of the other. It’s helpful to me in the sense that it reminds me that I am valuable and lovable regardless of how I dress or look, and without an attitude of modesty with regard to my personal appearance I can easily forget that my worth does not come from what I hope others will think of me. This lesson seems equally applicable to men and women. The default setting of evangelicalism though, is to connect the prior public behavior of women to the “resulting” private sins of men, which is unloving, shame perpetuating, and damaging to relationships.

      • I am so very sorry for what happened to you. I have found men who love to use their title of minister just to be a sexual predator.

        • The above was a response to the woman raped by her youth pastor.

          This is how I teach modesty. I tell the young woman if they dress in such a way that anyone, male or female, focuses on a body part, when talking to them, instead of looking into their eyes, they might want to re-think an outfit. I want people’s attention on my face, not the rest of me. I also say that some people will look at certain areas of their bodies no matter what they wear.
          In my youth group, the boys would be frank with the girls about what they thought of certain outfits.
          I don’t know, while I love bodies and how they are holders and revealers of the Spirit, I think we should think of ourselves as male and females or just persons, without emphasizing our sexuality.
          And isn’t part of the answer in loving the community? I explained to one young lady that although she looked great in her (tight) red leather pants, that people like me, old people, always connected red leather pants with prostitution. So, I suggested she might want to wear them somewhere other than to worship. I think I tend to dress to honor the older women, not to keep men from looking at me as a sexual object. I also think the young people need to tell me if I wear something that is not good in their world.
          I hated the people who explained that modesty was to keep young men from thinking lewd and sexual thoughts. That basically implied that my sons were lustful beings unable to stop wanting sexually all the girls in their youth group!

  47. J am so sorry about your experiences. I know quite a few students struggle when I describe myself as a feminist but this is just the sort of oppression that means it is important to continue to engage in conscientization. I am researching institutional shame in the church for my post ordination training, sadly this is not an isolated incident. My main field is youth work/ministry and we talk about oppression at personal, cultural and structural levels – things will not change for women unless shaming and oppression are addressed at cultural and structural levels.

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