Tag Archive | modesty

Notable News: Week of May 25-31, 2013

It’s a gorgeous, hot, sunny day here where I am. Today, my 9-year-old takes part in his first big competition.  He’s going with his jazz band to a school about an hour away where they will compete against middle and high schoolers (his is the only elementary band, so they’re in the middle school category).  Best of luck, kiddo!

While I pass the hours until my daughter and I drive out to watch him, I’m rounding up some of my favorite links for the week.

1. When modesty policing happens

Modesty culture: the gift that keeps giving.  Or, in this case, that keeps pitting us against one another as we struggle to define terms and create safer space for women.  I will admit to going into my reading of this piece on Rage Against the Minivan knowing that many of the writers I respect disliked it.  I was surprised to find that I actually agreed with quite a lot of it, but there were niggling doubts in my mind.  The responses to it confirmed that it wasn’t my imagination.  Several people have expressed their concerns far better than I could.  Here’s a list of the best ones:

2. When “ask Rachel Held Evans” happens

For those who haven’t been following her, she has a regular “Ask a…” series.  This time, she’s left it open for us to ask her.  Go take a look and post your questions.

3. When kindness happens

I haven’t been following the story, but apparently others have.  Over on Hännah’s blog she’s been tracking the story of her friend’s escape from a controlling, abusive, fundamentalist environment.  She had requested donations to help Jennifer, and the response was overwhelming.  I hope you have a few minutes to read the original posts and the update.  It’s pretty inspiring.

4. When affirmation happens

I happen to attend a welcoming/affirming church.  Sometimes, that’s what’s needed.  I challenge you to make it through this post from Registered Runaway without feeling moved.

5. When fatherhood happens

This is a fantastic post about why it’s a terrible idea to label women the “natural nurturers.”  When our son was born, I remember one of the women at the church we attended telling me that she hated when people referred to dads as “babysitting” their children.  Although I would not have thought to use that phrase myself, I had never given it much consideration.  After nearly 10 years of parenting together, I can confirm the truth in that.  My husband is, in fact, much more naturally nurturing than I am.  And he most definitely does not “babysit” our kids–he parents them.

6. When “things that should never be combined” happens

You get something like this.  (Warning: Contains Christianese and reference to Christian porn.  Not explicit, but read it after any minors are in bed.  Also, I shouldn’t have to say this, but it’s not real.)

7. When fiction happens

If you haven’t been reading the series “On the Night Bus” over at Rubies and Duels, go do so right now.

You can also read my own latest fiction, The Smokin’ Hot Wives Club.

That’s it for this week.  I hope you all have a great weekend.  I’m going to spend mine watching my kids perform in their first recital at this dance studio.  I’ll be back on Monday with my usual Fifty Shades post.  Catch you all later!

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Sermons

This story was inspired both by something a rather infamous Seattle-based pastor said about nagging wives and by these two cartoons by Naked Pastor.  Please don’t blame NP; he’s a really nice guy, and it’s not his fault his artwork made my mind go there.

Terrie snagged the mail on her way into the house. She threw it on the table and grabbed herself a glass of water before returning to the dining room to sift through the pile of magazine offers and take-out menus. The postcard halfway into the pile caught her attention and she set it aside to show Bill when he came home from work.

At dinner, Terrie passed her husband the postcard. He examined it thoughtfully. “Well,” he said before pausing to take a bite of his chicken. “We haven’t found a church since we moved here. Maybe we should give this one a try.”

“Any church that doesn’t shy away from sensitive subjects can’t be all bad, right?” Terrie grinned at Bill.

“Definitely. We’ll keep it in mind. If we don’t find someplace else we’d prefer to try, this will probably give us the best impression of what they’re all about.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Terrie agreed.


The postcard had given Terrie the impression that there was no need to dress up, so, clad in their jeans and casual button-down shirts, she and Bill entered the angular brick building that Sunday. A well-coiffed man in khakis and an ocean blue polo greeted them at the door.

“Welcome! Glad you could join us today,” he said. When he smiled, Terrie half expected the light to glint charmingly off his very white teeth.

“Um, thanks,” Bill said, attempting a manly grin.

Terrie and Bill were swept into the sanctuary with the rest of the crowd. Apparently, a whole lot of people were just as curious as they were about love, sex, and marriage. Terrie took that as a good sign; at least they didn’t stick out as the creepy new people who just came for a lecture on keeping their private parts in check. They found seats and settled in for the service to begin.

There wasn’t anything particularly new or different about the church service.  That didn’t bother Terrie—she figured that as long as the message was good, the rest didn’t matter all that much. She’d never had any special attachment to a style of music or a form of liturgy. She relaxed, enjoying the familiarity of singing contemporary praise songs along with the rest of the congregation.

When the pastor began to speak, Terrie concentrated on his words. He was explaining that although many women did not intend to expose too much of their bodies, most did so inadvertently anyway.

The pastor said, “Ladies, when you dress like that, it’s distracting. All we can see is your body!”

Terrie squirmed a little. She had never considered the possibility that her body might be a source of struggle for anyone else. After all, wasn’t it her body? She glanced over at Bill, wondering what he was thinking. She was surprised to see that he was looking at her, a puzzled expression on his face.

She leaned in and whispered, “What’s wrong?”

He shook his head. “Uh…nothing.” He averted his gaze.

Terrie sat back in her seat. Something felt a little off to her. She shifted uncomfortably, and as she did so, she noticed that she had forgotten to fasten the top button of her shirt.  That must have been what had thrown Bill off. Discreetly, she reached her hand up to slide the button back into place. It wouldn’t budge. She risked a glance downward and saw that it was because the fabric wouldn’t draw together. Since when had this shirt been too tight? It hadn’t felt that way when she’d put it on, had it? She frowned. The shirt was brand-new; it must have shrunk in the wash. She sighed. Obviously she would have to be more careful when she washed her clothes. She turned her attention back to the pastor, who was concluding with some advice for women that they should be careful about maintaining modesty.

After one last song, everyone was dismissed. Terrie stood up and looked around. Being in a new church was always a little awkward. She never felt quite comfortable enough to introduce herself, but she also didn’t care for the feeling of being stalked for recruitment, either. It was usually better to make the first move.

Just as Terrie was about to mingle, Bill grabbed her arm. “Let’s just go,” he said.

Confused, Terrie nodded. Strangely, it seemed like a fair number of other couples were feeling the same way. Terrie followed Bill out of the sanctuary. She remembered that she was a little exposed, due to her button mishap. She felt a tingle of embarrassment creep down her scalp.

She was momentarily distracted by the people walking past her. She realized she needn’t have worried; it looked like it was the official Sunday for wearing slightly-too-tight blouses. Terrie shrugged and let Bill lead her out to their car.

Once they were home, Terrie asked Bill what had him so riled up. He coughed.

“It’s just—that outfit you’re wearing. You look really good.”

Terrie laughed. “That’s all? Hm.” She leaned in. “Maybe I should take it off.”

“Maybe you should,” Bill agreed. “I don’t know what you did differently, but I just can’t take my eyes off you.”

Still laughing, Terrie grabbed Bill’s hand and led him upstairs.


The following week, they decided to give the church another try. Terrie hadn’t been sure, but Bill had suggested they give it a few weeks before making their decision.

“I don’t know,” Terrie said. “There’s just something a little…odd, I guess, about that church.”

“Come on. Let’s just wait and see.” He thought for a moment. “It’s probably just that we feel uncomfortable with the topic. It doesn’t come up in church that often, you know?”

“Maybe you’re right. Fine, I’ll give it another shot.”

Once again, Terrie and Bill were caught up in the crowd and funneled into the sanctuary. After the worship set concluded, the pastor took his place to preach. Apparently, having addressed the women the previous week, this time the pastor was giving the men their due. He was discussing the problem of lust and explaining how it could destroy a man and his marriage.

“Guys, you are letting your thoughts control you. You need to get a handle on your lust.” The pastor thumped his fist on the lectern.

Terrie smirked a little. Apparently, men were prone to thinking about sex all the time—including in church. She was just suppressing a snicker when she caught a look at Bill out of the corner of her eye. He was shifting in his seat and looking distinctly uncomfortable. Terrie raised her eyebrows, but she said nothing. As she turned her eyes back to the pastor, she noticed that quite a lot of the men were adjusting their bodies. She felt her cheeks heat up. It was one thing to know that her own husband was finding it hard to suppress his reactions; it was entirely different to feel like she’d suddenly been deposited in a room full of thirteen-year-old boys. She concentrated harder on listening to the rest of the sermon.

By the time the band started playing, Bill was begging Terrie to leave a little early. She took in his flushed face and, with a quick peek southward, she decided it was probably for the best. The good news was that they would probably barely be in the door before they would be all over each other. Regardless of whatever else the church had to offer, attendance certainly had its perks.


When the third week rolled around, Terrie was certain Bill wouldn’t want to return to that particular church. He proved her wrong, however, by suggesting that they stick it out until the end of the series. He thought the pastor had some “interesting points,” as he put it. Terrie shrugged. She didn’t really care. The pastor wasn’t actually saying anything she hadn’t heard before; he was just doing it in a way that made people significantly more embarrassed. Or turned on; whatever.

The message was different that week. The official sex talk over with, the pastor had turned to marriage. Terrie was a little bored; it wasn’t anything new. According to this week’s sermon, men were experiencing leadership failure in their homes. They were either lax, allowing their wives to pick up the slack, or they were obsessively controlling. Terrie made a face. She and Bill didn’t seem to have any difficulty with that. As far as she could recall, they’d never even discussed it.

“Men, you lead your homes like cavemen!” the pastor shouted.

Terrie snorted. That was a decidedly silly image. She wasn’t even sure what it meant. Her mind wandered to an image of Bill dragging her by her hair and thumping things with a giant club. She stifled a giggle.

After the previous two weeks, Terrie had hoped they might stay for a bit after church. Everyone (Terrie and Bill included) always seemed to be in such a rush to escape after the service ended. Terrie was beginning to wonder if they even bothered with coffee hour. At least this time everyone’s hormones seemed to be under wraps. Terrie blamed the previous weeks on the topic; frank discussions about sex were bound to lead to at least some frantic groping, right?

As they stood around making small talk, Terrie became aware that there was something subtly off about the men. The lighting was rather dim, so she couldn’t be sure, but they all appeared to be hunched over a bit. And their faces—they just looked, well, strange, for lack of a better word. She wasn’t having any trouble carrying on a conversation with the other women, but the men were just standing around. Every now and again, one of them would grunt something she didn’t quite catch. Oddly, none of the other women seemed bothered by this.

By the time they made their way out to the parking lot, Terrie was glad to be out of there. She waited for Bill to unlock the car, but he was just standing there, seemingly incapable of figuring out what to do. Terrie huffed.

“Bill, can you open the door? I’d like to go home.”

He turned toward her, and she saw that he, too, looked wrong somehow. He said, “Huh?”

“Never mind,” she replied. “Just give me the keys. I’ll drive.” She snatched the keys out of his hands and propelled him toward the passenger side. With a shake of her head, she opened his door and waved at him to get in. She hoped whatever was wrong with Bill would wear off by the time they got home.


Terrie and Bill had agreed to stick it out at church until the end of the series. Even so, she wasn’t quite sure she wanted to. She knew Bill was having second thoughts as well, but he thought they should give it one last chance. By that point, Terrie didn’t care one way or another.

They were halfway through the sermon on wives being submissive to their husbands before the realization hit Terrie. She inhaled sharply and looked over at Bill. The same thought must have occurred to him simultaneously.

The pastor had just said, “I was listening to a fellow pastor speaking this week. He was just saying how irritating it can be when a wife constantly nags her husband, a lot like a …”

Terrie and Bill looked at each other. “We need to leave now,” she said.

Bill didn’t even question it. Quietly, they stood from their seats and slipped out of the sanctuary. When the doors had closed on whatever it was the pastor had been about to say, they both sighed with relief. They took a moment to lean against a wall and collect themselves.

“You know, Bill,” Terrie said, closing her eyes briefly, “I don’t think this is the church for us after all.”

“I think you may be right. Next week, let’s try to find one that doesn’t take everything so literally.”

He laced his fingers with hers and, swinging their joined hands between them, they left the church building.

©May 3, 2013 by ABMitchell

Keep your hands where I can see ‘em

By Richard Ling from NSW, Australia (Eastern Blue Groper) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Groper. Oh, wait. Not that kind.

The other night, I went out to a bar.

I’m not a big fan of bars.  They’re typically noisy, crowded, and full of drunk people–pretty much all things I prefer to avoid.  But my sister’s friend has a couple of sons who play in a band, and my sister’s been telling me how good they are for some time. Every time they were on, however, it seemed to coincide with my orchestra concerts.  The season is over now, so I agreed to a night out with my sister and her friend’s family.

She wasn’t wrong–the band was good.  Not my typical music choice, but I recognized most of the songs they covered (they play 70s and 80s hard rock).  I did have to giggle at one point when my sister said, “Doesn’t this song bring back memories?”  I was about six at the time the song was new, so not really.  Still, it was a good time.

Until Mr. Gropey showed up.

Now, I have to say, I’d had my eye on him for a while.  He already seemed like the creeper type, so I wasn’t unprepared.  And in this case, having a crowd helped; out of necessity, I was maintaining my seat at our table just so I could have breathing room–there was no way for me to be cornered anywhere.  He sidled up to me and whispered, “Having a good time?”  How he missed the glaringly obvious wedding band, I will never know.  Maybe he just didn’t care.  After all, he looked to be in his late 40s or early 50s, and he’d had no problem hitting on the 21-year-old at our table.  Regardless, my response was something fairly non-committal like, “Uh-huh” while simultaneously avoiding eye contact.

He didn’t take the hint.  He snaked his arm around me and put his hand on my waist just above my tailbone.  Fortunately, I was seated on a bar stool, so he couldn’t grab anything lower (not that he wasn’t making a valiant effort).  I’m quick.  I stuck my elbow in his ribs and flipped him off.  He backed away, but not before trying to engage my sister–as though she hadn’t just witnessed all his behavior for herself and would look twice at him.

Now, I’m not telling this story to get sympathy or to ratchet up some kind of Angry Feminist cred.  I’m telling the story because I think it’s important to talk about these things, particularly among Christians.  No doubt some of those who read this are going to make assumptions about me or my clothes, or they will judge me for setting foot in a “seedy” environment.  They might assume I was under the influence of alcohol.  Didn’t I know what I was getting myself into?  This is the message that is sent by the Modesty Police.

There was a time when I would indeed have felt guilty for being in a bar and for dressing nicely.  I would have felt as though I had encouraged his behavior somehow or that I deserved it.  Hell, I probably would have felt guilty just for listening to the kind of music the band was playing.  Not anymore.  I know that I have the right to be where I want to be and feel safe.  I’m not eternally damned for my choice in music or clothes, and I wasn’t the one in the wrong when a creepy guy tried to cop a feel.

In the twenty-plus years I’ve spent in churches, the vast majority of the time I’ve heard more about how I’m supposed to behave as a woman with regard to my body than just about any other topic.  Church leadership frequently set themselves up as Sexuality Hall Monitors, and comments about modesty, sex, availability, femininity, submission, and what we do with our reproductive parts abound.  Those things permeate nearly every discussion, even when they seem irrelevant.

In all the time I’ve been in churches, I never once heard any pastor or leader give a sermon on how men should keep their hands to themselves.  Not one.

Is it any wonder, then, that people don’t come forward more often with stories of how we’ve been publicly groped?  We desperately need people to stand up and tell their stories when these things happen, because we need to create safe space–especially in our churches–where everyone understands and agrees that it’s wrong no matter what.  People get away with pervy behavior because they know a lot of men and women will keep silent about it.  It’s not just Christian culture that blames the victim–it’s our society in general.  If we call ourselves Christians and claim to be counter to culture, then we need to be the ones to stand up against that kind of thing.

And lest anyone think I’m forgetting about men, I’m not.  There were some pretty creepy women at that bar, too.  The big difference is that women are usually blamed in both cases–we caused men to put their hands on us, and it’s obviously (and rightly so) a woman’s fault if she grabs a guy’s ass in a bar.  But I get the sense that while men are rarely held responsible for “leading her on,” they are supposed to be flattered by the attention and are not supposed to feel violated by it.  (I really can’t speak to what happens if men do this to other men or women to other women; in my previous churches, I doubt that would have been addressed at all, which is pretty telling.)

I don’t feel like anything that happened was terrible or tragic.  It was gross, and I was offended, but it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve experienced.  My point is that it was still wrong, and we need Christians to stop fixating on what people are doing consensually with their genitals and start addressing what’s being done against people’s wishes.

Because of my natural personality and my own life experiences, I feel pretty fortunate that I can look back on this and have a good laugh at Mr. Gropey’s expense.  The next morning, my husband and I were in church and the title of one of the songs listed was in German.  He suggested that if someone gets fresh with me again, I should just shout at him in German–that’s sure to scare him off.  Then he got a wicked gleam in his eye and said, “Or you could just play sweet church lady.”  I knew exactly what he meant.  I told him that next time, I’m just going to ask the guy if he knows Jesus as his personal savior.

Maybe I’ll earn some Jesus points and lead someone to the Lord; who knows?*


*Just in case you missed the sarcasm, I’m not really advocating for this as a way to get away from a perv, and I don’t really care to waste my time “witnessing” to a creeper in a bar.

The time it was my fault

ETA: Warning: Mention of unwanted sexual contact

I was a teenager with a typical schoolgirl crush on a man in a position of spiritual authority.  At the time, I didn’t mind his affection; I didn’t think it meant anything.  He was married and much older—that it signified anything more was just a silly fantasy I was too embarrassed to admit to having.

He paid attention to me, of course, and I thought that I liked it.  I had never felt pretty or special.  Even if it was just kindness, I thought made me womanly and feminine that I could get a man to look at me.  He never touched me or tried to kiss me, but he made comments to me.  About the way I looked.  About how smart I was.  About how I was different from other girls my age.

We’d been alone together, the circumstances of which I won’t detail here.  Because men and women—and boys and girls, and adult men and adolescent girls—were not supposed to be alone with each other, he told me not to tell anyone.  I didn’t breathe a word.  I just basked for several months in the glow of this strange not-quite-relationship.

Until the day he allowed me to feel his erection.

I could feel it pressing slightly against my hip.  At first, I wasn’t sure what it was, until he made small, purposeful movements that were just enough for me to understand.  I told myself at the time it wasn’t on purpose.  It was in the context of what should have been a perfectly chaste, fatherly hug.  I told myself I had imagined it, or that it was something else.  It was accidental.

Only it wasn’t.

When I reflected on the situation and the circumstances, I knew it had been intentional.  He had wanted me to know that was how he felt around me.  It was no mere accident, despite the fact that it happened in full view of anyone who had cared to notice.  I panicked; that wasn’t at all part of my girlish fantasy.  I wanted hearts and flowers and hand-holding and maybe a few innocent stolen kisses; I wasn’t ready for real, grown-up sex.   I felt so incredibly violated.

Except that I knew it was my fault.  On the outside, I was the picture-perfect Christian girl.  I never dressed in ways that would attract guys.  I didn’t flirt.  I blushed modestly any time someone mentioned s-e-x.  A couple of the boys at school had dubbed me “The Puritan.”  Even when I went to college, my friends called me the good girl.

But I knew the truth.  I thought about sex sometimes, imagining what it would really feel like.  I examined my body and wondered if men would one day find me beautiful.   I read books with overt sensuality.  I fantasized about kissing and touching and making love, even though I was far away from wanting it to be real.  I gave myself pleasure.

I decided I had no other option.  I took the blame squarely on my own shoulders.  It was a sign of how dirty and impure I was that I made a grown man hard.  Somehow, everything I had kept hidden from the other girls must have been visible to this man and led him to the conclusion that it was what I really wanted.  My secret thoughts must have bled through that and encouraged an adult man to take notice of sixteen-year-old me.

I was terrified that someone else would find out.  After all, he had told me we shouldn’t be alone.  Wasn’t it all those times we had talked without anyone else to chaperone at fault?  If I told anyone how upset I was, surely they would agree that I had been the guilty party.

Never mind that he was an adult and I was a particularly naive girl.  Or that he had authority in the church.  Or that he was married.  Or that he had admitted to me that he was what the church called a “porn addict.”

The shame still belonged to me for not stopping him.

I am convinced now that I was likely not the only girl he did this to, but at the time, I told no one because I believed I was the only one.  I vaguely knew his wife, and she didn’t like me.  I am certain that, like many within the church, she would have agreed that I had done something wrong and would have done whatever she needed to in making sure the church didn’t do anything to her husband.

But underneath, I am positive that she knew what kind of man he was.

So I never shared what had happened.  I made sure we were never alone again, though, and I stayed away from him after that.  I suppose people around us noticed the change, but no one else ever said anything about it.

I’m sure there are people reading this who think, “That wasn’t all that big a deal.  How could that have made you feel so violated?  It’s not like he raped you” and others who think, “Damn straight it was your fault—you were obviously leading him on and encouraging his lust.”  Neither of those things is true.  It was a big deal, and I did nothing to make a married adult man think it was okay to make advances on an underage girl.

This week, I have spoken with other women who have had similar experiences:  The woman who was ogled by a man in spiritual authority and whose church inexplicably took his part by telling her that her “boobs were too obvious.”  The woman whose pastor violated her by putting his hands on her and making his arousal clear to her, then blaming her when she told someone.  The woman blamed for the intimate partner violence she experienced because it was a “natural consequence” of her sin.  The many underage young women whose photographs have been used without their permission on the website “Is This Modest” (which I will not link to because of the violating nature of the web site).

This is what a destructive modesty culture does to us.

I don’t share this story so that I can unload guilt or make anyone feel sorry for me.  I no longer feel shame about what happened.  I know that my adolescent crush—as well as my curiosity and experimentation with my sexuality—were all absolutely normal, but that his behavior was inexcusable.  Decent adults know better than to take advantage of children.  I hope that anyone else who has ever been in my place knows that too.  I hope that the girls in those photographs know that they do not need to be ashamed of their bodies, nor do they need to hide them in order to conform to some modesty standard that someone has told them will prevent them from being violated.

We are not merely bodies that exist for the gratification of men.

Notable News: Week of December 1-7, 2012

I hope everyone is having a good week.  Advent started last Sunday, so our family has been lighting our candle and reading the Scripture each night.  Our tree is up and we have lights everywhere (inside, at least—we have no outside electricity).  What holiday traditions are you enjoying?

Here’s the stuff this week.  I know it’s the holidays and all, so my apologies for all the rage-inducing links.  I guess a lot of people aren’t in the holiday spirit.

1. A boatload of modesty culture

It didn’t exactly start with this piece by Emily Maynard, since The Official Church Rules for Modesty™ have been around since forever.  But her article highlights the worst parts of it.  I would tell you to skip the comments, but you might need to read them to have a good idea what rape apology looks like.

For a good response to Emily’s original post, read this one by Luke Harms.  Emily herself has a great follow-up here, and Danielle over at From Two to One has written a wonderful, gracious response as well.

2. Because we all need more of Mark Driscoll

Ah, yes.  Pastor Mark, sinking to new lows of classism, sexism, and self-righteousness.  I’m happy for him that he hasn’t ever smoked pot or, apparently, taken public transportation.  You know, two highlights of immaturity.  ‘Cause Pastor Mark is never immature about anything (*ahem*sex*cough,cough*).  Good gravy.  You know, he used to make me kinda mad.  Now I just laugh whenever I see something he’s written.

3. WTH, New York Post?

The Post is also sinking to new lows.  I’m only putting this on here because I feel the need to help some of my readers understand exactly what bias looks like and why this is a shameful piece of—no other word for it—shit.

First of all, this is clearly written for a cis gawker audience, as evidenced by the obsession with whether or not she’s had surgery and the unnecessary descriptions of her body.  Second, the writer makes it clear that she doesn’t think the victim is a “real” woman, particularly when emphasizing which body parts are artificially enhanced and by quoting her “measurements.”  Third, there is far more information about the victim than the perpetrator.  Finally, there is undue attention paid to this woman’s profession and whether or not she is still in business, as though being a sex worker makes her somehow less likely to be honest about whether or not her ex-boyfriend choked her so hard her contact popped out.  Yuck.  If you must report on a court case, stick to the actual events of the case, please.

And there you have it.  Have a great weekend, everyone, and come on back Monday for some more Fifty Shades “fun.”

Notable News: Week of November 10-16, 2012

Here we are, the end of another week.  We’ve had our ups and downs here, but we’ve made it to the weekend!  Tomorrow, I get to play my violin with some of the best people around—not to mention getting to play some great music!  It’s our pops concert, and the theme is movie music.  We’ll be playing selections from Superman, The Magnificent Seven, Sense and Sensibility, Catch Me if You Can, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and (of course) Star Wars.  If you’re in my area and you want to come out, please do!  I’d love to see you there at 7:30 Saturday night (you can buy tickets at the door for $9 or call the RWC box office).

Now for this weeks great blog posts:

1. No confirmation for you!

In this week’s edition of Does This Really Surprise Anyone, we learn that Minnesota teen Lennon Cihak won’t be confirmed by the Catholic Church for his support of marriage equality.  It’s actually not entirely clear if this is the case, as the priest in question has denied the allegation.  Honestly, I wish people would stop acting like it’s only the Catholic Church that does this sort of thing.  I mean, I’m not naming any names, but I know plenty of Catholics who support marriage equality and at least a few gay Catholics.  I’m aware of more than one local parish that embraces LGBT people.  Conservative evangelical protestants, on the other hand…well.  You all saw my post last week after the election, right?  Maybe I’ll start that online form to pray for my soul after all.

2. More awesome from Dianna Anderson

Man, I cannot wait until her book is published.  No pressure, Dianna!  I just have to say that in the realm of Christian feminism, she is in top form.  If you’re not subscribed to her blog, you should be.  Here are two good posts from this week: Friends with Kids, Love Stories, and Rape Culture and The Magical Mystery of Marriage.  For the first post, thanks, Dianna, for taking one for the team and watching that movie so I don’t have to.  Now I’m spreading the word so that my friends don’t waste their time and money either.  As for the second post, I’m glad someone is standing up and saying that marriage is not the answer to unhealthy sexuality, nor does it automatically make sex healthy.  I think what I like best about this post is that Dianna doesn’t offer pat answers; she calls for a conversation in which we lay aside labels.  Count me in!

3. Kill the Gays

Yeah, it passed.  That wasn’t a surprise.  Disappointing, but not shocking.  What saddens me is that some people will read this and shrug; others will be outright in support of it.  A few will probably misunderstand entirely.  I don’t have any words for this; all I can do is keep praying.

4. Twilight and Perpetual Girlhood

This is a great post about one of the things that bothered me as I read Twilight.  Now, I did enjoy the books as kind of light fare; however, I do recognize the problematic (I really hate that word, but it does apply here) elements.  Bella’s desire to remain ageless is one of them.  Sorry, folks, we normal people eventually get old.  My hair is already run through with a bit of gray.  But I don’t color it, because in my opinion, it’s natural.  What isn’t natural is to want to appear twenty for the rest of my life.  (I don’t lie about my age, either, even though some of my peers already do—and we’re hardly old!)  This article falls apart a bit at the end, but it’s still worth the read.

5. Addicted to (Controlling) Love

Thank you, Emily Maynard, for saying what I’ve been trying to say, but using fewer (and better) words.  Our bodies are not objects for male consumption, and we are not responsible for what men do.  This post, too, is a good explanation of men continuously imposing themselves on the way we dress—we must be either vixens or virgins, but not of our own free will.  I think we women need to apply these arguments to women’s health care, birth control, and abortion as well as clothing/modesty.

7. On being non-essential

I can’t express enough how much I love this post by Pam Hogeweide.  She puts it so well when she explains why we women can’t just leave the church if we’re unhappy with our position.  She also brings up something I’d never thought of: that women in leadership is usually reduced to the status of “non-essential” doctrine; that is, it has no direct bearing on our salvation.  Until reading this post, I had always felt that way myself—it doesn’t matter if a particular church rejects women as pastors, because it’s not really essential.  I can now understand the nagging feeling I always had about that, though.  Unlike the inanimate elements of communion or the inanimate practice of spiritual gifts, women are actual people; we are not “non-essentials.”  Well said, Pam!

8. Talk about “I have no idea what I feel about this”

So it turns out that Kevin Clash, voice of Elmo, is gay.  So what?  I’m sure some parents will be upset, but I’m not sure that makes much sense.  Bert and Ernie have more gay overtones than Elmo (yes, I know they’re only roommates; don’t get your panties in a bunch).  I don’t see Sesame Workshop developing any storylines where Elmo gets a gay crush or anything.  The real issue turns out to be whether or not Clash had a relationship with a minor.  Now, I’ve seen people arguing on both sides, and I’d like to tell you all to please let someone other than the media sort this one out.  Clash is on a break from Sesame Street, so chill out.  Also, could we stop seeing more “blame the victim” crap all over the place?  Yeah, the alleged victim recanted.  We don’t know why.  And his criminal record has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on whether or not Clash took advantage of him.  So no jumping to conclusions until the actual people involved get it sorted, okay?  Good.

What a week!  Lots of good stuff.  Hope you have a great weekend!  I’m off til Monday, picking back up with some more Fifty Shades goodness badness.  See you then!

So, what’s purity about, anyway?

After my post last week, a friend retweeted it like so:

I liked her question.  I do think it’s important, something we should consider carefully as people of faith.  I don’t think I could fully answer it just yet, but I have an idea where we might start.

First, I don’t think that purity is merely a state of dress/undress, specific expression of sexuality, or internal thought.  It’s not about adhering to a set of rules about where the line of premarital physical expression lies.  It’s not about how much skin is or isn’t showing in public.  It’s not about avoiding anything that might cause arousal.  While those may all be ways that an individual person expresses purity, they aren’t actually purity in and of themselves.

Part of the reason why those rules and behaviors can’t define purity is that for many of them, there are further questions.  For example, is a couple who were intimate before the wedding, but then got married, still “impure” now?  Is a person who was raped “impure”?  Is it “impure” to wear a bathing suit, since more skin is showing than in pants and a shirt?  Do the same rules apply to men and women?  Is a hormone-fueled erection in math class “impure,” or only if it was caused by “lust”?  And how might “lust” be defined, anyway?  Leaving aside the question of whether homosexuality itself is sin, if one thinks it isn’t, then are partners “impure” if they are in a long-term relationship in a state where marriage isn’t legally possible?

Another problem with the set of rules is that they have to be defined very specifically and may vary from person to person.  For example, one woman I know is a very attractive person.  She wears clothes that flatter her and that feel good to her.  Her blouses are often cut lower than something I would wear, but she never looks immodest to me.  I suppose there are very strict people who might not like the way she dresses, but most people would not take issue.  Yet I’ve seen lists of “appropriate” clothing that would exclude most of what she wears, because there is too much bare skin exposed.  On the other hand, I’ve seen people wearing more clothes than she does who definitely have an air of overt sexuality about them.  There is clearly something about the underlying attitude that contributes to immodesty.

I think the clothing issue bothers me more than just about anything else.  I’ve heard guys say that girls and women should show “respect” for men by not dressing in certain ways.  Personally, I believe that if your respect for another human being starts with what you’re wearing, you’re coming at it from an entirely wrong angle.  This is true about purity and modesty in other ways, too.  The rules aren’t the launchpad for the respect.

While I don’t have a concrete, clear definition for either purity or modesty, I do think that the place to begin is long before the rules on how to get it right.  Respect for others doesn’t come from thinking about how we can keep each other “pure.”  It starts with thinking about others as real people, people who have opinions, ideas, feelings, needs, interests, beliefs.  Respect involves treating other people how we want to be treated and placing them above ourselves.

If we see others as being whole, three-dimensional people, it becomes easier to show respect.  It becomes easier to believe that the way to get others to take an interest in us is not through flaunting our bodies or sexuality, but through taking an interest in who they are as people.  It becomes easier to avoid things that objectify people for our own pleasure when we see them as complete beings.  It becomes easier to respect our partners in our intimate relationships by mutual love and care.

It’s not the Purity Manual for Impure Christians, a set of rigid rules and lines we mustn’t cross, that will keep us on the right path.  It’s seeing each and every other person as uniquely made in the image of God and treating them accordingly.  Come to think of it, that system would work pretty well for all sorts of things: Gossip, rudeness, disrespect for authority, lying, bullying, poor management of money, ignoring the poor and needy, and so on.

Huh.  Maybe that’s what Jesus had in mind, after all.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Cover Up


Modesty, © 2005 Nancy Breslin

Last week, an acquaintance shared this article about a woman who was confronted by another woman from her church regarding how she was dressed.  The link to the article was accompanied by this acquaintance charging women to “have your husband inspect your outfit before you leave the house!”

I shared that with my own husband.  He looked at me, his eyebrow raised in puzzlement, before he burst out laughing.  He told me that he couldn’t imagine me doing that, nor would he want me to.  He and I have an ongoing agreement that we are both adults and do not need to be monitored like small children who don’t know any better, so I wasn’t really surprised by his reaction.

The thing that stood out to me were the particular criticisms of the writer’s clothing.  The woman who confronted her wanted to know,

Do you think wearing your shoulders out is okay for other men to see while they are trying to worship?


Don’t you think your high heels with your toes out are a bit much?

She was not only fixated on the specifics of the clothing she found objectionable, she was placing it in the context of how it would affect the men in the church.

This is a problem.

I agree that there are standards of dress and that modesty is a good thing.  Where I disagree is why.  In fact, it’s why I dislike modesty culture just as much as I dislike the “immodest” styles that are available.  It’s not the outfit, it’s the motivation—on both sides of the Great Purity Divide.

Ironically, I dislike the purity movement for exactly the same reasons I don’t like porn and provocative clothing.  In both cases, the catering is done for the benefit of men.  And it’s why I don’t give a rat’s butt about a woman wearing a cami with her bra straps showing, or a bathing suit that doesn’t make her look like she’s pretending she doesn’t have boobs, or a pair of sweat pants that says “sweet” on the rear, any more than I care about baggy dresses and “mom jeans.”

When clothing is chosen with men in mind, it doesn’t matter whether it’s chosen to entice or to “respect.”  In both cases, the motivation is someone outside the woman choosing the outfit.  That’s not healthy for anyone.  Here’s why, and these apply in both situations:

  • It reinforces the imbalance of power.  Here’s the idea: Men have power, women don’t, therefore everything we do as women must be done keeping men in mind, including how we dress.  What a terrible way to live.
  • It implies that men are only ever interested in one way of interacting with women.  It causes a relationship between men and women that is entirely based on sexuality, rather than mutual respect.  On the one hand, skimpy clothes are intended to be sexually arousing for men, which objectifies women.  On the other, “modest” dress assumes that men are looking at women as mere sex objects and that their bodies must be hidden to prevent this.
  • It sets up an impossible standard for women.  Either she must conform to a certain kind of physical beauty or she must conform to a certain kind of moral purity, but the lines are never clear enough and the rules are never specific enough.  How thin is the ideal body?  How big do breasts need to be in order to be perfect?  How many inches above the knee is too short?  What constitutes too tight?
  • It makes women responsible for the actions of men.  Either we’re supposed to show off our assets so those clueless men finally take notice, or we’re supposed to cover them up so those oversexed men won’t be distracted.  It’s classic blame-the-victim.  When a woman seen as attractive is single, people wonder what her flaws are that she couldn’t land a man.  When a woman is assaulted, she’s often asked what she did to provoke the attack.
  • It assumes that male-female pair bonding is the ultimate goal for every woman.  Female clothing is supposed to be chosen to please our future husbands.  This ignores the fact that there are lesbians and women who don’t want to get married.

Ultimately, what’s more important than the dimensions of the clothing is that a woman chooses it with no one in mind except herself.  A woman who is empowered does not choose her clothes based on what anyone else thinks she should wear.  It is my belief that if more women dressed in ways that made them feel good about themselves, we would no longer need to continue to argue about what constitutes appropriate clothing and where the modesty line is.

All Dressed Up

Since I’ve already (twice now) addressed the problem of how men treat women, it’s only fair that I make a point about women. While I don’t believe it’s reasonable to blame women for male shortcomings, it’s equally unfair to blame men for the things women do.

I don’t get my panties in a bunch because a woman wore a low-cut blouse or showed a lot of leg. I think this is because I have a much more narrow definition of lust than most conservative people. Conservative Christians often define lust much too broadly, allowing it to encompass absolutely everything that even remotely seems “dirty.” That may be why we’re so anxious to absolve men of their “problem” by pointing fingers at women and what they are wearing. Let’s face it, this issue has been around since forever, and what women are wearing isn’t what drives it. If it were, then we should have no problem with cultures that expect women to be covered head-to-toe. I strongly suspect that it wouldn’t matter if some women wore sweat pants and didn’t wash their hair for a week. There are still men who would try to make a case that they’re using “pheromones” or something to attract men because they don’t cover up their natural scent.

That said, I do think modesty is important. But I don’t mean in the sense that girls and women should just “cover up.” (Because I think it’s perfectly acceptable to wear shorts to the gym or a bathing suit to the beach.) I mean in the sense of how she herself treats her body and how she treats men. Immodesty comes more from motivation than from the garment in question. I’ve seen women look immodest in t-shirts while others look appropriate in above-the-knee skirts and low necklines. But somehow, we’ve cultivated the bizarre idea that the percentage of flesh showing is directly proportional to the degree of sluttiness possessed by the woman.

This is the very same stupid logic that leads people to claim that public breastfeeding is improper. The idea that there is a nipple somewhere under that baby’s lips, and that a little flesh might show around the baby’s head, is just plain horrifying to some people. The irony isn’t lost on me that in cultures requiring head coverings, public breastfeeding is relatively common and no one blinks.

We’ve grown into a society that values women for their looks. From an early age, girls are coached on how to look good. Young girls are encouraged to look (and dress) like little adults, and adult women are encouraged to look like prepubescent girls. We’re all supposed to base our self-worth on how pretty our faces are and how thin our bodies are. Is it any wonder that so many women and girls dress themselves in ways supposedly designed to make men drool? We’re taught to believe that our value rests on whether or not we can successfully catch (and keep) a man.

Strangely, culture has become fixated on the most fleeting of female traits, her physical appearance, and has dictated which characteristics are the most attractive. What we are to find beautiful today will change tomorrow. And the other side effect of all this is to fail to give real men credit for being better than that. We tell them they “can’t help it” when confronted with “hot” women. But the fact that real men are marrying real women betrays the lie. Real men love their significant others for a lot more than what can be seen.

Instead of teaching our daughters that they ought to be careful how much cleavage, back, shoulder, or leg they show, we should be helping them love their bodies no matter what they wear. We’re aiming at the wrong thing. It’s not about trying to figure out where the modesty line is and how not to cross it. It’s about having a healthy concept of ourselves without needing external proof. It’s about dressing for ourselves instead of someone else.

We also need to encourage our daughters to treat their male friends with respect. I know a lovely (read: kind, sweet, charming, intelligent) young woman who has a lot of male friends. They all treat her with respect, even though she is pretty and dresses in ways that flatter her figure. Why? Because she knows the line and doesn’t cross it; because she treats them with respect; because she expects them to return that respect; and because she doesn’t place her worth on whether or not she is dating any of them.

It’s not an insurmountable problem. For every degrading beer commercial, there is a woman striving to help us become body-confident and see ourselves in a positive way regardless of our shape. If you’re a woman in the business of helping other women love and respect their bodies, I’d love to hear from you. Let’s raise a generation of young women who don’t buy into the commercialization and exploitation of their bodies.