Bill Gothard Explains Road Safety (aka How Not to Get Raped)

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Mik Scheper.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on August 17, 2015

Do you remember when that Saudi historian said that western women drive because they don’t mind getting raped? He used the danger that occurs when a woman’s car breaks down, leaving her open to sexual assault by any passerby, as a rationale for maintaining the Saudi ban on women driving. Well. Watch as this road safety module produced by Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute (a program for fundamentalist homeschoolers) takes a weird turn.

(I was sent this module via Wende Benner of Homeschoolers Anonymous. You can read her story here. She filled out this module herself while attending Gothard’s EXCEL training program for girls.)

ATI Road Safety 01

The module is titled “Road Safety: Survival Road Skills And Wise Responses to Danger.” Since the responses to danger bit falls under the road safety heading, we can assume it’s about things like changing a tire safely, or knowing how to drive around a car that isn’t signaling or staying in its lane, yes?

ATI Road Safety 02

I actually would have found this page very helpful when I was a teen. If I’d read the bit about warning lights and overheating, I might not have totaled my mom’s car as a teen by melting her engine. (Seriously, this is one memory I’d really like to forget!) On the other hand, filling out a sheet like this does exactly squat to tell you where to put the brake fluid, or where the best jack points are, etc. So there’s that.

ATI Road Safety 03

Hang on, are these meant to be the warning lights? Because if so, my experience suggests that different cars have different warning lights. In fact, we recently got a new (to us) car, and I’ve found that the manual is my friend because when the warning lights come on I have absolutely no idea what they mean, because they look totally different from my other car.

ATI Road Safety 04

That last chart bit would be more helpful on a small notepad in the glove compartment, because I’m pretty sure most people aren’t going to be stuffing this entire module in there. But maybe it’s just meant to give the student experience with how these numbers should be written down?

ATI Road Safety 05

This is actually fairly comprehensive. Most people probably don’t pray before a trip, but mine always did, so it doesn’t seem weird to me. And the list of things to bring (and do before leaving) is quite thorough.

ATI Road Safety 06

While not getting to close to the car in front of you is important, one car length per 10 miles per hour isn’t going to serve you well when driving in congested cities. People will keep pulling into your lane in front of you, and then you’ll have to slow down to increase the distance. Also, the “what to do if there’s an accident” section says not to leave until an officer dismisses you, but it doesn’t say to call the police in the first place, which makes it feel slightly disjointed.

Of course, I’m just nit-picking here. We’re six pages into the module, and it’s mostly pretty standard stuff. Remember that these modules are designed for homeschooled students, many of whom (myself included) will never take driver’s ed, so it’s good that they’ll get any information at all, although obviously this module would be best accompanied with some hands-on training.

But let’s look at what comes next.

ATI Road Safety 07

Yes, we’re still in the same “Road Safety” module! All we did was turn a page, and hey, would you look at that? Suddenly it’s all about responding to attackers . . . because it’s totes common for women to be assaulted while driving.

What “provokes” an attack, according to Gothard? How you dress and the sort of friends you chose. Lovely. Just lovely. Hello, slut shaming and victim blaming! And what should you do if you are attacked? Well, resist, of course, but also present the gospel and pray for your attacker. Because converting a man who is trying to rape you while fending him off to protect your virginity is pretty much the epitome of godliness.

This goes on for six full pages. Yes, you read that right—a full half of Gothard’s “Road Safety” module deals with what to do if you are attacked or assaulted while driving somewhere, because if you are a woman, leaving your father’s house is dangerous dangerous dangerous!

ATI Road Safety 08

Yes, you read those first sentences correctly: “God has established some very strict guidelines of responsibility for a woman who is attacked. She is to cry out for help. The victim who fails to do this is equally guilty with the attacker.” Yes, really. A victim of sexual assault who does not cry out—who remains silent for whatever reason—is equally guilty with her attacker.

Think for a moment about the Duggar girls. They did not cry out for help when they were sexually assaulted by their older brother. How might studying from a module like this (and remember that the family centered their curriculum and Bible study on Gothard materials) affect one of them, or anyone else who has ever been sexually assaulted but kept silent? Remember that it is very common for a victim of child sexual abuse not to cry out, because they are first groomed to ensure that they won’t.
ATI Road Safety 09

Okay, first of all, let’s be clear that “morally attack” means sexual assault. And second, let’s be clear that in the story presented on this page, the “I hope I got here in time” and “Sir, you did, you just barely did” exchange means the girl’s virginity was still intact, which is of course what really matters to Gothard. But the thing is, she was still sexually assaulted. She is still going to have to work through the trauma of that. And I actually get the feeling that Gothard isn’t aware of that. It’s like the fact that her hymen is still intact means no harm was done. Except that that’s not how it works.

But you know what I really want to know? How the blazes Gothard thinks this one example is evidence that it’s always safer for a woman to cry out when being assaulted than it is for her to remain silent. Look, this is going to vary! In some situations, screaming may alert someone that you need help or scare away the attacker. In other cases, screaming may just make the attacker become more violent. In some situations, a woman may be so shocked by what is happening (especially when the perpetrator is a friend or significant other) that she is stunned into silence. There is no one correct way to respond to being sexually assaulted, and saying there is will only lead victims to blame themselves more than they already do.

Of course, what really matters to Gothard is that if a victim of sexual assault does not scream for help, she violates scripture. It’s not really about what’s most affective, it’s about what the Bible says. But of course, now that he has said the Bible mandates it, he is going to explain that it is in fact effective by offering five more anecdotes (none of which involve rape or sexual assault, I might add).

ATI Road Safety 10

Here are two anecdotes in which crying out to Jesus caused attackers to reconsider! Clearly this means it always works! If you try it and it doesn’t work, you must not have enough faith! /sarcasm

Actually, wait a minute. That second example might not even have been an attack. Perhaps the “strange man” who approached the woman was just going to ask for directions, and when she began shouting to God to save her from him, he backed up with raised eyebrows like anyone else would do in that situation.

ATI Road Safety 11

Here are two more examples of cases where witnessing to an attacker caused the attacker to repent and apologize. Ignore the fact that neither of these cases involved sexual assault, because that totally doesn’t matter. If you have enough faith, witnessing to your rapist while he’s raping you will totally make him stop. /sarcasm

That bit about having enough faith that I keep repeating? That’s not in the text, but it’s sure as hell implied. If you’re “godly” enough, God will save you from being raped . . . and thus it follows that if you’re not saved from being raped you must not be godly enough. This is not a good message to be giving teenage girls, especially homeschooled teenage girls who almost certainly will not receive more accurate information elsewhere!

ATI Road Safety 12

And then we’ll add one more anecdote for good measure. In case you haven’t noticed, Gothard is really big on anecdotes. His textbooks are absolutely chock full of them, from cover to cover.

I do want to note that none of these last five examples actually deals with rape. Only the first example—the girl in the alleyway—had to do with sexual assault. Granted, getting robbed or mugged or held at gunpoint is pretty bad, but encouraging teenage girls (the main target of this workbook) who are sexually assaulted to witness to their attacker somehow seems worse than encouraging them to witness to an attacker who is asking them to hand over whatever cash they have on them.

So, let’s see. Out of twelve pages of Gothard’s “Road Safety” module, six are about car maintenance and contingencies and six are about what to do if you’re sexually assaulted while out driving.

You can probably see, now, why I drew a connection between this and the Saudi historian’s opposition to women driving, because their car might break down and they might be raped at the side of the road. Gothard is positioning driving as something that is fundamentally dangerous for a woman. While it is true that women face a greater risk of sexual assault than men, women are far more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they know than by a stranger at the side of the road. Portraying driving as fundamentally dangerous for a woman may discourage girls who take this module from achieving the independence that comes with the mobility driving offers.

You’re not a victim because…

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Eleanor Skelton’s blog. It was originally published on October 20, 2014.

Trigger warning: victim-blaming.

Observing the backlash against my friend Cynthia Jeub’s blog series on family abuse has been quite informative for my journalistic aspirations.

Cynthia and I worked at the campus newspaper as editors for two years, and we share a passion for investigative reporting.

Together, we advocated for disabled students on campus, plotted together to conduct social experiment videos, followed the conflict over sermons about homosexuality at Bob Jones University last year, and cheered on the BJU students leaking bootleg recordings.

But two weeks ago, it got real.

Cynthia wasn’t just supporting Homeschoolers Anonymous and the spiritual abuse survivors blog network anymore, we weren’t just swapping links back and forth on chat. She shared her own story.

People told us to be quiet, to not make God or Jesus or Christianity look bad.

And all I could think of was a verse from memorizing the book of Ephesians with my youth group nearly 10 years ago: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (ESV)

There is no need for silence any longer. I noticed several types of attempts to stop Cynthia:

“You’re mentally ill.”

Cynthia’s parents and siblings keep using “mental illness” in attempting to discredit her, posting comments like: “Hey I’m Cynthias lil brother Micah Jeub and she is making this stuff up. she is just lying. Cynthia is dealing with mental illness and needs prayer.”

In the Jeub family’s responses, the fact Cynthia is even seeing a therapist at all is grounds to claim she is “mentally ill” and that her memories should not be considered credible.

I’ve noticed that American culture often misunderstands mental illness, as illustrated by the Matt Walsh post on Robin Williams’ suicide.

But legally, the state only interferes when the patient states or acts to threaten their lives or others.  When their issues keep them from functioning in society.

So I don’t believe the Jeub family can label Cynthia “mentally ill” because she goes to counseling. She holds a full-time job and attends classes. If Cynthia’s crazy, well then so am I.

“But you forgave me.”

Another phrase abusers use to cover up the past. Especially in the church, because forgiveness is a Christian virtue, and Jesus forgave so much more than you ever could.

This brand of “forgiveness” just enables abusers, as illustrated in power and control cycles.  Read the “minimizing, denying, and blaming” section.

Last week, a friend of mine received a message from her former boyfriend’s phone, sent by his controlling, manipulative girlfriend who assaulted him back in 2012.

“Anyway, it’s all in the past now. The only thing we can do now is move forward. You seem to be doing good things in your life. And we are doing good things in ours. Lets just all be happy and forgiving and let the negativity finally subside.”

If we cannot tolerate this behavior in romantic relationships, we shouldn’t in child rearing, either. Even forgiveness does not heal the hurt.

“You’re exaggerating.”

Chris Jeub’s podcast was loaded with this excuse, mostly from Cynthia’s siblings.

“That’s not abuse, that’s what every mom does when her kids don’t do the dishes, she throws silverware at you.”

“A lot of moms would have popped before mom did.”

The Jeub children still living at home assume explosive outbursts and physical attack is normal and happens in every household.

A more aggressive attempt to discredit Cynthia’s story, in the form of libel accusations, came from Patricia Byrnes, former counselor to Cynthia and the other older Jeub sisters.

She and her husband Kurt Byrnes founded Anchor of Hope Ministries in Monument, Colorado, and provide services to the homeschool community.

I received the following Facebook message from her on October 7:

p1

Also, notice her comment on Chris Jeub’s Facebook status two days before, discussing a therapy session:

p2

And her comment on Cynthia’s Melting Memory Masks post:

p3

So I screen-captured Patricia’s message and posted it publicly to my Facebook account. She dialogued with us on the thread:

p4

In these online encounters, Patricia Byrnes violated her own confidentiality agreement in revealing details from prior therapy sessions. Anchor of Hope’s policy states: “Interactions between client and counselor are confidential. Unless I have permission from you, what we talk about will be private; I will not discuss it with anyone else. Our discussion will be private and confidential.”

And she actively discouraged Cynthia from sharing her story, although a counselor’s role should be to enable and empower.

Patricia Byrnes also avoided questions about her credentials, while still telling us to “use caution” and “be quick to listen and slow to speak.”

The homeschool community becomes abusive and toxic when authority figures mislabel and deny our voices and then advocate a false forgiveness above all else.

These scenarios are what perpetuated our harm for so many years.

Silence only enables abusers. Our scars have stories. And the stories matter.

Fault and Educational Neglect

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on August 28, 2014.

I don’t usually post about things Kevin Swanson says, and I usually try not to pay attention to it, but a recent week’s broadcast…hurt more than usual. For a synopsis/highlights that will keep most of your eyeballs intact, you can read this post from HA.

One of the highlights, and…what’s sort of turned me into an odd little puddle, is this bit (emphasis mine):

Kevin: when someone says, I could have had a better education than that provided by my mother or by my father, that’s really, really, really hard to prove. How, how, how do you know that? Maybe it was a character problem on YOUR part. Maybe you didn’t obey your parents! Maybe you didn’t study your books like you were told to! And to think that you could have had a better education if you had done it this way versus that way is extremely hard to prove.

Steve: Right!

(laughter)

Kevin: Extremely hard to prove!

Steve: Because you can’t go back and do it that way!

Kevin: You can’t! (laughter) You can’t… and even if you could have, you would have dragged your same old person, with your same old character flaws, with your same old slothfulness issue, into the public school or private school setting or other setting ‚ and you could have done worse…

Steve: Yeah.

Kevin: …than you did with your parents — trying to do whatever they could have done with you, even with all of your character issues that you’re dealing with. It’s fun to blame your parents for your OWN lack of character!

And then there’s this charm (emphasis mine):

Kevin: I’m talking about Christian homeschool families. Their values are primarily first and foremost not to get their kid into Harvard or get them a good job.

Steve: Right.

Kevin: That’s not primary. It’s not being sure that the kid can read Plato before he’s 12 years of age…

Steve: Yeah.

Kevin: …and get really messed up with the wrong worldview. (laughter) That’s not the goal. See, homeschoolers bring in other values: like relationship building, character building, work, worship. These are important.

What struck me is my parents have said essentially the exact same thing that Kevin did in the second quote. Multiple times. I remember in no uncertain terms hearing that the most important thing educationally was that we were able to read and understand the bible, write just enough to communicate, and do basic math. NOTHING ELSE MATTERED. This is what Kevin Swanson advocates, this is what my parents believe, and importantly:

This is not a full, well-rounded education.

He talks about how fake educational neglect is, makes fun of the people who have pushed through it, pretends the people living in it don’t exist, and blames the (current and former) students with little to no power over their own education, for their own neglect.

He talks about how children should be learning “work, relationships, character, and worship”….

Well sir, that was my entire childhood, and you know what, I was educationally neglected! I taught myself and my parents bragged about it from the age of 10, I did everything I could possibly do, everything I knew to do, and it doesn’t change the fact that my education was neglected. It was not my fault. I’m not lazy, and wasn’t a lazy student – I was  an over-worked student who’s parents cared more about being served and looking good than their children and the quality of their education.

Swanson is advocating for educational neglect, and then turning a blind eye to the people who say, no, my parents did do what you said and that’s the problem, and instead labeling them whiners, traitors, and Benedict Arnold’s.

Well if talking about my lack of education and working to put regulations in place so my siblings and other kids have a chance means I’m a traitor, so be it.

But don’t you tell me that my lack of education was my fault as a child.

That was out of my control, it’s not blaming my parents for my flaws, it’s abuse.

P.S. I would have done amazing in a traditional school setting, before my parents took me out of pre-k, it was amazing and I loved it. No one asked me if I wanted to be homeschooled, they just said “we’re gonna homeschool you from now on” and being the ripe age of 3 or 4, I just wanted to make sure I could be picked for Show-and-Tell still. I don’t remember doing show-and-tell after leaving school though.

The Reluctant Rebel: Gemma’s Story, Part Three

Homeschoolers U

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Gemma” is a pseudonym specifically chosen by the author.

< Part Two

Part Three: Sophomore Year

I had apparently made enough “progress” by the following fall semester, my sophomore year, that I was allowed to return to a wing with my friends and my old RA. However, it wasn’t long before I came to the definitive conclusion that Dean Wilson was an evil man by watching how he “counseled” one of my roommates who was dealing with a serious personal issue. He engaged in some of the most blatant, disgusting, misogynistic victim-blaming I have ever heard come out of a man’s mouth, and left my roommate even more grief-stricken and overwhelmed than she had been before.

Somehow it was easier to see the evil clearly when it was being inflicted on someone else.

That year, my RA and another popular student wrote a petition to the administration for the loosening of some of the more restrictive rules, especially regarding the interaction of male and female students. This petition was actually relatively successful, and in the aftermath it seemed like people could breathe again. I remember going to an off-campus basketball game shortly after this and seeing girls and guys in the bleachers, rubbing shoulders and leaning back against each other’s knees—just like normal college kids would do. It made me happy—my friends and I acted like this in high school. It seemed normal and familiar.

I also remember, in the time between the delivery of the petition and the administration’s positive response, my RA hiding—literally hiding—in her dorm room, ducking from the view of the window, or sitting in the hallway trying to breathe and slow her rapid heart beat. She had done the right thing, but she was terrified of Dean Wilson, and of the nameless atmosphere of fear we were all drowning in. She laughed at the absurdity of her “hiding,” but the feeling was real and we all knew it.

Academically, the school was living up to its reputation. In fact, I think one of the reasons the student life issues were so important to everyone is that we had so little chance to socialize as it was. Most of our time was spent studying, trying to conquer the unconquerable mountain of work we were assigned. My classes were extremely difficult, but very rewarding. Most of the professors seemed genuinely to enjoy their students. Some would routinely hold court in the dining hall between and after classes, answering questions, doling out advice, mostly just joking around or facilitating lighthearted debates.

But there was a growing split between the administration and the Office of Student Life, on the one hand, and the academic side of the school, on the other. We started to articulate it even then to outsiders who asked: the education here is great, but the culture is oppressive. Dean Wilson took it personally that the professors—and let’s face it, many of the students—were smarter than he was. He and his favored students started ruminating on the pride of intellectualism, the vanity of worldly philosophy, and the greater goodness of purity of heart and devotion to Scripture. It was spoken of as an either/or dilemma—smart, prideful, sinful people vs. lowly, humble, pure people.

It was around this time that several friends and I had started a campus group called the Alexis de Tocqueville Society. We semi-regularly published a journal of academic writing, book, music, and movie reviews, and opinion pieces. We also hosted guest lecturers on a variety of topics, from international relations to medieval literature to film criticism. Our stated mission was to further intellectual dialogue on campus. It was definitely an intellectually-focused club, but our mission was to serve the campus as a whole, not to show off. But ATS attracted the “wrong” kind of students, and it wasn’t long before “ATS” became a byword for “troublemakers.” We embodied that “intellectual elitism” Dean Wilson hated so much, and the administration began to view us with suspicion.

I now recognize this anti-intellectualism and many other of Dean Wilson’s teachings in what has been written recently about Bill Gothard and other authoritarian homeschool leaders.

For instance, Dean Wilson repeatedly admonished us not to take up another person’s offense—a teaching so bizarre and idiosyncratic I recognized it immediately when it appeared recently on the Recovering Grace website. Another example is this page from the ATI Basic Seminar textbook. Again, I discovered this only recently, but was shocked to see how neatly it summed up so much of what the students branded as “rebels” endured from our fellow students and from Student Life and the administration:

Basic Seminar Page

I know these teachings seem commonplace to those who grew up in systems like these. You have to imagine how bewildering and alienating these judgmental attitudes seemed to those of us who literally had no context to understand how we were being perceived, or why. I didn’t go into college wanting to be a rebel. I was a good, homeschooled, Christian girl. I memorized Scripture by the chapter, volunteered at AWANA, and played praise songs on the piano. I’d never even had a boyfriend before college. But at PHC, just by living my (good) life and being myself, I was branded a “rebel.” It was like there was this invisible line I was constantly crossing, which everyone could see except me. The only people who made sense to me were the other “rebels.” After a while, it just got psychologically demoralizing. I don’t even know what you people want from me, so fine, I’m a “rebel.”

Dean Wilson was a strong adherent of Doug Wilson and the Pearls. In our weekly small-group wing chapels, we were given writings from Wilson and the Pearls to study and discuss.

Here, for example, is the actual handout we studied in one wing chapel, probably during the 2003-2004 school year. The name and book title are mysteriously missing, but anyone familiar with the material can recognize it as a page straight out of Debi Pearl’s Created To Be His Help Meet.

ctbhhm

From what I’ve heard, the men were indoctrinated with these materials even more than the women. It wasn’t like everyone on campus necessarily accepted these things at face value—in my wing of relatively fashion-forward women, I remember us all kind of giggling at one piece of Doug Wilson’s that condemned high heels. But even if everyone didn’t accept them, the presence of these writings and teachings added to the overall atmosphere. Now, it entered the minds of everyone that girls who wore high heels were sluttier than girls who didn’t. Now, wearing heels meant something it hadn’t meant before.

Mike Farris has recently distanced himself from people like Gothard, Phillips, Wilson, and other extremists and has claimed that he rejects their teachings. I think it is true that he, personally, does not hold to many of their more extreme beliefs.

But he allowed these extreme views to circulate on his campus with a stamp of official approval.

He allowed his hand-picked Dean of Student Life and this dean’s favorite, very conservative students to dominate the campus culture with their extremism. He should have known this was going on. If he knew, he never said anything.

And Mike Farris had no qualms about saying something when he thought something needed to be said! Once, a student wrote an article for the student newspaper with the Slate-esque headline of “Why Bono Is A Better Christian Than You.” This piece prompted Farris to respond with an entire chapel sermon on why cursing is bad and demonstrates that one is not a true Christian. Afterward, he spoke jovially with the author of the article, slapping him on the back in a “no harm, no foul” kind of way. But not surprisingly, this response had a chilling effect on the further publication of controversial pieces in campus newspapers.

Another time, Farris got wind that some students had been dabbling in libertarianism. This prompted another chapel sermon, a fiery one in which he denounced libertarians as no better than child molesters.

So it’s not like he ever hesitated to address campus trends that bothered him, publicly and personally.

My best guess is that Mike Farris and Paul Wilson personally benefitted from a campus culture of total submission to authority. Many ultra-conservative students came from backgrounds that said parents, pastors, and government must be obeyed without question and respected without complaint. Questions and complaints were no better than defiance, and defiance of authority was an unforgivable sin. It was very easy for these students to add “college administrators” to that list of unquestionable authorities.

Knowing what I know now, I can see where that mindset comes from. At the time, I thought I was surrounded by a bizarre species of human who spoke some kind of foreign code. At least, I never could seem to get through to them with normal English words, or logic, or questions like Where in the Bible does it say it is evil to question a college administrator? And many of them—especially the young men—didn’t even seem capable of looking me in the face when I talked, or acknowledging anything I had to say. I think Farris tacitly (and Wilson explicitly) approved of this state of affairs, because it gave them power and control over the student body.

That, or he just didn’t know that his students were being forced to study patriarchalist writers and imbibe cultic teachings under the guise of not only administrative, but religious authority—but he really, really should have known.

One final example of the split between the academic and student-life cultures on campus came towards the end of my sophomore year. A reporter from the New York Times, David Kirkpatrick, came to visit the campus for a story he was writing. Reporters were on campus all the time. PHC was huge media bait during its first few years in existence, and the administration was only too happy to show us off to the world. At first, it was kind of fun to interact with reporters, but after a while, you just feel like a specimen being examined. I guess it never occurred to the administrators that it’s actually really hard to pay attention in class when there’s a massive camera in your face. The students joked about campus being a “fishbowl,” a double reference to the utter lack of privacy within and the constant prying eyes from without.

At any rate, when David Kirkpatrick arrived, he came to visit my class. I was taking a course called “Modernity, Post-modernity, and Society,” a political theory elective intentionally modeled on a graduate-level, seminar-style course. We were reading and discussing Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition on the day Mr. Kirkpatrick sat in on our class. At the end of the class, he complimented the students and the professor on the level of engagement with text we had displayed. He himself had read The Human Condition—in graduate school—and he noted that we had handled the text as well as any of his graduate classmates had.

I was, of course, pleased with the compliment—but even more pleased that this reporter from the New York Times had seen the good side of PHC, the academic side, before encountering whatever weirdness he was sure to find if he hung around long enough.

And it didn’t take long at all. By the time I got to lunch, he was in the dining hall, surrounded by a table full of girls in long prairie skirts. The article led with a photo of students walking on campus, noting that students “may show affection publicly only by holding hands while walking”—one of the more arcane rules from the rulebook.

There was no mention of Arendt or graduate-style seminar courses.

Part Four >

“To the Ladies of Patrick Henry College”: A 2006 Email from 2 Male PHC Students

Homeschoolers U

HA note: The following was submitted by a PHC graduate who wishes to remain anonymous.

Trigger warning: slut-shaming, victim-blaming, and abuse apologisms.

If you need some extra content for your series, you might be interested in publishing this lovely piece of misogynistic bullcrap.

This email was sent to all PHC students by two male students on March 15, 2006. As you can see from the first paragraphs, this was not the first email of its kind. In fact, the all-student email function was routinely used for purposes of “exhorting” fellow students over various moral matters, although not usually to quite this length and degree.

*****

[Redacted 1] and [Redacted 2], to the Ladies of Patrick Henry College:

The purpose of this e-mail is to encourage and exhort you. This is something we as brothers in Christ should always be doing. We do not mean to judge or to condemn—that is not our place—but for some of you, this e-mail will also attempt to offer correction. That too is a good and appropriate thing, but it is easy for us to be judgmental or prideful, seeking to correct with the wrong spirit or from the wrong motives. We are very aware of the dangers, and of how far we ourselves fall short of the mark. Nevertheless, prayerfully, in brokenness and humility, we offer this e-mail for your edification in Christ Jesus.

The matter in question is Modesty.

Two years ago, [Redacted 2] sent out a long e-mail entitled “Love, Lust, License, and Liberty (Ball).” It addressed a lot of the questions we will speak of here. However, it was rambly, and although we don’t claim by any means to completely understand the subject now, we’re quite certain we understood it a good bit less then.

Further, there are three factors making this a particularly apropos time for such a discussion. First (as with [Redacted 2]’s epistle), there is a Liberty Ball coming, and the ladies are purchasing lovely dresses. Second, the weather is getting warmer, which tends to make modesty a much more immediate concern. Third—based partly on the first two reasons—several persons of both sexes have encouraged us to address the subject.

Thus, another e-mail.

The Nature of Modesty

Far too frequently, we talk about and make emphatic statements about “modesty” without defining what we’re talking about. So, first of all, a definition. Although he has since taken it in other directions, this definition was originally formulated by Dr. Hake.

Gentleness as a masculine virtue may be defined as “Perfect Strength under Perfect Control.” In a complementary way, Modesty as a feminine virtue is defined here as “Perfect Beauty under Perfect Control.”

Perfect Beauty

Some definitions of modesty seem to be opposed to beauty categorically, suggesting that prettiness and modesty are somehow at opposite poles, and you must choose one, or else try to balance precariously somewhere between the two. This is a wicked and damnable lie. In truth, a right understanding of modesty is rooted first and foremost in the fact that you as women are—and are meant to be—perfectly beautiful. Any really useful discussion of modesty should begin with a radical affirmation of that fact. God created you to be beautiful; and He has done a pretty stupendous job. In spite of early mornings and caffeine and all the things which the self-centering mirror and lying culture claim make you unlovely, you are deeply and truly beautiful in God’s sight—and in ours, too, when we see clearly.

Further, it is good and right that this deep, internal beauty should be adorned, and that it should be enjoyed by others (more on that later). God Himself is beautiful, and He reveals His beauty in His Creation. It was revealed in a particularly wondrous way in the last act of Creation, the first woman, Eve—and all other women share in her gift, the effects of the Fall notwithstanding. We should rejoice in this fact, and give Him thanks. But there are also many false ideas about the nature of beauty, and many women (including Christian women) believe them.

An elderly woman from [Redacted 1]’s church back home died two weeks ago. She had experienced the usual results of aging: graying hair, crooked teeth, wrinkled skin, thinness, bentness, and often-debilitating illness. And she was very beautiful.

It is eminently clichéd to say that beauty comes from within. It also happens to be true. This lady deeply loved God. She was a faithful believer, a servant of God, a saint if ever there was one. She prayed earnestly for others. She gave of herself wherever she could. She loved people from her heart; and it shone from her face.

“Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves.” (I Peter 3:3-5)

The apostle moves on to offer the example of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Scripture informs us that she was an extremely physically attractive woman (at ninety, no less). That is, Biblically, a good and commendable thing. (If you think God dislikes physical beauty and don’t want to be disabused of your belief, stay away from Song of Solomon). But it was not her physical beauty that was the central thing; it was her inner holiness. Everything about her, body and soul, was radiant with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

We have both known women who, while by no means unpleasant-looking, just didn’t strike us as particularly attractive. However, as we came to know them, and noticed how they lived their lives in service to God, we realized the depth of their devotion to Him… and found ourselves increasingly appreciating their physical beauty as well. Honest truth, ladies—a woman who really loves and serves God with all her heart and soul and mind and strength becomes more physically attractive as well; not because her physical beauty changes, but because the deeper beauty becomes apparent through it and infuses it with life. On the other hand, we have known women who were extremely beautiful in a merely physical sense—some of them professing Christians—and yet because we did not perceive the same depth of Christian character, the physical beauty, real though it was, simply failed to inspire any deeper attraction.

True beauty begins on the inside, with the “gentle and quiet spirit,” with devotion to God and a constant focus on love and service. But that is only the proper beginning. Beauty also has a proper end.

The Purpose of Beauty

Beauty attracts. This is fundamental to what beauty is, and an essential part of its purpose, its end, its telos. Further, it is good that beauty should attract. God made it that way.

But if attraction is central to the purpose of beauty, what is the proper end or purpose of attraction? We would suggest that the proper end of attraction is enjoyment.

If we see a beautiful sunset, or mountain, or small child, we want to look at and admire it. If we smell a beautiful flower, we want to breathe deeply of its fragrance. If we taste—allowing the phrase—a “beautiful taste,” we want to partake of that delicious food or drink. This is the natural human response to beauty. We want to participate, to delight in, to enjoy.

So it is with the beauty of women. And here is where matters become difficult. There are some aspects of beauty which not everyone may rightly enjoy. A woman has a lovely face—well and good. We all may look upon and appreciate the beauty of her face. She has lovely long hair. “It is a glory to her,” and to everyone who beholds it. She has graceful and pleasing curves, she is a fragrant garden of delights—now we run up against complications. “The king is captivated by your tresses” is one thing (Song of Solomon 7:5). The following few verses are another. (No, we’re not quoting them. Read ’em yourself.) And yet the two are related, and we cannot deny the reality of that relationship. A man who spends significant amounts of time admiring a woman’s captivating tresses, her eyes like doves, her neck like ivory, etc., is likely to make the very natural progression to Solomon’s next subject.

One man, and one only, is allowed to follow this progression to its consummation. This does not mean, however, that others cannot enjoy the woman in some sense. Many people benefit from a woman’s spiritual gift of hospitality, or kindness, or encouragement. A few can rightly enjoy the emotional comforts of her presence and care: an elderly father, a younger brother, a close friend. But the full physical enjoyment of a woman’s beauty is limited strictly to her husband and no other.

There are different kinds of love—admiration, desire to serve, desire to possess, etc.—and they are appropriate for different things or persons, at different times and in different ways. The moon may be admired; no one but a lunatic would try to possess it. A cat may be admired, served, and possessed. All women may be legitimately admired (if they deserve it) and served (whether they deserve it or not), but there is only one of which any man may truly say “this is mine.”

The difficulty arises because all the kinds of love, and all the kinds of beauty and attraction, are intimately intermingled. Men under the influence of attraction are rather poor at keeping simple admiration separate from a desire to possess (and we’re always rather poor at cultivating a desire to serve). And, it must be said, women are frequently just as bad at keeping all these things separate, and at encouraging right kinds of attraction while discouraging wrong kinds. Again, the problem is not the desires, but the sinful human propensity to try to satisfy them at the wrong time, or in the wrong way, or to an excessive degree. Women desire—rightly!—to attract; they have been given beauty for this very purpose. But they often do it for reasons or via methods that are frankly wicked.

Desire Gone Wrong

We rejoice to say that the women at Patrick Henry are, overall, some of the most conscientiously-dressed ladies it has ever been our joy to meet. And we have seen a number of our sisters here grow in this area over the past few years. However, we must in honesty say that there are many who could do better. We do not believe that there is a general wicked desire to “cause a brother to stumble”—quite the contrary. You all show great love and care for us. But many Christian women, probably a large majority, simply do not understand the depth and extent of the foul perversity of the male mind. (If you’re a man and some part of this doesn’t apply to you personally, just assume we’re only talking about ourselves at that point.)

We have a duty as brothers in Christ to guard the purity and holiness of our sisters, which means restraining how bluntly we speak. On the other hand, part of that duty is to help you understand the problem. To avoid causing offense for our own sake, all the most explicit bits are taken directly from Scripture. Anyone who finds God’s authoritative written revelation inappropriate is advised to skip this section.

You’ve heard this before, but we’ll say it again: men are visually wired. A man notices a pretty female walking by. His eyes lock on, his brain clicks in (we mostly tend toward one-track minds). He is attracted to her. Attraction, when left undirected, leads naturally to desire.

If she’s his wife, all is well. In itself this visual attraction is a good thing. A man is supposed to look upon his wife and be drawn to her beauty. Please, please, ladies, don’t confuse the abuse of the thing with its good and proper and holy purpose in God’s plan. Husbands are not merely allowed but commanded to take pleasure and fulfillment in their wives’ physical beauty: “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:18-19). This intoxication is a blessed fact and should be a cause for great rejoicing. As C. S. Lewis says in a very similar context, “God likes it. He made it.”

But there is a great deal of abuse. If the attractive female wandering by is not the man’s wife (and mathematically, the odds tend that way), then there’s a nifty Biblical phrase for desiring her: “lusting after her in your heart.” We’ll leave out the details; you don’t want to know. Suffice it to say that he wants to be intoxicated and filled with delight too. As Solomon says in that passage we declined to quote from earlier: “I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.” It’s all right for Solomon, he’s talking about his wife, but many of us are not married. Of course most men—here at least—are decent enough not to actually do anything much; but that’s beside the point. The man has spoken these words to himself. He has made the act of volition.

He has once again committed adultery in his heart, and the woman is once again a victim of visual rape.

No, not always. There are plenty of occasions where a man is not tempted to lust. There are some men who are tempted rather less than others. But then, by the same logic, there are some who are tempted more than others.

And yes, it’s more complicated than that. The man’s physical desires are almost certainly confused with all sorts of other desires, emotional and intellectual and spiritual. Some of them are commendable desires, like the longing to care for a woman, to make her feel loved and appreciated, to encourage her—or simply to have a stimulating intellectual conversation. It can be very difficult to sort all this out and be certain what results from righteousness and what from sin. But sometimes a lot of it is sin.

And no, the woman is not guilty of the man’s sin, if he does give in. If a man sins, it is his fault. He is utterly without excuse. Adam tried his line “the woman made me do it!” and God was not convinced. This is important. I am not trying to blame anyone else for what I do; I nailed Christ to the cross, and have no room to point fingers. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

And yes, there is grace. There is much grace. God gives us the strength to manfully oppose temptation, and commands us to do it. We must die to the flesh, and live according to the Spirit. We have died, and our life is hidden with Christ in God.

But temptation still happens. There is a war going on here. Some of your brothers are achieving mighty victories, by the power of God. Some—more than you would think—are losing blood and beginning to grow faint, and are in grave danger of being overcome. And many of us are warring and winning more often than not, but expending so much spiritual energy in doing so that we are left tired and worn down, weakened for the next confrontation. God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness; but sometimes we forget.

Now, again (before some men get offended at me), there are Godly men who face less temptation, and there are those who face a great deal but have obtained great victory. However, there are many—and among them some of the most dedicated and true-hearted believers we know—who feel many days as if they’re struggling for their very soul (as, in a sense, they are). For the sake of these men, please at least consider the things we’ve said.

We are not trying to blame you for our sin. Rather, as a warrior with many wounds, on behalf of ourselves and these our brothers, we are asking for allies. This is a cry for reinforcements, lest the battle go to the enemy. We are sorely pressed on every side. This is no exaggeration: we need all the help we can get. We don’t need to be struck down from behind by friendly fire.

Remember, Adam’s sin was Adam’s, but that doesn’t mean God held Eve guiltless in the affair.

Eve tempted her husband, and God cursed her for it.

If we give in to temptation, we are judged; but if you deliberately tempt us, you are judged, whether we give in or not—even whether we notice or not. The sin is not in successfully tempting a brother, but in trying to do so. The immodest swimsuit is still immodest and sinful even if there happen to be no guys on the beach that day—if you decided to wear it because you hoped there would be. Deliberately choosing the barely-too-tight top is still immodest and sinful, even if the RA catches you before you make it out the door.

Perfect Control

We have been told how difficult it is to find apparel that is both beautiful and modest. We believe it. Many of you do an amazing job—and for those who do understand what’s at stake, or who without understanding have simply been trained and have very right instincts on these matters, blessings upon you to the fourth and fifth generation. You are all wonderful, and we pray God will bring you every good thing, all your lives long.

For those who are sincere, but perhaps were not trained quite so well or do not altogether understand quite yet—we pray that He will continue to work in you, so that you can better carry out the good desires of your heart. We deeply appreciate you too. Do not become complacent; continue to grow in purity and holiness. There are women who not only avoid causing temptation, but actually provide positive assistance, making it easy for men not to lust after them—and yet modestly display the beauty God has given them. More than noncombatants, they are valuable allies. Seek out such ladies and ask them for advice in all humility.

But let us also offer a warning. Although women almost never completely realize the extent to which (or the ways in which) they can affect men, most women are aware on some level that certain things attract men. And women like to feel attractive. This is natural; we have already said that you are created to be beautiful. But we have also said that the purpose of attraction is enjoyment.

Please be careful of this desire to attract. It is a good thing; but it is easy to misuse. Many females drive us to ask some pretty unpleasant questions.

If a woman does not want to be the subject of wicked imagining, why does she provide so much scope for the imagination? If she does not intend to be suggestive, why does she tantalize with hints, peeks, glimpses, suggestions?

The answer is that wrongful desire also has a feminine side. The third-century apologist Tertullian links the “lust of the eyes” to corresponding sins in both men and women: “Such [male] eyes will wish that a virgin be seen as [those of] the virgin who shall wish to be seen. The same kinds of eyes reciprocally crave after each other. Seeing and being seen belong to the self-same lust.” But only the husband is meant to see fully, and to enjoy completely. “Should your springs overflow in the streets, streams of water in the public squares?”

To attract where there can be no completion, to encourage desire which must not be fulfilled in enjoyment—let us put it bluntly. This is sin. C. S. Lewis quotes an unnamed source in That Hideous Strength (he may have made it up): “To desire the desiring of her own beauty is the vanity of Lilith, but to desire the enjoying of her own beauty is the obedience of Eve.” The poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti also speaks of Lilith, fascinated entirely with her own beauty, “subtly of herself contemplative,” who snares a man and leaves “round his heart one strangling golden hair.”

All flowers attract insects with the promise of nectar. All are beautiful, adorned with bright colors or beautiful perfumes or landing patterns painted in the ultraviolet. Most of these flowers give up their nectar and satisfy the desire of the bee or the moth, who in return helps to pollinate the flower. But there are also certain flowers in the world which promise but do not fulfill: they are called “carnivorous.” They want to be desired, but not enjoyed—what they really want is to greedily fulfill their own desires, at the cost of a continuous stream of lives.

This lust for desire, which withholds physical fulfillment, is exactly the inverse of the rampant male sin of promising emotional intimacy (which girls want with the same intensity that men want physical intimacy), without the fulfillment of real commitment.

The lustful woman craves attention, and by her attitudes and actions she promises physical rewards that she cannot legitimately deliver.

The lustful man implies a promise of emotional rewards that he is either unable or unwilling to deliver, in return for the physical rewards that the lustful woman has rashly promised. It’s a ghastly mockery of a waltz; it’s two serpents circling forever, endlessly trying to devour the other’s tail; it is Tantalus squared.

This grim fact is why immodesty can, of course, also be practiced by males, though it usually happens in forms that are less visual and more verbal/emotional. (Still, guys, give up the public displays of the muscle shirts—they really aren’t a blessing to your sisters). But if this is how and why immodesty occurs, it follows that modesty is not primarily or fundamentally a physical thing. As with beauty itself, the soul of modesty does not lie in the outward appearance, but in the heart. It is the intent, the desire, that drives everything. It impacts what is worn, of course; but far more significantly, it impacts the reason it is worn, and the way it is worn (and when, and in what company). This is why we have deliberately avoided making comments on particulars of dress—that misses the point. Some articles of clothing are just irredeemably scandalous (in the Greek sense of “causing to stumble”), but many others may be immodest on one woman and perfectly modest on another, and not simply because of physical differences. (Just be careful of the “Well, it could be immodest, but I’m not wearing it like that” argument.) Any woman can be immodest “by accident,” but she is far less likely to do so if she has sisterly love in mind as a deliberate daily goal. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Modesty flows from a heart devoted to the service of God.

“Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to Godliness.” (I Timothy 2:9-10)

Beauty Perfected

This brings us full circle. This is why Godliness is so much more important than the physical radiance that will eventually grow from it. It is this beauty, this inner beauty of a “gentle and quiet spirit,” which not only does but should attract everyone, because it may be rightly delighted in by everyone.

We have put a great deal of emphasis on the extremity of the situation, the severity of the battle, the desperate need for help, and thus the importance of modesty. It really is this important. But this is stating the issue in a negative way. Immodesty is a sin of omission. The contrary is inexpressibly more important, for it is not mere restraint, but a positive and difficult action, a firm belief, a way of life:

You are created to be gloriously, radiantly, superabundantly beautiful.

This beauty is a beauty of the soul, of the heart, and to some degree of the mind. It does not allow slovenly appearance, but neither does it allow an overemphasis on or too-great concern for the physical. It is revealed in the face, but it is not a beauty of the face. It is, rather, a filling of the inside of the cup with clean and living water—and then the outside is clean as well. It is the scrap of carbon thread being turned into a flaming incandescence by the electrifying power of the Spirit of Holy God. It is the flowering of the crocus bulb that has lain unnoticed in the ground all winter, persevering through cold and comfortless nights, drinking deep of the graceful rain, and waiting for the Father—in His time—to clothe it more beautifully than Solomon in splendor. It is the transformation of the heart, the “renewing of your mind,” which God is bringing about to make you like His Son—to infuse you and overwhelm you with His own glory and beauty, so that He may be the more infinitely glorified in you, and in all who behold your countenance and see His face reflected there.

Ladies, you are beautiful. God has declared you so, and “not one word has failed of all His good promise.” In the same way in which He made you holy, and is continuing to sanctify you, so also He has beautified you, and is continuing to make you beautiful; and “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Believe it. Live it. Grow in beauty. Bring glory to God.

Under the Mercy,

[Redacted 1] and [Redacted 2]

What Rape Culture and Modesty Culture Have In Common

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Faith Beauchemin’s blog Roses and Revolutionaries. It was originally published on August 22, 2013.

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Note from Faith: I originally wrote this article and posted it on my old blog in November 2012.  I’d been meaning to revamp it for Roses & Revolutionaries, but was finally catalyzed to do so when I found that Katelyn Beaty at The Atlantic linked to my original post in the article “Toward a New Understanding of Modesty.”  This is the updated version of my original blogpost.

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Sometimes it can be hard for men to understand why women are so upset about rape.

What’s the big deal? Rape’s not that much of a thing, right?  Mostly it’s just cues being misread or hysterical prudes who just need some dick or unsatisfied women after a night of bad sex crying “rape” because they didn’t like the guy, right?  And if even one person suggests rape shouldn’t happen, or that rape had happened to them, or that someone shouldn’t tell rape jokes, or so forth, they should get raped to teach them a lesson, right?

And this is what is known as “rape culture,” defined by Wikipedia as:

culture in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudesnorms, practices, and media normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone rape…[Examples] include victim blamingsexual objectification, and trivializing rape.

Some men are very upset by the claim that rape culture exists.  But I promise you it does.  I know it does every time I can’t walk alone at night.  I know it every time I’m walking to my car at night with my key stuck between my fingers in case I need an impromptu weapon.  I know it when every rape survivor has to answer a litany of questions about where she was, who she was with, whether she was drinking, what she was wearing.  I know it every time a guy thinks “no” means “just convince me a little more,” which is disturbingly often.  I know it every time I hear of another leader (religious, political, atheist) who faces rape allegations being unquestioningly supported by his fans, followers, fellow leaders, and mentors.

The idea, in our society, is that if you’re a woman, your body exists to be exploited by men.  The burden is on me to defend myself, not on men to be respectful of my privacy, my bodily autonomy, my right to say no, my right to live a life free of sexual violence and my right to present myself however I choose without being judged, shamed, or taken advantage of for it.

Christian purity culture is in many ways a reaction against sexual permissiveness masquerading as a reaction against sexual predation. 

This shirt counts as modest by most evangelical standards – note the formlessness and high neckline.
This shirt counts as modest by most evangelical standards – note the formlessness and high neckline.

The levels of sexual predation within the church give the lie to that claim.  A special niche of purity culture is deeply concerned with modesty.  The idea is, a really self-respecting woman will dress herself in such a way that her body will not be the focus at all.  Sermons, conferences, books, even T-shirts all advocate this notion that modesty is a prime component of sexual purity and therefore (paradoxically) desirability (to the proper sort of Christian gentleman of course).  There are endless debates on what constitutes modesty.  The general consensus is, however, a woman’s clothing must not be too revealing of either flesh or figure (too scanty or too tight).  Quibbling about inches and guidelines takes up an amazing amount of time and energy amongst modesty advocates, but the idea is the same: Good girls are modest.

And modesty is for everyone’s protection.  Men are less tempted sexually when the women around them cover up.  Modest women are less likely to be taken advantage of, whether just by ogling on the street, by men pressuring them to have sex, or by rape (so goes the story, anyway).  Do you feel a little judged, a little meddled with, when a stranger tells you how to dress? Don’t. They really have your best interests at heart.  They want you to “respect yourself” by doing your best to control other people’s reaction to your body.  And they can’t be held responsible for what happens when you don’t dress modestly enough.

You should see some of the correspondence already.

Here’s the first ugly truth: as soon as a woman falls outside the standards of what is perceived as modest, those advocating modesty culture immediately join rape culture. 

They shrug and say, “Whatever happens is on her.  She’s asking for it.”  They’re not actually concerned about all women, only women who are willing to conform to their standards of modesty.  It gets worse:  When a woman is a victim of sexual violence, it matters much less to “modesty culture” than to current American “rape culture” how she dresses or acts – “modesty culture” will assume much more quicklythat it is somehow her fault, probably because their standards for how “good girls” dress and behave are so much higher.

Second, both “cultures” have a very problematic stance on men; it’s not as bad as their view of women but it’s another of the shocking similarities between the two. 

Why does “modesty culture” try to get all women to cover up?  Because men, according to “modesty culture,” cannot help themselves.  Since actually sincere Christians want their men to be sexually pure as well as their women (or at least they say they do, but of course the onus for keeping men pure is put on the women), all temptation must be removed.  For even seeing a flash of skin he ought not to have seen will make a man think all sorts of lusty and rape-y thoughts.

That’s the gist of it – I’ve read modesty books that go into great detail on how men’s chemistry works, essentially saying that if he catches just a glimpse of a woman’s body he will be sexually turned on in an instant and after that he is incapable of controlling his mental/physical reaction. (and it is only a woman’s body that will create this reaction…modesty culture is heteronormative to the point of denying that real homosexual attraction even exists).  So both rape culture and modesty culture envision men as drooling hound dogs with everlasting erections.  (As a side note, modesty culture is also made up of people who think men ought to be the ones running the world, and that the male gender holds all spiritual authority.  No wonder women should stay in the kitchen, we can’t have the lords of creation suddenly turned into slavering animals while they’re trying to do important political and religious leadership type things.)

But how can a “culture” that ostensibly seeks to protect women from sexual exploitation be fundamentally the same in assumptions as a “culture” that accepts sexual exploitation and violence as the norm?  It’s simple —

Fundamentally, they are both based on the exact same principle: Objectification.

Just showing off a sand castle…and more skin than any modesty advocate would ever condone.
Just showing off a sand castle…and more skin than any modesty advocate would ever condone.

Here’s how it works. Imagine that I am on a beach on a very hot day, wearing a bikini.  I look at some cool algae that’s washed up on the beach and I say to the two men standing next to me, “I didn’t know algae could be purple, I wonder what causes that?”  Man number one is “rape culture man” and man number two is “modesty culture man.”  Neither man really registers a word I’ve said.  “Rape culture man” reaches for his camera (there’s a lot of people on the beach so he’s not actually going to rape me, just take a picture to post online later; he’d also totally love it if I were to lose my top whilst swimming in the ocean).  “Modesty culture man” panics, looks around and while averting his eyes grabs a nearby towel and hands it to me, saying, “Cover up!”  Neither man has reacted at all to the thought I had just expressed, to the fact that I, as a human being, was trying to interact with them, as human beings.  They didn’t even see another human being, they just saw body parts.  Rape culture man wanted to take sexual ownership of those body parts, while modesty culture man wanted me to hide those body parts from his view so that he wasn’t tempted to take sexual ownership of them.  But despite the different end result, their initial reaction was the same.

Whether the obsession is with seeing & exploiting a woman’s body or with the danger of being tempted by accidentally seeing it, it’s just two sides of the same coin.  I become an object. I am considered not as me, not as a person with thoughts and feelings and ideas and a back-story, but as a simple trigger for lust.

Whether you are hoping to see a little cleavage or desperately avoiding the possibility of seeing a little cleavage, you’re still just focused on my cleavage, and you’re probably not hearing a word I’m saying. 

I am still just an object, reduced to a body part, and by focusing so much on your own lust (feeding it or starving it), you’re reducing yourself to a body part too.

Though they’re based on the same view of humanity (men as lustful, women as objects), rape culture is still the worse of the two.  But I dislike both.  Objectification is just not okay and it’s happened for far too long.  When will we see all people as people instead of just extras in the movie of our own personal life?

For the record, I’m just a little annoyed when it comes to me personally being objectified.  Mostly, I’m like, whatever.  How you react to me is your choice and it’s not my fault you’re making a dumb choice.  (Not including sexual violence here; that’s completely different)  But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to change cultural attitudes.

I’d love to see a world where victim blaming does not happen, where a woman is interacted with as a fellow human being no matter what she’s wearing, where no one assumes that anyone is “asking for” sexual violence. 

I’d love to live in a world where assumptions about your ethics aren’t made based on your clothing choices or your personality.  But I’m not going to let categories of “good girl” or “bad girl” change the way I act.  I am not going to treat myself as an object; I am not going to listen to people’s judgments of me; my body is a part of all that makes up “me” and I’m not going to let any obsession with it take over my entire life.

And I’m also going to arm myself, because I do not yet live in a world where any woman can consider herself completely safe.

I Am Not A Spartan

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate TruthIt was originally published on May 18, 2013.

Write the hard thing.

I have not been able to write the hard thing this week because I have not been able to figure out what that hard thing is. As I am writing this, I am listening to a conference call for my Story 101 class and we are talking about writing the hard things.

I feel like there is something that is sitting right under the surface for me.

There is something floating right there about my emotions, something about not blaming my parents but being in deep emotional pain. Something about being made sick with memories that I don’t want to face because they hurt so very much. I don’t want to face those memories because they continue to tear my heart up even though it’s been years since those first happened.

It is overwhelming because I don’t want to blame my parents, I don’t want to blame my mom, but I have pain.

I have excruciating pain that makes me physically sick as I remember being left at the MRI clinic. I have pain when I wanted — no, needed — comfort from my mom, I needed my mom and she wasn’t there. I needed that comfort and the tight hug accompanied with a whisper of “it’s going to be okay, I’m here.” I hate this pain, I hate the depth that is reaches because it kills me every time I face those memories or something triggers them. I hate that I feel pain when I face my mom, I hate that my heart breaks all over again when I look at my dad and remember the pain of finding out what he had done.

I feel shame.

I feel like I am a terrible person, and I feel like this deeply emotional shredding of my heart is something I should feel guilty about, like it is something that is disgusting and makes me worthless.

Facing these feelings of shame, guilt, and worthless and hearing my therapist softly tell me that no, I am not bitter, I am not blaming, I am feeling the pain I should because I have a heart and it deeply feels and that is good.

My heart is soft, my heart is easily broken, my heart beats to help others heal, and it seeks to comfort and protect those from the pain it has felt already. Some of my deepest fears involve fearing a stone cold heart, and fearing the bitterness and blaming that comes with a hard heart. I have always felt frustrated as I feel the pain, I have felt anger when something strikes my heart with resounding accuracy because my heart is easily reached. I used to think that setting up guardrails or those walls to keep the arrows out was okay.

I used to think that that was more important than letting myself feel.

I used to fight the feelings and try to be stoic and unfeeling. I felt like feelings were dirty, shameful, and something we should fight, not allow in, and certainly not allow out.

Friends use to tell me that I was being too emotional whenever I had some sort of emotional response to their words. They would tell me in such a way that it seemed like they looked down on me for emotionally responding, good or bad, to what they were talking with me about. They were the friends who first made me feel like I had to shut my emotions down. They were the ones who first told me, in their own stoic, spartan way, that emotions were not acceptable. Emotions were disgusting and worth very little.

Emotions were a failed sinful part of our human bodies and not to be trusted or allowed a voice.

Those friends were the ones who made me feel ashamed of the glorious, beautiful, redeemed emotions that the Lord of the Universe has created within me.

Hear me say this: I am gloriously emotional and I am a gift.

I am gloriously emotional and I am a gift.

It has taken me a long time to accept the emotions that bubble up within me as a good and beautiful thing. It has taken hearing my therapist’s gentle words of reminding me that I should be feeling this pain to accept the pain. It still totally sucks, and I find myself drained after a wrestling match with those memories. It still is difficult when I feel something so acutely and feel like I have to be a spartan and hide my feelings.

The hard thing is accepting the truth about myself and reveling in the beauty of a torn heart. Yes, there is beauty in a broken heart. There is a certain amount of glorious vulnerability that comes from allowing the broken to be revealed.

There is an astounding amount of release when I acknowledge the pain that has driven me to weep time and time again.

I no longer fight this pain but simply let the tears flow, the pain wrenching my heart. It is my way of healing, it is an act of letting the tears bind up a deep and bleeding wound. Those tears are my heart’s way of telling me yes, I can still feel, I am not a spartan robot, I am a redeemed emotional woman.

I believe that women are created specifically to feel the hard things, the painful things, the gut wrenching things. I believe that I am supposed to feel the pain deeply, I am supposed to and should cry because I have been deeply wounded. To not cry would be killing the specifically designed voice I have deep within me that allows for those feelings to be let out.

I am done killing my “wild voice.” I am done hiding the emotions I once felt ashamed of.

I am ready to stand up and point down to the feelings I once turned my nose up at and called dirty. I am now ready to announce them beautiful and precious.

My hard thing is accepting the emotions that course freely through my heart and soul. My hard thing is allowing for my eyes to be overwhelmed with tears as I feel the pain and am reminded of what I have faced.

Crying, weeping, letting the Holy Spirit decipher the deep groans for which we have no words is a beautiful, glorious, healing thing.