As some of you may know, I was homeschooled.
Let’s all just take a minute to fully appreciate everything that’s happening in this photo.
From third grade until I walked across the very small stage with 11 other seniors in my graduating class, I lived the life of 4H, co-ops, Joshua Harris purity culture, the silver ring thing abstinence club, the Do Hard Things club, apologetics, early admission to college classes and, of course, the modesty culture. I have enough experience in this subculture to write a book, talk the talk, walk the walk and give an Oxford level lecture with footnotes and sources at any given moment on the subject.
Especially when it comes to the entire modesty movement.
I saw an article on Facebook today that, while it wasn’t saying anything I haven’t thought/heard before, gave me the push I needed to sit down and blog about my experiences with ‘Team No Stumbling’, because this whole thing is getting out of control.
I’ve held off writing about this because it seems like everyone and their mom has written a blog of some sort lately about body shaming and the modesty culture, and honestly, it’s a scary time right now to speak up for yourself as a female.
I mean, everyone supports you, because it’s really popular to let women have a voice today, but it seems almost impossible to give grace to Camp Female without demonizing Camp Men and I’m not about that life, either.
No matter how many times everyone tells me that feminism is about gender equality (I so desperately want it to be, and I love you, Emma!) not men-hating and complaining, much like how society fixates on Westboro Baptist Church when it thinks of Christians, that’s pretty much what happens with me and feminism. I’m trying, guys. At any rate, I don’t hate men and I don’t think everything is their fault, so that’s not what this post is about.
This post is also not a “boo-hoo, let’s all pity me because I dealt with something that sucked in high school and now I have a free pass to be angry all the time and blame everyone else for me not moving on” post, either. There are enough of those to fill the library of Congress, and sorry everyone, I don’t agree with that. I believe that our experiences can define us, but I also believe just as strongly that we grow and change most from the experiences that we refused to give power over us. At some point, we have to stop claiming the victim card and take responsibility for our own lives. Regardless of what we’ve been through (and chances are, at this point in our lives, us twenty somethings have had a few less-than-stellar life experiences), we should want to move past them. I don’t mean to invalidate anyone’s experiences, I mean to encourage everyone that we can unlearn the lies we’ve gleaned from bad experiences.The best way to stick it to the man is to live your life like all the junk you’ve dealt with like it doesn’t affect you, because it doesn’t have to. As my favorite band of philosophers known as Hawk Nelson once said:
Also, my parents didn’t really do this to me, either. My mom was one of the more ‘liberal’ homeschooled moms, because she let us wear tank tops (three finger thick sleeves, don’t worry) and eyeliner to our co-op classes, and didn’t force me through speech and debate club, which I really disliked anyway. I’ve never once heard my dad even mention anything that I’m wearing, and that makes me one of the lucky ones because I have friends and people I know whose parents (mostly out of fear of what other people would think) so ingrained this into their daughters that I’m pretty sure they have PTSD episodes when they put on a pair of shorts. So, shout out to my parent for being stellar and protecting me from all kinds of pressures that I’m pretty sure they faced for not conforming during my high school years. I wish I was as strong as them or my younger sister, Christina, who has long since raised the proverbial middle finger to people’s expectations, but I was always so worried about what people thought and concerned with pleasing others that it pretty much consumed my life from fourteen to twenty.
It’s so easy to take things out of context or use eisegesis when we read scripture. We love to do it, and most of it can be avoided simply by reading the entire chapter of a book to see how everything ties together. My favorite example is how we as a church take the one verse in Jeremiah 29 and crochet it on pillows while ignoring the ENTIRE CHAPTER which basically has God saying, “Things are going to suck for a while and you’re going to be enslaved for years under Babylon but don’t worry because I’m going to bring you out of it in time because I have plans to prosper you and not to harm you”. Context, people. Context, context, context.
The whole modesty movement is very loosely based on several verses that are all sort of quoted together, despite being found in different books of the New Testament written to different people.
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. – Romans 14:20 – 22
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling-block to the weak. – 1 Corinthians 8:9
And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. – 1 Timothy 2:9
All of these verses get more or less squished together into this over-arching, unspoken theme of “girls make sure you’re modest because you don’t want to be responsible for making your brothers stumble because they’re weak and can’t control themselves”. I went to youth group pool parties, Christian summer camps, speech and debate tournaments, even a Christian college where we had dorm meetings where we received a list of rules about how we could dress. One of my favorites is the fingertip rule which basically means that if your shorts weren’t long enough to reach your fingertips then you’ll “cause boys to stumble”. Thanks to my extremely long arms (which I discovered in biology class are about 5’5 from one fingertip to the other), I pretty much was always in the danger zone.
I gotta be honest, I didn’t really even know what “stumbling” meant when I was in high school, I just sort of had this vague idea that it would mean a boy would want to have sex with you, which was dirty and shameful and obviously the unforgivable sin, which I was solely responsible for. There are whole books dedicated to modesty as a subject pertaining to girls’ clothes and even though there were a few progressive authors that tried assert that modesty actually also included behavior, we all knew that a girl with her stomach showing was less loved by Jesus and ultimately a succubus most perverse because she wasn’t respect her “brothers” with her dress. There was never a discussion of how boys could cause us girls to stumble, or that they should take their own thoughts captive to Jesus or really ever acknowledged them as anything more than horny, visual animals. For that, I’m sorry for all guys. I don’t know what’s worse: being told you’re a piece of meat or being told that all your kind care about is finding a piece of meat. This whole narrow concept of modesty disrespects both girls and boys because it places all the blame on girls and removes personal responsibility from boys.
I’ll let you in on a little secret here too: stressing modesty to this extreme actually just reinforced in my mind that I was a sexual object to be hidden, not an actual person. The people I’ve felt more objectified by in my life are usually Christians, both men and women. I’m not thrown off when some guy off the streets makes a comment or stares at my butt or whatever. It almost doesn’t even bother me at this point. But when a conservative guy I really like tells me that I need to change my already fingertip length shorts and that I can’t look into their eyes because it’s “too much” for him, ATTENTION EVERYONE, I’ve just been categorized as a sexual object. Here’s what I learn for interactions like that: my decisions to dress myself are to please men and not God, my body is a source of temptation only and I should be ashamed whenever someone speaks or acts out of turn because it’s my fault.
I’m having to end this here because it’s already too long, but I promise it gets better and more triumphant as we go along! Don’t give up on me, guys. It’s also heavy to end on, so please enjoy this unrelated clip of Jimmy Fallon and Adam Levine doing musical impressions.