By AuntieB | 25 September 2018
I grew up in an Evangelical church, and was a fundamentalist pastor’s wife for 10 years. I saw the Purity Culture wind it’s way into the Evangelical Right’s thinking, and now we are seeing the sting in Purity’s tail. I admit to feeling more than a little schadenfreude when I see it.
The Purity Movement actually has roots in the social improvement movements of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Right up there with Votes for Women, temperance and Child Labor Reform was the Social Hygiene Movement. It strived to reduce venereal diseases, but morphed into anti-prostitution and anti-birth control, and had overtones of oppression of poor women, sexually active women, and unwed mothers.
While the Purity movement lost momentum during more socially liberal times, it still thrived in the edges of Christianity — in the fundamentalist churches of middle America. The movement became mainstream again decades later, becoming Purity Culture, and the Modesty Movement of the 90’s. On TV, the Duggar family embodied this.
The new Purity Culture said that an unmarried woman’s worth was in her purity, her virginity. And a pure woman had all the control over men, sexually. Since men were too weak to control their own sexual urges and temptations, women needed to take over by dressing and behaving modestly. In doing so, they both protect their own asset (virginity) while controlling and protecting the men around them from sexual sin.
And for some reason, God put men in charge over women. So women not only had to control men’s sexual behaviors, they had to do it indirectly and tactfully so as not to injure the male ego. Men also had say over how women socialized, were educated (or not) where they worked, and who they were friends with.
Women who didn’t conform to Modesty and Purity in dress, behavior, and submission were fair targets for misogyny, sexual assault, verbal abuse, and general disdain.
Women got the message. Use sex to control men. Abstinent women were more godly. A sexually active woman was a whore, which was bad. You can tell who whores are by their clothing.
Men got the message too. Modest women control men by sex, the bitches. Men have uncontrollable urges. Men are powerless over their sexual desires. Women who aren’t modest (by some arbitrary standard) are whores, and whores deserve what they get. Men can do what they want with immodest women because they are asking for it by not conforming.
And that is not subtext in the Purity Culture. It is the Main Point.
Here is an article from ChurchLeaders.com (about yoga pants, for pete’s sake!). The bold is added by me for emphasis:
While men are responsible to honor us with their eyes and minds, when we dishonor ourselves by what we wear, the real unfairness is to the men.
Do we really expect to wear whatever we want and then tell them not to look at us? Do we really expect to fit in with the latest (often sexually promiscuous) trends and NOT be viewed as an object of sexual desire?
It is not just his job to not look; it is our responsibility to provide nothing provocative to look at. We cannot blame men for what we instigate, and it is time for women of God to start acknowledging our responsibility in this matter, taking up our cross and honoring God with our dress.
The problem is that none of this works and it all is a lie. Not only does it lie about women in the real world who work and dress and live in the mainstream, and consider the Duggars as an oddity, but the Purity Movement lies to those who adhere to it.
Modesty does not stop a women from being sexually desirable; a woman in a burka will still sexually stimulate some men. Men are just as able to control their behaviors as women. Women can’t just go from being an asexual wall against male aggression before marriage and then be a nympho for her husband once there is a ring on her finger.
Women in the movement have found that once they get married, they fight frigidity, and the perception that they are now ‘less than’ since they have sex. They resent the wall of rules that are put up to ‘protect’ them and the rigid and always changing dictates of modest behavior.
Men are told they will instantly find total sexual fulfillment once they are married, and all their sinful urges will go away. They usually find that to be untrue.
So, in the Movement, married men have affairs, and the wives are blamed for not being enough. The wives are ashamed so they turn a blind eye. If a man acts out criminally (and it is likely, since he is taught that he has no control over his worst sexual instincts) the wife is blamed, since she is supposed to hold his sexual power. Young girls who are groomed by Godly men are called Jezebels and whores when they succumb.
All this is true, and happens constantly. So why is anyone surprised to find that ‘upstanding’ Christian men in the Evangelical Right are falling to sexual scandal right and left? And who can be surprised when the victim is called a liar, or an instigator, or a jilted woman with a grudge? Who is surprised that the Christian Right stands behind an outrageously immoral President — since after all, men are weak and you can’t expect more from them? Who is surprised to find out that powerful men act inappropriately sexual with their daughters? Who is surprised when Christian women say that ‘boys will be boys’ and attempted rape is normal — no big deal?
While the rest of the country reels when leaders are named as sexual predators, the Religious Right simply brushes it off. They knew what those guys were all the time, and they don’t care.
They think its normal.
For them, it is.
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