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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How "Modesty" Teachings Hurt Men Too

Someone posted this article today on Facebook, from a famous Christian author and blogger:

If Only She Knew ~ Thoughts On Modesty

I read this against my better judgment and honestly, I'm sitting here furious. I have said for years that boys in conservative Christian homes are conditioned to struggle with "modesty" and everyday normal things regarding female bodies. That they are programmed to see non-erotic body parts as erotic. This article is the perfect example of that. This poor boy, and every boy like him have been set up by their parents for a lifetime of failure and shame. Then they have the audacity to blame all the women in the world for their terrible parenting. I'm just so angry at this type of spiritual abuse and bondage!

Here's how the article starts out:

"Avert your eyes, Son. His dad started saying it to him from the youngest age - when he was only a little boy. Might have been an alluring commercial while watching the ballgame. Or a billboard while driving down the highway. A pop-up on the computer screen. As parents, we had purposed to teach him purity from the beginning.  
Temptation can be found anywhere. Even in Target. Target? Yeah, I know. That's what I thought too. Until one day we popped in to pick up some flip-flops for the summer and I remarked how he kept bumping into things. What is your problem, Son?? "I'm just looking down, Mom," And with a nod, he indicated the ads placed strategically above us. Billboards for the lingerie department. Yikes. I'd not seen them. "

I've written about how modesty teachings enslave women, well this is the perfect example of how they enslave men too. The first few sentences infuriated and shocked me. They CREATED their son's struggles! They conditioned and brain-washed him to think there was something wrong with seeing females in clothing they didn't approve of. That looking at a woman is somehow shameful. They DID THAT TO THEIR SON and they are patting themselves on the back for it. They didn't teach him "purity", they taught him shame and objectification of women.  They taught him that natural attraction is something to feel guilty about and be avoided at all costs. They should be ashamed of themselves. They have set their son up for failure, and now he is going to be under such a heavy burden his entire life for things that are not wrong. He's going to struggle with "sins" that aren't sins but that he's been brainwashed to think are "impurity". The sight of normal American women all around him is going to send him into such a frenzy of natural emotion and arousal that he's not going to know how to function in the real world. This poor boy!!! I cannot imagine doing anything that unhealthy to my sons.

Oh, but it gets worse:

"It was a hot July day and we all packed up and headed out for fun and fellowship with a bunch of other believers. Picnic blankets, cold watermelon, and squirt guns. It was promising to be a great day. 
So I was surprised to see our oldest son hanging back from the festivities. He's an outgoing guy and usually one of the first out there mixing it up. Except not this time. He stayed close to our small spot and played with his little brothers instead. What is your problem, Son?? 
He hesitated for a moment. Then answered, "Mom, I don't know what to do. Dad's taught me to 'avert my eyes', but there doesn't seem anywhere I can turn here."

Nowhere he can safely look. Because women in swimsuits and summer clothes are everywhere and he's had it drilled into him from a tender young age that women in swimsuits are off-limits, tantalizing, and "impure". This poor boy cannot even go swimming or play outside because of his parent's brain-washing. HOW is this "purity"?! It isn't. It's heaping guilt and legalism on a child's head and causing untold confusion. This isn't healthy. This is so very toxic. He's just a little boy. Yet his innocence is being trampled into the ground.

My cousin Matt said this when he read this article:

"He [the boy in the story] wouldn't have a problem with it if his parents didn't make it a big deal. If they approached sexual attraction as a normal thing, and taught him how to control his actions, he wouldn't have to live in fear of seeing bare skin. Now, it seems like he is afraid to even go out in public, because of all the eye snares around him. Its almost as if he - or his mother, at least - expect girls to cover up for her son's sake, as if the world revolved around him. 

If he was in the real world, you know, the one that inhabits the spaces around his stifling mother and father, then he would find that real men really don't worry about bare skin. Those of us who control our desires know it is not wrong to look or enjoy the sight of a beautiful woman. We also don't expect them to serve us because we know they aren't the temptresses this mother is insinuating that they are. 

What he needs is for the walls of his little world to come crashing down. People like his parents think they are helping him walk in victory, but it isn't victory when you are afraid of the world around you. It isn't victory when you demonize something God created: beauty in a woman. It trivializes His creation. It makes it seem as if women are there to set you up for failure. 

What's wrong is not the world around him, but the world in which he lives. Open your eyes, son, look up. Nothing says you have to look at the lingerie ad, but you won't go to hell for lingering a second longer on it. Look at it and move on. It is part of the world around you. Your urges are part of your world. Your desires are part of your world. They aren't your whole world, as your mother seems to emphasize." 

In essence, these parents are crippling their son. There's no way around that. And this mother is encouraging other mothers to cripple their son and to see all women as objects of temptation.  Not to mention using emotionalism and spiritual-sounding language to urge all women to cater to her dysfunction. This is a glaring example of spiritual and psychological abuse.

I'm not going to post the rest. It's an appeal to emotion that ends up blaming all the women in the world for this boy's and every good boy's "struggles"; blaming women for toxic, spiritually abusive parenting they have inflicted on their son. You can read it but be warned, it's painful.

This is a real, serious problem, but I've never seen it outlined so perfectly as this post does. Making normal, non-erotic body parts erotic does a grave disservice to boys and men. And this is a wide-spread problem among conservative Christians and homeschoolers.

Here's what my friend Katie had to say in a conversation we were having on this topic:

"I believe the ultra conservative teaching many of us grew up under modesty-wise, has hurt men as well as women. Men who grow up so sheltered that they find a cap sleeve enticing and whose moms cover their eyes if a woman with cleavage walks past, never learn how to deal with normal American dress. It is no wonder they experience such trouble at a beach or a pool. Regardless of how you personally believe God would have you to dress, you have no right to control the rest of culture. Your husbands, brothers, sons, etc. will be exposed to cleavage, shorts, bikini's, mini skirts, etc. We do boys no favors when we raise them so strictly that such normal clothing is hyper erotic to them. Instead of sheltering them we end up hyper sexualizing them. I feel sorry for guys raised that way that struggle thru normal daily life like going to the grocery store.

I hope our generation will do better than our parents at teaching our children (boys and girls alike) how to view the opposite sex. Lust is not a sin that only effects men. Women can struggle with it as well. Part of the problem is that we call sin things that are not sin thereby heaping guilt on men and women for simple biological hormonal reactions.

It is not sin to find a person attractive. It is not even sin to feel turned on by them as they walk past you. That is just a basic function of biology and hormones. It is a sin, to dwell there and savor the moment, to go back to it time and again, or continue to fantasize about that other person (ie undressing them in your mind or worse). We need to teach our children the difference between a hormonal reaction that is biological, and choosing to expand or camp in that reaction and indulge in lust. We need to practice personal responsibility in our handling of situations that are struggles for us personally, and we need to teach our children personal responsibility for their own reactions to others around them. Men and women alike need to dress in ways that do not violate their conscience, but they also need to realize that they can never control anyone but themselves and master their own thought lives."

Fear, shame, guilt, rules, "temptation is everywhere"....a little boy whose innocence was taken by the very people supposed to protect him. And all in the name of "purity". My heart is breaking. I may be a woman, and I experienced these lies from a woman's perspective, but I saw what they did to the men in my life. To the boys programmed with shame. I continue to see the effects of such teachings as the boys I grew up with are now men. Men who have sexual addictions; teenage boys from homeschooling families that ended up as pedophiles; men who have sexual hang-ups in their marriages; conservative Christian men who ended up rapists; good men who struggle with normal life because they still can't see a woman in a pair of jeans and not think about the voices that told them this was "immodest" and "a temptation". An entire generation of men who were raised with shame and fear, like this little boy, have grown up and their stories are enough to keep the tears flowing and the hearts breaking. I have two little boys of my own. And I cannot imagine raising them to fear the world, women, and themselves as the parents of  the boy in this story are doing. I hope they see what they are doing to their son before it is too late to undo it.

(Warning: I would suggest that if the above sickens or triggers you, don't read the comments on the post I linked. Some of them are worse by far than anything in the post and completely disgusting.)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

In Which I Weigh In on The "Modesty" Debate

Is it just me, or did the modesty debates start early this summer? So much angst and judgment and shame and backlash and finger-pointing and freaking out going on, splattered across blogs and Facebook, each one trying to out-do the other, each one with it's own rebuttal from either side of the debate. So now it's my turn. :D Except, I don't care too much to argue point-by-point about the issues. Maybe some other time. I'd rather just sit and have a chat with my fellow sisters.
Can we do that?
I have some things on my mind and I'd like to talk to you about them.

I read these articles on "modesty" and I hear many women's stories and something in my heart just breaks. For all of us. Because the one thing I'm seeing as a common thread, no matter if you're conservative or not, Christian or not, is the holding onto of burdens that are not ours to bear. And the pain and the shame and the projection of pain onto other women because of it.

Here are some of the things I've heard come from the mouths of my sisters:

"Cover those boobs!"
"I don't want you wearing that around my sons or husband."
"That much skin showing is disgusting and I don't want to see it."
"You obviously don't care much about the men in your life."
"I dress this way so that I can help men not to stumble."
"Wearing bikinis mean that you are selfish and don't care that men are looking at you."
"Well, she deserved it dressing like a hussy."
"I beg you as one sister to another, cover up your body! Do the men in your life a favor."
"But think about the MEN!"

I have a friend that wore a very long, appropriate, conservative dress to church, and one woman came over in a huff and told her to "cover up" because she had a tiny bit of cleavage showing. The woman made a huge deal about it and was really pushy about it. Another friend was told by her mom that she can't come visit anymore because her dad and brothers need to be "protected" from her immodesty. Another woman I was chatting with said that having lots of cleavage/boobage showing was "disgusting" and another said she didn't want her husband or sons around immodest women. One girl I know was told to put a different shirt on by her mother "for your dad's sake". (Her dad had never said anything about her clothing.) This woman told a heart-breaking story of being shamed by other women because of her body. Many girls I know tell how their mom was the one that made them wear ugly, shapeless clothes when they were teens, while their dad didn't care and often fought with the mom over her standards. I remember one time when I was about 14, walking across the parking lot at ShopCo, and my mom stopped me and started yelling about how my breasts were bouncing when I walked and what if some guy saw me and was "defrauded". (I was wearing a polo shirt that was 3 sizes too big, and a floor-length skirt. But C-cups on a 14-yr-old are hard to hide.)

Overwhelmingly, it is women making these sort of comments to other women. And while our first reaction is usually one of anger or bristling that someone is trying to control other people or that women are being blamed for men's thought problems, I have an entirely different reaction.

All I see in the above comments and stories and the dozens more I didn't write here is Insecurity. Pain. Betrayal. Wounds. Grasping at control. Broken hearts due to infidelity. Women picking up burdens that do not belong to them and trying to force every other woman to do the same.

When I hear something like the comments above, my first thought is this: "How did the men in your life hurt you so badly that you feel the only way to keep from being hurt again is to control their environment? How have you been betrayed by the men in your life who promised to love, honor, protect and cherish you? What caused you so much pain that you can only project that pain onto other women? Why are you carrying the guilt for your man's unfaithfulness and why are you trying to place that responsibility on your sisters? What were you taught about men and sexuality that you would react in such a way toward other women?"

Maybe it was a wife ignored for a porn addiction, or left for a younger, bustier woman. Maybe a daughter who was shown inappropriate attention from a father, and a mother who blamed her for it. Maybe a woman who has had many men reject her to run after other women and many promises broken. Maybe a girl who was used by men her whole life then blamed for their sin. Or maybe it's just a woman who was raised by one of these broken women and brainwashed to believe that all men are sex-crazed monsters that can't keep it in their pants and women must control their urges for them. Whichever it is, whichever one you, my sister, may be, I have just one thing to ask of you:

Let it go. 

Let the sins and the choices and the awful, terrible things that the men in your life have done drop off your shoulders. You were not responsible for their actions. This was not your fault. They hurt you, they betrayed you, they caused so much pain, and that pain is your own, but you cannot own their failures. Their sins are theirs to own and carry. By believing that you and your fellow women are to blame for the misdeeds of these men, you have become enslaved to sins that are not your own. And you are now trying to enslave other women, to make them carry the guilt for something you, and they, didn't do. You try to control the environment of every man in your life, even the good men, because you believe this is the only way you can keep from being hurt again. And the cycle of abuse and sin and pain just keeps turning, perpetuated by the victims while the perps get off scott-free. Because the reality is, by projecting the sins of a few evil men onto your fellow sisters, you are allowing those men to walk. 

I know the crushing weight of seeing every other woman out there as a threat. I KNOW. I bore that weight for a long time. It took a lot of healing and the love of a good man and the complete re-programming of everything I'd been taught to make me let go of that burden. It took a few good men to show me that most men are decent and good and that good men NEVER blame women for their own thoughts and actions. But it finally happened. I finally said "I will not carry the sins of ungodly men. I am only responsible for my own." And you know what happened? Suddenly I didn't hate other women. I didn't feel threatened by the woman talking to my husband whose boobs were bigger than mine. I didn't feel threatened by the women on the beach in bikinis. I didn't feel the need to control the women around me to protect myself from pain. I stopped resenting and controlling my fellow sisters, and was finally able to love and enjoy them instead. I was free. And I had freed my sisters.

Because they, and I, were not the guilty parties. Do you hear me? We are not the guilty ones. We are not threats to each other. A man's actions are his own and no matter how much we try to control his surroundings and therefore his mind, we just can't. A good man will still be good and an evil man will still be evil, no matter what women do or wear or try to make other women wear.

Women, sisters, I beg you to think about these things. I know what I wrote could dig up an awful lot of unbearable pain and for that I'm so sorry. But I believe it had to be said. Don't let the men that treated you badly be the cause of a life lived in fear and resentment toward other women. Free yourself, free them. And hold accountable the ones to whom the fault for your wounds really belong.