I am a feminist. One of the many reasons I believe in and argue so strongly for equal rights for women stems from being raised in the purity culture of the evangelical church in the 90s. One of the ideas that purity culture promoted was that women were responsible for men’s sin in certain ways. So clothing was always an issue: is it too short, tight, low, high, or do you look good in it to the point where a man would look lustfully at you? Purity culture says that your value as a child of God is based on your virginity, or sexual purity. In some circles, sexual abuse and sex outside of marriage carry equal consequences. Because regardless of how it happens, you’re damaged goods. Honest discussions about sexuality did not take place, and some parents went so far as to demand that schools not have sex education unless they were teaching abstinence only. The biggest sin any teen could commit before marriage was to lose their virginity, and if that happened you were tainted, used up goods, compared to a piece of gum passed between strangers. Any movies that had any kind of physical contact beyond kissing were off limits. SHAME was the name of the game.
To learn these things during the formative years of pre-teen through high school had psychological ramifications that I am still dealing with today, still actively trying to unlearn. I don’t believe the people in my life who stressed purity above all else were trying to harm me, or any of us young folks at the time, in any way, but I also don’t think they understood the ramifications those teachings would have. I also grew up in a church where women were not in the elder leadership rules. The men hold meetings about the direction of the church. The men do the opening, table, and sermon. The men are the spiritual leaders. Again, wonderful people whom I love dearly, whose actions taught us, and still loudly say today, that women are not equal to men in the arena of the church.
In college, women were not allowed to wear shorts. The singing group I was in had a set of pants and skirts because some churches we sang in did not believe in women wearing pants. Men and women were not allowed in each other’s dorms, and on more than one occasion I knew of students who were expelled for being in each other’s rooms or for having sex. Expelled from college! We signed a contract when we were accepted to the school: no drinking, dancing, sex, or wearing shorts…too naive to understand what we agreed to.
I gave church a try when I moved to Nashville. Tried a bunch of different places over the years, would get sick of the internal politics and decide it was time to find another one. There isn’t a whole lot of room for single women in the church. Why are you still single? Why are you talking to a married man? Why don’t you try the singles group instead? A pastor can’t meet one on one with a single woman because that would give the appearance of evil. So I left. I left and felt like a weight was lifted off of me. Occasionally I tried to return, but I realized the church just isn’t for me. I was trying to find God in the church and it wasn’t working. So I left and found God everywhere else instead.
Before Rob and I got married, well meaning friends brought up the topic of submission one night at dinner. As in, how a wife should submit to her husband and leave the big decisions up to him. Inwardly I was screaming, cursing, and waving my fists in the air, wanting to tell them they are perpetuating inequality and male supremacy, and that I would never in a million years marry someone who didn’t consider me an equal partner. Outwardly, I felt Rob’s hand on my knee, silently pleading with me to not say anything that would be hurtful to his friends. So like every woman, I remained composed on the outside while screaming bloody murder on the inside.
Thankfully I have a husband who loves me as I am, who supports my independent spirit, and who defends me against those who don’t understand me. He knows my heart. He trusts my judgment, and I trust his. He is not the spiritual leader of our household, but is responsible for his own relationship with God as I am responsible for mine. We both have careers. We both make independent decisions and provide supportive feedback. And, we are not planning to have children, which means that the family-heavy mentality of church life isn’t a fit for us. Occasionally I rant and rave when I find myself in a traditional housewife role, and then I go mow the lawn again, fielding questions from passersby about why Rob isn’t mowing the lawn. Oh, I don’t know, maybe because he’s cooking dinner. We’re figuring out our life together. We’re also figuring out how to get out from under our teenage/early-20s selves who thought losing our virginity would surely ruin the rest of our lives. Guys seem to have less baggage from the purity message though…because women bore the brunt of the shame, like we always do.
And so we live our lives in search of a better understanding of who God is. And we stay alert. We watch. We watch closely. I watched how evangelicals supported Trump when he mocked the disabled. I watched evangelicals support him when he called our neighbors rapists. I watched evangelicals support him when he bragged about grabbing women by the pussy. I watched when evangelicals supported him when multiple sexual assault allegations were brought against him. I watched evangelicals support him when he refused to help our neighbors following a devastating natural disaster. I watched evangelicals support him while downplaying mass shootings. I watched as evangelicals have stood by this president in spite of every action he’s taken that goes directly against the teachings of Christ.
And now, I am watching evangelicals support Brett Kavanaugh. My upbringing is why I am a feminist. The rage and fury I feel in my physical body over what I am seeing is untamable. Christine Blasey Ford is what courage and bravery look like.
It was rather recently in life that I learned how much feminists are feared by the evangelical church. In fact, there are some evangelicals that believe feminists and democrats are bound for hell. I do think that people who believe these things have a fundamental misunderstanding of what feminism is (equality). I also believe they are predominantly white, more traditional men who fear losing the power they wield over women by quoting scripture out of context and manipulating the Bible to meet their own ends. For now, women are still where they want them to be….
I recently finished the book Pure but Linda Kay Klein. I want to encourage every woman in my life who I know grew up the way I did to read it. However, it comes with a warning. Expect to be triggered AF while reading this book. I heard my voice in every story. Many of them were like mine, many were far more drastically damaging than mine, but essentially they all stem from the doctrines set forth in the purity culture. I’m not sure how to process everything I’ve read. I’ll probably take some time to think on it, maybe get a therapist, and talk about it with my husband. I feel less alone having read this book. It connected dots for me, forced me to acknowledge that what I learned still affects me and still needs to be lovingly undone.
My faith in God is stronger now than it once was, but my faith in the church is gone. The place that provided the foundation of my belief was also the place that gave me the greatest sense of freedom when I walked away. My understanding of myself as a woman is deeper and truer than it has ever been. Seeing myself through the eyes of God as opposed to the eyes of the church provides a clearer picture. To my friends whose lives are still affected by the purity movement, at least we’re in this together. Be empowered to be who you are unapologetically, knowing that it’s who you were made and intended to be.