Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Modesty Culture Part 12: Amanda's Story

In the next segment, I am going to tell the story of my wife’s experiences. I do this with her permission and her assistance. I do it because I believe it is a necessary cautionary tale about the dangers of gender essentialist, Patriarchal Christianity in general and Modesty Culture in particular.

My Wife’s Experience With Patriarchy, “Modesty Culture,” Slut Shaming, and Sexual Assault

I write this post with some trepidation. I know it will cause pain to some of the people involved, especially my in-laws, who are really great, good-hearted people. I have been blessed greatly by them in many ways, personally and professionally, and it is not my intent to assign blame. None of us parents are perfect, and we all make mistakes. 

They have also done what is often hardest for parents to do, which is to let their adult children make different decisions than they did, without shaming, nagging, or attempts to control. I am grateful to them for this, and cherish our relationship.

Rather, it is my intent to sound a warning. The Patriarchal philosophy - Modesty Culture in particular - is a siren song. It sounds so sweet and so good and desirable. More than anything else, the vision of “clean cut, sweet and innocent” teens draws people into cults. But it draws people on to harm and destruction, and leads to pain and heartache for many of the children raised in it.


***

I want to note a few things at the outset.

First of all, my wife has assisted me in putting together her story, and she has consented to and approved my disclosure of her past experiences. She didn't want to write it herself, but did want her story to be told.

Second, I realize that recollections of events and conversations vary. (Of all people, a lawyer would understand this.) Some of the people involved will undoubtedly have different memories of the events - and different interpretations.

However, I think that the late great Maya Angelou makes a good point here.

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


Amanda’s experience was real to her, and the way she was made to feel was also very real.

***

Very early in our relationship, we stayed at her parents mountain home with them for a weekend, and spent an evening looking through old pictures and a few old home movies. I was madly smitten (still am), and found it endlessly fascinating to see the young Amanda. It was striking to me that even at a very young age, she was recognizable not just by her appearance, but by her way of talking and her gestures. The self-assured 20-year-old I knew was already visible in the self-confident 6 year old.

I also noticed something else, however. Up until her teen years, she was dressed like a typical California kid in the 1980s. Shorts. Jeans. T-shirts. Tank tops. Even swimsuits.

But then, something changed. For a number of years, from age fourteen or so, pretty much up until I met her, she was dressed in homemade prairie style dresses. Never pants or shorts. Few items if any would have been worn by a normal teen girl of the era.

As I have noted in the introduction to this series, my wife spent these years in Jonathan Lindvall’s home church.

There was a very detailed and very strict dress code based on a concept of “modesty.”

During that time, she was singled out for what I believe was “slut shaming.” (See the Wikipedia definition if you are unfamiliar with the concept.

Things you need to know about Amanda:

1. She is fiercely independent. She has, from a young age, been a natural leader, strong in personality and in her own assurance and ability to tell right from wrong. She has not, and never will, consider herself inferior to a man in any way. She fully believes in interacting with men as full equals. (And that includes the former CEO of her hospital, BTW, who tried to be condescending to her.) She knew from age three (long before her Patriarchy experience) that she wanted to be a nurse. She pursued this goal and continues to serve her community in that capacity. She is a competent and capable shift leader, and is often called upon to lead in crisis situations. Recently, she ended up in charge of all three ICU units at her hospital due to the illness of the other charge nurses. I've also seen her administer and direct CPR out in the field. Her gifts and contributions to the good of humanity outside of our family are great. I greatly admire her gifts, and would gladly follow her lead in a natural disaster.

2. If you actually met her in person, you would know that she is the exact opposite of a flirt. She does NOT want to have sex with you. No way. No how. She can give the “back off, asshole!” look like nobody’s business. Unless you are me - and you aren’t - she is not flirting with you. And she sure as hell doesn’t want to have sex with you. :)

3. She has a fashion sense, and has since she was a toddler, when she informed her father what did and did not match. She has sewing and design skills to match.

Of the MANY pictures I could have chosen, here is the one of Amanda and me as 
Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice for a costume party in  2011. 
She modified and sewed both costumes. 

My eldest in her Rapunzel costume. 
Amanda designed this from scratch, as the commercial patterns didn't really match the original. 
Yeah, she's good.  

***

Two major events occurred in Amanda’s life around the time she went through puberty. First, the family moved from the big city to a small mountain community. This move took her physically away from her friends to a place that was occupied primarily by weekend vacationers and retirees. There weren’t many children, to say the least.

The second occurred around the same time, when they joined Jonathan Lindvall’s home church. This essentially limited her in-person interaction with other people her own age (other than rare occasions) to a very narrow group of people, all of whom shared a specific worldview - and specific beliefs as to what women should and shouldn’t be allowed to do.

It was a complete shift from an ordinary life and ordinary clothing to a strict requirement of long dresses and skirts for girls at all times, combined with all of the “defrauding” teachings I described earlier in this series. That was the last time she wore pants or shorts until after we started dating. For a girl barely coming to terms with having breasts and a period, this was difficult. What had once been her girlish body had now become a source of sin to be covered and hidden as much as possible.

And not just that. This group believed that college was to be avoided, not just by females, but males as well. Men were to (ideally) be self employed, and women were to - without exception - get married, have as many children as they could, and keep house. I’ve also noted elsewhere that fiction and literature was viewed with suspicion, with some families insisting on only reading the Bible and missionary biographies. I also mentioned elsewhere that they believed that only men could participate in the church services (other than the singing) because women were to remain silent in church.

So, not only was Amanda’s body now considered a source of sin, her very aspirations were considered sinful by the adults - and the other teens - in the group. The fact that she wanted a career was horrifying. So she couldn’t talk about that. Literature too - which Amanda loves - couldn’t be discussed, because it was evil to many in the group. These were her only opportunities for in-person friendships.

***

It didn’t get better from there. A certain middle aged man in the homegroup committed a sexual assault. He grabbed the butt of a stranger at the mall, and was arrested. (Presumably, she was wearing something less than a burqa, so I suppose in this worldview, she asked for it…)

Amanda was never told about this incident. Indeed, it never came up within context of the full group - and there were certainly no repercussions for the offender. (Amanda and I found out about this a number of years later, after she had left the group. She certainly was never warned to avoid him, and, as far as I can see from subsequent interactions involving him, that there were no restrictions ever placed on him about being around women or children.)

This same man had a habit of standing far too close to Amanda (age 16 or 17 at the time) when he talked to her. She would back up, but he would persist, and she would often end up backed against a wall or a bookcase. She clearly remembers that during one incident, she was even wearing her most modest (and least attractive) jumper. Fortunately, it never went further than this. She was young, and naive. (In fact, she didn’t get a real sex education until her college courses. And an explanation of sexual harassment was out of the question.) So she tried to avoid him to the degree possible, but she did not feel free to complain. She didn’t really realize that he was sexually assaulting her in a mild degree. And really, it would have done no good for her to complain anyway, in light of what happened to her earlier. If she had complained, she would have been blamed for what occurred.

Amanda was away at a religious conference with her grandparents for a week; when she returned, she fiound that she had been the subject of a big meeting in the group.

Apparently, she was now viewed as a serious threat to the young men of the group. Why?

Well, she wasn’t really interested in talking about homemaking or the care of goats. The young ladies of the group were not allowed to read literature, which was her great love, so she had NOTHING in common with them. Nothing to talk about.

So naturally, she gravitated to the young men. They might talk about classic cars (which she knows enough about to best my knowledge), roller coasters, math, or other topics that actually interested her.

This, apparently was a huge nuclear threat to the young men. After all, she was attractive, smart, and shamelessly confident. She clearly did not have the right attitude for a woman. She also didn’t have the proper “shamefaced” and “downcast” glance. She looked the men and boys right in the eye.

Now, they couldn’t complain that she was “immodest” in the traditional sense. She strictly adhered to the dress code at her parents’ insistence.

Actually, let me give you the two best examples of this. First, once I started dating her, I told her she had to buy a pair of jeans. Because all she wore were dresses and skirts. Not good for hiking, in my opinion. She actually did not own a pair of pants at that time, much less a pair of shorts. She bought and wore her first (uncovered) swimsuit after she moved out of her parents’ house, so that she could use the pool at her grandparents’ retirement community.

Second, she actually went cross country skiing in snow pants with a skirt over them. Really? Um, yes. No, it wasn’t practical or comfortable. Yes, it made her look like a total freak. (A really cute freak, but a freak.) Yes, it was in response to the batshit crazy dress code of the group. The thought of a woman in actual puffy snow pants was unthinkable.


The unthinkably “immodest” attire of snow pants without a skirt. Picture from Overstock.com. 
Are you not titillated?

(Actually, if you want to put a fine point on it, women were NOT really permitted to engage in physical activity, but her parents wisely decided to allow it. Too bad they didn’t give the finger to the perverts in the group that minded her wearing pants while doing so.)

SO….

She came back to find that a decree had been issued about her:

She was NO LONGER to interact with boys. Because she had been deemed to be flirting with them. She was a sexual danger to them.

She was to confine herself to her proper place, and talk to the girls about homemaking and goats.

I do not know if her body was mentioned at the meeting, because I strongly doubt her parents would have relayed that to her.

But the message was clear:

She was sexually DANGEROUS to the young men of the group.

Oh, and I should mention that she was told on the way to a home church meeting, and thus had no time to process this or prepare herself.

So yes, I believe that, stated or not, she was believed to be “immodest.” Actually, given the Rebelution survey, she would have qualified as “immodest” somehow. Because something she did caused a perverted old man to lust. And it may have caused ordinary young men to feel sexual desire. (Goodness knows, when I first saw her, I desired her.) So she MUST have been a slut.

And note the ultimate result of all of this.

The man who committed criminal sexual assault was permitted to remain in the group - and continue to be part of the leadership - without consequences. The young lady who had no intention of having sex with anyone in the group had her friendships sharply curtailed, because she was considered sexually dangerous.

She had to pay the price: to sacrifice her clothing, her friendships, and indeed her very self for the sexual insecurities and dysfunction of the adults in the group.

[As side note: like most home churches - particularly patriarchal ones - all of the male heads of household share to a degree in the governance of the church. Someone may have the final say - like Lindvall - but the idea is a sort of democracy in emulation of the early New Testament church. Needless to say, women could only act through their husbands if married, and through their fathers if single. In this particular instance, there was never any indication that the predator was ever denied a full male vote. It was the 16 year old girl who was subjected to church discipline.]

This incident also sparked an increasing restriction on male/female interaction within the group. Originally, boys and girls played badminton (the recreational game of choice) together. The girls had to wear long skirts, of course, but both genders could play. Next, the girls had to stay on one side of the net, and the boys on the other. Can't have them getting too close. Eventually, the games were segregated by gender. And so, an individual slut-shaming spread to increasing paranoia about gender mixing. 

The Coup de Grace

At age eighteen, Amanda returned to the city to live with her grandparents while she attended college. When she did, a number of the parents in the group instructed their daughters to cut off contact with Amanda, lest they be contaminated by her wickedness - that is, her decision to attend college. And with that, her rejection and vilification were complete. She was now the great Satan.

I’ve talked to a number of others who have come out of patriarchal cults, and most of us can think of some incident or incidents that were a turning point. At some point, one realizes that this isn’t going to end well, that there will be no happy ending, that the only option is to leave, even if it means severing relationships.

At that point, all that can be done is to withdraw into oneself to avoid further hurt, keep quiet and do the things necessary to keep the peace, and count the days until one can get the hell out of Dodge and never look back.

***

In the next installment, I will explore the uniquely American history of moral panics, snake oil (spiritual and otherwise), and make my argument that “Modesty Culture” is really just yet another manufactured crisis.

Modesty Culture Part 2: How "Modesty Culture" became a "Thing"
Modesty Culture Part 3: "Modesty" in Practice
Modesty Culture Part 4: The Concept of "defrauding" and Rape Culture  
Modesty Culture Part 5: The Faulty Definition of "Lust"
Modesty Culture Part 6: The Real Meaning of I Timothy 2:8-10 
Modesty Culture Part 7: Maybe Christian Women Should Buy Their Clothes at WalMart  
Modesty Culture Part 8: Sexism and Misogyny
Modesty Culture Part 9: Inconsistent Application of Rules 
Modesty Culture Part 10: Social Signaling  
Modesty Culture Part 11: "Others May, We Cannot" is a Lie
Modesty Culture Part 12: Amanda's Story


The Convent:

We came to find out years later that a significant driver of the decision to join the Lindvall group was a fear that Amanda (and her siblings) would end up like the son of a friend, who knocked up a girl at age 14 - not a parent’s favorite result.

As Amanda puts it, she feels that the isolation by geography and limited contact with normal children was the Protestant equivalent of a convent with 12 foot high walls. A way to preserve her virginity at the cost of her freedom. 

Amanda’s contribution to #yesallwomen:

Despite being pretty much the opposite of the typical “victim” type, Amanda experienced another instance of unwanted sexual inappropriateness. Because all women really do experience this.

The incidents occurred at work, when this jerk with a reputation for harassing others made repeated inappropriate comments to her about her body and her pregnancy. She followed the sexual harassment procedure, and her employer took care of it.

Yes, even the self-confident, strong women have to put up with this crap from time to time. She experienced it at work, and at church. Guess which one was the place she had no recourse? Guess which one instead decided that she was the cause of sin on the part of males?

A similar story on slut shaming:

Of the many stories of Bill Gothard’s sexual abuse that have come to light, this one in particular struck me with some similarities to Amanda’s experience.

Most notably, once a perverted old man took a particular interest in the victim, those around her called her out as a slut. I’ll also note that those singled out for “modesty” violations are often the ones that the perverts find themselves attracted to.

My Own Experience at being the Great Satan:

I don’t think anyone other than my own parents and my wife have ever heard this story. When I was a young boy, I’m guessing no older than seven - maybe five or six, we had some next-door neighbors with a couple of young boys, a bit younger than me - the older was my brother’s age, I think.

We used to play with their kids regularly, as was natural in those heady days when kids actually played outside in the street. However, something went wrong one day. In the course of some rough play, I pushed one of the neighbor kids. I was small anyway, and no harm was done, and I didn’t mean anything by it. I was freaking seven or younger. I had no ill will, and, honestly, nobody got hurt. The kid didn’t even complain. It was mom, looking from the window who freaked out.

If I had been asked, I would gladly have apologized. I probably did right when it happened. But mom freaked out. (I think she had some emotional issues.)

So, whatever the cause, from that point forward, I was persona non grata. They were not allowed to play with us any more.

Worse than that, when I would play in my own yard, their kids would taunt me from the second story window (presumably at the prompting of their mom). “Hey there, Satan!” And so on. So I know first hand what it is like to be vilified with no chance of defense. I tried not to let it affect me. But it did.

Note on Jonathan Lindvall:

One thing I do want to clarify. Neither my wife nor I believe Lindvall is a pervert. As a person, he is basically harmless, and a guy with good intentions. In fact, he lacks the narcissistic personality and empire building obsession that most of the other partriarchists have. No extravagant lifestyle or outsized ego.

The problem is that he is extremely gullible, whether it is to my father-in-law’s practical jokes (which were hilarious, particularly the one where he impersonated a Muslim extremist who called Lindvall to make common cause) or to theological bullshit

His exegesis, to say the least, is utterly awful, with the proof-texting and out-of-context hyper-literalism that plagues the Christian Patriarchy movement - and the rest of fundamentalism in all its forms. I would link to his website, but since the Matthew Chapman story hit the internet, he has taken it down. (Wait, another case when an inconvenient truth comes to light and is simply removed without explanation or apology? Come on, Lindvall! Explain why you glorified child marriage while slut shaming an older teen for having friends of the opposite sex...) 

Lindvall’s teachings reveal a serious lack of judgment and a disconnect from the real world.

The man should NEVER have been accepted by anyone as a spiritual leader. Had this never happened, had he never been place in a position of leadership, he might have lived life as an eccentric but lovable schoolteacher.

However, the philosophy itself is evil, and leads to the tolerance of perverts and the decision to slut-shame innocent sixteen-year-old girls rather than deal with the real problem of lust. The bad philosophy combined with a serious lack of judgment and leadership combined to make a toxic combination.

Amanda and I don’t have personal ill will toward the Lindvalls. They were even invited to (and attended) our wedding.

However, he has made his living selling spiritual snake oil, which has damaged many. Amanda was one of the lucky ones, because her parents ignored his teachings on college and careers and facilitated her escape from the group.

Many other young women were not so lucky.

It would be a great relief to me if he were to get out of the business altogether, before more lives are damaged.

A Lack of Peer Friends is a feature, not a bug:

While in this case, Amanda’s lack of friendship opportunities was probably an unforeseen consequence, for Lindvall, it is a positive result. I kid you not.

Before he took down his website, the following could be read. Fortunately, a Patheos writer copied the text.


This is an exchange between Lindvall and a person who sought his advice:

Writer: We noticed that she [his daughter] doesn’t like to play with the other kids as much now and prefers to play alone. Any idea what could be happening?

Lindvall: That’s GREAT! I often hear from new homeschoolers that their children are preferring to play with the parents, siblings, and alone, soon after beginning homeschooling. In my opinion, that’s part of the goal. Congratulations! She was becoming addicted to interaction with her peers, who were, perhaps unintentionally, stealing her heart from you. She had already started down the road to becoming peer-dependent. But now, she is preferring being with you, being with her little brother, and being alone. I think that’s really healthy. Many people worry that this will make children unable to relate to others. In fact, it makes them less intimidated by others’ acceptance/rejection of them. She will be less likely to be pressured into conformity with the world (Rom. 12:1-2). And as you spend time with her, her emotional focus is turning to you. God is “turning the hearts of the children to the fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to their children” (Mal. 4:6). Ultimately this will make it easier for [the daughter] to give her heart to you (Prov. 23:26) in preparation for fully yielding and trusting her heart to the Lord.

That’s right. Having friends one’s own age is “addiction to interaction with her peers.” Family should be all in all, and children should be emotionally focused on their fathers.

As an attorney, this sort of talk is all too familiar. This is how abusers (and cults) isolate people from their family, friends, and anyone who could help them escape. The cult becomes all in all, and no contrary ideas are allowed to penetrate.

It is disturbing to me that anyone could hear this and not realize how awful it really is. 

Likewise for the teaching that young people are to find a spouse "entirely on God's will confirmed by our authorities," and that any emotional relationship or romance was to occur only after an irrevocable betrothal was entered into by the parents. You can read about the way this negatively impacted our own romance here. We thrived despite the teaching, but it took deliberate rejection of the theological bullshit.

Note on the cult:

While Lindvall doesn’t qualify as a cult leader, there are enough cult-like tendencies in the group that I believe it has crossed the line.

For some reason, Lindvall’s group attracted a lot of people with serious issues. From what I have seen, heard, and experienced, there was a high degree of sexual dysfunction. Whether the teachings caused problems, or whether people with problems gravitated toward the teachings is an open question.

It also attracted conspiracy theorists and die-hard reconstructionsts. Amanda noticed (through a mutual friend) that the kids of one family received a complete Rushdoony set when they turned eighteen, for example, and there was plenty of involvement with the “militia” and the John Birch Society. Rushdoony’s son, Mark, officiated at one of the kids’ weddings. You can also find liberal references on the blog to Steve Wilkins, one of the founders of the White Supremacist group League of the South. (Also a good buddy and co-author with Douglas Wilson.) These are people who were (and are?) part of the Lindvall group. They blog publicly, so I believe a link is fair game. 

Also I should mention the Campbells. They were welcomed for over a year, because apparently White Supremacist beliefs and affiliations were acceptable in a way that a feminist teen girl was not.

The Campbells now lead a “church”/cult that has close ties to the League of the South, a well known White Supremacist group. In fact, the “church,” despite its small size, has been listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. And with good reason, once you read what they teach. I strongly suspect we shall hear more about them as perhaps the next Branch-Davidian type catastrophe.

After reading this, I do wonder if I have finally found an opportunity to use “antidisestablishmentarianism.”

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit it, but I have a relative (no, I’m not disclosing the identity), who is solidly connected with the financial scam mentioned in connection with Kaweah - and did Federal prison time as a result. You can read a bit more here.

What I find disturbing about all this is that adherence to racist teachings and teachers never raised an eyebrow, but a 16 year old girl with feminist leanings who wanted to be friends with boys warranted a big meeting and what was, frankly, church disciplinary action against her.

One bright spot:

We wanted to say something nice about the one person in the group who actually treated Amanda like a real person, not a “female,” or a hussy. That would be Lindvall’s mother, who passed away last year. She was one of the sweetest, kindest people ever, and was the one source of love (outside of her family) for Amanda during those years. One of our daughters bears a tribute to this woman in her name. If she is able to watch us, I want her to know that her kindness to Amanda is not forgotten, and it is one of the best things she ever did. May she have her reward.  

Links:


The whole post is excellent, but this line is so very true:

People join cults because they fall in love with a beautiful dream.
They see something they desperately want or need.
They feel like they’ve found The Answer to life’s problems.

I’ve gone back and forth on whether to post the next link. Few links have struck as close to home or choked me up as much as this one. Darcy had a worse time of it than Amanda did, and much worse than I did. However, she says what so many of us who have left the Patriarchy cult feel, and she says it so well. It cuts really deep, which is why I hesitated. 

Still, if our parents are to read one article on how we feel, this is it.

http://darcysheartstirrings.blogspot.com/2014/05/letter-to-our-parents.html

On that note, Amanda discovered this song recently. It expresses her feelings on the experience.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Modesty Culture Part 11: "Others may, we cannot" is a Lie

“Others may, we cannot” is a bald-faced lie, or,

Why I am more comfortable hanging out with non-religious people when water is involved.

Anyone who spent time in organizations built on legalism, such as that of Bill Gothard (me) or Jonathan Lindvall (my wife), or innumerable others, has undoubtedly been given this explanation for the rules.

Since most of the rules are not directly and clearly found in scripture, but are inferred through proof texting and outright fabrication in some instances, there has to be an explanation as to why the rules should apply. After all, don’t plenty of other Christians have other, conflicting beliefs about these issues?

This gets particularly sticky on a few issues - at least in my experience.

Let me share one. Gothard teaches that his followers need to follow the Old Testament dietary rules. This, despite the little dream incident with Saint Peter and the non-Kosher food. Why? Well, there are a bunch of fun complicated rationalizations, including some alternative medicine pseudoscience.  (In reality, although Gothard doesn’t actually say so, he is advocating Old Testament Theonomy, which he stole - without attribution - from R. J. Rushdoony.)

But how do we explain to our non-Gothard friends why we can’t eat their food?

“Others may, we cannot.” “We are called to a higher standard.” And so on.

For dietary issues, this, I guess, sort of works. It’s much like a food allergy. People may well accommodate us and our preferences, and won’t necessarily feel that we are looking down on them for eating what we will not.

I personally found this very awkward during my family’s Gothard phase. Looking back, I wish I had just eaten the ham and been done with it, rather than give this lame explanation. But it’s hard as a teenager living at home to openly rebel.

I’ve touched on the issue of music before in my discussion of the racist origins of Christian Patriarchy.  Succinctly put, Gothard (and others) teach that any music with African origins or influence is demonic. That means jazz, ragtime, blues, rock and roll, and all their descendents. In practice, anything that post-dates the 19th Century is suspect and likely evil.

Unlike the issue of dietary rules, this one is a doozy in practice.

This may seem hard to believe, but Gothard actually encourages - nay, insists - that if you go to a restaurant or store, and they are playing “ungodly” music, one should go to management and ask that they turn it off.

Really.

Seriously.

I kid you not.

Likewise, one should tell one’s boss to change the music. (I never claimed that Gothard or these other guys actually understood how the real world works.)

Because mere passive listening will contaminate you. (And you might get a demon…)

As you can see, in this instance, “Others may, we cannot” is a total, absolute lie. “Others may,” but only as long as they do it in private, and never around the “godly elect.” The rule must be enforced on others.

How this relates to Modesty Culture

Plenty of Modesty Culture advocates have tried to soft peddle their beliefs by claiming that they don’t believe everyone necessarily needs to wear clothing that meets their approval. They claim that they just “feel called by God” to wear what they wear.

I’m calling bullshit on this.

No, they don’t believe that others can legitimately differ. Here’s the proof:

Back in part 8 of this series, I described the incident at a local public charter school. The one wherein girls were forbidden to wear swimsuits to a water-related event. At a public school.

Do you really think that the parents who insisted on that rule really believed that it was okay for little girls to wear swimsuits? Hell no! If they did, there would be no need to insist that other people’s children follow that dress code.

Believe me, you will see this every time you attend a water related event with Modesty Culture partisans.

You will be told what you may wear and what your kids may wear around their kids.

Because heaven forbid they be “contaminated” by your sin.

They do not in fact believe that different people may have different beliefs. No, they know damn well what God’s will is for everyone else. Down to the very details of the cut of the suit. Not only will they tell you so, but they will take steps to ensure that you do follow their rules.

What they REALLY mean

It took a bit of thinking before I settled on what I believe to be the real issue. As with so many things, it helps to observe what people do, rather than focus on what they say, because behavior reveals thoughts.

For the most part, modesty culture proponents are inconsistent in how they approach the issue. While there are a few like the Duggars (see endnote) who strive for intellectual consistency, most people don’t actually act consistent with their stated belief.

I already noted that modesty culture proponents will attempt to control others when they can. However, with the very few exceptions noted above, they won’t absolutely limit contact with people who don’t follow their rules.

Let me give an obvious example.

Very, very few people in California do not ever go to the beach. Most of us try to get out there regularly. It’s one of the joys of living in California.

Most people I know who get their panties in a knot about swimsuits nevertheless go to the beach as well. This is a bit puzzling if one listens to their rhetoric.

If it is really acceptable for others to differ in clothing, then why do they feel the need to control?

On the other hand, if it is really necessary to control others to protect the little darlings from slutty other people, then why do they go to the beach, where most people don’t adhere to their dress code?

Hmm.

My epiphany came when I realized the dilemma that one faces when raising kids to be legalists.

If you tell your children that women who don’t follow your clothing rules are wicked, ungodly sluts, then you have some potential pitfalls to avoid. It’s easy for your kids to look at perfect strangers at the beach and be taught to disdain and avoid them as evil. They are the wicked “other.”

It’s much harder to do that when they see a friend or relative break the rule.

If you teach your kids that those who wear different clothing are evil, then they might say something embarrassing when they see cousin Zoe or aunt Edna wearing a tank top. Nothing like a kid telling a relative, “God doesn’t like it when you wear that.” A bit embarrassing, maybe. And not really good for relationships either.

But there is a worse potential outcome (for the legalist):

What if the kid (being intelligent and all) sees someone they love - who may very well be a Christian too - breaking mommy and daddy’s rules?

The child might decide that following that legalistic rule is NOT necessary to be a good person or even a good Christian.

And that - make no mistake - would be unthinkable.

That’s why modesty culture proponents have to control friends and family - and school situations. Because the whole house of cards is in danger of falling if a child realizes that good people and good Christians differ on clothing. The thought might occur to them that maybe God doesn’t really expect one to dress in a deliberately counter-cultural manner.  



Why I am more comfortable around non-religious people when water is involved

My family takes part in a number of activities outside of the Christian bubble. For one, my older daughters do gymnastics at a local secular studio. (I mention this because our local home school forum periodically has people looking for exclusively “Christian” places to send their kids. A “Christian” 4H club, a “Christian” this or that. Can’t let those precious angels be around non-religious kids…) And, the kids wear standard gymnastics clothing. Nobody bats an eyelash about it.

For another, we are involved in the local track club. We run for fun in the hot, hot sun, as Dr. Seuss put it. Also a secular group, containing a wide variety of people with a wide variety of beliefs. 



Also, they wear a wide variety of clothing styles - none of which are remotely Gothard (or Duggar) approved. In fact, much of what people run in, particularly in 100+ degree weather, is tight and short.

And you know what? Somehow, the vast majority of the men involved aren’t standing there perving on the women. (Or vice versa, for that matter.) It’s amazing. People are out there to run, not to obsess about what others are wearing.

There was one final straw on this, though, that sealed the deal for me.

When I am around devout Christians with my kids at an activity involving water - and thus swimsuits - I will nearly always get a comment about what my daughters are wearing. (Not my sons. Nobody really cares when boys wear culturally normal clothing.)

Sometimes it will be a compliment on how nice it is that my daughters wear modest suits. (This means that their navels don’t show, I think…or maybe something else...there are clearly as many opinions as people...) Other times, it will be something politely snide about how it’s nice when girls cover up. It all depends on where that particular person draws the line.

But believe me, all of them are looking my daughters’ bodies over and deciding what they think of me and my wife based on our clothing choices for them.

I find this profoundly uncomfortable.

My daughter’s bodies (and my wife’s for that matter) are not objects to be judged by their attire. They are just their bodies, and they have fun playing in water. That isn’t changed one bit by whether their navels show or by the cut of the leg holes.

A breath of fresh air

Not too long ago, my kids made some friends on a camping trip, at a place containing a river. Naturally, we went swimming.

For the first time in, well, years, I didn’t hear ONE comment about my girls’ suits. 

Not one. 

And they played with boys too. No concern was voiced about how hard it is to take them swimming because of the girls they might see. Nobody worried about their sons around girls. It just wasn’t an issue.

Likewise, at a later event involving several not-particularly-religious friends at the beach, there was NO freakout about suits. The kids just played in the water and sand and had a good time, and no parent EVER mentioned anything.

What a breath of fresh air.

It really struck me afterward that this was how it used to be when I was a small child. Kids from the neighborhood could come over to our pool, wearing whatever they got off the rack, and it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t - even after puberty - spend much time analyzing their suits (although obviously I found plenty of girls to be attractive at that point). We just swam together and had fun. It wasn’t about sex. Not even after puberty. We could play in the water as friends and not spend any time scrutinizing each others’ attire.



My girls at the beach. Back in the day, this happened in mixed groups and nobody got their panties in a wad.

And this is why, if water is involved, I would rather be (with a very few exceptions) around non-religious friends. Because they haven’t sexualized everything. Because my daughters can just be, without being held up for judgment and either approved or not, depending on the particular personal clothing preferences of the person judging them.

This is also why I am extremely uncomfortable with my daughters being around Modesty Culture proponents.

Because I have no confidence that they are teaching their sons to respect women. (See part 4 on “Defrauding” and Rape Culture.) Because I see that they are focused on sex and on appearances, and are not seeing my daughters as people rather than bodies. Because I know - from my wife’s experience - that my daughters will eventually be looked upon as moral threats to the virtue of their sons. Because my daughters will be blamed for their sons’ sexual failings.

Because that is what Modesty Culture does.

***

In my next installment, I will be sharing my wife’s personal experience of being singled out for slut shaming. I believe it sheds light on the natural, inevitable result of reducing women to bodies and to sexual threats to men.

Modesty Culture Part 11: “Others may, we cannot” is a Lie
Modesty Culture Part 12: Amanda's Story


Note on the Duggars:

I mentioned above that the Duggars try to be intellectually consistent. That is why they don’t let their kids go swimming around ordinary, “sinful” people. They don’t go to the beach or the public pool.

They, and plenty of others with the modesty obsession also instruct the young men to “avert their eyes” any time they see a woman or girl dressed the “wrong” way. They might lust! “Oh no, Mr. Bill!”



Thus, an ordinary trip to buy groceries becomes the navigation of a minefield.

I do not see any way that this is healthy, or leads to healthy views of women or sexuality in these poor young men.

I’ve linked to Darcy’s blog a few times in this series, and yet again, she has an outstanding contribution.


Note on the few “sins” that we treat this way:

There really are two areas that we tend to rush to “protect” our children from, and I think they are somewhat related.

The first is all things sexual - modesty culture just being one of the manifestations of the greater issue. This is why I remember plenty of calls to not let your children be in the presence of couples who cohabit without marriage. Or - god forbid! - around homosexuals. There is a fear of contamination that goes along with it.

The other area is alcohol. For many parents, it is a deal breaker for alcohol to be consumed in their presence. (As with the beach, this doesn’t necessarily apply to public restaurants, but does apply to friends and family.)

We don’t do this with other sins. You certainly wouldn’t see it with gluttony. You wouldn’t see it with anger in most cases. Even child cruelty is more easily tolerated.

Why is this? I think it is, once again, about the problem in supporting the rule.

As a child, I saw plenty of terrible parenting going on in public. It didn’t make me want to be a bad parent. It’s really easy to explain to a kid why parents shouldn’t call their children “little shits” in public. The concept is pretty easy to grasp, and the reasons go far beyond “because I said so.”

Likewise for many things that are clearly immoral. Kids aren’t stupid. They can see injustice - often better than adults can, if we are honest. Likewise, kids seem to recognize the value of that timeless list of the spiritual virtues: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. It’s harder to actually demonstrate these, but they aren’t hard to desire.

With alcohol and sex, there is much more of a problem, because many of the rules about these aren’t really supported intellectually or experientially.

Teetotalling is very much a modern American affectation, rather than a universal Christian principle. If one wants to put a really fine point on it, the founder of our religion kicked his ministry off by making some seriously good wine, and prior to the apotheosis - the central event - in the history of mankind to Christians - he chose wine as one of two symbols of our definitive sacrament.

So, teetotalling cannot stand up to even a tiny bit of intellectual scrutiny, and thus must be defended by complete isolation, the control of others (hello, Prohibition!), and the demonization of those who disagree. Thus, “others may, we cannot” is once again utter bullshit.

Likewise on Modesty Culture. The rules regarding the specifics of attire cannot withstand an intellectual probing (as I think I have demonstrated in the prior installments of this series), and thus must be hedged around with isolation, control, and demonization of those who disagree.

I also believe that this problem extends to much more of how we approach sexuality in general as well, but that is a bit beyond the scope of this series.

What I will say about it, though, applies to all of these areas. First, much of what we teach isn’t really even a biblical mandate, but is just rules made by men. 

Second, these rules are predominantly cultural. They are about the preference for a certain culture over another. 

 Third, I think that down deep, we know that the rules are vulnerable to a challenge. We don’t believe that our reasons and our claims are convincing. Otherwise, why would we worry so much about our children hearing or seeing competing ideas?

I do think this is an important point. If we can’t do better than “Because I say so,” or “God Says So,” we have a problem. Particularly in light of all the things God supposedly said about which we have changed our collective minds. Things like slavery, or the status of women as property, or the whole “kill the witches” thing

Our kids aren’t stupid. If we want to convince them to adopt our rules once they become adults, we had better make darn sure that we have reasons that will stand up to a bit of scrutiny.

(And we might want to make sure that they aren’t rooted in racism or misogyny either. Just a thought.)

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