Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Modesty Culture Part 4: The Concept of "Defrauding" and Rape Culture

Modesty Culture Part 4: The Concept of “Defrauding”and Rape Culture

Again, I will draw on my personal experience. Anyone who has attended a Gothard seminar will know EXACTLY what I am talking about. Once one understands the concept, one will find that it is present, either explicitly or implicitly, in nearly every discussion of "Modesty."

Here is how Gothard describes it:

To defraud another person is to stir up in them desires that cannot be righteously satisfied. A woman can defraud a man by the way that she dresses, talks, or acts. A man can defraud a woman by improper touching or by talking about a marital commitment that he is not able or intending to carry out. [Emphasis in the original.]

A woman who “causes” a man to be sexually attracted to her, “defrauds” him. In the Gothard universe, she has promised him something that she does not intend to fulfil. This is actually a great legal definition of defrauding. Fraud is committed when a person promises to do something knowing that they do not intend to do it.

If one borrows money and can’t pay it back, this is usually a mere breach of contract. Failure to do so constitutes a mere civil wrong. Something that is typically discharged in a bankruptcy case. One has messed up, but isn’t a criminal, merely an insolvent debtor. A person who doesn’t pay a debt typically intended to pay it back, but failed to despite intentions.

In contrast, a fraud is someone who never intended to pay the debt. One who lied to rip someone off.

So, in the Gothard universe, when a man is attracted to you (meaning a woman), you have promised to have sex with him. That’s right. Not merely a bad debt. You have intentionally made the promise to have sex with him because he was aroused. And note, a woman can do this by her clothes - and also by the way she talks and acts. Hey wait, maybe that explains all those questions about how a woman’s breasts bounce when she walks.

So now we can understand our case with the dentist can’t we? He, the older, richer, man, had desires (and an erection) he couldn’t control because a 32-year-old mother and wife was attractive to him, never mind that she didn’t desire him. Because he had the desire, she had promised to have sex with him, and thus an affair was inevitable.

She had promised to have sex with him because he had a desire when he saw her.

And we wonder why we conservative Christians are considered absolutely insane. Because even the pagans aren’t this “batshit ridiculous” about women’s bodies. (To paraphrase Saint Paul.)

So let me recap the Gothard position. “Modesty” is to be determined by what a man feels when he sees a woman. If a man is aroused or attracted, the woman has, for all intents and purposes promised to have sex with him. Thus, a woman ought to dress - and act - at all times so that no man ever could be aroused by her.

Modesty Culture and Rape Culture

There is actually a name in the “secular” (i.e. evil) culture for this. Rape Culture. 

Some of us would have names for a man who believed he was entitled to have sex with a woman merely because he was aroused at the sight of her.

Some of us would call him a “dick” or an “asshole.” These would be accurate descriptions.

But there is one more that fits: “Rapist.”

Let that one sink in for a moment. The one thing that is missing from this entire discussion is the woman’s consent. It doesn’t really matter what she wants, does it? Whether in the case of the dentist or the woman whose breasts bounce when she walks.

Does it?

The mere fact of a man’s arousal. His erection. His f-ing desire to have sex with her. That is really all that matters in this discussion.

The idea that a woman who was raped - or lusted after - “deserved it,” “asked for it,” and so on.

I began this series with a mention of the sexual assault scandals at several conservative Christian colleges. I also made a brief mention of the connection between Modesty Culture and Rape Culture.

At some point when my kids are older, I am going to make sure that they read up on Rape Culture, because it is a plague on our society - and really on most societies now and in the past. For some reason, (I can guess) it is generally dismissed on the conservative side of both religion and politics. Most recently, we saw this in action from political candidate Todd Akin, who claimed that in a “real rape,” the girl can’t get pregnant. Implying that if she does, it wasn’t a “real” rape. That is, it was her fault.

Rape Culture isn’t limited to conservative religious cultures, of course. It is a problem of a whole society. A recent manifestation would be the Steubenville rape case. 

(For the two of you who missed it, a high school girl was raped while unconscious by members of the football team. Who filmed it. Fortunately, they were convicted.)

After the video of the rape appeared on the internet, a bunch of people - including women and girls - commented that she was “asking to be raped” because of what she was wearing. Yes indeed. Rape culture is alive and well.

What is particularly disturbing about this case is that there was no lack of people to go after the girl with threats and questions about what she was wearing, and so on. One suspects that if there had not been actual video, no one would have been convicted.

One can also point to fraternity culture as exemplified by Yale. Chants of “No means Yes, Yes means Anal.” 

The low water mark of this culture, legal speaking, is this case. In this infamous Italian case, the court ruled that a woman wearing tight jeans could not be legally raped because it would require her assistance to remove them.


If a man held a gun to her head and said, “Take off the jeans or I’ll kill you,” she would have to agree to be killed or it wasn’t really rape. Rather, if she decided to preserve her life by submitting, she wouldn’t be a rape victim, but a SLUT! Her virginity, after all, was FAR more important than her life. If a girl isn't a virgin, she might as well be dead. (Again, I need a whole blog post about the assumption that family honor rather than consent is the issue at stake. Good Lord!)

So, Rape Culture is by no means just a Christian problem. But the teachings of Gothard and others have so poisoned our thinking that we have been unable to recognize Rape Culture in our own theology. And thus, we have taken a vile part of our culture and given it the blessing of “godliness.”

If you haven’t already looked through the stories regarding the college scandals I linked in the introduction, I recommend it.

You might note a common theme: one of the first questions asked of the victims of sexual assault is...wait for it…

“What were you wearing?”

Well, what about that? Let’s approach sexual assault with a question about how it might be the woman’s fault!

In an amazing development, it appears that the sexual assault investigative procedure followed by these colleges seems to strongly resemble an approach set forth by a certain Bill Gothard. Almost word for word.

I sat through a good number of Bill Gothard’s seminars 20 years ago. He moves so fast through stuff that it is hard to catch everything, so there are many thing that probably exist somewhere in my memory that I cannot readily recall. One of those is his teaching on sexual assault. I suppose I kind of remembered it, but not really clearly.

Until now. Recovering Grace (a website of articles by Gothardism survivors) published an outstanding article on Gothard’s teaching regarding domestic violence and sexual assault. I had forgotten how bad it was. 
I recommend reading the entire post - because it shows that in Gothard’s world, there is no such thing as a victim. It’s always her fault. However, let me just show the most offensive page.

Can you believe that? Right at the outset, he is focusing on the “bitterness” and guilt of the victim. And then he asks what she was wearing.

There it is. Pretty clear.

If she “defrauded” the man, it’s her fault. If he was aroused by her, it was her fault. So really, is there any such thing as “real” rape in this worldview? I don’t think so.

Shall I make this even more clear? This is a teaching on Sexual Abuse. Not sexual sin. Abuse. In the context of how it was presented, if my memory serves, this was about victims of childhood molestation. Children. Yeah, they were at fault because their bodies aroused a pervert.

Of course, in light of Gothard’s longstanding perverted behavior toward young women, this makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s sure a nice way to blame the women for his own perversion.

I’m going to link one more thing. I had forgotten about this one too, but remembered it as soon as I saw the picture.

As background, this was the result of an investigation of an older boy in a family that molested younger siblings. (I also note the lack of law enforcement involvement. This is a continuing problem in sexual abuse cases within the church.)

Guess what? The victims are being blamed for their supposed lack of “modesty.” I kid you not. And what did they do? Well, they got their diapers changed.

So, these are very small children. Babies? Toddlers? Who needed their diapers changed. Later, they were young girls, who, like all really little girls, tend to be less than careful with their skirts. (I mean, there is a reason why “I see London, I see France…” became popular.)

But Gothard blames these babies and toddlers and littler girls for their own molestation. Because they weren’t “modest” enough.

I’ll say it again for the millionth time:

The standard for what is “modest” is determined by what a man feels when he looks at a woman.

And if that man happens to be a pervert who gets an erection when he changes a baby’s diaper, it is the baby’s fault.

Okay, perhaps Gothard thinks the parents are to blame. For what, though? Because a boy saw a baby’s vulva?

This is just getting silly. But I have to conclude that Modesty Culture proponents genuinely believe that they can prevent sexual problems by maintaining ignorance. If males never realized that girls have breasts and vulvas, they wouldn’t have to have sexual desire. Really? On what planet? 

In many cultures - and in our own culture's past - infants and small children ran around naked. Are we really prepared to sexualize infants? And what if the kid sees animals mating? Farm kids get their sex education early.

But no, it’s better to blame predatory behavior on those dangerous female bodies, the very sight of which contaminates males with sin.

It’s pretty sobering to look back on this and realize that somehow the teenaged me didn’t notice this at the time. It’s even more sobering to think of how many adults didn’t walk out at this point.

But it is positively terrifying that this belief appears to be represented as a near universal when we talk about sexual assault.

What was she wearing? How did she cause this?

Once you make the standard for “modesty” the arousal of men, there is no stopping point.

Some pervert will get aroused no matter what.

And all those young men who were told that ordinary sexual feelings are “lust” will find that they can’t win. They will feel things regardless of what they see. I would wager that a certain (very small) percentage of the population would be pedophiles regardless of the cultural attitude. These predators may well be attracted to places where they can get away with their crimes. Again, the article on GRACE is illuminating as to the vulnerability of churches to these people

But there are also others, that I suspect might not have engaged in assault but for the bad doctrine. (I am thinking of a few cases in my experience.) Faced with a culture that vilifies ordinary sexual desire, seeks to completely separate the genders, and exerts complete control over marriage, might a young man find some sort of an outlet? If he isn’t taught about consent, is used to hearing the girl blamed, and all he has available is a vulnerable young girl? Thinking it is the same as doing it? All the obsession about female bodies? I’m treading on thin ice here, I know. But I can’t help but wonder. If ordinary human sexuality is given no reasonable outlet, may it not take whatever escape valve is available? I have no answers, just questions, which I hope to explore in the next section.

Anyway, it should be pretty clear from all of this that there is a strong and inescapable connection between Rape Culture and Modesty Culture.

In the one, the woman is blamed for inciting the man to rape her. What she was wearing made him unable to control himself physically. In the other, the woman is blamed for a lesser crime. “Lust.” What she was wearing caused him to be unable to control himself mentally.

Po-TAY-to. Po-TAH-to. It is the same philosophy.

Notice the language is the same. A woman’s desire and opinion is unimportant. The important thing is the man’s desire. His f-ing erection. That is what determines what is rape and what isn’t. And, for Modesty Culture, what is “sin” and what isn’t.

And note, throughout the Rebelution “survey,” the only important thing is what men or young boys felt. Whether they were turned on by women or not.

And we wonder why Christians are considered immoral by the “heathen?” We can’t even subordinate our own sexual desires to the desires and personal integrity of women. Wow.

Why can’t we speak clearly about consent? Because we don't really believe it matters. 

In the next part, I want to discuss our mistaken definition of "lust," and how this feeds the fear of sexuality and contributes to the nuttiness of "Modesty Culture."

Posts in this series:

Think this doesn't apply to your views on "Modesty"? Think again.

While a surprising number of articles and internet posts in fact explicitly cite "defrauding," showing just how far Gothard's terminology and ideas dominate the debate, there is a less explicit version too. 

"Girls, think about the message you are sending the boys."

Um, what message would that be? Be honest. Isn't it something along the lines of "you're telling them you are available for sex"? Are you sure it isn't? I'm pretty sure, from my reading and my discussions with others on the subject that it sure as heck is what you mean. 

Do men really believe this? 

Just to be clear, the vast majority of men don't really buy into the defrauding thing - as it applies to them. So no, I never thought girls were agreeing to have sex with me - or even enticing me. I would say most men, even within the Patriarchy movement aren't this way either. (Actually, men who rape are a very small percentage of the population too - but they are given cover by these teachings and beliefs.) 

Rather, if pressed, most men (and women) wouldn't ever admit to feeling defrauded at all. Instead, they would deflect it by claiming that other men and boys would feel defrauded. 

Likewise, you will never see someone admit to lusting after a girl who dresses in a way they don't approve. It's never them. Because that would imply an need for them to repent and change, not the girl. So instead, it's always someone else who will lust. The most pernicious way this occurs is where a hypothetical (or even real) teen male is the one who is supposed to be at risk for lust.  I've even seen it applied to young boys, who probably still think girls have cooties. 

For some, this may simply be projection, but for others, I suspect it is simply the use of the teaching to give the force of "God's Law" to their personal preferences. 

Note on Gothard:

For those who hadn’t seen the news, both Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips - again, the main sources of the Modesty Culture trend - have resigned due to sexual scandals.

Okay, let me be more blunt: both have resigned due to allegations that, if true, constitute sexual assault.

We can speculate in a “chicken v. egg” manner about which came first, the theology or the tendency toward criminal assault. Gothard himself claimed that “morality determines theology.” I am not particularly convinced that this is a true or accurate statement of reality, but I will grant that morality and theology do interact and affect each other. We can reason away bad behavior (morality determines theology) but we can also decide to change to align our behavior with our beliefs (theology - or other belief - determines morality).

In Gothard’s case, did his tendency toward harassment and assault lead him to build a theology of “defrauding” in an attempt to prevent himself from sinning? That would be the charitable view. The less charitable would be that he developed the theology of “defrauding” in order to make his own perversion the woman’s fault. From the other direction, one might speculate as to whether his view that his perverted desires were the woman’s fault led him to take liberties that he would not have, had his theology been different.

For more on how Gothard has used “defrauding” as it relates to his own actions, see this summary on Recovering Grace

I also hope to address all of the sexist stereotypes in Gothard's definition of "defrauding" in a later post in this series. 


  1. Beth Moore falls into this trap as well with her "keep your breasts to yourself" rant.


    1. Indeed. it has spread throughout Christian culture to the point where I would say it is an obsession.

      I'm trying to think of the last time I heard a significant discussion of classism (the real point of I Timothy 2:8-10 - I'll discuss this in a future post), but I have seen and heard literally thousands of ones on the need for young women to dress differently. (I use literally exactly how it is intended to be used.)

  2. You may also find the following worthwhile:

    In it Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, decries the way conservative Christians have dealt with the body and calls for a close examination of our attitude (or theology) toward it with an eye toward Scripture, not our own cultural prejudices. It's a bit long, but raises some good points.

    He focuses on the rise and normalization of homosexuality rather than rape culture. But both highlight mistreatments of the body.

    1. Three points on Mohler:

      1. After seeing the way the Gospel Coalition has "handled" the sexual abuse cover up in C. J. Mahaney's church, I wouldn't say that his theological view of the body leans toward the protection of victims or an opposition to rape culture.
      2. SBTS's positions on gender roles and its cozy relationship with people like John Piper (and others) who tell women to endure domestic violence make me highly skeptical that they take violence against women serious. They are part of the problem.
      3. I cited the Boz Tchividjian article earlier in the series, and he points out that SBTS and the Gospel Coalition are pretty obsessed with homosexuality, but pretty much ignore the issue of sexual abuse and rape in their conferences on sexuality.

      On a related note, red flags go off for me whenever someone starts saying they are taking their views from scripture rather than culture - because usually that means using the most literal possible interpretation in a way that enforces the prejudices of the past (particularly patriarchy and rape culture).

  3. OK, I loved this post, along with all the rest. I wanted to raise a couple questions, just as Devil's advocate....

    I completely agree with your sentiment that no matter what a woman is wearing, she is not causing men to lust, but at what point (if any) does the issue of practicality come into play... a few examples to illustrate what I'm asking:

    - There are legitimately different types of clothing to wear that will help you escape an assailant, UCLA mentions "no tight clothing" http://www.counseling.ucla.edu/care_keepingsafe.html

    - An analogy - if someone breaks into my car and steals things, it is their fault, regardless of whether or not I locked the door. However, if I locked the door, it is to some degree more difficult for them to steal from me. - In your opinion, is there some level of "modesty" for women that would make it more difficult for men to assault her?

    - There is a general principle that's not related to Christianity, in general. To quote from the old movie Face-Off, "If you dress like Halloween, ghouls will try to get in your pants." (quote found here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119094/quotes") Agree or disagree?


    1. As a lawyer, I am second cousin to the devil's advocate ;) So, I appreciate that.

      Here are some thoughts on the issue you raised:
      1. UCLA mention's "tight" clothing in the sense of one that restricts movement and speed, thus making escape difficult. I think that may be a poor choice of words on their part. "Restrictive" might be better. After all, running briefs and a sports bra are plenty "tight," but world class runners are hardly slow. Likewise, I am informed that superhero costumes are both tight and fast...

      2. The issue of "safety" is completely different from that of "modesty." As I will be showing in the next installment, there was a study recently done in Egypt that showed that there was zero connection between what a woman was wearing and the likelihood she would be sexually assaulted. Hijab did not give any protection. There is no level of "modesty" that protects from sexual assault - or lust.

      If anything, there is a strong correlation between societies that impose dress codes and those that tolerate sexual assault and violence against women. (This will also go in the next installment.)

      That's a different issue from taking precautions against dangerous situations. Just as I avoid certain places and situations to avoid getting robbed, women - and men - should learn to stay safe and defend themselves. Most of UCLA's recommendations are good, common sense ideas. They also correlate with your analogy of theft.

      The better analogy for "modesty culture" would be to always keep your car in a cover, even when driving, so that no thief would want to steal it.

      3. On your final issue, I risk getting ahead of my own series. Let me just give a few concepts and leave the details for future posts: a. when "modesty culture" advocates use that line, they really mean "dressing in a way I disapprove sends the wrong 'message,'" as I pointed out. What they like = good clothes, what they don't = slutty clothes. For the most part, those defined as "slutty" are perfectly acceptable within the greater culture. Just not in a certain subculture. b. Is this quote *ever* used about men? There is a strong sexist and misogynistic undercurrent in the phrase. There is a feminist idea - that I find persuasive - that mens' bodies are just allowed to be human bodies, while women's bodies are burdened with a sexual message. A man's body is just his body (as long as he keeps his genitals covered), but a woman's body means sex.

      Rape culture. Po-TAY-to, Po-TAH-to.

    2. Let me play devil's advocate on the other side. (I stole this from a relative by marriage, btw.)

      Isn't telling girls what to do to avoid being raped basically saying, "Make sure it is the other girl that gets raped"?

  4. Rape Culture you say?

    Modesty shaming?

    1. Before I respond, let me just remind you to check out the comment policy. I know you intended no harm, and are being courteous, so I will let it slide. That said, I welcome discussion, but not just links. Feel free to e-mail me links if you like. (Just click on my name at the top of this response.) I would just prefer that the comments section be less like a running argument of links and more like a discussion. Thanks!

      That said, this incident does illustrate another point that I hope to make in a later post about the inconsistent application of standards.

  5. The absurdity in Gothard's case is the girls were dressing in his own modesty standards. So they can't be the cause of his fall.

    1. It didn't help Doug Phillips' victim either, did it?

  6. I once heard Cory Booker tell a story on himself: he was asking a well-off person how she could stand to live in a "terrible neighborhood"; she replied, "What you see in this neighborhood says more about you than it does about the neighborhood." I can relate to that because I have lived in wonderful, most definitely middle-class neighborhoods, but more than once my friends who couldn't see past the color of people's skin thought those wonderful neighborhoods absolutely unsafe.

    Once, when my child was about four, he got covered in burdocks during a walk in the woods. Very sensibly, he stripped to his underwear before going into the house. The equally little children we were with, whose parents were seriously into Doug Wilson and Co. at the time, were scandalized: "Mama, Mama, R took his clothes off."

    I see an awful lot of obsession with sex at work as I work for a denomination with a large and vocal group of extreme modesty proponents. Though every single day I fight falling into their way of thinking about other people, it does warp my perceptions about what is normal. So I was amazed and enchanted, when I recently spent time with my now twenty-something child and his friends in a far-away city, at how small and balanced a part sexuality seems to play in their lives. They're all perfectly normal, secular or mainstream Christians, and they look at each other, talk to each other, touch each other as people--human beings first and foremost, not sexualized men and women.

    The profiling of women is the last acceptable profiling. Those who do it, though, seem unaware that in the end it also profiles men.

    1. Thanks for a great comment.

      I grew up in a rougher area of Los Angeles, so I know exactly what Cory Booker was talking about. We had many great neighbors (and a few crazy ones - like anywhere), and I have fond memories of my time there.

      You are absolutely right that this philosophy sexualizes life for little kids, who, at age 4 would be running around naked in many cultures.

      I'm hoping to work it into a future installment, but I had an experience of my own last year where my kids got to play and swim with other kids whose parents were either non-religious or mainstream Christian - and feminist leaning. It was the first time I *ever* recall that my daughters could be around boys their age without anyone commenting on their swimsuits. (Either approvingly or disapprovingly.) Male/female friendships were not assumed to be romantic, but expected. As you put it, "look at each other, talk to each other, touch each other as people--human beings first and foremost, not sexualized men and women." Such a breath of fresh air.

  7. Heh. My experience with neo-pagans suggests that they're much less batshit insane about women's bodies (and physicality in general, really).

    1. I'll admit to limited experience with neo-pagans. If I am honest, it's probably due in part to my age. It caught on after my time, apparently :)

      But, yeah, I could definitely see that.

    2. Revisiting because a friend posted an article about a pastor blaming rape on women and I posted a link to this article:

      As you know, Tim, I have experience with Neo-Paganism. I have gone to Pagan festivals where clothing is optional. (This is how one learns that many, many people are not sexier with their clothes off.) Is there occasional harassment? Yes, mostly from men who are not members of the Pagan community and come just because "Hey, nekkid women!"

      But overwhelmingly, women are treated with respect, clothes on or off. They can openly express interest in sex with one or more people without people assuming A) that she's a slut or B) that that means she's fair game for any man in the group.

      The men stand ready to evict any man who behaves badly with greater or lesser degrees of prejudice, up to driving him the 20 minutes out to the highway and leaving him there naked in the middle of the night.

      None of this is terribly surprising when you realize that these are people who worship a Goddess as well as a God.

  8. The jeans rape story in Italy is an hoax, propagated by a politician who wanted publicity for herself. What actually happened was that a girl accused her driving instructor of "ripping off" her jeans and raping her, but her story doesn't hold because, among other facts, she was seen happily dining with the alleged rapist, about an hour after the alleged rape, with perfectly intact jeans. The judge just noted that it's difficult to remove jeans without submitting the wearer into cooperation (which is not what the victim said had happened). And there are a lot of other discepancies between the alleged victim's account and forensic evidence and witness reports (yep, she could have asked for help to several people). False rape claims are very rare, but this is one of them. They often happen in ultra conservative environments, where girls feel they have to deny they have consensual sex at any cost.

  9. "Likewise, you will never see someone admit to lusting after a girl who dresses in a way they don't approve."

    Maybe not 'lust' exactly, but someone I know posted the following as his Facebook status:

    Looks like short skirts are the fashion this season. Trying hard to be faithful to my wife.

    1. Interesting. I haven't experienced much of that, fortunately.

      I must say, if someone is *really* having trouble staying faithful because, well, young girls showing their legs, I suspect there are deeper problems in that marriage.

      Also, I would not be eager to have said person around my daughters, if he is sexualizing them like that.

    2. Said person has been married 20 years and has many children.

      Said person's wife told me that yes, men are absolutely responsible for their own thoughts. However, women also bear some responsibility in their contribution in creating visual stimuli to men. She recommended that I read "Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America" by Jeff Pollard. The entire book is available online, I believe.

      The author of that book claims that we should wear clothes because (1) Adam and Eve (2) the OT priests (3) Jesus (4) the angels wear/wore clothes. The biblical standard is the clothes must cover everything from the neck down to below the knees.

      A little digging and I discovered that Vision Forum used to sell this book. So, you know, alarm bells and all that.

    3. I like how the author goes from "people should wear clothes" to "neck to ankles."

      Not surprising this is connected with Vision Forum.

  10. The darned thing is, the Bible's words directly on modesty are exclusively about not wearing fancy stuff, jewelry, braided hair, what have you, as if it makes you "all that". It's more about not showing up the people who can't afford as much within a church fellowship. The New Testament doesn't say a word about how many inches of flesh one exposes. Not surprising people like Gothard and Phillips have to go back to the Old Testament to get their form of modesty, and even then they don't find it in a direct pronouncement, but out of some convoluted oddball interpretation of the Garden of Eden story.

    It's no surprise at all, that two men who are perhaps now the most infamous for allegedly being perverted and sexually abusive in all of U.S. evangelicalism would be the ones to shove such self-serving nonsense on Christendom. The modesty culture needs to find the real God, because they have a false one in their pharisaism.