Sunday, 24 February 2008

Modesty and other dangerous ideas

Most of the life I have had in the church I am extremely grateful for. I'm grateful for the relationship I have with God that I probably wouldn't have without all the people who were willing to invest in me while I was a teenager. And I'm grateful for all the things I learned and experienced in various christian camp/youth group/youth work settings between the ages of 12 and 18.

However, as I think back, there is one key thing that I not grateful about, and actually that I'm signficantly angry about. I have been to more christian relationships talks than I can remember, every Valentine's day period I would usually go to at least three, and a lot of my views about relationships I got there, because I trusted what the people who led those groups were telling me, and I hadn't yet learned to ask enough questions. And actually, a lot of what I learned there i still believe, but there are one or two things that I would like to make clear that I now think are lies, and dangerous lies at that.

Firstly, there was, 'boys are just more visually stimulated than girls are.' Actually, I'm not sure this is a total lie, but its certainly a dangerous thing to be telling teenagers, when they're all confused, I know it occasionaly made me feel that I was wierd because I'm female and also 'visually stimulated' (becuase we're all visually stimulated, no need to lie about it, its just more acceptable for men). The general assumptions of what boys are like as opposed to what girls are like was also unhelpful e.g. boys often masturbate, girls don't usually (you can almost feel the shame of the girls to do masturbate in the audience, not only are they sure if they're allowed to do this, they're also being told that they're not proper women because they do it). Can we not just accept that people are all different, rather than assuming its a gendered thing?

The most dangerous lie of all was the modesty lie. I have heard so many times that I should keep myself covered up (this especially applies to big breasted people like me!) so that I don't 'tempt the boys too much'. This statement, and others like it, directly implied that I was somehow in control of the boys in my life, and that when (if) I tempted them by showing too much skin, I was also responsible for their actions. I know the people who say this are well intentioned (usually) but they need to know that they are directly feeding into the idea that women are 'asking for it' when they are raped and had a short skirt/low cut top on, because they arroused the guys so much that they couldn't control themselves. Men and boys are all capable of self control, and even in low cut tops, I do not have any control over their minds and what they CHOOSE to do. If I can learn to practise self control and a 'pure mind' (whatever that means) then so can they, its not easy for anyone. Never mind the affect that these ideas of modesty have on young womens feelings about their bodies, as being something to be hidden, something wrong and disgusting, which directly feeds into low self esteem/eating disorders etc.

The potential for these relationships talks to harm young people, particularily young women is massive, I'm still working at reforming my opinions now that no-one is telling me what to think anymore. We need to be aware that when we do these talks, we are talking to vulnerable people, who trust us, and learn not to abuse this trust. We need to stop assuming that everyone in the audience is straight, or a virgin, and we need to start encouraging young people to ask questions and reach their own answers. Not because there isn't such a thing as sexual immorality (I believe there is) but because if we really want people to make good choices, they have to make them for themselves, not just because they feel they have to for legalist reasons. Thats why, 'Truth love waits' doesn't work, its so rarely a real, thought through choice.

And we really, really have to stop making young women feel ashamed of their bodies, or feel to blame for what the men in their life do because they were 'too tempted by our nasty sinful bodies'. We're hurting people, and unless we radically change how we educate our teenagers (and this applies both within and outwith the church) its only going to get worse.

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