Impure: Purity Culture is Rape Culture

(This post is not explicit but does discuss elements of rape culture and the normalization of sexual violence in the church. It may make some uncomfortable, especially those with histories of trauma. If you feel this applies to you, there’s no pressure to read it.)

Research identifies rape culture, or a space where rape or sexual violence is normalized, by a few things: acceptance of myths about rape, victim blaming, traditional gender stereotypes, and hostile and benevolent sexism. Purity culture embraces many of these elements.

Rape Myth Acceptance

Rape myths are false beliefs about the definition of rape as well as the victim and rapist. Unfortunately, these myths can create an environment where perpetrators are often protected rather than victims/survivors. To my surprise, I found both men and women believe and promote these false beliefs.

Common rape myths:

  • “They were asking for it.”
  • “She could have resisted if she wanted to.”
  • “Only bad girls/boys get raped.”
  • “Rape only happens at night.”
  • “Your spouse can’t rape you.”

Myths in purity culture can be included in subtle themes or direct messaging. These false beliefs are not exhaustive, nor are the examples, but cover a broad range of purity culture’s doctrine.

  • Girls/women are responsible for boy’s/men’s sexual urges.
    • The double standard of modesty between males and females.
    • “A guy will have a tendency to treat you like you are dressed. If you are dressed like a flesh buffet, don’t be surprised when he treats you like a piece of meat.” (Lookadoo and DiMarco, Datable, p. 118)
  • Heterosexual marriage is a reality for everyone and will always result in amazing sex.
    • Almost all forms of purity culture literature and media convey this “foolproof” assumption about their audiences.
  • A woman’s worth or status is tied exclusively to her virginity.
    • Abstinence-only spaces refer to girls/women who have had premarital sex as second hand gum, dirty tape, a disheveled, unwanted rose, etc. Have you heard these examples?
  • Martial rape does not exist.
    • Spouses are often viewed as and spoken of as property.
    • Consent is rarely, if ever, defined clearly.
    • Women who say “no” are considered “selfish lovers” according to Mark and Grace Driscoll in their book, Real Marriage.
  • Victims of sexual violence are at fault and should repent.

If you’re interested in finding more specific examples of these messages in Christian literature these articles are helpful and straightforward:

Traditional Gender Stereotypes

(Gender roles, commonly referred to as either complementarian or egalitarian, are not clearly defined in the Bible. While inconclusive, both perspectives have scriptural merit. However, research has found traditional or complementarian gender stereotypes create a friendly environment for abuse and oppression. My goal is not to completely dismantle traditional ideals, but encourage all family structures to evaluate if the power dynamics in their home are helping each member of the marriage/family flourish in a safe and healthy space.)

photo: Benita Elizabeth

Gender roles, according to purity culture, are different but complementary. According to this train of thought, men and women have “biologically hardwired” mental/physical/spiritual differences at birth that serve different purposes in society. If you remember the fairy tale message, men are the rescuers and women are to be rescued. (Cue stereotypes.) Especially in conservative religious circles, men may be assumed to have primary responsibility outside the home, they are strong and natural leaders, they are to protect their family. Women may have primary responsibility inside the home, they are meek and gentle, and nurture their families. Church may also assign “different, yet complementary” roles. These are very, very broad and not universally bad, yet not universally good. Stereotypes can easily restrict men and women’s engagement within their community. This provides ample space for religious legalism and abuse.

Evangelicals and fundamentalists have used these stereotypes to in efforts to protect their communities from the perceived danger of sexual immorality. John Piper advocates for patriarchal authority over women and argues #MeToo has been caused by the lack of male protection over women. His statements and sentiments have caused controversy over the years. If we believe these gender stereotypes apply in our context, we must also be aware of the increased potential to practice sexism, even with those we love. The pursuit of “protection” can result in an imbalance of power.

Whether you have instilled traditional or egalitarian roles (or neither!) in your home or church, you may want to ponder the following:

  • Does this relationship/doctrine value mutual submission or exclusively female submission?
  • Are my God-given talents and gifts welcomed and utilized in the home, church, and workplace or am I expected to engage with activities/responsibilities perceived to better suit my gender?
  • If I am not physically/emotionally/sexually safe at home/church is there a space where I will be heard and helped without being blamed or questioned?

Benevolent Sexism

You might not actively believe or promote a prejudice against or distrust in women in the workplace, politics, or at home. (This would be called hostile sexism.) It’s still possible you may believe in a hierarchy between men and women. Subjectively, benevolent sexism has a positive view on women. This type of sexism respects the role of wife and mother and believes women deserve (or require) male protection. Women are often romanticized as sexual or love objects. Families and churches who promote this variation of sexism aren’t always obvious since they’re usually perceived as likeable. Both forms are dangerous as they each insist upon male power over women.

Let’s look at some brief examples/myths from evangelical leaders in the 1970s-2000s. Emphasis added.

  • If God is like my husband, my husband is like god.
    • “God begins a husband relationship with us. He provides wisdom where we lack it. He is our protector. He fulfills our deepest desire… Yet as I submit to God, so must I submit to… my husband.” (Mom’s Devotional Bible NIV, 1996, p. 154, 745)
    • “As heads of household wielding God-give authority, husbands are responsible to discipline, in order to protect their wives who “can’t — by [their] own power — change [their] lives.” (Women’s Devotional Bible NIV, 1994, p. 842)
  • Men are uniquely equipped to be the provider and protector.
    • “One of the greatest threats to the institution of the family today is the undermining of this role as protector and provider. This is the contribution for which men were designed… If it is taken away, their commitment to their wives and children is jeopardized. (Focus on the Family brochure, 1994)
    • Little boys are the hope of the next generation.. Little girls too, will benefit because they’ll grow up with a clear vision of the kind of men who will make godly husbands.” (Men’s Devotional Bible NIV, 1993, p. 651)
  • Selfless service is a virtue of the best wives and mothers.
    • “With unbounded joy and enthusiastic effort I have poured my life into home and family, putting aside professional pursuits and personal ambitions.” (Women’s Devotional Bible NIV, 1994, p. 889)
    • “This is how God created you and it is your purpose for existing. You are, by nature, equipped in every way to be your man’s helper. You are inferior to none as long as you function within your created nature, for no man can do your job… You were created to make him complete, not to seek personal fulfillment parallel to him.” (Pearl, Created to be His Help-Meet, p. 21, 42-44)
  • Husbands initiate and benefit from intimacy, women surrender.
    • “…a man is able to attribute a spiritual meaning to sexual union, indeed a metaphysical experience. The woman’s story is entirely different… Her spiritual surrender is directed far more precisely at the person of her husband, perhaps at the hoped-for child. (Men’s Devotional Bible NIV, 1993, p. 710)
    • [Author describes initiation of sex between spouses by detailing a position a wife should assume.] “The husband finds this voluntary act of cooperation very exciting…” (LaHaye, The Act of Marriage, 1976, p. 102)

These examples are a select few from countless other Bible devotionals, books, sermons, and other forms of evangelical or fundamental guidance from this time period. The implications of these elements are incredibly dehumanizing, especially for women. Without proper evaluation, some conservative churches have been systemically normalizing sexual violence and blaming or silencing those who courageously speak up. The most recent example can be found in the Southern Baptist Convention, among other ministries and traditions. Yet, it doesn’t require 700 victims for these similarities between rape culture and purity culture to be considered a disaster. Arguably, it only takes one.

Have you heard or believed any of these myths or sexist statements?

Read more in this series:

A Reading List for Relationships

I asked and you answered. I’ve only read a handful of these books, so I’m not endorsing them or the authors, simply reporting the answers from friends, family, and followers.

I found that most of the authors suggested are white males, who as you may guess, do not hold a monopoly on healthy relationships or great sex. If you have suggestions, please let me know so I can add them to the list. In the meantime, I would strongly encourage you read outside the box!

rawkkim-977552-unsplash.jpg

Which Christian dating/marriage books have either helped or misled you?

Here’s what helped.

Other helpful authors or speakers.

And these seemed to be misleading.

If you disagree with any of the characterizations above, I’d love to hear! Obviously, there’s a lot more to say on these subjects that these few authors can cover, but it’s a start. Knowing some of the authors listed, some books most likely disagree in certain ways.

I asked this question with “purity culture” in mind. I’m curious to hear if you experienced this growing up and if there were teachings or books that promoted this in your church or religious context. 

 

In the Midst

Writing about something while you’re waist deep in the waters of transition isn’t always tidy. I don’t have any certain conclusion or deep insight to share, other than we’ve made some significant decisions this month — the outcomes of which we are still discovering.

I resigned from my job and we’re currently switching church communities. We’ve wrestled (hard!) with these decisions but knew we needed to adjust our priorities as we found gaps in our relationship, mental and emotional health, and spiritual growth. These gaps were incredibly discouraging as I felt stuck between everything on my calendar, a tricky commute, and a frequent lag in our communication. Inspired by Rory Gilmore, I made countless pro/con lists which eventually helped us see a clear distinction between our options.

Stepping away from my job has already given me time to build new friendships, read, talk walks around our beautiful neighborhood, and be more involved on campus. Our hope is to also explore a different tradition with our new church and become involved with the community there while Aaron considers ordination.

2018 has been the most challenging year yet for us. It’s required lots of flexibility, strength, and determination from both Aaron and I in all areas. So, we rest while we can. Maybe not for the entire academic year, maybe longer than we anticipate — either way we are thankful for an opportunity to try something different.

IMG_6361
Farewell summer 2018. 

Rebalance, refreshment, refocus — all words I hope to describe this season with in the days and months to come.

Have you made any significant decisions recently? When was the last time you rested?

 

 

Celebrating Us

Our “wedding” day was one of the best days. Of course, the day wasn’t without frustration or confusion, and there were some things that got left out, but those things didn’t matter in the end. I remember going to bed that night with no regrets. Win!

aaron-lizzy-wedding-18

aaron-lizzy-wedding-111

aaron-lizzy-wedding-19

aaron-lizzy-wedding-34

aaron-lizzy-wedding-38
aaron-lizzy-wedding-43
The process of planning a wedding is simultaneously amazing and awful. Our first ideas for this day were the exact opposite of what it evolved into. There was one point where I wanted to throw the entire idea of a ceremony and reception out the window. But I came to my senses with a fresh perspective. Thankfully, it turned into something more funky and original – a reflection of Aaron and I. In no particular order, here are four of my favorite details about that day.
Something Old
If you know me at all, I love second hand items. I found my dress at a tiny consignment shop in Minnesota and had it altered (aka chopped off) to show my fun shoes! The dress was exactly what I had hoped it would be: simple and fun to dance in! I went out of my comfort zone a tad and chose a dress with a deep back. Turned out to be a smart choice. It was not only extremely pretty, but practical since it kept me cool on a hot day!
I found the vintage sarees on Etsy for roughly ten dollars each. (Sarees are about 15 feet of gorgeous, soft fabric.) We used them for backdrops, table decor, and cushions. It was a beautiful pop of color. On that note, my bridesmaids wore such beautiful kurtas! They looked lovely. I’m so happy to have thought of this since it was the MOST comfortable thing they could have possibly worn that day. Lovely, comfy, and elegant.
aaron-lizzy-wedding-26
aaron-lizzy-wedding-122
aaron-lizzy-wedding-94
aaron-lizzy-wedding-61
Something New
I kept the flowers very simple for a variety of reasons. First, I wasn’t keen on holding a bouquet just for a few moments as we said our vows. Secondly, they weren’t going to last super long, to even to the next day. I chose 10 foot greenery garlands that had bayleaf and rosemary. I also ordered about 5 dozen garden roses. The roses were beautiful accents on the garlands and smelled amazing together!
I ordered flowers from FiftyFlowers.com. We were really impressed with the delivery (since we only ordered them a week or two beforehand!) and they arrived in such wonderful condition. They have a huge selection and great customer service; I’d order from them again!
aaron-lizzy-wedding-17
aaron-lizzy-wedding-57
Something Yummy
We celebrated our marriage with the most important meal of the day: breakfast. I searched and searched for a restaurant or business that would adhere to a custom menu – a menu I knew would be a hit with guests. Some gave me ridiculous quotes at 20K when I asked for my Lucky Charms and waffles. I picked my jaw up off the floor and considered my options. Eventually I was victorious with the Red Skiff, a local brunch spot in Rockport. I was so happy when someone told me “I smelled bacon and I knew I was in the right place.”
Guests munched on bacon, sausage, mini quiches, fresh fruit, and cheese. We also had a virgin mimosas, a coffee bar, and a cereal bar! To top it off, we had waffles with all the toppings!
aaron-lizzy-wedding-105
aaron-lizzy-wedding-97
aaron-lizzy-wedding-14
aaron-lizzy-wedding-187
Something Blue
Aaron and his groomsmen stole the show. Not only are these young men so incredibly patient with a bossy bride, but they are not afraid of the dance floor. I’ve gone to way too many events where the men line the walls. No fun! I loved watching Aaron and his boys dance. And of course, I loved dancing with them to the beat of Bollywood, Latin, and everything inbetween.
I remember a party a few years ago where Aaron and I came with different people, but danced together to a Katy Perry song. In that moment, as friends, I recall having so much fun with him. We laughed and laughed. It was like we were the only two people in the room and no one else mattered. I am so happy that we’re here and we have friends who LOVE to get down and move their hips.
aaron-lizzy-wedding-133
aaron-lizzy-wedding-150
aaron-lizzy-wedding-200
aaron-lizzy-wedding-99
aaron-lizzy-wedding-135
It was weird and wonderful to see all of our worlds colliding. I wish there were more excuses to gather together than just weddings and funerals. We are so blessed to have people in our lives that pray with us, answer our questions, and cheer us on. It was so incredible to have our Maryland/Alaska, college, and church friends with family on that day. (I hear rumors that some of you may have started some new friendships thanks to that day.)
A very memorable day in the books. Thank you for celebrating with us, near or far!
aaron-lizzy-wedding-120
aaron-lizzy-wedding-119

aaron-lizzy-wedding-170
Messy hair and big smiles. No other way to end that day.

VenueRockport Community House DJ – Seth McKinney PhotographerSteven Schultz Dress – Consignment ShoesSteve Madden  RentalsBoston Rustic Wedding Rentals FlowersFiftyFlowers.com Catering – Red Skiff ProgramsSLCreative Designs on Etsy GuestbookArtifact Uprising BalloonsHomeStyleDivas on Etsy

Unpacked & Undone

These last two months have held both major milestones and some major meltdowns. In May, Aaron graduated with his bachelors in Biblical Studies from Gordon College and we moved. We’ve unpacked at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts. Later this week, as June comes to a close, we’ll be hosting family and friends as we celebrate our marriage, almost a year after the fact.

As wonderful as all of these things are, I’ve really struggled enjoying them to the fullest. In May I started a second job at our local church as the creative and administrative director. In combination with my advocacy job, my days have been long and have very often worn me very thin.

May was extremely hard for me. I just started raising awareness about my preliminary acceptance into the seminary’s Partnership Program. This program teaches participants how to Biblically steward their finances while building their ministries. Participants start learning how to fundraise right away by gathering support from churches, loved ones, and even businesses or other non-profits. Gathered support is collected into the school’s general scholarship fund out of which participants and other students receive a full-tuition scholarships, including me! With everything else on my plate, this program was intimidating and I worried that I would not be able to make the deadlines.

I felt defeated. Maybe I set myself up for failure? I worked long days already, barely made dinner most evenings, and did not sleep well at night. I couldn’t do it, I thought. I prayed and searched for peace and provision. Just like a three-year-old I stamped my foot at God wondering if He heard me. Upset with myself and very stressed, I had to let go. It was taking too much energy to be this worried. I had to stop thinking, number one, that I could do anything on my own, and number two, that God needed a reminder to be faithful.

God’s hearing is never selective, nor does He need us to remind Him of His own identity. Usually, those are OUR issues. While my deadlines still exist, my worries do not. I am still looking for partners, and I trust the Lord will continue to work through the details I cannot see or do myself.

At this moment, Aaron and I are enjoying spending time with family and friends from all around the country as they join us for our wedding celebration. There is still much to do to prepare, but it’s all coming together. This is SUCH an exciting time of life and I am determined to enjoy it.