Rape, Sexual Abuse, & Fundamentalist Christianity: An Unlikely Trinity . . . Or Is It?


This post may well anger many readers; in fact in many ways it SHOULD anger you.  If it offends anyone I’m close to, I apologize in advance but the subject at  hand is far too important for me to stay silent.

In the past few weeks I’ve come across countless articles about sexual abuse & rape scandals that have occurred in what might initially seem like a rather shocking location: fundamentalist Christian colleges, namely Patrick Henry College in my home state of Virginia (I referenced this incident in my last blog post: https://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2014/02/27/the-burden-of-a-daughter/), Pensacola Christian College in Florida, & Bob Jones University in South Carolina.  Even though I did not attend any of these colleges, I heard of all of them as a teenager through the church I attended with my parents.  In fact as a teenager I attended, along with my church youth group, a Christian summer camp that was affiliated with BJU.  The camp is called The Wilds & the only thing wild about it is how militantly conservative it is.  I referenced this camp in my last blog post as well but in case you missed that one, let me just explain why this camp & the fundamentalists associated with it bother me so much.  For starters, the dress code is insane for girls & the implication of this is obvious: women are a source of temptation for men & you’d better not even think about tempting a man to sin.  The implication of this is subtle but very damaging: if anything bad ever happens to you involving a man, it’s your fault.  He might be guilty too but you tempted him so you’re to blame as well.  This is also a camp that speaks openly against all contemporary music, including contemporary Christian music.  I’ll never forget one of my counselors telling us that even country music was evil because the “beats were derived from African tribal music” which was clearly “immoral.”  Even at the time, when I was still very steeped in fundamentalist Baptist theology, even then I knew that was a red flag & these people were clearly off base . . . Additionally my sister attended a summer camp at PCC one year.

rape

Anyway, what I’m trying to say here is that as saddened as I am by the horrible abuses that are coming to light at these fundamentalist colleges, places that claim to protect their students, to keep them safe, & to guide them on “God’s path,” is that I am honestly not the least bit surprised to hear about these tragic stories.  It’s bad enough that sexual abuse & rape are even occurring at these colleges but what is immeasurably worse is how every single one of these colleges has handled these cases.  At each of the colleges I mentioned, there are cases where students have reported rape or other sexual abuse, often times seeking counseling for something that happened to them as a child or teen at home, only to be silenced, blamed for the attack, &/or expelled from the school for their “immorality.”  Remember, these are schools that have militantly strict honor codes in which sex outside of marriage is grounds for expulsion.  I know that must sound crazy to anyone who didn’t grow up in this kind of culture, but it’s true & I for one have no difficulty believing it.  Naturally the colleges are all categorically denying that they handled these situations in this manner.  Yet none of them are willing to speak to the media about this in any detail.  They’re all hiding behind blanket denial statements that are as empty as most pop music nowadays. 

But the reason none of this really shocks me is that what I’ve realized about these kind of fundamentalist institutions is that they are really all about control.  As I recently read in a fellow blogger’s brilliant post (http://leavingfundamentalism.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/your-idea-of-love-is-fucked-up/) the idea of “love” taught at these kind of institutions is seriously screwed up.  Furthermore, as I touched on in my last post as well as in my post The Purity Myth from several months ago (https://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2013/10/17/the-purity-myth) the whole Purity Culture in which these fundamentalist schools are engaged is completely despicable in that it assumes the worst of both genders & humanity as a whole.  This Purity Culture teaches women to cover up & be modest which in & of itself doesn’t necessarily sound so bad.  But there’s so much more to it than that.  The idea is that women are something sinful to be hidden because God forbid you show too much flesh & tempt your brother in Christ.  The implication here is that men are animals, animals that once tempted cannot be controlled.  If you believe this, you have far too low an opinion of humanity.

I have no scientific way of testing this theory at present, but as a perpetually curious person I have spoken to many of my friends, both male & female, about this subject.  Regarding my male friends, I have been so bold as to ask them if they have ever been in a situation in which they were about to have sex with a girl & she suddenly said no.  Several of them admitted they had encountered such scenarios & the unanimous reaction was that they stopped.  As disappointed & even annoyed as they might have been at the time, they didn’t proceed with their actions.  I’ve also asked them if seeing a woman in a scantily clad outfit makes them so incredibly lustful that they feel like they can’t control themselves.  The unanimous answer was no.  Now I realize my friends are not necessarily representative of society as a whole, but I like to think there are more men out there very much like them.  If my friends have been in these situations & have proven that they are not uncontrollable animals who once “tempted” cannot be stopped, I think the same can be said for males as a whole.  I have even read articles from men speaking out against this so-called Purity Culture because they have seen through to what this movement really says about men & women & they too are horrified at the implications.  (I read a particularly good one written by a pastor a few months ago but sadly I can’t find it anymore.)

I could further expound on how this whole Purity Culture assumes that sex is inherently bad &/or dangerous for women & how women’s value is all tied up in our virginity, but that’s another post for another day.  My point here is that the Purity Culture has read humanity all wrong.  If covering up & wearing modest clothing really prevented men from lusting after women, then the unfortunate women stuck wearing burkas would be the “safest” of all.  How is it then that these exact countries where women are forced into such ridiculous outfits are often filled with countless horrible stories of rape & abuse?

burkas

Could it be that despite having a different religion, the fundamentalism that drives that culture is again all about CONTROL? 

I think the answer is yes.

It doesn’t matter if it’s fundamentalist Christianity, Islam, or any other religion.  Regardless of religion or denomination, fundamentalism is all about control, just as rape & abuse are all about control.  And that always starts with control of women because, as I discussed with my therapist yesterday, women have a lot of power.  A lot of our power is tied up in our ability to influence others, whether as mothers, sisters, wives, friends, teachers, or anything else.  If women stop believing the things that fundamentalists try to shove down our throats, the whole structure may very well fall apart.  I was not raised in a truly fundamentalist church/society, but it was way too close for comfort.  (At least for my comfort for sure.)  I for one am a woman who refuses to believe in all this fundamentalist nonsense.  And I’m going to use my power to influence others to question these fundamentalist ideas & beliefs so that maybe just one less person will be taken in by their dangerous doctrines.  I know I will never have the power to make these institutions go away or cease to exist entirely, but if my words can somehow encourage even one person to question the indoctrination these institutions enforce, then I know I will have succeeded in life.

In case you are having trouble believing that such “holy” institutions as BJU, PCC, & the entire fundamentalist culture they embody are capable of hiding such horrible things as rape & sexual abuse, check out the following articles. These are just a small sample of what is going on behind the scenes.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2014/03/11/guest-post-god-is-done-with-you-pensacola-christian-college-and-sexual-violence/ (This article mentions both female & male rape victims who were expelled from PCC for their “immorality.”)

http://www.vice.com/read/sexual-abuse-has-become-a-huge-problem-for-americas-bible-colleges

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/05/27/pregnant-teen-victim-recalls-publicly-shamed-church-relocated-colorado/

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/116623/sexual-assault-patrick-henry-college-gods-harvard (Patrick Henry College)

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/12/education/christian-school-faulted-for-halting-abuse-study.html?_r=1 (BJU)

http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/08/us/bju-student-suspension-irpt/ (BJU again)

The Burden of a Daughter


I’ve had this conversation dozens of time & it always goes something like this:

Other person: “If you could only have a son or a daughter, which would you prefer?”

Me: “A daughter”

Other person: “But girls are so much more trouble.  And they’re so expensive!”

One of the most common themes I hear parents discuss is how much more difficult & expensive it is to raise girls as compared to boys.  I for one have always taken issue with this argument, probably largely because I am a girl.  Even as a kid I remember hearing people say this & finding it offensive.  I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank both of my parents for never once making such comments around me.  I am so grateful that neither of my parents ever intentionally or unintentionally made me feel like a burden to them, particularly on the basis of something so fundamental as gender which is obviously something none of us gets to choose anyway.  In fact I specifically remember my mom always responding to comments such as these by saying “Girls don’t HAVE to be more difficult or expensive.  It’s all about how you raise them.”  I firmly believe she was 100% correct in saying this.  Now I know I am not yet a parent & there is a possibility I may eat these words someday, & in some people’s opinions I’m sure I’m not even qualified to speak on this subject at all because of that.  But I’m going to speak on it anyway because it’s an issue that I believe has a lot of unintended consequences & reveals some serious issues our society needs to confront.  So let’s examine some of the reasons people say raising girls is “more trouble” than raising boys.

daughter quote

First, a lot of people complain that girls are more expensive.  Well, I’m going to side with my mother here & argue that they don’t have to be.  For example, you don’t HAVE to spend $300 on your daughter’s prom dress.  No one is forcing you to do that.  Is it possible your teenage daughter might be annoyed if you are the “only mom” who isn’t willing to shell out hundreds of dollars on this one-night event?  Maybe.  But if more moms were willing to say no to this ridiculous debacle, maybe there wouldn’t be such an expectation for it.  I’m not saying not to let your daughter go to prom.  But find ways to make it less expensive.  Buy a dress during an off-season or go to a thrift store.  Borrow one from a slightly older friend.  No one needs their hair or makeup professionally done for a high school prom.  Do it yourself or have your daughter do it with her friends.  Not only will you save money but you will make good memories together.  These are all things my mom did to save money & guess what: I had a great time at prom both years.  And I was never mad at her for “cutting corners” on such things.  This is just one example of how the common argument that girls are more expensive does not have to be true.

Then there’s the issue of clothes.  Nowadays in particular parents worry about girls wanting to wear all kinds of provocative clothing, even at a very young age.  This is a real concern & I’m not about to say it isn’t a big deal.  However, I for one am tired of certain segments of the population using this issue as a way to hold all the responsibility for sex over girls’ heads.  For example, I distinctly remember that every spring at my church growing up the pastor’s wife would take all the teen girls aside as a group & remind us not to dress in a way that might tempt the boys.  At a Christian summer camp our youth group used to attend, girls were forced to abide by an insanely strict dress-code including shorts that had to reach the knees (hello, we were all wearing boys’ shorts in order to meet this requirement).  I distinctly remember one of the parent chaperones getting “in trouble” because her t-shirt when wet became just the tiniest bit “see-through” & God forbid some man might be tempted by glimpsing that one-piece bathing suit she had on underneath it.  (Of course we were only allowed to swim with other girls anyway which makes the entire situation even more ludicrous.)

In & of themselves these things might all seem harmless, but what message does all of this send?  “If a boy looks at you & thinks something dirty, it’s your fault.  If he touches you inappropriately, you made him do it because you tempted him by wearing that ungodly outfit.”  Furthermore, I have even read accounts of Christian colleges such as Patrick Henry College & Bob Jones University discouraging female students from reporting rape & providing “counseling” to rape/sexual assault victims that included teaching them how to be more modest . . . again implying that whatever horrible thing happened to them was their fault.  (If you don’t believe me, read this:  http://www.newrepublic.com/article/116623/sexual-assault-patrick-henry-college-gods-harvard.)

I am by no means encouraging little girls or teenagers to wear obviously revealing or overtly sexy clothing.  Absolutely not.  If you don’t want to be treated like a sex object, don’t dress like one, although context of course is always very key on this subject.  But the point is that even if a girl is dressed in a provocative manner, we should be raising our boys to know that they still have to show that girl respect.  Besides, there is no such thing as girls “asking for rape” because of how they are dressed.  Even hormonal teenage boys are not uncivilized animals who cannot show a little self-control.  End of story.

This leads into my last point.  I strongly believe that the greatest reason people think daughters are more trouble is because they worry about them getting pregnant.  I’m not stupid so I realize this is a legitimate concern.  Therefore, why don’t we raise girls with an awareness of actual birth control including how to use it & where to get it?  Additionally, why not hold boys accountable for such things too?  Why is it that the onus for the prevention of pregnancy always falls on JUST the girls?  I’ve got a crazy idea: why don’t we raise boys with the understanding that they should never, ever have sex with a girl unless at the BARE MINIMUM they are using a condom (unless of course both parties are absolutely prepared to be parents which, frankly, teens are not)?  Radical, I know, but really this is a simple concept.  Over & over studies have shown that teens who are provided with true comprehensive sex education actually have sex at a LATER age.  Conservatives eschew this information but facts are facts.  Frankly it makes sense.  The more kids know about something, the less likely they’re going to “do it” just to “see what it’s like.”  And if they do decide to have sex, they’re more likely to actually use appropriate birth control (& to use it correctly).  The statistics have borne this out time & time again.

teen-pregnancy-rate

Of course the problem here is that most parents aren’t comfortable talking to their kids, regardless of their age, about sex.  I know.  It must be difficult.  But if your kids don’t learn about sex from you, you can be sure they will learn about it everywhere else: movies, TV, the internet, their friends, school, etc, many of which are far from reliable sources of information.  I’ve written before about the strange paradox in American culture in which we are constantly bombarded with sexual imagery & yet in real life most Americans are not comfortable actually talking about sex.  (I’ve even read articles that suggest ways to be more comfortable talking about sex WITH YOUR PARTNER.  This never ceases to amaze me.  If you’re comfortable enough to have sex with someone, how can you not be comfortable enough to talk about it?)  But we have to get over this if we want to make headway on such serious issues as teen pregnancy.

A couple years ago I watched a documentary by James Houston entitled Let’s Talk About Sex.  The film explored some of the reasons why teen pregnancy & STI rates in the US are far greater than in basically every other “developed” nation, particularly those in Western Europe (here’s just one of many websites that touch on these shocking statistics: http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/publications-a-z/419-adolescent-sexual-health-in-europe-and-the-us) .  One segment of the film showed interviews in which teens, both guys & girls, were asked what they would think about someone of the opposite gender if they knew that person carried condoms on a regular basis.  The answers weren’t too shocking but are very revealing about some of the problems we face in our society.  Almost without fail the Americans, both guys & girls, responded by saying “Oh, that sends a bad message.  That means he’s only out for sex” or “She must be a slut.  Carrying condoms makes a girl seem easy.”  On the other hand, teens in other countries often responded by saying “That shows me he/she is responsible & planning ahead & cares enough about me to want to be safe.”  I have actually heard real life conversations very much like these.  I have heard guys say they are afraid to carry condoms around for fear that girls will think they’re only after sex & I’ve heard girls say they are afraid to carry condoms for fear of looking “too easy.”  What this inevitably leads to of course is people having unprotected sex because they weren’t prepared.  How absurd.  Is it any wonder our teenage pregnancy rate (& abortion rate for that matter) are much higher than those in basically every other developed country?

The film additionally explored the phenomenon that many teenage girls in the US are raised with the idea that being on birth control makes them “slutty.”  No one explicitly teaches them this of course, but it’s implied quite often.  The idea is that if you’re on birth control you must be PLANNING to have sex & therefore you’re slutty.  But if you aren’t on birth control & just “end up” having sex with someone & then consequently get pregnant . . . well, it “just happened.”  You weren’t planning on it, so you’re not really a slut.  Having grown up in a small, conservative, religious town I can bear witness that this phenomenon is very real.  What’s sad is that so many girls end up as teen moms because of it.  [Of course the religious right would rather that happen than girls be “liberated” and actually take birth control. God forbid we should not suffer the consequences of our “sins” (pre-marital sex).]

What I’m trying to get at here is that if parents taught their children, both boys & girls, how to be safe & responsible with sex, maybe we wouldn’t have to worry so much about our daughters getting pregnant.

The reason I care so much about people viewing daughters as more difficult than sons is that I truly believe when girls hear such messages growing up it can affect the way they view themselves.  Low self-esteem has actually been linked to earlier initiation of sex for girls & thus higher risk of teen pregnancy.  When you tell girls they’re more work than boys, you’re clearly letting their self-esteem take a hit, thus making them more likely to look for “confirmation” elsewhere.  The world isn’t an easy place to grow up in for either gender.  But let’s not make it more difficult than it has to be.  There are still countries in the world where female babies are routinely aborted simply for being the “wrong gender.”  This is heart-breaking to me.  But how can we call ourselves more civilized when we still hold the attitude that boys are in some way better or at least easier to raise?  Please, people, let’s be real.  No child is ever easy to raise.  But they are all immeasurably valuable so let’s not compromise that value by telling our precious daughters that they’re essentially a burden.    

What do you guys think?  Am I “making a mountain out of a molehill?”  (If it turns out that’s a countrified phrase & some of you don’t know it, it means making a big deal out of nothing.)  Or am I onto something here?