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