Warning: This post contains subject matter which may be triggering for some people. Things I will mention include rape, sexual assault, harassment, abuse, molestation. Also, I use some strong language (read: swearing). Read at your own risk. If you choose to comment on this post, please show respect by providing a trigger warning for sensitive topics each time you include them. (Posts with potential triggers that don’t include a warning will be removed within 24 hours.) Thanks!
Last night, I participated in an animated discussion on Twitter regarding the 2005 book Sex Is Not the Problem: Lust Is by Joshua Harris. One of the people I follow is reading it for research and was live tweeting her reactions. I won’t take up space with all of the horrifying quotes she tweeted, but I will tell you which two I found the most disturbing:
When you dress and behave in a way that is designed …to arouse sexual desire in men, you’re committing pornography with your life.
Ask God to help you see how selfish and uncaring it is to want to use your body to encourage your brothers to lust.
Those two statements, right there, are exactly why we have a problem with boys and men who act as though they have the right to take whatever they want from girls and women.
You may not be able to see it. You almost surely won’t see it if you are a straight, white, cis-gender man. You probably won’t see it if you’re a woman who buys into purity culture and have never been victimized.
But the rest of us see it.
It’s especially bad for those of us who have been harmed by it. We’re the survivors. We’re the ones who have had to deal with years of shame because we believed that what we suffered was our own fault. We’re the ones who…
- were raped by our innocent, safe boyfriends with whom we never even shared a kiss.
- dressed in baggy clothes and pretended we didn’t have breasts because we were sure that they wouldn’t have raped us if we’d been more modest.
- were licked, leered at, and taunted by our classmates because using sexuality was a way to make us feel small.
- had boys write “slut” and “whore” and “bitch” on our homework, then had friends tell us we should be flattered because “he likes you!”
- had our fathers demand chastity with our boyfriends while themselves finger-fucking us in bed at night.
- got felt up by boys, without our permission, and then were ashamed because we kind of liked it.*
- had boys ask to touch our bodies, and said yes because we were scared, and never told anyone because we hadn’t said no.
- thought something was wrong with us when we felt sexually aroused, because that wasn’t supposed to happen to girls who weren’t married.
- were virgins when we got married and endured years of painful intercourse instead of real lovemaking because the first time was so painful and scary, and no one ever taught us that it didn’t have to be—even if we’d never had sex before.
- continue to live with shame over our non-marital intimacy because we’ve been labeled as “sluts.”
And through every single moment, we heard the message loud and clear that whatever we were doing was the cause of our misery.**
So you can sit there in your self-righteous bubble and tell us how we should dress or act so that we don’t attract the “lust” of boys and men. Or you can choose to use your own feelings of guilt and shame to do more damage to other people. Either way, though, you need to keep it to yourself. You need to stop using your words to continue the cycle of blame and guilt that has been inflicted on too many women.
If I sound angry, it’s because I am. I’m angry that we spend our energy demanding that women take responsibility for both their own and men’s sexuality, instead of doing what we should be doing: going after the actions of the people who victimize others directly, without blaming those they’ve harmed. I’m angry that anyone gave Joshua Harris a platform for his douchey attitude toward women. I’m angry that the message that what women wear causes uncontrollable urges in men is still being spouted in churches everywhere. I’m angry that because this message is so prevalent in Christian culture, my children will someday hear it, even if it isn’t explicitly preached to them at church (the same message appears in music, books, devotions, and educational material for Christian teens).
I have two messages. First, for men like Joshua Harris and other men who call themselves Christians: Shut up. Just shut up. We women don’t need you to tell us how we should dress or act. And we don’t need men to “protect” or “rescue” us from the fairly uncommon random stranger that attacks women. No, we need you men to keep your damn pants zipped and stop being the ones who rape and molest us, and then trying to blame us for being immodest.
Second, for those of who have been abused and assaulted, stop believing the lie that it’s your fault. Stop believing that there is something wrong with you. There isn’t. And you don’t need Jesus to heal you from whatever sin caused your pain, because it wasn’t your fault at all. You don’t need to recover from your own fall, but from the shame placed on you by other people. You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
This has to stop somewhere, and I’m determined that, at least in my own household, it stops with me.
*It’s not uncommon for children who are molested or people who are sexually assaulted to feel some degree of arousal. Those parts of our bodies are designed to respond to stimuli. The shame comes both from the confusion that it’s simultaneously unpleasant and yet stimulating, coupled with the belief that anything sexual is bad until marriage.
**Yes, everything on that list has happened to someone (or multiple someones) that I personally know. Yes, some of them happened to me. No, I’m not going to tell you which ones.