Tuesday, June 9, 2015

7 Things about the Duggar Story you only know if you were also raised in ATI- and why this story matters.

        


   This story twisted my stomach in knots the very first time I heard it, and despite my desire to forget it and move on, it has continued to upset me.

  The fact that it upsets me upsets me also. I have sat down to write about it several times and quit because I felt so nauseous. I have had a constant stream of messages and emails asking me questions about ATI, about the Duggars, I have received links, articles and notes.

  And today I realized. It is upsetting because I can relate. I hate that I can relate to the Duggars but I can. And this is why this story just will not die. I cannot remember ever hearing a news story that affected me so much. I didn’t grow up listening to Michael Jackson. I didn’t even know who he was. I didn’t care that the Royal Family was having a baby. I do not really have any ties or cultural connections to most of what passes for news in a given year; but this one? I can relate.

 I have seen their show now and then. It made me feel nostalgic and comfortable and horrified and upset all at once.

  I even used to tell people who asked about my upbringing “ Have you seen the Duggars? I was raised kind of like them, - minus the money, and travel, and happiness. Add  a farm and dysfunction and in my case, baggy dresses, big glasses and frizzy hair.”  It has been a two second, light hearted explanation most people could get.

   There were some similarities. I courted very much like their daughters, side hugs and all. I am the oldest of 12 kids. We were in ATI. My family was rife with secret but serious abuse, control and dysfunction. But then there are some fun, crazy things about being in a big family that just are universal and the show would remind me of them sometimes.

   And even though I have left all of that culture and ideology quite some time ago, there was a part of me, deep down, that wanted to believe.

  I wanted to believe that they were happy. I knew better. I knew from painful experience that the things they’ve embraced could only lead to disillusionment and heartache. I knew the disastrous result of the teachings they follow. I know the pain and years of unraveling it would take to heal. But I wanted to believe it.

 I think a lot of people did. The Duggar Scandal is actually a national glimpse of a portion of us who were raised separate and apart from the Disney Chanel and from prom, and from standard American culture and is a public part of a very real breakdown in HS culture that has been happening in the past few years.

The emperor has no clothes.

When I started writing in this blog to address the issues in home school culture three years ago this month, (Ten Reasons Not to Home School series found here. And my Survey of home school graduates found here) there was shock from all my old circles.

    At the time there was no Doug Philips, no Bill Gothard, and no Duggar Scandal. At the time home school parents still claimed their #1 reason to home school was to pass on their religious and moral beliefs to their kids and most were claiming it was the most effective way to raise Christian kids.
But there were already many of us quietly recovering from this social experiment that was conservative Christian home school culture and it wasn’t pretty.

I believe the reason this latest revelation has struck so deeply isn’t because this was a story of sex. (We’ve had that.) It wasn’t because there was glaring hypocrisy (we’ve had that). And it definitely isn’t because everyone likes persecuting anyone called Christian. ( let’s get over ourselves already)

I believe it is because those of us raised in this specific culture are re-living things that are hard to explain to someone who didn’t experience themselves.

      As many times as I have tried to write about this, I finally found clarity when I was able to write remembering what it was like to think like the Duggars. That has been a painful, but healing task. I hope it helps clarify for others who are struggling, to remember where you came from, and to realize proudly how far you’ve come.

 Though these ideas are not just limited to ATI (the closed, religious home school group the Duggars belong to) nonetheless, these are things that if you were raised in ATI, you know.

1)   There is no doubt Josh was curious.

In a very legitimate – at age 14 may have honestly not known if girls have penises kind of way. He was being raised in a home where he was warned  with a code word (this was the girls job in the Duggar and in my family) at the very first glimpse of a woman who was ‘immodest’ (which means anything his family didn’t approve, including tight shirt on a well endowed woman) and the boys were expected to instantly  look away.

    He was raised in a home where all reference to sex (if there was any at all) was always probably very negative and focused on staying immaculately pure in thought and action, and on it's purpose being pro-creation. ATI taught that every desire for sex or the desire to think about sex was sinful and could and should be overcome with meditating on Romans 6.

    Parents in ATI were careful to color appropriate clothing on women in clothing magazines that were less covered, and school books that showed even a hint of proper anatomy were censored, with ripped out pages or colored over.

     Josh and the girls were raised in a culture where human bodies WERE considered sexual, always. There was no room for legitimate curiosity and healthy knowledge. Not only that, but sex was practically treated as taboo; - nonexistent, something that was a spiritual failure to even think about, and yet at the same time; sex was the underlying focus and motivation for dozens of decisions and the very real basis for many aspects of everyday living, even the number of kids in their home.

 

2) They don’t believe in genuinely innocent victims.

       

    While the Duggars claim in their interview that some of the girls were to young to understand ‘bad touches’ they conveniently failed to mention that none of their daughters were to young to understand modesty.

       The idea that the way they dressed was key to keeping the men around them pure were drilled into family teaching in ATI. It was obsessive. The long loose dresses and the rules that affected every activity a girl can do, and what she can wear every day was not just a family mandate.

           Every family in ATI had to write down their standards of modesty and sign family vows as part of the ATI application process that meant that the group standard of modesty would be upheld.    

           If a family sent their daughters to participate in an ATI event and the girls were not following the strict guidelines they would be asked to change or leave. As a girl grew older, she might even admit she did not agree with the rules and standards, but she must cheerfully ‘HONOR” her parents and leaders by ‘SUBMITING’ to these strict guidelines. This was seen as beautiful and godly.

     The understanding that keeping men pure was the job of obscured and covered bodies AND avoiding lingering eye contact (girls job) and never looking at a woman’s body and quoting certain bible passages when tempted (boy’s job) IS the foundational teaching about bodies (anatomy even) sex, purity and temptation in ATI.

 

3) None of them understand sexual predation or consent.

 

   In ATI and other conservative home school circles in general there is a very real contradictory view of human anatomy, development and sex. On one hand, purity and innocence (often seen as the same as, and achieved through ignorance) is seen as SO important that even basic anatomy is censored.

     Bodies are often seen as inherently sexual, and therefore children are raised ignorant of their own and other’s proper development, function, and growth. Any childhood curiosity is seen as a threat to purity.

     In purity culture a two or three year old child’s exuberant naked dash from the bath tub would be shut down with shame focused on instant rebukes for being immodest. The focus would be on the improperness of the child, and it would either be stated or implied that the sight of nakedness was automatically sinful or tempting or both.

     Great burden would be put on children in a home to avoid ‘tempting’ others with their nakedness or sensual conduct, which further implied that an older person might find a three year old’s nakedness, or six year olds two piece bathing suit, or 12 year old hug or tight shirt “tempting”. While that alone is horrifying, it is a mindset that directs all education (or lack thereof) or conversation on body related topics.

  Because in purity obsessed culture ALL sexual contact outside of marriage is considered biblically sinful, (and yes, any kind of inter-gender contact. - Things including holding hands and kissing are lumped into sexual, or pre-sexual in nature) and there is little to no distinction between differing kinds of healthy physical or sexual contact, despite age, gender, or consent.


  Because there is active destruction of the ideas of individual independence and teaching that made it sinful for a child to ever disobey a parent (to the age of 30) or even disagree disrespectfully, ATI and much of home school culture grooms children for every kind of abuse.

 
  A concept NEVER presented in ATI is the fact that rape is not a sexual offense.

  Yes, it is sexual.

  But it is not primarily sexual.

   Healthy sexuality offers desire and hopes for desire in return.

  Rape is about power and control. Rape is about taking from someone with violence. It is about using another person and finding pleasure in their pain and suffering and taking of innocence.

  No normal healthy person would be ok violating another person this way. No healthy person would want to engage in sexual activity that caused harm to someone else.

 

 However this kind of thinking is not present in ATI. And unfortunately the entire program is based on ideas that use the same abuse of power, (mental, spiritual, and physical). Subjugating another persons will, desires, and even consent is key to much of ATI's teaching of authority and used in all areas of life. Including teaching college age children to 'respect' and therefor obey their parents wishes for their education down to each course.

 

  One thing that horrified me in Josh Duggar’s ‘statement’ of confession is that he said how glad he was that he chose not to ‘continue down the same path, because it could have ruined my life’.  

    What path are we talking about? Are we talking about a boy who was mentally immature for his age and pubescent body who acted out of child like relative innocence? Or are we talking about a tall, teen who found exploiting young children exhilarating?

    We are not talking about a 14 year old making out, or even sleeping with his 14 year old mutually interested girlfriend in youth group. I would argue that even then 14 year olds are probably to young and not developed enough to be aware of the largeness and life long impact of that kind of behavior, regardless of morality.

    But we aren't talking about mutual, pubescent, experimentation. We are talking about what seems to me to suggest possible predatory behavior.

   Some psychologists suggest that a certain level of curiosity and even behavior (wanting to view opposite or same gender, mimicking kissing, sensual hugging, or backrubs etc) is normal development when it occurs to a level to be expected for a child's age and with another child in the same development stage (generally two year age range).

   This kind of behavior obviously does not have to be encouraged but is an excellent chance to begin conversation with a child on body anatomy and appropriate behavior.
  However, sexual or sensual acts with a child much younger, OR that seems unlikely a child of that age would know (initiating specific sex acts, etc.) can often be a sign of previous sexual abuse in the perpetrator or predatory intent.

(Please check out this very helpful guide to know what is normal or concerning sexually for your child's age and development. http://www.safersociety.org/uploads/WP075-DoChildren.pdf)

These children were under the age of 12, down to age five. By virtue of their age and lack of development they were unable to consent, but further were violated because this was often happening while they slept. 
   And this is not just his sisters. There was another girl whose identity we do not know.


   What path was Josh headed down? A path of sexual activity with a consenting similarly aged person who was reciprocating? No. It was a path of overpowering a young, undeveloped child who was defenseless. 

 
   I am not a psychologist but I see a lot of reason why this is concerning, especially since Josh Duggar now has a daughter that is five. Is that something that should be a concern? I  honestly don’t know. But I am sure there are professionals who would know and might be an appropriate safe guard if he wanted to prove he has changed.

 

   Sexual experimentation and sexual abuse are not the same thing, and leads us to my next point.

 

4) Male predation is not considered as sinful as female provocation.


    According to the teaching of ATI, sexual assault is simply an issue of lust, not abuse of power. All men are expected to struggle with lust. Modesty is their answer to preventing that beast of lust causing men to ‘fall’, i.e. rape, fondle, or otherwise sexualize a woman whether or not she is interested.

  Stories of immodestly dressed women in alleys at night being raped because they were not wise (wearing the right clothes and with her authority(father or husband) there to protect her) are part of ATI training. Women are told they are not responsible for what a man does, BUT, she is responsible to make sure her clothing, behavior, choice of occupation, and more do not unnecessarily ‘tempt’ men into doing what comes naturally, and sexual assault is implied to be part of a man’s natural lust.

   The Duggar scandal is incredibly painful to many of us because we know from our own stories of abuse  that the very first concern of the Duggars would be their image. Second, would be the reputation of their son, who is a leader in the conservative movement. The welfare of the girls; their health and well being would be of little to no concern, as they would be expected to ‘find freedom’ in getting rid of any bitterness. (more on that below).


   If you have any doubts about this being a male focused family, please consider how you think Mr. Duggar would have handled a situation if his 14 year old daughter had any (consenting) sexual contact with a boyfriend.

   The Duggars in their interview minimized Josh’s assault as ‘just over clothes’ and then later admitted ‘some under clothes, but only for a few seconds’.

   Now imagine how they would have reacted if their daughter at 14 had snuggled on the couch with a boyfriend, or kissed him, or allowed him to put his hands under her clothes 'for a few seconds'.

     It would NOT be considered natural for a girl to have sexual desire, or 'struggle with lust'. She would have never been allowed to see or speak to that boy again. She would have been brandished impure.

  Remember  Mr. Duggars obsession with his daughters fiancés contact with his daughters? Do you remember the enforced side hugs? Do you remember how his daughters were NEVER allowed to be alone in a room with the men they were MARRYING!?


  Purity culture does not fault men for following sexual urges, (even though they are expected to repent for them- which means it goes away) Purity culture does NOT see women as equal PEOPLE who have the right and ability to say YES or NO to sexual advances. Therefore girls are property for a father to guard until he allows a man through who is allowed to be in charge of her.

 
You have to understand I have just spelled out an underlying philosophy in ATI and purity culture, but you will never find that wording in their teaching. You will find much more elaborate, spiritual sounding ideas, but the concept is the same.

 
   In the case of the Duggars; the parents may have not given us a reason that the girls provoked their assaults (since they were ASLEEP)  but you can be sure that the modesty, and enforcement of shame based, body conscious obsession increased in the Duggar home after this and those girls KNEW why.
   If they didn’t dress modestly, if they didn’t lock their rooms at night, if they were alone with boys, sexual assault could/would happen.
  It isn't just the fact that these parents do not seem to have taken the sexual assault seriously and did not take quick physical action to protect their small daughters - it is also way they have taught their children about sex and consent that means they have taught their daughters to expect victimization, and encouraged a predatory male mindset. 

5) The Duggar Parents do not consider themselves hypocrites for calling all gay, lesbian and  trans-genders child molesters while actually harboring one in their home.

    No matter what your view of GLTB persons choice from a moral stand point, one thing is clear. There is a HUGE difference between what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home and child abuse, rape and molestation.
   
   Yet over and over the Duggars and conservative culture compare two adults, in a consenting situation, to child molesters. 
  Morally, you may find both offensive. But they are NOT equal. 
 
  This is like saying that two adults who choose adultery is the same as a woman who is brutally raped. Or two adults who sleep together before marriage in a consenting way is the same as a person who molests a child.
 
  Again. These may all classify as sinful according to your religious beliefs but they are definitely not the same, morally OR legally.

   And by the way? The bible says the person who hurts a child would be better off being violently drowned by others than facing God. The bible doesn't say that about homosexuality, and yet the Duggars and many others minimize child abuse while actively persecuting adults who do not even have the same beliefs that they do!
 

Once again there I believe this comes from a lack of understanding human integrity, consent and contradiction in beliefs.


   As taught by purity culture and ATI, bodies are sexual. They must be covered, kept separate, and there should be no contact. This will help keep others from succumbing to sexual temptation.

    On the other hand, sexual temptation is everywhere, and it is totally natural for men to fail. ATI teaches  that men are more sexually driven then women,  and that they are more visual so temptation from scanty women may cause them to unwillingly fall.

    If someone ‘falls’ into sin, they have to confess and be forgiven, otherwise they would naturally continue to follow the course of illicit sex, which may of course included gay sex, rape, child molestation and sex with animals.

   Because ALL sexual awareness and desire and even kissing was considered sinful, and because all sins before God were equal, there was no concept of proper or healthy sexual discovery or boundaries.

       In ATI there is no such thing as a balanced, consenting, relationship between two adults who consenting choose to have sex outside of marriage  (which then also has religious or moral implications;) it was just sin.

 

 So is a 41 year old man raping a 12 year old. That is sin.

 So is two 14 year olds kissing each other at youth group. It is sin.

 So is a 12 year old kid looking at accurate depictions in a school book of body parts. It is sin.

So is a man dressing like a woman. It is sin.

So is a naked three year old jumping out of a bath tub. It is sin.

So is a wife refusing to give her husband sex on demand. It is sin.

So is a girl wearing a dress that shows off her shape. It is sin.

So is a gay couple. It is sin.

So is noticing a woman in a bikini at the pool and getting an erection. It is sin.

So is wearing a pushup bra that makes your breasts perkier. It is sin.

So is pinning your sister in her sleep and forcing yourself on her. It is sin.

So is kissing anyone before the day you married or engaged. It is sin.

So is refusing to honor anyone who was your ‘authority’. It is sin.

 

This group teaches that all sin is equal in God’s sight, and must be repented for and forgiven. This group teaches that we are all sinners who never know what we would do if we didn’t know better. This is a group where repression, shame and complete control and intentional withholding of information to developing children is considered good parenting.


    This is why Mrs. Duggar has no problem referring to all gay and trans-gender persons as child molesters, and why she doesn’t see her horrifying and disgusting description as hypocritical.

  She sees them as ‘sinners’. Just like her son is a sinner.

  After all, - if her clean, wholesome, totally protected son who wasn’t allowed to look at scantily clad women, or even have a girl friend, or kiss anyone would do this, what would all the ‘other’ more lost, more foolish, more sinful people do????

 On one hand, purity is the ONLY way. On the other hand, without proper purity, sexual deviancy/power abuse  of ANY kind should be expected and is normal.

  She very likely believes her son’s sin of molestation, and the time he masturbated to the thought of a girl in a bra from the JC Penny catalog, and the time he disobeyed, and didn’t take out the trash as almost the same thing. And in her mind, the fact that he cried and prayed and asked forgiveness means all those things went away. 

The supreme arrogance of raising children in a ‘safe, clean, MODEST Christian bubble’ is the assumption that bullying, abuse and  deviancy  (in any area including sexual) will not happen because of your silence, control, and lack of information.

  Sexuality is something that has to be encouraged to develop in a safe, healthy, informed way, - just like EVERY part of child’s mind and body.

 

6) Members of ATI see themselves as above the law.

          This is difficult to explain. 

               First, this is a group that lives, breathes and dies by the ‘convictions’ (this taught as       anything that you feel God has impressed on your heart as the BEST way to please him) found in scripture and found through personal prayer.

    Sin is actually presented not just as a list of biblical offenses, but in addition, as anything that you might do, say or think that goes against what God has ‘convicted’ you is his best standard.

   In fact, ‘offending’ someone else’s arbitrary convictions was often seen as sinful as well; which basically created an environment where the most legalistic and strict person or family was able to dictate the rules for the entire group. No one wanted to upset or make that person with the ‘most tender consciences’ suffer.

  For all this focus on rules and ‘laws written upon our hearts’; ATI and the entire conservative Christian home school culture had a very different view of actual US law.

   If members of ATI were trained to hear God more carefully, and have more ‘tender’ consciences’  than the general US public, it was assumed that they would actually know better than trained professionals in any field.

    In fact, ATI was always finding new ways to create their own authorities on any topic using ‘Biblical Insight’ to produce ‘better and wiser’ people in every educated field that would support and further ATI’s beliefs and influence. ATI created their own schools for music, cosmetology, health, counseling, finance, and more. The list goes on but does include an attempt to create their own law school that could ‘restore’ their view of biblical law to America.

    ATI taught that US laws, or any government laws biblically should  be followed, unless a ‘higher law’ or reason applied.  Since ATI taught that there was NOTHING secular or a-moral, and that EVERYTHING was a matter of conscience, (the only way to being right with God) it in effect taught that members of ATI with superior moral standards should always follow God’s law in their heart before actual US law.

   The Duggars believed that when faced with a moral dilemma in their home, they were the BEST people to deal with it. They genuinely believe that the US law does not necessarily apply to them since they are trying to follow the ‘higher standard’ of God’s law and help their son’s heart.

     Essentially it is a very spiritual way of believing with your whole heart that you know better than anyone else on every topic, including abuse, rape, counseling, and incest.

  They believe the US law is present for people who are not already living a ‘godly’ life and in some cases the law makes their lifestyle harder.

    They do not believe the law is to be an impartial force for good for those from all belief systems, but something they should use if possible to force everyone to their beliefs.

   As in the case of Mr. Duggar saying that all persons who cause a pregnancy through incest should receive the death penalty or their work to legally preventing gay marriage, while they chose to not report their son to the law for clear and existing laws on molestation.

 

7) The Duggar girls have no choice but to voice forgiveness.

    In ATI, there were two concepts on which most of their teachings were dependant; the teaching on bitterness and the teaching on authority.

    The bitterness teaching emphasized that if you allowed yourself to be angry or unforgiving toward anyone who wronged you, Satan was allowed to enter your life and heart and steal ‘ground’ and attack you in very real ways. Stories of car wrecks, illnesses and more were used to illustrate what happened to people who did not immediately forgive and embrace those who hurt them, even if the offending person did not admit to doing wrong. This was even specifically taught as part of recovery from rape in ATI’s ‘counseling ‘seminar.

 
“Staying bitter’ was not an option for a godly person in good standing with their family or the group, and has not been an option for the Duggar girls.

 
   Even though most people understand that forgiveness is key to healing and growing past even horrific experiences, - it must be PART of a healing process that is balanced, and part of a process that deals with the very real practical impact that event has had on your life.  It will look different for everyone. It is also important to note that forgiveness does not mean forgetting, or ignoring danger to others.

  I knew from when I first heard this story that the girls would come out in defense of their brother. It is the ATI way. There is no doubt in my mind that forgiveness was something they were required to offer from the beginning, even though their abuser remained in the home and continued his assaults for a year and a half.

 

 In ATI, bitterness toward an offender is seen as more sinful than any offense you might endure.

 

Bottom line: this is a case of grossly neglectful and abusive parenting.

 

This is perhaps the most upsetting part of this story for me personally. I think this is why I have struggled to explain to others why the story upsets me so much, and yet it is key to why this story matters.

   Several  people I know comment that ‘these children seem happy, and yet ‘…. And then they hesitate.

    Having come from a home with emotional, mental and physical  abuse, and yet knowing we appeared happy to many who knew us, I wonder if the reason is the same.

    For us, - having people around, was our happy place. The happiness people saw was real. It was when we were able to let go and be kids. If there were people around, - we didn’t have to worry about what would be said or done to us. The presence of others meant we were safe.

   It is very possible that the TV show has represented the very best of the Duggar kid’s memories. While it may be something they’ve resented, it also may have represented freedom or access to things they wouldn’t have otherwise had.
 
It also may be that they have worked hard to fake it for the sake of their parents and appearances. Either way, these children did not ask to be born into this family, to have their lives exposed for years on national television, or to have this scandal reveal their most personal information.

   I am a little sad for Josh. The kid was the oldest of an INSANE amount of children. There is no way his individual needs were met. He was part of that family with the purpose to care for the family and his needs were not considered as important as the needs of the whole.
            I should know.  He was raised in a sexually repressed environment  that wasn’t healthy for a growing boy. He may have been a mentally and socially and developmentally delayed child who crossed serious lines and needed help, OR a budding predator who is extremely dangerous. We may never know. We do know he was never offered real evaluation or help he needed.  I offer him no excuse for his actions because there is none. But sorrowful sympathy? Yes.

 
   Yes I am heartbroken and grieved for the girls. They were raised in a controlled environment where they were not allowed to choose what they wore, how to fix their hair, what activities they could do, they have not been allowed to be independent or pursue higher education, their own homes or careers, or even be in the same room alone with their fiancés before very real ownership of them  was transferred from their father to their husbands and at least two  have done it all with smiles and sweetness and I suspect (as was true for me) an incredible and most sincere desire to really please God. 
 
     And yet the parents who forbade all these things to their female children on the guise of ‘protecting them’ allowed someone to sexually prey on ALL them, and girls outside their home for a year and a half or more. These parents KNEW there was someone sexually assaulting them, (with no idea how far it might go next time) for a YEAR AND A HALF!!!!! And did nothing to effectively stop it.

   After a short separation they then allowed this person BACK in their home.

  How well would you have slept if you were a Duggar girl?

  How the HELL did those parents sleep through the night?

 
                                                    **********************************
                
       What I find fascinating about this scandal is that so many people are quickly wanting to dismiss it since 'it happened so long ago', and 'the kids seem so happy now'.
     For those of us who were raised in ATI and understand the underlying aspects of this case it is hard for us to simply dismiss this case.
 It is one thing to find out about tragic, horrible things that happened in the past to children who never asked to be born into a large family who joins conservative Christian cult when all the children are grown. It helps if you can see the kids have grown up into seemingly (from what we know) well rounded, socially responsible people.

 
Unfortunately this is not an OLD story. It isn’t just past ugliness. This isn’t about something that happened a long time ago. Those of us upset aren’t holding onto the past just so we can stew about it. THIS STORY IS ABOUT NOW.

 
  This is about the Duggar parents raising a dozen MORE children, including another five year old girl in their home, raising them with all the same philosophies and the same 'watchful eye' and isolated in home school away from the view of trained professionals.
  
   This case is unique in that right now the grown children are supporting their parent's decisions and handling of the matter. It is vital to note though that we have NOT heard from children still at home, and I see it highly unlikely we ever will.

   According to ATI teaching, the children living at home are 'under' Mr. Duggar's authority and he has the duty and right to speak for them on every issue.

    The only kids to speak out are the perpetrator himself,  and  two of the girls who are already married and quite happy in their life which seems to be following in their parent's beliefs and choices with little to no exceptions. In other words, we are hearing from children who now believe exactly like the Duggar parents.
 

   I predict that this is the new issue to face homeschool culture.

   In this past year more and more reports of neglect and abuse emerge from LARGE home school families. Families with 8 or more children have small children in a home for twenty years or more. The past and present blur in a way that smaller families cannot relate. It is no easy thing to start your own family and have siblings the ages of your children. Parenting while you watch your parents parent is interesting and difficult in the best of situations.
  
   If you begin parenting and realize the extent to which what you thought was normal was actually abusive and damaging, and watch your younger siblings going through the same or worse, it is incredibly painful.

   In many recent cases it is the older children in a family who are being instrumental in either reporting or testifying against their parents, an excruciating choice.

    In many cases I know personally,- once the older children are brave and healed enough to speak up, they are finding that the statute of limitation has passed and there are no legal actions available to them but are desperate to help siblings who are still being raised by (now older) parents who were the original perpetrators or supporters of neglect/ abuse.

 I know of many cases where older siblings are directly taking financial, physical and educational responsibilities of their younger siblings entirely on themselves.
 You would be amazed at the number of adult children of larger families I know who are the only reason their younger siblings are receiving any kind of education, and are actively responsible for supporting their siblings and parents in almost every way.
 

  As more and more reports of neglect and abuse emerge from large home school families, we will have to decide as a society if forgiveness is enough to warrant young children remaining in homes where abuse is well known or documented but has passed its statutes of limitations.

     If you were raised in ATI, you know that while the groups may shift and names may change; the ideas at the root of so much of this kind of neglect and abuse found in fundamentalism isn’t going anywhere.

  The real question is what WE are going to do about it.  

 

 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Modesty Myth: Four Reasons I am no Longer Modest



           The Modesty Myth; Four Reasons I am no Longer Modest.

   She wrote that she wished she felt as beautiful, elegant and respected in her new modern clothes as she did in her former cape dress.    She is a friend on her own journey recovering from conservative Christianity and a well known church denomination (where being separate from the world is foundational doctrine) and what she wrote grabbed me.

     I could not relate to her wistfulness, but I was intrigued.

     I had not previously worn a cape dress, but I had been raised deep in modesty culture and was not allowed to wear pants, t shirts (they could cling), ear rings, make up, heels, and the list goes on.

    It isn’t easy being a thirteen year old at age thirty; experiencing those teen years that you are supposed to experiment with your clothes, your hair, and make up, learning to appropriately and comfortably dress your body.  For many of my friends raised in modesty culture this process  happens much later in life when we are living on our own, and often becomes even more acute after having the first baby or two, since we have to really make a change in what works for our now very womanly shaped bodies. In the past couple years I’ve worn things in an attempt to update my look that have later made me cringe, but I refuse to beat myself up for being brave enough to try.

    I am not alone in my struggle. It is a topic modesty culture women talk about a lot.

    We talk about discovering how to find clothes that work with our body’s shape, without being ashamed of our assets. We talk about discovering our own sense of personal style; what kind of clothes make our hearts sing? What colors do we love?  (in many ministries and churches, certain colors are either required or forbidden)  What image feels like an extension of who we are? And perhaps most difficult of all for women raised in cultures of dresses and skirts where the only difference between what we wear for gardening and a wedding is how long we’ve owned the dress and perhaps cleaner shoes; we talk about how to distinguish between formal and casual.

      But even though wading through the issues of style, shape, trends, preference, and body image is hard enough for the most woman today, adding a past that taught body shame as God’s gift to ‘godly women’  means these discussions truly rock both our core identity and faith.

   I have found that there are four different ways modesty culture damages.

1)      Modesty culture creates body shame.

      Instead of celebrating our transition to womanhood, modesty culture offers newly blossomed girls one primary focus; your body is something you must learn to overcome; your body is the ultimate distraction and threat, even to your personal and every straight man’s holiness. 

       I have yet to talk to a girl raised in modesty culture who was encouraged to proudly own her body’s attractive qualities. Long lean, round curves, petite lines, thick, lovely ample, strong, luscious; these were not positive descriptions that even occurred to us. Our bodies were not something to embrace, but to manage, to endure.

    Beyond the struggles of self image that this kind of thinking creates, its effect on our physical health is real.

    You aren’t likely to take good care of something that is a threat to your holiness.

    Loving the legs, arms, stomach, breasts and butt we have is foundational to nourishing and strengthening the whole of us, instead of trying to punish them into careful obscurity.


    In modesty culture it is considered sinful pride and a waste for much thought or effort to be put into appearance. We were told we were to focus on developing our ‘inner beauty’ which was supposed to ideally ‘shine through’ or overcome our physical selves.

    It is a very schizophrenic way to think; let yourself shine, be beautiful; but not the outside very real physical parts of you that you can see and touch, just the internal, vague spirit of who you are, well, at least the part of your spirit that is meek and sweet.

    In my experience girls raised in modesty culture do a lot of smiling and serving in order to let their ‘inner beauty shine’ even though like their bodies they have learned to carefully conceal who they are with a carefully constructed image of conformity.

    Coming to love and flaunt my insanely thick, curly wild hair that was never going to lie down demurely and be a quiet or unobtrusive took me years but was  the start of being ok with who I am internally in spirit, a bit wild, passionate, and untamable.



2)       Modesty culture is based in assumption and inappropriate responsibility.

  My friend wrote how she missed being treated with ‘respect’ by men in public. I knew what she was talking about, although I had never interpreted it as respect.

    I remembered. In modest dress men my age or younger next to me at the soda fountain would usually avoid eye contact and hurry away, but it didn’t mean I wasn’t noticed. Usually it was older men who would smile and try to chat while I stood in line at a checkout, and then would hurry to get the door. I never had to carry anything when I was in modest dress; there were always offers of help.

    I was raised to be judgmental of the girl in halter top and shorts who all the guys in the store would instinctively notice. I was raised to see her as luring them with her body, ‘making’ them look and have feelings beyond their control. Without even addressing the issue of an individual’s responsibility for his or her own ‘feelings’, my very first realization was basic. 

     It was something I knew from the attention that (often) older men gave me in my modest clothes. Guess what. Some guys notice the girl in a halter top with tan lines and booty shorts, and some notice the girl in a long skirt, demure smile, and appearance of innocent purity.

     At some point early on it clicked in my mind that we were being raised to view sexual attraction within a very narrow range; while some guys (and gals) get turned on by the perception of sexual availability, some are turned on by the perception of eternal innocence and impressionability.

    After one particular creepy conversation with a much older man as a teen I remember struggling with the irony that my ‘modest’ attire seemed to make me more of a target for those who were attracted to the appearance of naive innocence.

    It was at that point that I realized how ridiculous it was to believe that my choice of clothes could ensure that everyone around me had right thoughts. I also realized how insidious it was to suggest that half the world population was responsible for the other half; essentially making me responsible for mankind’s sexuality.

    In essence modesty culture suggests that we are not simply people, equal and wholly human, a person to be liked or disliked as a whole, capable and responsible, who have a sexual aspect of our being, but we are simply something men want, and that we must be careful not to encourage their animal instincts.

     Boys raised in modesty culture were taught to ‘shift their eyes’ away from women who showed too much, to avoid deliberately being/staying in the presence of an immodest woman.   Some churches encouraged the girls in the family to ask her father and brothers if what she was wearing was ‘to revealing’ which reinforced the idea that the girls were nothing more than breasts and butts that even a male family member could/should scrutinize.



3)      Modesty culture destroys identity and creates complete objectification.


       “I feel like people knew who I was and what I believed”. My friend was lamenting that her change of clothes changed how she believed she was perceived. No longer did her clothes speak for her in the same way.

       ‘Yes, but isn’t that lovely?” I asked, surprised. “Now there are no superficial barriers! They have to ask!”

       The very foundation of modesty culture is the belief in judging others based on appearance.

     Wearing the specifically prescribed clothes provide quick easy identification of who you are and what you stand for; no personal introduction necessary.

      No one needs to get to know you, to ask your opinion, to even care if you have one; at a glance they can make a sweeping judgment about what you believe, and your role in society; which for modest women is clearly limited and pre-defined. Grocery shopping, raising children, serving the community and cleaning house is what can be reasonably expected from a modest woman in her place.

   

    Conformist clothes can provide a sense of belonging, it is clear you are a part of an established social and religious circle and everyone knows it.

   For my friend and others I know still in that culture this feels safe, and comforting. I felt like it was a straight-jacket for my soul. However, for both of us leaving this sense of identity, no matter our previous feelings has proven to be difficult.

    My friend misses the simple, uncomplicated and straight forward appearance of her former life; her outside reflected a simple, well organized internal system of belief, while now her appearance matches her internal growth (somewhat awkward, still in process, and slowly expanding).

  I remember relishing the freedom I felt wearing the most average, mundane clothing possible which meant I could walk into a public place and NOT be noticed, not judged, not ‘put in my place’ with a glance. I craved the chance to be seen as a person that would take time to get to know, to be granted gracious anonymity of faith, free of stereotyped perceptions. I could finally be seen as a person, instead of part of a whole.

  However despite my eagerness, the reality of the perception of others and assumed identity proved hard to shake.

     I remember in past years mid-transition feeling conflict at the oddest moments. I remember the first few times I was in public dressed entirely unnoticeably in the most average pair of loose jeans and t-shirt and walking by women I didn’t know dressed like I used to, and realizing that they did not make eye contact and smile or nod as they would have; the silent acknowledgement that exists between those of like; I had become invisible. I was like the rest.

     I remember the confusion, and even the unexplainable hurt. They didn’t know me, they didn’t know who I was; they had no idea that I WAS them; that at the time my beliefs were still nearly the same as theirs, wrapped in a different package; as far as they were concerned I was the ‘other’, lost, unknowing, and in need of change. I was being dismissed at a glance.

   It was the first time I had experienced what I was told were righteous, ‘loving’ perceptions used against me and it felt like anything but righteousness or love.

   As much as it hurt I realized that judgment and acceptance are mutually exclusive. I couldn’t control their judgments’ of me and my walk with God any more than I could control someone lusting after me, and that was ok; that wasn’t my job, nor the job of my denim skirt or trendy skinny jeans.

 Modesty culture teaches you that your appearance is a vital part of your ‘witness’, which basically means your level of holiness and commitment.   In a culture rooted in the belief that your clothes tell everyone around you everything you needed to know, there really isn’t an option other than to believe that a girl in a short skirt is ‘asking’ for sexual attention/abuse or a girl in a long skirt is ‘demonstrating’ her holiness. The thought of a mini skirt missionary or long skirt Pharisee destroys the whole premise.

       After all, if what we wear doesn’t matter; how will we know who loves God more?

  Without my clothes, makeup and hair doing the talking for me, I realized I would have to find a way to express my faith through words, through relationships. To people who actually cared what I thought and bothered to ask. It was both overwhelming and exhilarating.

  

4)      Modesty culture is inescapably rooted in status.

     Despite what the modesty culture suggests through its dogma, it definitely isn’t men who are most conscious of what women are wearing; it is other women.

     Any woman can tell you that the moment she walks into a room she is simultaneously being observed and is simultaneously observing every other woman present and we are judging ourselves against the standard we see. We see, we know. It is instantaneous and unconscious. We know who has the shortest (longest) skirt, the most cleavage, the tinniest waist, the biggest smile, the nicest hair.

      In a modest conscious culture, there is constant awareness and obsession.  Hemlines, necklines, and darts are noticed and critiqued within 1/8 of inches; the thickness of fabric, even the texture; each detail matters. It is a value system just as real, just as ruthless and just as cruel as the most fashion forward and label obsessed circles, but with higher stakes since the currency isn’t just a woman’s financial ability, but her standing with God.

   I doubt there is a young girl raised in modesty culture who hasn’t had the soul destroying experience of having an older woman pull her aside to criticize her already limited choice of clothes as ‘inappropriate’. One that comes to mind for me is being at a public event and walking down a flight of stairs wearing for the first time a long, flowing button down jumper. (Because I am tall, length was ALWAYS an issue, and I couldn’t believe I had found a dress so long at the thrift store that came to my ankles.)

     It was a rare moment where I actually felt pretty and confident, until I reached the bottom of the stairs and was pulled aside by an older woman who pointed out that the buttons on my dress ended about 18 inches above the bottom of the floor which was ‘quite a distraction’ and hurried me to a bathroom where she pulled out safety pins to save me from causing others to sin.

   I was crushed. My smile was gone; how could I have been so careless?  I never wore that dress again.

  Now I know that nothing is as beautiful as a confident woman, and that even my baggy dress or pulled back frizzy  hair couldn’t hide my young, innocent loveliness in that rare moment of confidence; beauty that was seen as a threat, and something to be quickly suppressed.

    The dark side of modesty culture is that if a woman really believes that the men in her life are truly susceptible to natural attraction to other woman with limited or no culpability, other women are her biggest threat.

   Find a woman who believes her husband’s wandering eye is the responsibility of poorly dressed women and you will find the loudest and most vocal supporter of other women’s modesty. Put that woman around attractive young girls and women with sincere hearts and insecurity and watch carnage of the soul begin. There is no shame storm equal to that created by an insecure woman.

     The modesty myth promises a world of purity.

    The modesty myth says that my choices determine yours. The modesty myth suggests that my worth and value depend on YOUR perception of me. That somehow my clothes and your eternal soul are connected.

  The modesty myth teaches me that my body is inherently shameful, should be covered and that it is my job to protect you from yourself.

  Modesty teaches me that I am my body. When I am young, beautiful, and shaped just right, I have to be careful to hide it because that is what men cannot help but want. What does that say about my body when I am older and my body has changed?

    Modesty teaches me that I should be treated with honor, respect, and value based on the clothes I wear. What does this say about how I see and treat others?

   Modesty teaches that a woman’s choice in clothes can tell you everything you really need to know about that woman; her interests, her beliefs, her past, her future without ever speaking to her. What this mean I assume about those around me?

  Modesty teaches appearance is the most important representation of who I am; it eliminates the need for our spirits and souls to connect, to see, or to know others for who they really are. Modesty allows me to carefully avoid ever really being seen or known.

 It’s why I am no longer modest. I have chosen to be seen.  I have chosen to see others.
 It is terrifying. It is freeing.
 We are beautiful.  
  This Present Mom,
Rebecca