Raising A Free Daughter in the Bible Belt
My teenage daughter has had an awakening. Her growing insight has been both marvelous and heartbreaking to witness and she grapples with the newfound knowledge that women are still treated as second class citizens in this country.
It doesn’t help that we are submerged in a christian homeschool community where she receives frequent messages that it is her responsibility to prevent violence against herself by dressing modestly and behaving in a godly manner.
I really don’t even know what that means.
I do know that we’ve been presented with lists of dress code requirements that always include a supplement exclusively for girls.
She has been instructed about the precise acceptable length of her skirts and shorts, directives to wear appropriate undergarments, but said undergarments should never be visible. She has been forbidden to show any cleavage or wear tight fitting clothing of any type. Under no circumstances should she ever reveal that beneath her drapings is a feminine form.
I can only assume that this is viewed as a necessary measure to prevent the boys from slipping into their primal brains and savagely raping their classmates. Because showing cleavage clearly expresses a desire to have sex and boys are mindless beasts who cannot control their urges. This is absurd and insulting to both sexes. The entire notion of “modesty” is contrived to blame the victim and excuse the perpetrator. And if they can’t handle a hint of cleavage in the classroom, how on earth do they navigate the beach without having sex all over it?
When you’re done go here. Check out this brilliant slam poetry piece by Anna Binkovitz tackling the ill conceived notion that a woman’s clothing choices are an indication of well, anything at all.
I can testify to the ridiculousness of the idea that your attire is an expression of your desires. I have traveled through Europe and visited topless and nude beaches, yet I have never witnessed a public orgy (nor a private one for that matter.) What I did see were families and friends (yes parents with their children) enjoying time together in the sun. End of story.
Enough is Enough
The double standard has become increasingly unbearable for my thinking child and she’s angry. When I pointed out that her chosen attire for today’s classes exposed her bra straps (more the result of petite frame with narrow shoulders than rebellion, but rebellion would have been okay too) and we had just received an email from the co-op principal that further dress code violations would result in being forced to wear a uniform of a polo shirt and khaki pants, she’d had it.
“I know that every boy in the room has a penis. Ms. X even talked about their testicles the other day and I didn’t immediately demand that they fertilize me,” she lamented, pretty sure that a boy catching a glimpse of her bra wasn’t going to leave her pregnant.
Up until puberty struck earlier this year she had lived in an insulated environment. We tend to run with crunchier crowds and we have always encouraged her (and all our children) to discover their own paths–to decide what makes sense to them in every aspect of their lives from fashion to spirituality. Our message has been “Be kind, do good, be free.” The End.
This is not to say we don’t offer our own insight and guidance–I don’t want to send them out there unarmed–but ultimately the decisions are theirs. They are her boobs and what she does with them is her business.
This year, we have ventured into a new arena, she is taking several classes in conservative Christian environments, and is spending far more time with adults who do not share our views. Physical changes, awakening awareness, and being thrust into an oppressive environment have caused a psychic collision. I’m not so sure how long we can endure the blasts.
We have committed to this year and I believe there is value in spending time amongst those whose beliefs are very different than your own, but I will probably suggest we keep the visit short. The messages are too destructive.
The bombardment of warnings that she should cover her body, not entice or mislead the opposite sex by showing too much flesh, and that her very shape is shameful and should be concealed are taking a toll. She feels judged and alienated. The experience has been hurtful. But there has also been an unintended positive result.
She doesn’t live in that universe and has her parents’ blessings to disagree. And disagree she does. Freedom and the Internet have opened the world of feminist dialogue to her and she’s listening. She has discovered slam poetry and has started writing her own. She seeks out messages of self love and empowerment and she is coming into her own as a strong independent woman.
This is in direct alignment with my hopes for her. I wish for my daughter to know her own mind and act with integrity. I want her to have a healthy body image and sexuality. I want her to venture into the world with the expectation that she will be treated with respect and equality and reject any equations that produce a different yield. I want her to expect this not because she is dressed in some arbitrary standard of decency, but because she is a human being and it is her right. I want her to fight for what she believes in and never compromise her values. And in a final thought that is difficult to speak, in the event that she becomes a victim, as 25 percent of us will, I want her to know that it is not her fault.