Disney Frozen DVD case. Photo courtesy Vongerlachter via Flickr Creative Commons.

Disney Frozen DVD case. Photo courtesy Vongerlachter via Flickr Creative Commons.

A friend recently posted some thoughts on Facebook on the movie ‘Frozen’ and the way it critiques the well-worn “love at first sight” trope that’s part of many other Disney movies:

“If a lonely, love-starved girl [see, for example, Tangled] has been sheltered in a castle her whole life, she might become more vulnerable to smooth-talking Prince Charmings ready to help her escape.”

The psychological set-up of earlier Disney princesses might parallel evangelical purity culture in some significant ways, he suggested, referencing a journal article dealing with clergy sexual misconduct.

As Samantha Nelson told me in a 2012 interview, clergy sexual misconduct is often described — even by the women themselves — as an “affair” with their pastor, rabbi, or priest. Even those who have been victims of sexual abuse often fail to see the ways in which the clergyperson abused his power in order to get sex.

And so they blame themselves.

My friend (and many of those who commented) reflected upon the stories of sexual misconduct emerging recently from fundamentalist Christianity — most notably, perhaps, the case of Bill Gothard, who has been teaching reprehensible things in the name of Jesus for decades but has finally been discredited after numerous stories of his sexual abuse of young women have come to light.

It is hard not to think that there is a causative relationship between Gothard (and Gothard-esque) teaching and sexual abuse, particularly of women and girls.

Purity culture teaches unquestioning submission to authority — and authority figures are almost invariably male.

Purity culture teaches that a person who has had sexual contact outside of heterosexual marriage is tainted (pre-chewed gum, a cup of soda that a group of people have spit in, and other inappropriate youth group metaphors.)

Purity culture very often — not always — loads responsibility onto women and girls for maintaining purity. It is their responsibility not to “make a brother stumble” by dressing “provocatively.”

True Love Waits. Photo courtesy Starla E. Rose via Flickr Creative Commons

True Love Waits. Photo courtesy Starla E. Rose via Flickr Creative Commons

(I once heard a young man ask his girlfriend to put on something besides the baggy flannel pajama pants she wore because they were “causing him to stumble.” Apparently the ease with which they might be pulled down was the stumbling block. Okay.)

And the narrative of purity culture — not unlike the narrative of many, many Disney princesses — implicitly and sometimes explicitly promises that passive virtue will exert a sort of magnetic pull on worthy young men, who will come flocking to her father for permission to ‘court’ her.

That Prince Charming’s intentions may be less than honorable is sometimes discussed, yes, but generally speaking, within the discourse of purity culture, young men are raised to be “pillars” and “leaders” and taught to avoid the deceptive wiles of licentious women who might lead them astray.

Another person — a man — commented on my friend’s Facebook post to insist that a “modesty/purity culture” in no way “sets women up to be vulnerable to sexual predators.”

His words startled me, not least because they seemed to ignore the patent evidence to the contrary (see again: Bill Gothard’s “ministry”) but also because they reminded me once again that the experience of women and girls growing up in purity culture is, I think, partly inaccessible to men.

Men, if anything, are empowered by that particular discourse. They, after all, are the ones with the active role to play. It’s through them that God (invariably imagined as exclusively and wholly male) exercises proper authority over the family, which is always “God’s chosen instrument” for working in the world.

I have no doubt that purity culture is harmful to men, I’m only suggesting that it might be impossible for a man ever to understand a woman’s experience of that same culture: that growing up female and fundamentalist is an experience inaccessible to anyone who hasn’t lived it.

What do you think?

10 Comments

  1. It’s not possible for anyone to truly put themselves in another’s shoes.

    Everyone has personal responsibility for how they present themselves and what they do with their body. God calls us to purity.

  2. So much of “purity culture” seems designed to play upon supporting the habits of sexual predators.

    -Victimized women are taught to consider themselves the wrongdoers when attacked. The predators are considered victims of the woman’s “wiles”.

    -A woman’s chastity being a commodity of her father, family and clergy as exemplified in those tasteless Father/Daughter dances.

    -A woman is not expected to have gratification in relations but must submit to her mate’s desires in such things.

    -Allegations of sexual abuse are to be ignored, minimized or given a knee-jerk response that it is a libelous attack on the perpetrator.

    A sexual predator has no better playground than a strictly religious environment.

  3. “Purity culture teaches that a person who has had sexual contact outside of heterosexual marriage is tainted (pre-chewed gum, a cup of soda that a group of people have spit in, and other inappropriate youth group metaphors.)”

    This “gum” analogy was in a recent NYT story about *Mormon* women. I’ve never heard it or “spit” in soda used in evangelical culture. Are there some specific examples other than Bill Gothard, a name I’d never heard? It seems to me the bigger problem is the social mockery of purity culture – the *expectation* that you *should experiment* sexually so you know you’re *compatible* with whoever you end up with, and that you’re weird or brainwashed if you want to stay a virgin. For every evangelical girl suffering under this culture, there are almost certainly two young women sexually active with their male professors – another example of abused authority that’s basically tolerated on campus.

    • Purity culture deserves mockery. It has a nasty unintentional habit of promoting divorce, commodifies the youth of women, promotes poverty, and provides a playground for sexual predators.

      The culture you decry promotes the idea that women should seek education and employment opportunities in their youth rather than become breeding cows. That they understand their mates before settling down and marrying rather than give into hormonal/cultural pressure. That fathers should not treat daughters like personal property to be pawned off on suitors. That families have children when they want to and are ready to care for them. That both members of a marriage can find personal satisfaction in their intimate interactions.

      ” For every evangelical girl suffering under this culture, there are almost certainly two young women sexually active with their male professors”

      Professors usually get fired for such behavior. Pastors, priests and rabbis get a legion of apoloigists to defend them.

  4. Evil will always exploit the weak, even in naive, sometimes-erring Evangelical subcultures.

    However, foolish/ wrong/ excessive applications don’t mean an emphasis on purity is all bad. Evangelical girls, even with the baggage you mention, are so immensely better off than girls in cultures that couldn’t care less about protecting girls from preying men.

    Do you know many girls raised in “purity culture” who are now happy, healthy adults, or are the abuses you mention the norm?

    • Rebekkah, if by “purity culture” you mean teaching daughters that they are worth waiting for, then ya, it works. You don’t have to wear dresses to the ground or put a doily on your head to be pure. The point for young people is that we have been designed. God want’s us to reproduce and made sex wonderful so we’d want to reproduce. But a child needs a mommy and a daddy, therefore sex is for marriage. So simple. You don’t need to be part of a culture to believe that.

  5. I hope the poor girl who was dating a guy that had trouble with her baggy pants because “they could be pulled down easily” had the brains to find herself another boyfriend, because even a burqua couldn’t save her – imagine the ease with which it could be pulled up!

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