As I continue to read Rebecca Davis’ book, “Pure,” on purity culture she continues to lay out the devastating psychological consequences of being told, as a young teenager, that her body would cause other men to sin, and could even cause them to rape her.
“This is such utter nonsense!” I kept thinking, “Does anybody actually believe this?” As she gave example after example, I began to recognize some messegase that sounded all to familiar. Yes, we do communicate this message. Maybe not always in so many words: but women are often told in the church, “Be modest, or you might get raped!”
…but this is ridiculous!
If immodesty really caused rape, what we would see is:
- Rape happening all the time at public beaches, right out there in public. After all, men can’t control themselves, can they? But actually, strangely, we find that men can control themselves rather well when other people are watching.
- Rape would dramatically diminish during the winter time, and dramatically increase during the summer, due to the wearing of more clothing. Rather, it seems that it stays pretty stable.
- Rape would be virtually non-existent in in Muslim and Amish and other communities. Tragically, rape seems to be just as present in very religious communities.
…if we really cared about girls getting raped, here are some suggestions:
- Teach them basic safety, such as “don’t walk down dark alleys at night.” Seriously — do we even tell girls this in our religious subculture? Or are we afraid that it will be too naughty to say?
- Teach them basic self defence. Are we teaching girls that the best thing they can do is to hit an attacker hard in the groin? Or will they be confused in a situation of violence, frozen by hours of teaching about “turning the other cheek”?
- Teach them that their “body” is their best friend: often, that feeling “in your gut” that a person or a situation is not safe is your first and best defence. Teach them to listen to that and to never, ever, ever put yourself in a vulnerable situation with someone who makes you feel unsafe. …or are we teaching them that their bodies are evil, and their “hearts” are “deceptively wicked,” that “women are emotional, and emotions deceive people,” and that it is an act of witchcraft to “listen to your heart”?
- Are we creating an atmosphere of trust with our children, and giving them the vocabulary for the human body, and for healthy sexuality, so that they can determine what is appropriate and what is not? Or is “sex” a dirty word in our homes — and “penis,” “vagina,” and “breast” equally forbidden? Will she even know how to explain to her parents or a police officer what has happened? Can she explain her great discomfort with inappropriate conduct which may have preceded a rape? Or has she been gagged into silence by a culture afraid of their own bodies?
- Teach that most rape does not happen by a stranger, but by a trusted friend, authority figure, or family member. This should not lead to mistrusting everybody, but there should be discussions of what is normal and what is not normal for a man to ask a young girl. A man of any age, and no matter their status or relationship, should not seek to be alone with a girl. Period. Do they know that? Or have they been taught that “women are weak,” “women need men to help them make decisions,” and that a girl should (I have actually heard this taught) always listen to the oldest male in the room, as though he were giving her instructions from God.
…and if we really cared about young girls, we would teach them safety. Basic, common sense, idiotically simple safety.
Rape is not about temptation: any woman with a vagina is a temptation to a wicked man. Rape is about availability, and the belief that they can get away with it.
Let’s face it: this doctrine tends to make girls vulnerable, and makes it far less likely that they will successfully flee or report the crime.
And if we really cared about victims — knowing that despite our very best attempts, a very large percentage of girls will be violated before they reach adulthood — we would be sure to tell them that rape is never, ever, ever a girl’s fault.
Pathological shame and guilt follows all traumatic events. This is because traumatic events overwhelm a brain: it cannot cope. It stores the event in fragmented, terrorizing portions all over the brain. (I will write more about this in future posts). The brain become obsessed with thoughts like, “I could have done more,” and “how can I prevent this from happening again?” These thoughts are not a weakness, and they are not the fault of the victim. They are as a result of a basic survival instinct: it happens because when the brain feels as though it has come in contact with a , the most important thing is to figure out why that happened, and to stop it from happening again.
…but this shame is a profoundly destructive force. Many victims of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome report that when they realized that it was not their fault, most of the debilitating symptoms of PTSD diminished. They were able to find their peace with their trauma, without blaming and punishing themselves.
…and yet this horrendous teaching of purity culture not only locks victims of rape into a never-ending hell of PTSD, but it also seems to have the effect of traumatizing them before the fact, by presenting them with impossible situations.
…they are made to feel as though there is literally no way that they can avoid stirring up lust in others, and causing themselves to be raped.
This feeling of powerlessness, and hopelessness, and intense danger takes its toll. It is profoundly dangerous psychologically.
It is this phenomenon that Rebecca Davis continues to talk about, in her book “Pure.”