SEXUAL CONFIDENCE: How Can We Get Over Embarrassment About Being Female?

by | Oct 20, 2021 | gsr | 48 comments

The Embarrassment Teen Girls Feel at Being Female

How can we feel sexually confident if we believe that our bodies are gross, objects of embarrassment, or something that makes us “less than”?

For a woman to feel sexually confident, she has to feel that being a woman is a good thing, not a source of shame.

And yet, how often do we grow up with that sense of shame at being a woman?

Throughout October and November we’re going to be talking about sexual confidencewhat it is, and how to grow it.

I want to take you on a bit of a journey today (or maybe more of a stream of consciousness post!) on various things I’ve read around the internet lately that have solidified this for me.

First, as many of you have seen, I’ve been doing a series of Fixed It For Yous, where I take horrible quotes from books and “fix” them. 

Usually I fix best-selling books, or books that are widely known in the evangelical world, because I want to make the biggest splash, and if I look at more fringe books–well, obviously you can find ridiculous things in fringe books.

But people keep sending me quotes, and I saw one that was especially horrible recently. Even though it’s not in a best-seller, I decided to “fix” it, because it’s written by a writer who is still featured on The Gospel Coalition’s website. So he isn’t that fringe.

Fixed it For You Menstruation

Imagine treating women’s natural cycles like they’re sinful!

But how many of us grew up like that? In my period series that we wrote last summer, we talked about the shame that girls would feel over their period. And women are expected to soldier on and hide it. The most embarrassing thing we can do is leak in public. We have to pretend that there’s nothing wrong, acting like we feel great even when we’re crampy or tired. It would be embarrassing to admit weakness.

Incidentally, this is one reason I love Femallay and menstrual cups! It helps women take back control of their periods in an easy way–and stop leaking–but while understanding your body better. And they have teas and more to help you through when you don’t feel your best! Check them out. 

Many girls, though, when they get their period, feel that now there is something fundamentally wrong with them.

Recently an online friend, Emily Shore, wrote an article about how girls should NOT have to apologize to their fathers for making their fathers feel awkward.

Emily reports that, on October 6 on KLOVE (a Christian radio network), a guest said: “Daughters, we need to apologize to our dads for all those awkward emotional moments growing up. We put them through a lot.”

The guest goes on to say how difficult it is to be a dad of daughters when they are hormonal–and tells women that they need to go back and apologize to their dads for it, and forgive their dads if their dads pulled away.

Here’s part of Emily’s take:

Segment goes on, “But daughters: we need you. We need our dads. We need that relationship, that love, that support, your wisdom. I’d rather have my dad get it wrong and be engaged than be disengaged. So, if that’s a good word for you today, for those dads, we wanted to encourage you: you may get it wrong, you probably will, but your daughters are forgiving…even in those awkward moments.”

I love how cleverly the language is here. Note how at the beginning of this segment, the DJ calls out for daughters to APOLOGIZE to their fathers for the sole purpose of EXISTING as a teenage girl and having the audacity to have hormones! The DJ cites how fathers are ultimately responsible and they SHOULD engage more. And why WOULDN’T this be the case when fathers are the ADULTS and girls growing up and going through adolescence are MINORS?

KLOVE: Why don’t you instruct FATHERS to APOLOGIZE to daughters?

No, instead, the KLOVE DJ refers to how “daughters are forgiving…even in those awkward moments.” Wonderful, so now daughters: you must APOLOGIZE to fathers, but you must also FORGIVE fathers for disengaging even if they do not apologize since the DJ gave no instructions to fathers to apologize.

Emily Shore

"Daughters: Do not apologize to your fathers (Fathers, do better--and calling out KLOVE)"

Somehow, again, girls, who are hormonal, confused, embarrassed, and often only 11 or 12, are to blame when dads pull away.

Now, I know this can be awkward for dads. I know dads don’t always know how to react when girls hit puberty (that’s why you all need our Whole Story puberty course!). But the problem is that girls, at that young age, now feel the responsiblity to fix the relationship, because they feel that they did something wrong. When dads pull away, even if it’s understandable, girls feel shame. And then girls feel like they have to fix it, which exacerbates the shame.

You’re telling me WHAT goes WHERE?!

Talking about sex with your kids doesn’t always go smoothly. 

That’s why we created The Whole Story, our online course that walks parents through the tough conversations and does the hard parts for you!

Let’s add a good dose of purity culture responsibility to the mix.

Our friend Rachel Joy Welcher, author of Talking Back to Purity Culture, and guest on the Bare Marriage podcast, has just written a post for Christianity Today where she asks, “What’s next after the purity culture reckoning?” She writes:

Before You Meet Prince Charming by Sarah Mally depicts a woman’s heart as a chocolate cake. If someone eats a piece before the party (i.e., marriage), the cake, and consequently her relational worth, is no longer whole. In the introduction to Every Young Woman’s Battle, Stephen Arterburn warns female readers that every time a man has sex with a woman, he takes “a piece of her soul.”

Alongside these unbiblical messages about human worth that fly squarely in the face of the theology of the imago Dei were the false promises of marriage, great sex, and children for anyone who practiced premarital celibacy. But it was, perhaps, the overarching message that women were responsible for the sexual purity of both genders that burdened me the most as a teenager growing up in the church.

In their book, For Young Women Only, Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa A. Rice report that “teenage guys are conflicted by their powerful physical urges” and “many guys don’t feel the ability or responsibility to stop the sexual progression.” Their conclusion for women? “Guys need your help to protect both of you.”

Despite Jesus’ words to the contrary, I remember believing that men truly couldn’t control their lust if women didn’t take on the responsibility of dressing and acting in ways that squelched it. These books made it clear to me that the responsibility for sexual sin and temptation—even assault—fell squarely on the shoulders of women. I couldn’t believe some of the lies I saw sandwiched in between Bible verses or the tactics that were used and the carrots that were dangled. I cringed. I cried. And one time, I threw a book across the room.

Rachel Joy Welcher

What Comes After the Purity Culture Reckoning, Christianity Today

Once again, women are responsible–this time for men’s sin.

Women, do we realize how heavy the burden is that we’ve been asked to bear?

Rachel comments in her article that when she went back and reread the books that she had read as a young woman, she was despondent at the messages that she had internalized.

From puberty, many of us have internalized that our bodies are somehow defective–they’re sources of sin and evil; they’re sources of shame; they make us emotional and “less than” men.

But we’ve also internalized that our bodies are inherently dangerous–they can cause men to lust, to sin, to even assault us. And we’re never quite sure what we should be doing to prevent it, but we know we should be doing something.

And many of us have lost the protection and acceptance that we should have felt from our fathers.

I guess what I’m trying to say to women today is: if you don’t feel particularly sexually confident, maybe it’s time to go back and revisit little 12-year-old you and give yourself a hug.

You never should have been given those messages. There is nothing wrong with your body; you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

If men objectified your growing body, that was on them, not on you.

If your dad pulled away, that was on him, not on you.

If you were told that your normal cycles were something to be ashamed of, that was on them, not on you.

And men, I’d just ask you to realize the weight of what women have felt regarding our bodies.

This is seriously tough to navigate. And if you want your wife to be free and confident in the bedroom, then it starts with not feeling ashamed of being a woman. Maybe God put you in her life to be a vehicle of healing for the terrible messages she’s been given over the course of her life.

Emily ends her article (which you should read in its entirety) saying that she knows men can do better because her husband is awesome.

I do believe that men are changing this conversation, too, and I hope that together, we can put a lot of this shame that’s been put on women’s bodies behind us.

The Weight of the Messages We Give Teen Girls about Being Female

Do you feel like you carry this weight? Did your dad pull away at puberty? How can we break this cycle? Let’s talk in the comments!

Other Posts in the Sexual Confidence Series:

You may also enjoy:

 

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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48 Comments

  1. Codec

    I admit to get this perspective is both elecudating and sobering.

    I read For Young Women Only and For Young men only a couple years back.

    I read them because I found women confusing. I figured reading a book was easier than asking women.

    I wanted in some wsy to understand. To understand others as well as myself.

    I suppose the problems in those books were not apparent at the time because I was only really begining to try to understand.

    In many ways reading your blog has helped me. I wonder why it seems so difficult to understand.

    None of us go through this strange journey of life without baggage. Our own that we pick up as well as what we give to others. If someone falls down is it not good to help them get up? I think that in many ways you are helping people stand up again.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Codec. I like that image–trying to help others get up again. (And I feel like my commenters often help me get up again, too!)

      Reply
      • Codec

        ” We all want progress, but if you are on the wrong road the most progressive person is the one who doubles back to get on the right road” C.S Lewis.

        Reply
  2. Jen

    Great article, Sheila! Everything you listed applies to me, and I would add that just simply being stared at as I developed caused me so much shame – boys at school, older cousins, my own brother, teachers, men in stores, etc. It’s shocking how painful it is to be looked at in an unhealthy way. I instinctively knew that they weren’t seeing ME; they were looking at my body, and paradoxically all that looking made me feel unseen.

    Lovin’ the freedom you’re preaching!!

    Reply
  3. Anon

    My mother is still wedded to the idea of women’s bodies being ‘shameful’, women being responsible for causing men to ‘stumble’, women basically being responsible for any evil that men do.

    I used to ignore her – she can’t damage me any more and there aren’t any grandchildren for her to damage either, so it was easier just to let it go. But recently, she was commenting about how a young woman in her church ‘really needs someone to speak to her about the way she dresses – she has a large bust and she could make men stumble – I think I should have a word’. Now, I know this girl and what she wears – there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just that she has such a large bust, it’s going to be obvious WHATEVER she wears. But here was my mother, all ready to shame her over her body.

    It made me realise that even though my mother can’t do any more harm in her own family, she can still harm a lot of other women by what she says. And by ignoring her, I’m kind of complicit in the damage that she does. So I’ve started challenging her every time she says something like that. I don’t think I’ll get far – it’s too engrained in her, and I think part of her feels that if she grew up being treated like that, she doesn’t see why women today shouldn’t. But I hope that the more of us who speak out, the louder the message will get and eventually, the tide will turn. I spent 35 years hating my body, to the point where I would sometimes self-harm because my body felt so ‘evil’. If I can stop just one other person feeling that way, it will be worth it.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      A very good point! That must be a difficult conversation to have to keep having, though!

      Reply
      • Anon

        It is! I wouldn’t have tried while I was still single, because it would have been so easy for me to get pushed back into the body-hating thing. But now I’m married to a guy who has such a rock-solid healthy view of women, I’m able to be braver because I know if I start wobbling into the wrong mindset, he’s going to gently nudge me back. It is quite triggering though, because it stirs up so many yucky memories from my childhood and early teens. And I end up feeling angry, while at the same time knowing it’s not really my mother’s fault, because she was taught the same garbage from her early years, just like I have been.

        Reply
        • MrsSam

          Same story as me, 100%! I’m so sorry!

          Reply
  4. Laura

    It’s not just purity culture, but also mainstream culture that has put these burdens on females. As a teenager of the 90’s and not part of church culture, I can easily relate to this. As I look back, I realize that the lines between the church and mainstream culture were (and still are) blurred. It’s ironic how Romans 12:1-2 tells us not to conform to the standards of this world, but really the church has conformed without realizing it.

    Another struggle with being a woman (especially a single woman) is that if you don’t have a husband and/or children by a certain age, you’re pitied in the church and even in mainstream culture. Yet it’s perfectly acceptable for men to be single.

    Reply
    • Anon

      I hear you! I didn’t get married until my mid 40s, so I had around 30 years of it, starting when I was 15, when I got told I needed to start dating so I could marry and start a family when I turned 18! Even had one sermon that referred to unmarried women as ‘failures’!!!

      Reply
  5. Dodge

    To quote the great Jamey Johnson, “Women are crazy. Some hide it well and some just let it show.”

    You have definitely passed into the category of let it show. Ten years of reading you and the comments has made me go from a man who trusted women and thought highly of them to one who wouldn’t take a woman’s word unless I had known her and seen her character and it’s been backed up by her family and husband.

    Congratulations you are making misogynists!

    Would you please make up your mind whether you’re equal or need special treatment. Whether you need to have a week off each month for your time or whether even saying your different for a week a month is a terrible bad sin worthy of never ending blog posts and condemnation ! Please…you’re full blown crazy. Let it show! Let it show!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love it when people come and comment and prove why this blog is needed! Thank you.

      Reply
      • CMT

        Despite believing you are crazy they have apparently hung around for ten years. That’s dedication.

        All I can say to folks like this is, if wanting to be cared for when I don’t feel well means I’m asking for special treatment, so be it.

        If hearing women call out certain individuals for complaining about how inconvenient other people’s uteruses are turns you into a misogynist, then whose issue is that?

        I’ll take my crazy feminist badge now, thanks!

        Reply
    • Ruth

      Imagine telling on yourself like this… don’t let the door hit you on the way out! Unless you want to stay and troll, I guess.

      Reply
    • Rachel A.

      Dodge,

      How can one woman and one blog so profoundly affect your view of half the human race? I’m curious about that. Have other resources or relationships also colored your view, at least that you’re aware of?

      I don’t agree with everything Sheila says or every stance she takes, for what it’s worth. Just wondering about the rest of the story.

      Reply
    • Codec

      How is it misogony or midandry to try to help others understand a struggle?

      If i explain to a woman what irratable male syndrome is or about how one can set expectations so high that no one can reach them and how crushing that can be how is sexism being perpetrated? It could be depending on how i gave the message, but i dont see anything like that here.

      If anything it is rather nice being given this perspective.

      Reply
  6. Kristen

    I have my own issues in my relationship with my parents, but one thing I will say for my dad is that he never, ever made me feel dirty or ashamed because of the changes that puberty wrought on my body. He told me he grew up with four sisters, so there was no need for me to feel like it was something to hide or be embarrassed by.

    I remember one time, when I was about 15 or 16, mentioning my period in front of him and my (maternal) grandmother. After he left the room, my grandmother told me that I shouldn’t talk about things like that in front of men. And I said, “He’s my dad. He knows I have a period.” Even at that young age, and still steeped in purity culture, I intrinsically believed it was stupid to police these topics between genders in such a way.

    I’m not a parent, so I don’t know how challenging it can be to raise a teenager, although I’ve heard that sentiment my whole life. And at almost 27 years of age, sometimes I still feel that timid, confused teenage version of myself on the inside. Maybe it IS easy for me to say, because I’ve never raised kids or dealt with adolescents, but I have a lot of empathy for teenagers, because I remember how lonely those years were for me–how I often felt like people never took me or my emotions or thoughts seriously because they just attributed everything to raging hormones. So, looking back on my dad’s “progressive” attitude concerning his daughters’ menstruation, I feel a little bit of validation.

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    I have two thoughts to add.

    1. I had very painful periods. In high school, the only times I missed school were because I had cramps. I would stick it out until I vomited. This was in the 80s. I was in university before I finally found a medication which help a bit. And later I went on birth control. The combination of pain meds and birth control mad cramps just manageable although some months I still got sick. I have had people I care about, who I know care for me, tell me I have a low tolerance for pain… as of this is a fault with my body or my ability to manage pain. There was a seeming disbelief that period cramps could be that bad.

    2. Then during both my pregnancies, I was nauseous for the full 9 months, 24 hours a day. For the first 6 months of pregnancy I would vomit 3 times a day. Sometimes I couldn’t hold water down. I would wake up in the middle of the night feeling terribly nauseous. When I first got up in the morning, I would vomit until I vomited bile then I would dry heave. I was prescribed anti-nausea medication during both pregnancies. I was advised during my second pregnancy that I would have had HG without medications. Anyway, my loved ones would shrug it off. “It’s just pregnancy.” “It’s not serious.” “Go shopping or for a walk. The distraction will make you feel better.” “Have you tried crackers? (Ack… boxes and boxes of them).” My boss at work said, “why don’t you want the baby?” (As if the vomiting was because I didn’t want to have a child.) It was always downplayed. Even now… my youngest is 18… I hear “you didn’t do pregnancy well.” I often felt like a failure even while fighting to be a functioning parent while sicker than I have ever been at any other time.

    It seems to me that the body functions of women are often not taken seriously nor are they researched to find ways to improve the condition of women. “It’s natural. Your body is designed that way. There is no way it can be as bad as you say or humanity would have ceased centuries ago.”

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, anonymous, I hear you! I can just imagine what you felt during your pregnancies. We need to extend a lot more grace.

      Reply
    • Anon

      You ‘didn’t do pregnancy well’???!!! Like it’s some kind of test to pass? Such a weird attitude.

      And I hear you with the period cramps – I used to black out with mine, but apparently, all I needed was a hot water bottle…like I didn’t spend 3 days a month with one strapped to my middle!

      Reply
    • A2bbethany

      Im going through some of that right now! And I know from last time that my mom is not sympathetic to my suffering. She’s a “tough it out”, kind of person.
      Thankfully I married an amazing caretaker who patiently helps me with everything. I literally can’t flush the toilet most days, because it triggers me.

      Reply
  8. Meredith

    Dear God. So this is what it’s come to in the evangelical world- we have to apologize just for being female.

    Reply
  9. MrsSam

    This is heartbreaking. I’m thankful my dad didn’t pull away during my pubescent years, but I still felt a ton of shame and embarrassment. I had to fake feeling well in order to keep people from being uncomfortable. Now I don’t care if I make people feel awkward- I will be an honest and confident woman and unashamedly announce that I’m on my period and therefore not on my best. It’s time for people to get over it and embrace reality and the way God designed us.
    Clothing was a huge issue too. From the time I was a little girl I was scared of causing men to sin. My parents told me I was immodest and that I needed to change so many times. I was constantly paranoid, obsessed, and ashamed over my body. When I got my first job, it was a restaurant and a 100% male environment besides me. I was only treated with respect and yet my parents insisted that my coworkers were lusting after me in my completely decent kitchen uniform.
    I frequently regret ever starting on the journey to freedom because it has been so painful and I still feel so much shame and fear in my subconscious, even though I know the truth.

    Reply
  10. Martha

    Do women also need to forgive their andropausal husbands lower testosterone and less firm erections..?

    Reply
  11. Lisa M

    Great post! I remember being absolutely mortified at the idea of anyone, other than my close friends, knowing when I had my period. Hiding my menstrual products in other packaging in my purse or backpack. Trying to make sure I wasn’t going to bathroom more often than usual. Hiding my used menstrual products under other garbage in the garbage can.

    My mother repeatedly telling me that just because I was in pain (I had very painful menstrual cramps when I was young, which is NOT normal and you deserve real help in finding a real solution) I was not allowed to “slack off” or be short tempered. I remember being in 8th grade and being in so much pain that I was light headed. I asked to be excused to call my mom for permission to get Tylenol from the school nurse. My teacher refused, told me I was lazy and was just trying to get out of gym class. I ended up fainting in gym class and hit my head. I did get to go home after that, but no one ever apologized to me or told me I had a right to refuse activities when I wasn’t well. I was back in the school the next day and the teacher acted as if nothing had happened. Knowing what I know now, I should have stayed home for at least 24 hours after the fainting episode and been evaluated for a concussion.

    My girls leave their packages of menstrual products all over the bathroom counter. While I am trying to teach them to be tidy, I am THRILLED that they see these products as no different than toilet paper. We use them in private but there is nothing shameful about them. They are not bad or even neutral. They are good! My girls are not embarrassed to walk into the kitchen and say, “I have my period, I’m going to go lie down after lunch,” no matter who is in the room.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I fainted in gym class once too! I don’t think people realize how actually common it is for young teens to faint from the pain and the changes, etc.

      And I love that about your girls!

      Reply
  12. Lisa M

    Also, thank you Femallay for inventing the cup with a valve! I am ordering today! So excited to have this for days when I’m at work or otherwise using a public bathroom!!!!

    I would never have heard of this company if they hadn’t sponsored the Bare Marriage podcast. I’m so grateful, can’t wait to try more of their products.

    Reply
  13. Jane Eyre

    As a few other women mentioned, it’s so pervasive. There are people who do not understand that other people’s bodies do not exist for their scrutiny and criticism. Women are so accustomed to being part od this that they don’t understand how misogynistic it is.

    It’s truly bizarre. “You know that by saying these things about me, embarrassing me about my body, and teaching your daughter that this is normal, your daughter will get some seriously toxic ideas about body image, right?” Result: blank look.

    I wonder if men get so grossed out and angry about periods for the same reason some men hate breastfeeding: they are so used to our bodies being pleasing to them that any discomfort is seen as an affront to the natural order of the world. Women are pretty and men enjoy looking at us. Women are usually smaller and weaker than men, so we do not scare them. Sex is laughably easy for men: put penis in organ designed by Go’s to give him mind blowing pleasure.

    But, but, sometimes blood comes out of that amazing organ. Women get bloated and miserable when that happens. Whaaa??? C’mon, man!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I think that is part of it. Women’s bodies are not always pleasant, and that’s not a fun fact for many men.

      Reply
  14. Codec

    I wonder. If more people understood anatomy would that make things easier?

    Reply
  15. Anonymous this time

    This subject in particular made me want to cry. My childhood wasn’t great in general, but the whole topic of womanhood was so, so bad.

    As a very young child I was taught that women are less than through how my parents (both of them) treated me so differently than my brother. I never got to do activities and he did everything, I wasn’t allowed to hunt, I didn’t get my own fishing rod, I had chores chores my brother didn’t, I was told I was stupid and dismissed allll the time. So many things. From my dad it was that I don’t have the capacity to be smart, brave, talented, etc. and only women clean. From my mom it was we are victims and you will never amount to anything because you’re a girl.

    Fast forward to prepubescence my dad outright shamed me and rejected me when I came home from kindergarten saying that a little boy said he liked me. My mom bullied me outright for playing with boys in my neighborhood (there weren’t any girls within my boundaries). When my parents divorced, I even confided in a therapist that I was soooo scared of puberty. When she brought my dad into the session to hear my fears he outright shamed me a said that that was a women’s issue and he would have nothing to do with it. In. Front. Of. A. Therapist. (It was the 90’s so of course that didn’t throw up any red flags about abuse)

    Then when I got my period. So much shame, so much teasing (from my brother, parents didn’t discourage that at all). When I got boobs, my parents wouldn’t allow me to have bras because they were sexual and I had to pass an age point before I was allowed to wear them. I would bring an extra pair of panties to school and wear them as a bra for gym so my boobs didn’t stick out.

    No makeup, ever. No shorts, ever. No skirts above mid calf. If I wanted to curl my hair, I was trying to entice boys. Eeew.

    Idk. My body was evil, ugly (my mom told me I was “not pretty, but not really ugly wither”), dirty, and shameful. A period was a curse from God because of original sin. My dog once got into a trash bag and pulled out a product and I was berated for it, and for allowing others to know that I was menstruating.

    The worst thing in the world was having to ask my dad for $ and having to explain that I needed pads. 😪

    I’m sorry I’d this is too awful to post here. I just. I know my family was abusive. I know that’s not normal. But our church reinforced these ideas. My teachers treated it like an embarrassing, gross thing that needed to be kept secret. Friends, family, society at large. All the boys said girls were gross after “growing up day” at school.

    I remember going to my cousins house for a sleepover and my aunt and uncle were so incredibly kind and understanding about her period, and they talked about it openly. I cried because I was so ashamed of myself for that and I couldn’t wrap my head around such kindness.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, dear, I’m so, so sorry for that abuse you suffered. That’s a LOT to process and recover from. I can’t imagine treating one of my daughters like that. I truly can’t. I’m so sorry you endured that.

      Reply
  16. Guest

    And as much as it’s important to stop saying the harmful things, it is just as important to say the affirming, healthy things! Total silence can become its own communication. And in a silent void, any little thing that IS said or done can be amplified to an extreme.
    The psychological etiology of anorexia is much more complex than any single factor or overt reason, of course, yet consider: My father was not physically affectionate at all, and by the time I was pre-adolescent, almost never touched me. As a barely-13 year old with hips just beginning to fill out, one day while sitting in a restaurant booth with my back facing my dad, he happened to reach out and touch my back. “Feel those strong muscles,” he said. “No fat,” he said. Within 4 months I was a 98-pounds at 5′ 9″ tall.
    My family of origin said absolutely nothing about puberty, sexuality, menstruation, bodily development. Total wall of silence around all of it. And a kid is going to breech that when they happen to discover that these things exist because they are happening? The first time I used anything but wadded up toilet paper to manage my periods, I was in college, finally having the freedom to seek out such things for myself. My first and only bra until then a trainer I’d found in the bottom of a trash bag of hand-me-downs from a cousin. A whole other kind of shame.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, wow, Guest. That’s just awful! No wonder you developed an eating disorder. I’m so sorry.

      Reply
      • Rachel A.

        When I was 13, my dad sat me down at the kitchen table and told me I needed to lose weight. I can still feel how hot my face got as I hung my head in shame and agreed with him. I’ve struggled with body dysmorphia and disordered eating ever since. I’m 39. He apologized years later and hung his own head as he said he was clueless about raising daughters (I was the only girl with a bunch of brothers). I wish that fixed it, but of course it didn’t. Too much water under the bridge. I still wonder if I’ll ever heal, and I’ve been in counseling for three years.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, Rachel, I’m sorry! the things that we hear when we’re that age do wound so much.

          Reply
  17. Julie

    Starting in first grade, I noticed the different ways that girls and boys were treated and it always enraged me…. I dreaded getting my period and was furious that it happened to girls but not boys. But I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about it. As a teen I had a deep sense of shame and discomfort with my body and in addition I was being fed a regular diet of “Christian” teachings regarding what women were “allowed” to do. I ended up feeling very angry that God made female, feeling it was only to be ogled, bred, and silenced. But I mostly stuffed all my thoughts and feelings, because I also didn’t want to be weak and cry. So the rage kept simmering underneath, turning into decades of depression.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hear you, Julie. I’m sorry. I hope we can do better for the next generation.

      Reply
    • CMT

      I feel you… for a long time I could not even admit to myself that the crazy-making beliefs I had absorbed about women (and other pet evangelical ideas) actually made me mistrust God. Once I did, for awhile I literally was not sure I could stay a Christian because of it. Thankfully I have since learned that there are completely authentic ways to follow Christ that do not limit women. I’m still on the journey, but it has been incredibly freeing thus far. I hope you are finding help along your own path towards being whole!

      Reply
  18. CMT

    So many thoughts on this, but this really struck me from Emily Shore’s post. She quotes a psychologist who appeared on the KLOVE segment, “…dads would rather do nothing than get it wrong… You see your daughter, you see she’s struggling and I don’t want to add to that. So, there’s a disengagement.” So of course you should forgive, daughter! Could you blame your poor dad for looking at YOUR struggle as a pass/fail test for HIM?

    To be fair, I think this isn’t strictly a dad thing-moms fail to engage too, although people seem to normalize it more in fathers. It’s a sad commentary on the emotional health of our culture overall. I have to remind myself as a parent, sometimes all I need to do is show up. My husband and I have had to accept that there will be times when we won’t get it, and we can’t fix it. At times our kids won’t appreciate our efforts, and we will struggle to manage our own feelings about what they are doing or going through. But we still have to show up. We are the adults here!

    Now if only I could get my own dad to see that…

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly! We are the adults!

      But I think there’s a thread running through all this that men just can’t be emotionally engaged/emotionally healthy, so even teenage girls are more emotionally healthy than their dads, and we shouldn’t expect more of dads.

      Why does no one see how low a view of men this is? Like Emily said about her husband, my husband is VERY emotionally healthy and engaged. My son-in-law is just as good a parent as my daughter. Men can be awesome!

      Reply
      • CMT

        They sure can! If they couldn’t then there wouldn’t be much use calling this stuff out!

        For the record, I think most men (and women) who disengage when they shouldn’t are not doing it consciously. They are following a script they’ve been taught since childhood.

        I think you’re right about the implicit assumption that men can’t “do” feelings, so even a teenage girl is more emotionally mature than an adult man. This is absolutely a terrible burden for women to carry. And it’s also terrible for men. How many have relationships fall apart because of fear-driven withdrawal? How many suffer with old wounds that never heal because they can’t be brought into the light? How many walk around feeling like failures because they can’t figure out how to connect with the people they love? This thinking does men no favors either!

        Reply
  19. Jenna I.

    My dad definitely pulled away once I hit puberty. He would say often that he didn’t know what to do with me and made me feel terrible for not being a little girl anymore. Now he wonders why we don’t have a good relationship…

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m sure a lot of dads are uncomfortable navigating it. But then it’s incumbent on them to figure it out, because they’re the parent. When they pull away, what they’re insinuating is that they can’t see you as anything other than a sexual being now, and that’s so wrong.

      Reply
  20. Abby

    I can’t necessarily speak to my dad pulling away because he was emotionally and mentally abusive. I can however speak to the fact that I was taught that my period was something shameful and to be hidden. In my house the rule for my sister and I was that we had to keep our supplies in our own closet, as well as not throw the used ones in the bathroom trash can, but rather carry them back to our bedroom. Apparently it was inappropriate for others in the family to know we were having a period.

    Reply

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