Why did the evangelical church not recognize pedophilic language?
Last week on the Bare Marriage podcast we told you about Dannah Gresh’s Secret Keeper Girl curriculum, popular during purity culture, which told 8-12 year-old girls that their bellies were “intoxicating” to grown men, and if they raised their hands to God in a worship service so that their bellies were visible, men might get intoxicated and “out of control” (like when they’re drunk or under anesthetic).
Let that sink in.
Dannah Gresh told 8-year-old girls that during a worship service, if a sliver of their belly was showing, grown men might get out of control around them.
Now, I know that Dannah Gresh didn’t mean to hurt any girls, and I am absolutely positive that she wasn’t trying to excuse pedophilia.
But how did we as a church get to the point that she didn’t notice this is what she was doing?
Two weeks ago Rebecca and I recorded the audio version of She Deserves Better: Raising Girls to Resist Toxic Teachings on Sex, Self, and Speaking Up, and Rebecca had a hard time getting through the modesty chapter without crying. Realizing what we said to small girls is just horrifying. Our new book draws all of these connections, and gives you a better way to talk about clothing choices with your daughters that isn’t shameful (or just allows you to process what was told to you if you want to read the new book to re-parent yourself!).
I want to explore this a little more today, and then throw a few questions out to all of you.
So let’s walk through the original Secret Keeper Girl material.
I walked through a lot of this on last week’s podcast, but I want to go in more depth and let you see the visuals.
Remember, even if your parents didn’t use this curriculum, this is what was considered acceptable and normal to teach to small girls. This is what so many of us ended up teaching our daughters. And those who grew up being taught this and believing it are today’s Sunday School teachers and youth group leaders.
Let’s start with telling girls they are intoxicating–and that’s their responsibility.
Girls were told about their power of beauty to intoxicate men (and in the curriculum they define “intoxicate” as making someone out of control.) Note how they tell girls that it is their responsibility not to intoxicate others, because they are only supposed to intoxicate one man.
Here is the picture that went along with that explanation:
Here’s what we read out on the podcast last week–how you need to be careful when you’re in church services that your intoxicating belly doesn’t show. Please note the juxtaposition of the picture of the girl with this advice.
They ask, “Does this look hide my intoxicating secrets?”
Again, look at who is bearing responsibility for this. I have heard Gresh say that the reason she is telling this to girls who are so young, before they hit puberty, is that then girls will know this message and they won’t associate it with their growing body, so they won’t see their womanly body as shameful. But just imagine what this did to children!
Here is the picture that accompanied that “does this hide my intoxicating secrets” question:
While some of that language has been removed in her updated version, the “finish the picture of my body” has not.
Gresh did remove reference to “intoxicating bellies” in her new version of the book (though she does still talk about how girls’ bodies have the power to intoxicate), but many of the same messages are there, including this one. A big part of her book is her idea of “Gestalt theory”, where the brain “finishes the picture.” She uses the three dots to show girls how men’s eyes are drawn to finish the picture, so if you show a little bit, they will imagine more to finish the picture.
Note in her explanation for why this mattes that ALL of the responsibility for grown men is put on the child–because this is just something he “naturally” does. It’s the same language we looked at that Shaunti Feldhahn used, how men are naturally drawn to linger on, fantasize about this great body he’s seeing.
Men are only doing this because it’s natural. Because they are intoxicated and are out of control.
So the responsibility simply has to be put on the little girl, because the adult man can’t help it.
I am too horrified to even type out the ramifications of telling girls adult men can’t help it around their bodies.
I’m honestly sick. And like I said–the new curriculum is not that much better.
But here’s the question I’d like to pose to you all today:
Why did women buy into this message of teaching girls men can’t help it?
I have a whole bunch of theories, and we actually measured this in our survey. We were able to look at the women who agreed with modesty messages as adults, and saw what distinguished them from the women who didn’t.
I think for many women, believing the modesty message was a trauma response, to help them think that they have some level of control, and that their daughters have some level of control.
I think for many women it was a reaction to husbands who lusted and had porn problems.
I think for many women it was a reaction to being around toxic men in church.
I know most of you are horrified in looking at all of this too, but let me ask you: What would have made you believe that this was okay to teach to teen girls? Then let’s talk in the comments!
Your daughter deserves better than what you likely grew up with in church.
What would it look like to prepare the next generation without toxic teachings about modesty, sex, or consent, and instead set her up for a big faith?
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I want to know what you think! What would have made you teach this to your child? What would you have had to believe? Let’s talk in the comments!
All About She Deserves Better!
Podcasts about She Deserves Better:
- Do Girls Talk Too Much?
- Should We Kiss Dating Goodbye? What Dating Rules Work Best
- How Did Modesty Messages Affect Teen Girls Long Term?
- Why Are Women Supporting the Modesty Messages? Plus How Youth Groups Handle Date Rape
- Trauma, EMDR, and "Himpathy" (and why we sympathize with abusers)
- "Nice Guy Syndrome" and Boundaries
- What We're Fighting For: A Glimpse 20 Years Down the Road
- Pink and Blue Faith: Plus We Take a Submission Quiz!
Posts about She Deserves Better:
- 10 Defining Features of Purity Culture We Need to Eliminate
- How did we think calling 8-year-old girls' bellies "intoxicating" was okay?
- The data on why we need to stop calling girls "stumbling blocks"
- Feeling responsible for her own Sexual Assault: A Youth Group Case Study
- What do the toxic teachings have in common?
- Are we giving our daughters only half the gospel?
- 32 Things Your Daughter Deserves to Know
- 3 Things That Make it More Likely Your Daughter Will Marry an Abuser
Get She Deserves Better in paperback or ebook, or listen on audio!
It was bad enough hearing what 8-12 year old girls were told about their bodies, but seeing the pictures Dannah Gresh or her publishers CHOSE to depict alongside those words as the target audience … I’m heartbroken and nauseous. No one should have to think about their body this way, but especially not girls that age. I can’t even imagine the damage this did to so many children.
It is absolutely horrifying and nauseating.
Brainwashing at a young age and having everyone around you believe it. That’s how it becomes “normal.”
Cynically, I think a lot of older women perpetuate this garbage because they don’t want to admit that they knew better. Feminism happened more than a half century ago… it’s not like there wasn’t an alternative presented.
It’s also a very twisted coping mechanism. Yes, control what you can control – that’s good! We can’t make thieves want to stop stealing, but we can install locks on our doors and use them. That doesn’t mean, however, that other people’s lack of control is okay. It’s sort of like saying theft isn’t a thing if you forgot to lock your door, and that we shouldn’t ever wear nice jewelry because it will inspire theft.
I think that’s it, really. They think men’s lust can’t be controlled, but they want their husbands to have eyes only for them. So the only solution is to police what all the girls/women around them wear.
I hadn’t heard of Dannah Gresh before, so I looked her up. She is promoting a webinar tonight where she, her husband and their counselors talk about how porn and lust nearly ruined her marriage.
I don’t know where in the timeline she wrote that book for girls, whether it was before or after his disclosure that his struggles continued after their marriage. It seems clear, though, that she was aware that this was a struggle for her husband, and also that she believed in marriage and staying with him despite that struggle.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some projection going on. Maybe it was easier for her to see other women and even girls as threats than it was to see her husband as an adult who was fully responsible for his own actions, and making choices that hurt her.
Yes, I find this really interesting too. Her husband has a long history of the objectificaton of women’s bodies and girls’ bodies. I’m glad he’s better. But is it really better if you’re still teaching that men can’t help but “complete the picture” of a girl’s body? Isn’t getting over objectification a huge part of recovery from porn? This is a wider conversation I’d like to have sometime, but I’ve seen a number of new resources for porn recovery come out lately that are merely about stopping watching porn, and not about changing the way we think about women. It’s really, really scary that this is considered “expert opinion.”
True! True! Behavior or thought stopping has little or nothing to do with embracing the work of true recovery. Teaching that 8 to 12 year old girls are sex sirens is sick!!!
If so called Christian men aren’t safe for little children, then we’re all in trouble.
Listen guys. If you think that a child is responsible for your lust/sexual integrity issues, then you’re deceived. Get help to learn to see children as children and see other people in their entirety and not just as body parts. This is what the world does. What ever happened to dying to self/flesh by confronting weakness/sin??? It’s not about shaming. It’s a sanctification issue.
Exactly. And girls and women are not your sin management tools.
Honestly, the approach of, say, Andrew Bauman, isn’t one that’s been around for very long. When I learned about my husband’s porn problem, we didn’t have a clue about the pornified style of relating or how the objectification of women was at the root of the problem. We should have. But I, at least, was just trying to survive. It hasn’t been until recently that I have been able to acknowledge the long-standing objectification directed at me, and the deep damage it’s done. I think there’s a great deal of fear at the heart of this kind of teaching– fear that, even if your porn-addicted spouse is in recovery, he really just doesn’t want to control those lustful thoughts. There’s such deep grief that builds up in a marriage like mine and it takes long years of work to be able to even face it. In the meantime, you can end up coping in ways that are very unhealthy, and believing things that aren’t true, because your nervous system is so damaged by trauma that it can’t admit, accept or face the truth. That doesn’t make sending this message to young girls any less repulsive, but in a way I can see how she needed to believe and teach this in order to avoid facing the depth of her grief. It makes my heart hurt from every single angle.
Sheila, again thank you for this expose’. More than tragic that those who profess Christ behave this way. It’s another assault on females but to do it to little girls is evil. The church is failing to recognize that it is under spiritual assault and hypersexualization of women and girls in ANY form in the church is coming under the principality of the demon god Molech.The church may readily agree how children in the world may come under the attack by “Molech” and his minions, and where sexual abuse occured historically in the church but not aware his work appears to be exploding in the evengelical church now; including these somewhat more “subtle” and “legitimate” forms.
I agree. The Molech analogy is very apt.
I feel there are distinct differences in the problems btwn men who are addicted to porn and men who are sexually turned on by prepubescent children. Porn leads men to sexual dysfunction and an inability to sexually preform along with demeaning, objectifying & violence towards women. While being turned on by children is just predatory. I agree that it sounds like the author was attempting to protect young girls from becoming victims of sexual abuse but in the very dysfunctional way of making the girls believe they have the power to control and prevent it from happening to them through their choice of clothes; and if they fail at being abused it is ultimately their fault. All the message & focus needs to be on the men and their dysfunction and/ or predatory behavior
Tracy, I’d like to respectfully disagree with your take on porn addicted men’s problems vs. paedophiliacs. Sometimes, and maybe rather frequently, the novelty seeking, the need for greater stimulus, etc. leads a porn addict (who formerly had more normal sexual desires) to seek out and train the brain and body to respond to child porn and other seriously demented varieties of porn/sexual stimuli. And many will then want a bigger fix by going further for pornified sexual interactions that mimic their porn fantasies. Also, I adopted a boy who had been sex trafficked for child porn from age 0 to 12 (unknown to us when we adopted him at age 12). A BIG part of the experiences that the men who were abusing him did to him was to desensitize him with porn…he was also trained to abuse and porn was a big part of that. So, to say that porn addicted men ONLY have a particular limited set of problems I think is inaccurate. In my mind, my adopted son was the worst of the worst of the end of the spectrum of PORN. The lightweight or opposite end of that spectrum might be our fathers generation that was into Playboy. The men on internet porn are closer to the bottom end of this spectrum than the top end, and I think the seriousness of this reality should be acknowledged.
Why on earth would anybody want to listen to a webinar where this couple is talking? They have no business teaching anyone. They should stay home.
Unfortunately some people are just too far blinded by their own lack of understanding to realize that. This is why we so need the Bare Marriage team! Thank you, guys!
Nailed it again Shiela!
I think that’s a great comparison! Personally I think there’s better ways to talk about modesty than protection from lust/assault, but supposing for some reason you *needed* to talk about it that way, I could use your theft analogy:
“Theft is always wrong because it hurts people, disrespects their God-given dignity, and breaks the trusting relationship between people. Most people aren’t thieves. But since a few people are, we put locks on our doors to try to make it harder for a thief to get in. The problem is, no lock in the world can guarantee our safety. A determined thief can get past it. All that we do with locking our doors is present as a self-respecting house, and this reminds people to act respectfully towards us.”
I still think communicating modesty as a form of agency is better. Agency meaning I have the power to choose, believe, and act, and part of that is communicating my personality, power, and preferences through clothing.
What I left unsaid but should have been explicit about: we punish theft. There is nothing inconsistent about punishing thieves and having locks. To the extent that the lock has symbolism in addition to practical value, it reinforces the criminality of theft; it’s just about what stage we try to stop it and who is in charge of each stage.
This “intoxicating” garbage is like a world in which women must have ten locks on their doors but theft is legal because it’s normal to want what is not yours. (Yep, I used the theft analogy for a reason.) Except it doesn’t make much sense for women to have all these locks but it be okay for men to try to steal… that is actually the inconsistent part.
So much for girls participating in middle school or high school athletics. Sports uniforms and practice gear is designed to be functional, but according to these pages it’s just exposing “intoxicating secrets.” Sports are what gets a lot of kids through the school doors each morning. I don’t think this author thought about any of that.
Sports wear is nowhere near the “modesty” standards of these people. It’s sad; athletics are so valuable for discipline, teamwork, feeling good about your body, and making friends throughout life. (Adults athletic clubs are even a great place to meet a spouse… I have a friend whose husband’s biking group is filled with people who met there and got married.)
There is a lot of debate over “bun huggers” (yes, that’s what they are called) in the running world. The functional reason for them is that everything else rides up or chafes or both. Men, who have leaner and straighter thighs, don’t have that problem.
When I was in high school during the mid-1990s, our track shorts were super short and my coach would not let us wear biker shorts underneath. I hated that and felt so exposed. I mainly hated that my running shorts were too short because my legs rubbed together when I ran and that caused a huge rash. I was too embarrassed to say anything about it. I felt that my coach wanted us to wear those shorts without bikers was so he could secretly ogle and lust after us. Sometimes, I joked that he just wanted to look at our legs. If I could go back in time, I would have said, “Tough, I’m wearing biker shorts underneath and I run better with them on.” I was worried that if I stood up to him, I would have been kicked off the team.
Oh, wow. I’m sorry, Laura!
I think the recent controversy over women’s uniforms at the Olympics shows that functionality for the women competing is not the only factor in sportswear.
With elite sport there is also the issue of sponsorship and the way female celebrities are objectified which complicates things a bit. It’s interesting how in school we weren’t allowed to wear jewellery in PE (strangulation hazard, risk of earrings being pulled through your earlobe) but elite sports players do this all the time (in some sports at least). I’m not sure what the reasons are for this but imagine celebrity status, sponsorship, etc. has an impact.
Man that was the truth! I was infuriated for those women!
Media is designed to make women feel we are not enough. Skin is too loose and scarred from pregnancy or age? Our product firms skin and lessens stretch marks! Wrinkles? Here’s a cream! Breasts seem too small? Push-up bras! Gray in your hair? Look younger with our hair dye/touch-up kit! Your skin is too dark? This cream will lighten it! Your skin is too light? Use our tanning spray!
These things aren’t evil, but combined with messages that youthfulness means better/more desirable, etc., AND being trained to see women as a collection of body parts, we compare our belly skin to theirs and see that theirs looks “better” due to youthfulness. It’s a slippery slope to seeing females of younger and younger ages as competition. Because those “intoxicating” bellies have the tight skin we had pre-baby or in our younger years.
When one’s husband behaves the way these same authors claimed, it really wasn’t that far of a stretch to buy into. And because we have been told ad naseum men are “visual,” we think they can only care about how isolated parts of our bodies APPEAR: how tight our skin LOOKS, how smooth our skin LOOKS, what color they SEE in our hair. Since men can SEE all these things, women are primed to view things from a competitive lens which often numbs us to using an inappropriateness lens.
I also think any woman who had been sexually harassed (or worse) was looking for any way to gain control of future outcomes; it felt like a measure of control to believe covering up that 8 year old belly would keep kids safer than we had been. I remember females on my secondary school bus being touched inappropriately and none of us said anything because we didn’t feel anyone would believe us or would bother to do anything. When someone did speak up, the days after were far more treacherous for them. It wasn’t worth it.
We adjusted by strategically placing our knapsacks over our bodies to protect ourselves as best we could. We didn’t hug our knapsacks on the bus because they were comfy- we did it because it covered our breasts and crotch fairly well. And when you stood up, if you swing it around hard enough, you could smack it into the hands/face of anyone trying to grab your backside. So I can see wanting to believe doing something as simple as making different outfit choices would keep her safer.
When you are surrounded by so much toxicity, what’s one more little bit of it? It blends right on in.
Yes, I think for many women it was a coping mechanism, and then it was a desire to keep girls safe. It wasn’t malicious. But it had horrible effects nonetheless.
I remember in apx 1st grade telling my dad a couple of boys kept lifting up my dress on the playground to look at my underwear. My Dad told me to tell the playground attendant and if that didn’t work to punch them in the nose. He showed me how to make a fist and how to punch. I did exactly what he told me to & I was sent to the principal’s ofc and was padded. My dad upon seeing my welts confronted the principal. I was certain my Dad was going to punch the principal in the nose. He didn’t and I never again had a problem with boys lifting up my dress. Even back then in the early 70s the msg was the girl asked for it and the situation isn’t serious.
Ugh, school buses are SO dangerous! This is one read I never wanted my children on them!
Very true, Nessie, and very scary!
And there is a deeper underlying, usually unspoken problem underneath that, that is “women’s bodies exist for the viewing pleasure of men”. These alt-right bozos who jump online and say things like “no man is attracted to blue hair on a woman” is assuming that everything women do is to attract the attention of men. Women need to start saying, “And? What makes you think I was doing this to be attractive to you? My body exists first and foremost for MY purposes, not yours.” My ex just couldn’t wrap his mind around me having bodily autonomy to choose the clothing or hairstyle that was appealing to me, whether it was appealing to him or not. Ultimately, I chose my preferences, and he chose to say goodbye.
💯 agree. It’s like the meme that was going around a while ago showing a woman wearing a nose ring with a caption saying basically Saying that men don’t find nose rings attractive, so why do women wear them?
Personally, I’m not a fan of nose rings, or brightly coloured hair – but I like to keep things simple so I hardly wear jewellery, don’t have pierced ears, hardly wear makeup etc. I do enjoy wearing clothes in bright, cheerful colours though, so I guess express myself in that way. But if someone wants to have blue hair or wear a nose ring – why should her primary motivation be about being attractive to men? And this meme was shared by a Christian man (he may have even been a pastor) – who would no doubt also criticised women for trying to draw attention from men with “immodest” clothing. So should we be trying to be attractive to men or not? The double-mindedness of these people is astonishing.
While I like to be attractive for my husband, most days I am dressing for functionality and comfort, and when we are doing something special together I choose clothes *I* feel beautiful in, I’m not primarily thinking “will he like this outfit?” But then I honestly think he’d be attracted to me if I was wearing a sack 😂
“It’s like the meme that was going around a while ago showing a woman wearing a nose ring with a caption saying basically Saying that men don’t find nose rings attractive, so why do women wear them?”
It’s really gross when people act like young women ought to bend over backwards to be attractive to men. Maybe that isn’t her goal! Maybe she’s going through a phase. Maybe she is a late bloomer.
Now, if some woman with a blue Mohawk and two nose rings wants to complain that men aren’t interested in her and she’s not getting asked out on dates, it might be worthwhile to share with her that she is making a choice. Now, she can decide that she would rather have her spiked blue hair than a date to the prom and that’s fine! But know that’s the choice being made.
Genesis 24… Abraham’s servant goes to find a wife for Isaac…. when he finds Rebekah, he gives her jewelry, including…
22 When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels.
So I guess some men find nose rings attractive….
When my daughter was 12 she came home with this curriculum from a youth group leader who told her to go through it with me. I wondered if all the girls got it. Nope, just my daughter. This leader didn’t like how my large chested daughter dressed and thought I needed help teaching my daughter modesty. Thank goodness my daughter knew better and came home and showed it to me. We went through the whole thing and talked about how ridiculous it was and why many of the points being made were wrong before throwing it in the garbage. We left that church shortly after.
Good for you for leaving the church! I’m sure in the end that spoke volumes to your daughter.
Threw it in the garbage? I ’d have wanted to fight them. Although your way was probably more constructive for your daughter! You don’t say whether this youth leader was a male. I sincerely hope not because that would be inappropriate on even more levels.
Nope, female youth leader. I honestly feel like that was more damaging than if it had been a male.
I have so many thoughts. I’ll try to summarize.
First, the audience of this book seems to be pre-pubescent girls. The church quite rightly grieves the way our culture sexualizes children before they are sexual. This book does the same. Why is the church allowing this? Is it because it is whitewashed with the modesty paintbrush?
Second, the idea that young girls should dress so as not to inflame adult males strikes me as being akin to parentification. At its core, it makes children responsible for adults. This is a complete inversion of proper social boundaries.
Third, why are men who are aroused by children not being called out by the church? Saying “This is how men are (able to be aroused by children)” or—worse—“This is how God made men” normalizes pedophilia in the very last place it should be normalized—Christ’s church.
Fourth, the entire message is demeaning to both men and women, girls and boys. It demotes females of all ages from being made in God’s image to finding their meaning in the male gaze. It demotes males of all ages to animals subject to the whims of their instincts instead of being made in God’s image.
If the bride of Christ (quite properly) stands against the sexualization of children and stands for personal responsibility before God, if the church (quite properly) stands against pedophilia and for the inherent worth of every human created in God’s image, perhaps we should look first within. Isn’t there a verse about that?
Good for You!
I hope the youth leader KNEW you threw it in the garbage!!
I am more curious to drill down Gresh’s biblical reference that says beauty was created with special power. Then I want to find were it says that beauty was created with the intent to be intoxicating. Then after we find that I want to see where these references refer to little girls. I am truly interested in understanding how she made her way to this concept.
Yes, that would be interesting, wouldn’t it?
Beauty has only so much power as the meaning attached to it. There is no strength or real power in outward beauty unless I’m moved by it to perform in some way. However, it is still not the beauty of the person that is moving me, but it’s my own beliefs about said beauty.
Absolutely agreed. Beauty has power only if a woman chooses to weaponize it for her own purposes, NOT because a man ogled her.
She stumbled through the fog of her own trauma and arrived there. It wasn’t *thought* through at all.
So, this is rape culture right? Just forget purity culture. This is indoctrinating little girls into rape culture.
I have a toddler daughter. I’m trying to teach her that her body is worthy of care and protection, that her signals are worth attending to, and her abilities are worth celebrating. She does not need to be labeled “intoxicating” to learn to respect herself or other people. That is ridiculous and gross.
It is absolutely rape culture. It’s even worse in our chapter in She Deserves Better on consent too. We’ll get to that in another podcast, but telling girls that boys can’t help themselves is absolutely 100% rape culture. And the evangelical church did that. (especially Focus on the Family).
Oh, Focus on the Family… it’s ironic they had the sense not to wait till puberty to teach kids about bodies and sexuality, yet it didn’t occur to anyone that starting the body shaming EARLIER might be a bad idea?? “Let’s start teaching girls crap about their own bodies and male sexuality in preadolescence! We can probably DOUBLE the amount of time they need to spend in therapy once they grow up!”
Random observation… So these extreme complementarians believe that men are over women who are over children. Yet they feel that an 8 year old child is more responsible than a grown man? I would love to see their scripture support for that.
It’s like a reverse “umbrella” image, where the 8 year old’s clothing is over the women’s clothing is over the man. That is not what is meant by, “and a little child shall lead them!”
This may be crossing the line to say this but one really has to wonder about Dannah Gresh’s husband. Does he have “struggles” with seeing eight year olds and that’s why she emphasizes this so much.
This seems beyond what even what most purity teachers teach. It’s so dangerous to teach .
Basic life lesson: never put someone in charge of anything who cannot control him/herself.
Your observation is not random.
I feel like it is in keeping with this post and a few others, especially the David Raped Bathsheba post.
Those men want all the power and none of the responsibility. And they promote women and publish their books who side with them on this.
It doesn’t work that way.
Let me rephrase this.
Systems that work this way are unhealthy, off-balanced, oppressing some while handing privilege with impunity to another.
Systems that work like this are the opposite of what Jesus teaches.
Systems like this must be called out for what they are. Ungodly, oppressive, unjust, and abusive.
Those who have benefited from these toxic systems really enjoy those benefits are tired of us exposing their system for the garbage that it is. But that’s too bad. You can’t go around teaching that Jesus is on your side if your side is this toxic. He is never on the side of the abuser or the abusive system.
Well Said. It’s straight up patriarchy. Teaching that “men are visual/naturally struggle with lust” without teaching men how to see women as people like themselves with brains/hearts/ minds/issues
I’ve never understood why men are supposedly called to be “spiritual leaders of the home” while having little emotional intelligence and lacking control over their sex drives!!!
Sounds dangerous to me. If a man can’t manage himself and thinks an eight year old is a temptress, I’m not sure I want him “leading” me anywhere.
Right. The Bible teaches us that we are responsible for our own sin. Not others. Surely not an eight year old child!!
The only one responsible for controlling/managing/changing lust is the one lusting.
Things will change in the Church as we refuse to hold girls and women responsible for men’s *weaknesses*.
Tha Naked Pastor needs to make the reverse picture!
Andrea- if someone wants to roll with that for an image, have at it. There are so many “reverse” images that could be made from these horrible teachings, too, sadly.
I find the very foundation that beauty is intoxicating to be… horribly wrong?
I’m sure I could sit down with an 8-year-old girl and ask her what she finds beautiful and I’d get answers like, “my cat” or “this flower” or “the mountains in spring.” She can recognize beauty, and it’s not “intoxicating.” In fact, beautiful things usually make us feel happy and like we ought to protect them. I would love to tell that 8-year-old that she is beautiful and that happiness and protective desire is what all people should feel towards her.
Satan wanting to destroy her understanding of her beauty of the problem, not her having it.
That’s a great point. It’s not beauty that is intoxicating that Gresh is describing–it’s active, malicious lust, and then saying this is merely being intoxicated by beauty. Nope.
I find this same issue with using the word “attractive,” since the root word is attract or draw together. Like magnets attract. I can see very pretty people (men women girls boys, doesn’t matter) without wanting to get near them or do anything inappropriate. My acknowledgment of beauty is completely separated from sexuality or “attraction” from an emotional or physical perspective. I can just say, “whoa, they’re pretty,” and then move on with life. Their having beauty is *never* the issue. The entirety of the problem is what I do with that observation!
(Yes, it helps when they’re dressing ‘modestly,’ meaning within normal societal bounds for standard everyday wear. But still, the issue lies in how I think about them.)
I was very much raised with these sorts of modesty norms. I recall my mom saying that bikinis didn’t actually matter on an eight-year-old, but that if parents allowed it, they were setting themselves up for battles when their girls were teens.
Now, years later, it’s easy to see that the way evangelicals did modesty messaging was a huge disservice to women, and to men, and that it isn’t normal to sexualize teen girls.
It is important, though, to situate evangelical modesty messaging within the cultural context that produced it. Evangelicals didn’t uniquely sexualize teen girls: the broader culture did. (Consider the “Baby One More Time” music video, from when Britney was SIXTEEN! How did ANYONE let that happen? WOULD NOT fly today.) When evangelicals responded to the cultural norms that were sexualizing teenage girls, they did so clumsily, and often harmfully. But they DID see that something was wrong, when most of the culture didn’t.
I have an eight-year-old daughter who is very petite. Her belly (as is normal for eight-year-olds) still retains baby fat and is a whole lot more like a toddler’s than an adult super model’s.
I am also a former member of a cult-like church with very authoritarian parenting practices, so am going to draw an analogy between spanking (another hot-button topic, sorry) and purity culture, here. Sheila had a comment upstream about the modesty message being perceived as a way to keep daughters safe, and I very much want to echo this.
To be clear, I’m not talking about leaders who perpetrate the worst parts of purity culture, even those like Danna Gresh who are (IMO) both victims and perpetrators of the system. But when thinking about the average church mother in these types of communities, I think they very much are doing this because they’re trying to protect their daughters (and sons).
As a mother who used to spank (flat of my palm on my child’s fully clothed behind) and stopped relatively early in my parenting journey, the thing that got me to change my mind and approach was not messages of shame (“how could you…”) or self-righteousness (“well I would never…”). Those just made me defensive, not open-minded. What changed my mind was EVIDENCE, presented calmly and matter-of-factly. Both the evidence in front of my own eyes (spanking only escalated the situation instead of solving the problem) and the evidence presented on TLHV by Rebecca that studies show spanking has either negative or neutral effects, not positive ones. Particularly since the evidence was vouched for by someone speaking from within Christianity, a worldview I trusted.
That said, I’m super excited about “She Deserves Better,” because of both the EVIDENCE and the messengers. I think it has the potential to reach a lot of average pew-sitters like myself who grew up not knowing anything different, with messages of both hope and grace.
That’s our prayer, too! When people see how harmful the modesty messages are–how they’re so highly implicated in vaginismus and in lower self-esteem and in marrying abusers, maybe people will listen.
While I completely disagree with how little girls are taught they are intoxicating and pretty much every other bit, I do disagree with your last paragraph of the assumption that modesty is a coping mechanism. This is the first post I’ve read in a while, so forgive me if you discussed this already, but I do believe that modesty DOES play a little role in this whole thing. And I’m even nervous to voice this opinion because it looks like the commenters will jump on me for this, but I believe that women should have enough respect for themselves to not wear incredibly revealing outfits on the regular. Not because “all men want you” but because men ARE visual beings and usually immodest outfits *are* calling attention to women and the sexual parts of their bodies. They may *want* that attention and that’s fine, but that attention comes with the knowledge that men will be looking as well as women because the outfit is drawing their eyes to those parts. I feel like there’s a line to walk here and things are getting dangerously close to swinging from “don’t lay on your side on the floor because it shows off your curves” (which yes, I’ve heard before) to “wear whatever you want because men need to control themselves.” I don’t deny that there is absolutely a consent issue in society (especially here in the US) and that men absolutely need to accept women’s boundaries. Nor am I saying that if someone is wearing something revealing and something happens that she was “asking for it.” I just feel like a scoop neck shirt is very different from an outfit that barely covers the nipples.
I know I personally am more comfortable in more modest options because I don’t want to have to worry about bending over a table and everyone seeing down my shirt, or having to worry about my pants showing my buttcrack as I go about my day. I know that’s not everyone’s opinion so I’m trying to leave room for that. The purity culture is toxic for sure, I’m seeing that myself after growing up in it, but does modesty NOT have meaning anymore? What happened to our bodies being temples for God and being “in the world but not of the world?”
Heather, I think there can be a middle line for sure where we don’t now absolve women of any responsibility for how they dress.
I looked at the “modesty” passage in 1 Timothy 2, and it has zero to do with protecting men’s minds. The paragraph above is about how we ought to live in a way that showcases Christ, who wants all people to be saved. Men are charged with lifting holy hands and refraining from anger and disputes. Women are asked to refrain from wearing the latest hairstyles and expensive clothes of the time that would have signalled wealth and status, but could have taken away from the message of Christ’s sacrifice for all by putting more attention on her status. Literally the words he uses for how they should “dress”are with self-control and reverence/regard for others. He gives no explicit directions on alternate clothing.
So, should we dress to protect men? Or should we dress to honor Christ? And in honoring Christ, we honor all – men, women, children, the saved and the unsaved. I think Paul would have some strong words for those who have made this only about protecting men from sinning and even go so far as to put responsibility on a child. Not to mention: ought men not also expect the same of themselves to protect us? I mean really. Women are just as capable of drooling over shirtless men playing volleyball or swimming at the beach. Men are allowed to be way less dressed than women. Do they really think they’re not just as tempting to us with how they dress (or how little they don’t)?
That said, I think that you have a good point, Heather. We dress in a way to honor Christ, which honors others as an out-flow. Some want black and white answers (ie those ridiculous rules involving pinching your jeans). Christ wants us to come to Him to help us decide what will show others His love and grace. The way we conduct ourselves in ALL things will make Christ attractive.
(As an aside, my sister is a missionary in an Arabic country. Her way of making Christ attractive is to dress for the culture: no ankles, head always covered with a scarf. As a foreigner she would have every right to dress like an American. But I can tell you that no native person would want to have much to do with her.)
Christ, in our personal walk with Him, helps us decide what we do and wear. Not Dannah Gresh.
Do you have a specific study to point to when you say men are more visual than women?
I’m sorry you were worried about being jumped on in the comments. You sound like you are earnestly asking questions and trying to seek for what is good.
If I may offer my two cents, I would say that the place for modesty is still there—but MUST be talked about differently.
Instead of “girls/women, your bodies are sinful and you must guard your brothers from sinning,” we should say, “you are made in God’s image and deserve to be treated with dignity. Jesus died on your behalf because you are worth that to him. It is fitting that you dress, speak, and act in a way that reminds others of your dignity and of theirs.”
Different cultures have different markers of respect, honor, and dignity. Living modestly should reflect those various cultural standards so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives as 1 Tim 2:1-6 talks about.
Modesty should NOT (IMO), be discussed as a lust/shame/temptation issue, but as a dignity thing. I don’t cause people to sin. I can try to remind them that I am a person of dignity.
I welcome pushback. Thanks for reading all the way through.
So many people getting scared that putting the onus for lust and sexual sin on the one committing the sin and not on the one with the female body, will make women decide they can wear anything they want. And so many people equating the amount of fabric on a woman’s body with respect, from herself and from others.
The fact is, a man should be able to see a woman naked and not act on it. Because he should have self control, which is a fruit of the Spirit. He has autonomy to act or not act on his thoughts and desires regardless of anyone else’s actions.
And fabric does not equal self respect. Oftentimes, especially in middle and high school, the girl with the most fabric on her body has the least self respect (and is also a prime target for abusers because of it).
Honestly, if we stop objectifying women and girls as a matter of course, I imagine most women will opt for a middle of the road, functional type of clothing on a day-to-day basis. That’s all I want… wear clothing that is appropriate for the weather and activity I’m engaged in. My ex thought I should be sexy to him allllll the time. He was the one not showing respect for me and my body.
I think it has to do with the legalistic mindset. The idea being if you set up enough rules and safeguards around sinful things, you can avoid the temptation altogether, and therefore avoid the sin. For example, in my church culture, we were taught to avoid all alcohol so as to have no temptation to drunkenness. So purity culture taught us to set firm physical boundaries in relationships so we could avoid getting caught up in the temptation to sin sexually. If you don’t even kiss, you’re highly unlikely to get aroused. The modesty message taught us that, while boys and men SHOULDN’T lust, they would have an easier time of it if the women around them were fully covered. We were just helping our brothers in Christ avoid temptation. The problem, of course, is that lust is a heart issue. All sin is. And all the safeguards in the world won’t help if our hearts aren’t changed.
This is exactly it, and one I fell victim to for ages. I thought if I followed all the “rules” I wouldn’t fall into sin, because I definitely wasn’t strong enough to resist temptation. After nearly falling into sin, I realized I hadn’t fully surrendered my heart, and now that I have, I realize God is enough to keep me from sin and temptation when I daily rely on him. No reason to build walls around the laws and fences around the rules. The Holy Spirit gives me the power I need to stand against temptation, and the love Jesus has placed in my heart is enough.
I’m trying to find out what book this is from. I believe it is from
8 Great Dates for Moms and Daughters: How to Talk About True Beauty, Cool Fashion, and…Modesty!
Thank you for saying all of this. I am researching another girls Bible study that has been hitting me wrong and appears to be using similar Christianese and Bible verses to teach girls what I DO NOT believe is actually being put forth in scripture. I have been appalled and shocked to even be thinking that it seems to be teaching what you have just described. Thank you for what you are doing.
The original stuff is from Secret Keeper Girl, which was later rewritten and rebranded as 8 Great Dates. Some of the worst was taken out in the rebranded version, but the “intoxicating” language is still there.
Yes, let’s all put the blame for men’s lust squarely and completely on women’s (and little girls’) shoulders, because that’s exactly where Jesus Himself put it. 😖😠😡🤬
How about some men be bold enough to actually pluck out an eye instead?
Very simple – we’d already learned it from the world.
I just can’t even get my head around anyone thinking this is remotely appropriate for an 8 year old CHILD. Telling her to save her beauty for her husband?!!! That’s bad enough, but she then juxtaposes a picture of a child that age with the Bible reference from Proverbs 5 – I suppose we should be ‘grateful’ that she’s removed the reference to breasts, but it is beyond disgusting and inappropriate to put a Bible verse talking about rejoicing in the wife of your youth next to a picture of a CHILD.
Paedophiles everywhere must be celebrating at the thought of this book being used to ‘educate’ children – because it’s basically doing the grooming work for them. Tell an 8-year-old child that her ‘intoxicating beauty’ is only for one man, and what’s going to happen when some older guy starts touching her inappropriately? She’s going to think that he’s the ‘one man’ so she has to put up with it. And if she doesn’t like it, it’s HER fault for ‘intoxicating’ him in the first place…
Wow! Just wow! I cannot believe “Christian” teachings would tell an eight-year-old girl that her belly is intoxicating to grown men. Grown men should not even be entertaining thoughts about underage girls at all. What about the girls who have already been molested by a teenage boy or grown man and now they’re hearing that grown men find them intoxicating?
Just cannot fathom any of this and I am so thankful that my parents did not raise me in church. It wasn’t until I was 17 that I got saved and by that time I felt too old to participate in youth group. I’m so glad I was never indoctrinated with those teachings in my childhood and teen years. It was when I was in my 20s and divorced that I read those books, not the ones for little girls. I read the one Gresh wrote called And the Bride Wore White. Looking back, I thought some of those teachings were harmful and you had already talked about them in the other podcast.
I read this book as part of a bible study when my oldest was 18 months old (a girl). The aim of the study was to provide moms with tools that they needed to have “tough conversations” with their kids before they got too old. There was a boy version of this book that moms with sons read, and if they had sons and daughters they read both. At the time I remember thinking (with my still in “that mode” mind) that we were simply getting them “trained” early to be modest so that it wouldn’t be a “fight” in the teen years. We had a whole group of people gathering weekly to do the same thing, and it all seemed normal and like a good idea.
I am years from that now and thankfully detached from these messages before my children got old enough to internalize them. I had a really bad experience with purity culture and modesty messages, and at this point I never want my kids anywhere near this stuff.
Yes, I do think the aim was actually a noble one–let’s try to talk about this early so they don’t internalize the message at the same time as their bodies are changing and have shame about developing bodies.
But all we ended up doing was promoting pedophilia.
…hide my intoxicating secrets… why don’t we just cover her in shame? And when she’s abused, she certainly won’t tell anyone (because good girls don’t gossip) … and because the entire church has now told her it’s her fault.
“Does this look hide my intoxicating secrets?” … Being one of the more modestly dressed kids I knew didn’t prevent being abused by my youth pastor, who talked me out of my clothes when I was 11. And it only got worse for the next three years. The only thing that question does is solidify the belief the abuse is her fault, while raising the question “Can everyone tell just by looking at me?”
I’m so sorry for what you went through, and I echo your anger at that series of injustices.
I was one of the more modestly dressed kids in youth group too, and I was afraid of my body and terrified of sexuality.
It is so wrong that youth pastors or anyone in the church would take advantage of these harmful messages and continue the grooming and abuse.
I pray that you have found healing from this hurt, and continue to find healing from the injustice.
These comments encourage me. I’m so glad things are changing (even if at a snail’s pace), and people like you and everyone here are willing to speak up.
Oh, J, that’s awful. I’m so, so sorry.
J, along with the others, I express my sorrow for what you have been through.
And your experience along with the rest of this conversation makes me go back to something I’ve said and heard others say in the past.
The smart pedophiles are in it for the long game. The ones that are able to infiltrate churches like this are at the top of their game. They are so charming and charismatic that have entire congregations, even perhaps entire denominations fooled.
The church has to stop assuming that everyone that applies for the youth pastor position is pure-hearted and blameless. They have to stop assuming that they are even Christian.
The Church has to stop working so hard to save face (which includes blaming the victim) and instead put that time and effort into having safe-guards in place.
Because, as is mentioned elsewhere in this thread, the church needs to be a safe place for children, not a safe hunting ground for pedophiles.
Historically the divide between children and adults wasn’t really perceived in the same way. So for example in the UK the age of consent was 14 until it was raised in the 1800s (to 16), and you see it in fiction e.g. in Fanny Burney’s ‘the Wanderer’ (Burney is trying to show in fiction how 14 year olds are not mature enough for marriage) or Wilkie Collins (Miss or Mrs, explaining how to marry a 15 year old without breaking the law, fiction based on Collins’ friends). You have ‘newspapers’ like the S*n, and News of the World salivating over ‘barely legal’ young women (not sure if they’re both still published). Periodically people in the UK push for the age of consent to be lowered again. There’s a heartbreaking story from Puritan America of an 8 year old being raped – and they spend time working out what her ‘role’ was in it. source: Ulrich, Good wives, nasty wenches, and anxious patriarchs. And while most people got married in adulthood in the middle ages and very early modern period, the super wealthy might get betrothed as infants. So I think we have this hangover of seeing children as mini-adults and our teaching hasn’t adjusted to our greater understanding of child/ adult imbalances. And our teaching and ethics really needed to keep pace with our greater understanding of child development. And the church should be a place which sees and prioritises the vulnerable. But instead we’ve told children their bodies are harmful.
Even when children were married as young as 7 or 8, they would not consummate the marriage until they were at least early teens, usually mid teens. Because it was understood that an 8 year old child is not ready to be sexually active and that girls who are still developing physically are not ready to bear children.
And some people think our ancestors were the ignorant ones…
Exactly–the church should be the place where children are safe. That’s what bothers me the most about all of this. The world talks about this better than we do.
Thanks for bringing this stuff to light! This stuff is so pervasive that you don’t even have to be directly exposed to it to be influenced.
I never read these books or Brio, our church was not at all conservative on clothing, but I was fully aware of all of this because it was just in the air.
My mom is a boomer, and calls herself “a child of the sixties.” She grew up in a Catholic Italian family, but credits her conversion to Christianity to Billy Graham. I think she may have listened to the Evangelical authorities because her life experiences taught her that “the world” was a bad place. I’m guessing she carried her own trauma from the Free Love movement, and was convinced that she could protect her children by raising them “God’s way.” God’s way being defined by Evangelicalism. Add to that the idea that you had to check your brain at the door because, you know, “lean not on your own understanding” and “God’s ways are higher.”
But also, the world at large was a bit different. This was before the #MeToo movement. Maybe it was easy for women to believe that men were horrible because of rampant misogyny. I’m thinking about the Will Farrell movie Anchorman, and what Nancy faced in Stranger Things, and even “Zac Morris is Trash.” I’m even thinking about how many of the Disney movies of my childhood are now cringe, but our parents didn’t think twice about it.
I never did this particular curriculum, but I grew up in the world of Gothard and ATI (both at church and at home), and studied some other books like it. “Beautiful Girlhood” and the “Christian Charm” course are some other examples. I also recall Christian Charm telling me I needed to have a very specific and unattainable waist size as a young girl. I “escaped” the teachings in my early 20s (my leaving was similar to leaving a cult – spiritual abuse, disowned, etc), and I’m still undoing the damage over ten years later. I understand people were deceived and trying to do their best and I try to show grace, but this stuff is SO harmful.
I was taught that it was normal for my dad and my brothers to lust after me and that I had to dress in such a way as to keep them from being tempted. How can we see that as ok?
Oh, Katherine, that’s so awful! I’m so sorry. That definitely is like leaving a cult.
I think the only alternative to this approach is telling girls that they are in charge of their bodies. And apparently that was not an acceptable solution.
I get there’s an aspect of being wise to the world and not being naive. but i also don’t get why Christians think little girls and women need to know about all the gross thoughts men have. Don’t sully my mind with your dirtiness because you can’t control yourself!
To this day, I still question the wisdom of my youth pastor telling the ENTIRE high school group that he struggled with lust. Same guy who abused me a few years prior. Same guy who later walked in on a room full of 13 females of various ages and states of undress without knocking and refused to leave. (But nothing is wrong, really.)
Oh, wow. That sounds like bragging/legitimizing lust to me. So awful.
So many comments here that are good!! And can we also talk about that on her website (where she is still marketing the “secret keeper” conferences, books, etc.) that her whole tagline is “Setting Women Free”…hello?? How is any of the message in those books about being free?? It’s literally enslavement to men’s lust and desires and effects of the male gaze. How could ANYONE interpret this message as FREEDOM???
I wonder that, too.
In the Christian Charm course our youth group girls did, we learned that we girls had to control the date to be non-sexual – by how we dressed. All of this nonsense was taught, and I still wonder what the guys were being taught in their Man In Demand course. A few years later on a date, I was wearing loosely fitted jeans & shirt with a jacket because we were going for a walk in the park on a cool day. I was surprised by his intentions and repeatedly said no. Then I believed that what had happened had been my fault, though I failed to figure out how I had misled him and where I failed in “managing the situation”. Then when he said he was sorry – but then said that in God’s eyes we were already married so I HAD to marry him, I did. Because he was a man and the spiritual leader and I had to submit. Twenty years later I was kicked out of the church that I had already LEFT because I wasn’t submitting to their discipline and was pursuing a legal separation due to abuses of every kind and the fact that he was threatening not only my life but our children’s lives – and telling the children how he planned to kill us. Yes, this stuff is toxic. I taught my daughters that modesty is about self respect. And where knees go when “no” isn’t heard. And I am still considered the problem by my ex, our former church, his family and even my family.
Oh, Sharon. I’m so, so sorry. That’s just terrible. I’m glad you’re safe now.
Maybe I missed it, but if what happened is what I think happened (it wasn’t clearly stated so forgive me for clarifying), then this guy gamed the trifecta of “divorce is a sin”, “women submit to men”, and, my least favorite, “sex means marriage and therefore you must marry someone you do it with”. Nasty and stupid, and I have no idea where it comes from
I don’t know about anybody else but if, as an eight year old, had heard anyone talking about my breasts or my bottom in relation to grown men looking at me I would have run screaming from the room. I was molested as a three year old, and the implication that it could have been my fault is absolutely something that would have freaked me out with new trauma. (And rightly so.) Ugh.
It is absolutely disgusting. How did the adults in the room not pick up on this? Moody Publishers? FamilyLIfe? Rebecca St. James? They were all part of it too.
I was thinking about this while (ironically) in the bathroom doing my hair this morning. I’m a curly girl. Curly hair takes time. Yesterday I saw that Sheila was hosting a live event where you all took Dannah Gresh’s submission quiz. I was curious and googled it, and ended up on the page “8 Great Dates for Mom’s and Daughters”. And you know what she says on page 170? To spend as much or more time with God as you do in front of the mirror “making yourself beautiful”. First off, I thought she just made a whole lot of fuss telling us that’s not how beauty works. Second, did you notice the very conspicuous African American girl on the bottom corner? Do you know how long it takes African America women to do their hair properly? And any woman with curly hair? It’s a long process. She estimated 15 minutes for these girls. 15 minutes. And if you miss a day, give yourself an extra chore as a consequence for not making it. 5 days a week is her goal. So by that standard, girls with hair that takes a lot longer to manage should be spending an hour or more in quiet time. This book says loud and clear “you might be too vain” if you are ethnicly different. What a terrible oversight. This is white people in our own box, neglecting those who are different (and remember that the girl on this page is black!!!)
And honestly, what about writing encouraging notes to yourself on the mirror? Or taking the time to truly see yourself physically instead of rushing through that? Or listening to worship music while you get ready and thanking God for the things you see? It feels like just another way girls are today they shouldn’t see themselves in a physical way, but to treat themselves as invisible. The mirror almost becomes dangerous, a thing to stay away from. It is spiritualized into an object that can snare, instead of something we can redeem to physically see our outward beauty (which she even points out that our unique features are what makes us beautiful!). I get that she’s trying to help girls not go overboard with judging themselves and to widen their definition of beauty, but then address the disparaging things we say to ourselves when we are looking in the mirror, and replace it with creative ways we can have confidence in what we actually see. And don’t encourage passive racism!
This is such an amazing point. Thank you for this.
I just found this Open letter to Katy Perry written by Dannah Gresh, I’m not sure when it was written but possibly back when Katy Perry performed at the Super Bowl (2015). I find it interesting and extremely ironic that Katy Perry is being blamed for girls’ body image issues…she really does seem to be oblivious to the damage that her own messages have caused.
I forgot to post the link to the open letter: https://mytruegirl.com/blog/an-open-letter-to-katy-perry/
If I’d read this at age 8 I would have been confused and really curious about *why* my body was so intoxicating. At that age I had no concept of sexual desire/arousal but this would have hinted at it just enough to confuse me. Of course, the purity culture folks wouldn’t advocate for much of what could pass for sex ed, so they wouldn’t want 8 year olds knowing the basics of biology or the proper names for body parts. So I wonder how many girls were more mystified than anything by all this veiled talk of sexual arousal (pedophilia!). Thankfully I wasn’t exposed to this kind of thing so young. But as I got older I definitely got the message that as a girl, I would automatically tempt every boy around, and like other readers/listeners have said, I felt confused and ashamed when not every boy was interested. And don’t get me started on how baffled I was the first time I went to the beach, saw girls in bikinis, and observed that not every human male was salivating wildly in some rabid display of lust!