Let’s use a real-life example of purity culture double standards: Brio Magazine
Yesterday on the podcast Rebecca and I read excerpts from old copies of Focus on the Family’s Brio magazine, aimed at teen girls 12-16. We wanted you to hear first hand what purity culture messages sounded like, and how much the message to girls was fear and shame based.
If you haven’t listened to that episode yet, you need to–especially Rebecca’s impassioned cry at the end.
But today I’d like to contrast two of the articles that we read–one about girls, and one about boys.
Exhibit A: Making Out with a Boy Means You’re Not a Christian
Here’s what Brio Magazine said to girls:
Okay, Brio Sisses. This is where you can toss your magazine across the room and scream, ‘That Susie doesn’t have a clue.’
Go ahead. It’s okay. I’ll wait here until you come back.
I hope you’re ready to continue because I’m not finished.
What are we really talking about here?
Well, in a nutshell, absolute truth and personal holiness.
With all the lies and trash the media tosses your way, it’s really, really easy to rationalize, to make excuses for things that are really wrong and try to talk yourself into believing they’re okay… As long as I’m not actually having intercourse, everything is okay.
Do you think intercourse outside of marriage is the only sexual sin in the world? So why am I getting so much mail from you saying, ‘I can make out with my boyfriend. I can sleep next to him. I can drink. I can use bad language, and I’m still a Christian.’ Give me a break. You’re being deceived.
Someone may say, “I’m a Christian. I am on my way to heaven. I believe in Christ.” But if he doesn’t do what Christ tells him to, he is a liar. 1 John 2:4. Does Christ tell you to make out with your boyfriend or drink alcohol? Duh.
As we noted on the podcast yesterday, notice how she is combining “making out with your boyfriend” with cheating on a test or drinking alcohol, and saying that all of those things mean that you can’t call yourself a Christian. And she’s doing it very harshly towards the girls.
Exhibit B: Boys are Predators, Girls are Prey. That’s their nature.
Then there’s this article that was written by a guy, to tell girls what guys think.
Can I be honest? I mean . . . really, really honest? Like from a guy-to-a-girl honest? Don’t get mad, OK? I’m gonna give it to you straight. Here goes!
Just as a lion would be tempted to attack someone wearing sausages, it’s the same to guys when girls wear things designed to arouse certain instincts and attentions in males. (OK, go ahead and get mad. I know you want to! But you said I could be honest, remember?)
So often girls wear clothing that’s tight, low-necked or short-skirted and expect guys not to react the way God designed them. Listen, Brio Sisses, when you wear revealing clothes that show a little extra this or a little extra that, it brings one thing and one thing only to a guy’s mind. Sex. That’s how God wired us.
That’s not to say we don’t have a responsibility to live self-controlled, pure lives.
But a lion is a lion, and a guy is a guy; I don’t care who he is.
So, help us out.
I was the most “godly” young man a parent could ask for. I was truly head-over-heels in love with my Lord and Savior. I prayed at least an hour every day, read and studied my Bible, and felt I was being used by God in my school and community. But I was still a lousy example of what God wanted me to be in my dating life. Give me an inch, and I’d see it as an invitation to go a mile.
I was 28 when I got married, and God helped me remain a virgin. The woman I married — Jeni Varnadeau — was also a virgin. And though 28 years was a long time for me to wait, I’ve gotta tell you that Jeni was certainly worth it! Wow!
He goes on to tell of a friend who was in the hospital partially paralyzed, and his girlfriend visited him and got pregnant, because guys–even hospitalized, paralyzed guys–only want one thing.
“Give me an inch, and I would see it as an invitation to take a mile”
Let’s not use euphemisms here but spell out what he is actually saying. “If a girl let me kiss her, I would go beyond her boundaries.”
The definition of going beyond a girl’s boundaries is sexual assault.
But, of course, this is never mentioned.
There was no discussion of what it meant to cross boundaries, or how it felt when those boundaries were crossed. A big part of the problem is because, in purity culture, girls are not allowed to talk about sex or sexual desire or the actual experience of sex. There is so much knowledge about sexual boundaries, and zero knowledge about what it feels like to approach those boundaries, or what it feels like to get aroused.
And there’s definitely no discussion of consent.
So when a man who, due to his very nature of being a man, chooses to take what he sees as an invitation to “take a mile,” how are girls supposed to know when that’s happening or how to respond to it? They’re just told that, as girls, they can’t let it happen or they’re the ones at fault for sexual sin; he’s just doing what comes naturally to him as a boy, after all.
We talked about this at length in She Deserves Better, and if you want to make sure your kids understand consent–please pick it up!
The entire context for Rory’s article comes from a trip he once took to Africa where he witnessed a pride of lions and describes feeling deep awe of the animals as he realized their inherent danger. He states, “They could have easily broken the windows and made a quick snack of us all. What an awesome experience!”
He continues to draw from his experience by relating the lion’s predatorial nature to men’s behaviour towards women. He does this by setting up an imaginary situation in which he were to approach these wild animals to pet them, while wearing steak around his neck. The obvious result would have been his imminent demise. To which he says,
But why? All I wanted to do was get their attention so I could pet ’em and love on them a little. Again, I can almost hear you Brio Girls saying, “Duh, Rory! That’s just how lions are made! It’s their nature. You approach them wearing sausage juice and they’re gonna attack!”
And that’s when he starts to show parallels between men’s seeming inability to control their sexual urges and women’s responsibility to stay safe around men.
What Rory is describing in his article is predatory behaviour.
He’s saying, “A lion can’t help but attack.” He is not describing two lions suddenly hugging or going at it. He is describing predator and prey: she is prey, and he is a predator. And that is their nature. And it doesn’t matter that he prays an hour a day and he knows his Scriptures and he volunteers at church. He is still a predator because that is his nature. That is how God made him.
Let’s take a quick look at the different messages about boys and girls found in Brio magazine.
What Girls Are Taught About Themselves And Sexuality
- To doubt their own intuitions and comfort zones about innocent affection, such as kissing, with “advice” to pray about whether or not God approves of their choices.
- Making out is a sexual sin and is on equal level with other sins like underage drinking.
- A girl who chooses to make out with her boyfriend cannot also claim to be a Christian.
- Girls are the gatekeepers of sexuality and hold the burden of keeping firm boundaries with boys and dressing appropriately to help boys think pure thoughts.
What Girls Are Taught About Boys and Sexuality
- Boys do not have the same burdens about maintaining sexual purity as girls do. Girls will not struggle with lusting after boys, so boys’ clothing isn’t mentioned.
- While girls are having their salvation questioned for making out with a boy, boys are just assumed to be naturally driven towards sexual activity.
- Crossing sexual boundaries (which is sexual assault) is normalized for boys as part of God’s design.
- All of the burden of maintaining boundaries is placed on girls, because boys are predators by nature and can’t help it.
Have you noticed a theme?
In the end, it always comes down to the idea that girls alone are the gatekeepers of sexuality, and if sexual sin occurs it was likely because she wasn’t modest enough, prayerful enough, or Christian enough.
It’s amazing to see the double standard in these two articles–but that double standard was all over Brio Magazine, all over purity culture, and is still very present in our evangelical resources.
Let’s start watching for it–and calling it out when we see it. Because this is not okay. It never was okay. It needs to stop.
Do you think the double standard is still here? Did you experience it as a teenager? Let’s talk in the comments!