Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
This is a really beautiful verse Paul wrote, right? It’s honestly one of my favorites. So much so that my best friend painted it on a canvas for me in college and it still hangs on my wall. Because I am so down with this idea. We should all be aware of what we fill our minds with and watching our thoughts like little modern-day Jedis. For our thoughts do determine our reality and we get to create our reality. How exciting!
However, when studying this verse as a young teen and into college, I got no such lesson. Instead it was simplified to “Only consume Christian music because other music will support secular views and if you listen to that stuff repeatedly you’ll start to believe it’s okay.” This message was also attached to books and TV (ie no Harry Potter cuz it’ll make you wanna become a wizard which is of the devil) but it was particularly aggressive in what music filled our minds.
Stay young, go dancing, and maybe kiss a little
By junior high, I was completely aware of how boys perceived me. I developed earlier than most girls (true story, I weigh exactly the same now as I did when I was 14) and I got my braces off when everyone else was getting them on. Plus I had older sisters who taught me how to dress cute without Limited Too, wear makeup that wasn’t bright pink sparkles from Claire's, and straighten my hair without looking like the lead singer of an emo band. Basically, I was a total junior high hottie #hairflip
I knew wanting attention from the boys and the temptation to be sexual would be on the forefront of my mind. So I fought that temptation HARD with the repeated listening of Superchic’s Regeneration album. I listened to that thing every single day and handed it out to all my friends. I had serious ambition to create my own little purity mafia.
I listened to the song "Barlow Girl" from this album relentlessly. The song describes the type of “Godly girl” we should all strive to be. Select lyrics as follows (you can listen to the entire song here):
They don't rate with the guys that score
Cause they don't flaunt what the boys want more
They don't date they won't date
They wanna see how they’re gunna grow up
Who they’re gunna be
..In the meantime they might feel unloved
When all the girls around them are hooking up
But I know for sure it's never popular to be pure
And while some guys might be passing them by, I think they caught someone’s eye
All the boys in the band want a valentine from a Barlow Girl
Boys think they're the bomb
Cause they remind them of their mom
Dress to impress can be oh so tempting
You can get noticed with your body
Sexual hypnosis by being hottie
You might feel like public property
You might you might you shouldn't be
No girl should feel she has to trade
Her body for love or be an old maid
And yes there are guys who are willing to wait
Ask [A Barlow Girl] on her wedding day...
Phew. Okay. Momentary PTSD but I’m gunna be okay.
First of all, let me just say I am super happy I made it out of junior high and high school (and almost college…) without having sex. By the time I lost my Vcard, I was emotionally ready, not married, and could do so in a place where no one gave a fuck so I didn’t have to deal with the social ramifications of everyone in my conservative community bein' all in my grill about things that were none of their beeswax in the name of “spiritual accountability.”
I also got to enjoy being a kid when it was time to be a kid. I spent loads of time with my girl friends and even had close guy friends who, shocker, weren’t trying to bone me. I have mostly very fond memories of my high school experience because I was just playing sports and overachieving. I did not envy the girls distracted by boy drama.
HOWEVER, this song is not saying “Hey, homegirl. It’s okay to just enjoy your friends, play sports, make grades that will get you college scholarships, and enjoy having crushes when they actually don’t matter that much. Stay young, go dancing, and maybe kiss a little.”
It's hard to tell at first glance, but if you really listen, the message is:
Base how we (women) exist in the world --how we dress, our sexual activity, the things we prioritize--on how a guy will perceive it. And you only have two choices here: you can be who they wanna fuck or who they wanna marry
Our bodies will be the thing that catches their attention. But do you want it to be good attention for your pure body or bad attention for your sexually active body?
This no dating fad is incredibly popular amongst Evangelicals. The idea is that interacting with someone you are romantically or sexually interested in will totally derail your “focus on God.” Furthermore, you really should never date someone who isn’t “marriage material” so why even waste your time on it when you can’t legally be married anytime soon? Wait until college. And then you can marry the first person you ever date! Always a good idea to just pick whomever comes first in terms of lifelong commitment.*
*No hate to my friends who married the only person they ever dated. For some people, it works. I'm just saying, no one should be expected to do this out of fear or shame
Then there’s the whole Madonna-Whore complex being highly encouraged. We were taught men are very simple, visual creatures and we should prevent them from sinning. They aren’t really capable of seeing us for what we truly are: complex, complete beings who want to be great partners, (maybe) moms, AND get laid super consistently (definitely making my husband put “I promise to provide weekly orgasms, til death do us part” in our vows. That will be payback for all the awkward purity ring exchanges I’ve had to sit through at weddings). So you must comply with their limitations and keep them from seeing you as sexy or it's all your fault if they don't want to marry you. Choose your path wisely, MJ.
And finally, let's discuss the message of false female empowerment by telling us we are worth more than what our bodies do sexually. Except, according to these lyrics, what we do sexually is EXACTLY what measures our worth! So long as that body is dressed modestly and remains a virgin until marriage. Otherwise, you’re doing it wrong and no one will want you. Well, “the guys that score” will. But they're second choice next to the weirdo band geeks with Oedipus Complex? Call me crazy but I will take the just-wants-to-fuck-guy over wants-to-date-his-mom-guy anyday.
So what was the result of dwelling on these things that were so “worthy of praise” throughout junior high, high school, and even college?
The Evangelical church is like the ultimate fuckboi
Well, for starters I never learned how to date without feeling like it had to end in marriage (which, now that I'm writing this will DEF get its own blog). Furthermore, I thought if I wasn’t desirable as a wife, that meant I was worthless. I also had zero idea how to navigate my sexuality and physical empowerment because I was reared to be completely detached from it. And not just detached, but to feel hate towards my body, sexuality, and personal desires; The parts I was taught were sinful, slutty, and didn't align with "God's will."
I was a grown ass woman who managed to get myself out of the land of Meth and Mountain-Dew-for-breakfast to New York fucking City to follow my career ambitions but still had very little sense of self, personal agency, or power.
This works out very well for the church and for men. Because if women hear and believe these messages for long enough, we can be close to 30 (or 40, 50, God forbid 60…) and still have absolutely no idea what our wants and needs are. And if we have no idea how to live proudly and comfortably in our own bodies, someone else (likely a man), can tell us what our wants and needs should be.
All of these patriarchal and oppressive messages are presented under the guise of divinely defined female empowerment. The Evangelical church is like the ultimate fuckboi. Doing and saying all the right things to make me feel secure and supported. But really he’s just manipulating in whatever way possible to get his way and stay in control of the situation.
But what if your physical beauty and your sexuality aren’t bad? What if the only perception of you that matters is yours? What if attaching the idea of “sin” to entire parts of yourself keeps you from developing holistic, healthy self-management? And by avoiding managing yourself, you’re allowing someone else to do it for you.
And then, before you know it, you’re totally okay with a MAN legislating what you’re allowed to do with your body!
So try dwelling on this, ladies:
My ability to show up powerfully in my life is not determined by a man or any external authority. I am the only person whose opinion of me matters. I am allowed to know and love ALL parts of myself. I love my opinions and orgasms. My brain and body. My spirituality and sexuality. My God and my G-spot. I. Am. Whole.
Because whole you is the most lovely, excellent, and worthy of praise.