Slut Shaming Preteens in Church

I was a rebellious little shit.

Last night I was browsing this blog, written by a former fundamentalist Baptist preacher who has left Christianity altogether. I came upon this post, and stupidly I watched the sermon. It brought back a lot of memories.

You see, from 1993-2003/4 I attended a Southern Baptist church with my aunt and uncle. I went to church Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights. I was involved in choir, Sunday school, youth group, hand bell choir, vacation bible school, church camp, the production of numerous musicals, and so on.

After I watched the sermon mentioned above, I tweeted this:

ABookishBeemer: “Just watched a vid of a baptist preacher raving on about women’s clothing and modesty. gag/lol/middle finger I’ll have to write about this.”

Once we reached puberty, I, and the other girls in my youth group were scrutinized on a regular basis. Were our clothes modest enough? Were we behaving inappropriately with the boys in the youth group? Were we spending too much time alone with the boys in church?

I hated this.

My parents did not attend church. While both parents were raised in a Christian environment (my mother attended church with her parents, my father attended Catholic schools) they were not religious. My parents did not teach me such ridiculous things such as the draconian dress codes Christians impose on women or the subjugation aka “proper submission” of women.

They did teach me that I was my own person, deserving of respect. They taught me to stand up for myself. They also taught me that only they, as my parents, could dictate to me my actions or behaviors.

You can imagine the effect this had on a young teenage girl being told she was slutty if she wore tank tops, shorts, or skirts, or existed alone in a room with a human of the opposite sex.

Oh yes, I was a rebellious little shit.

What does this mean? Well. It meant that in the hot, humid Kentucky summers, I wore shorts and tank tops. I wore skirts that bared my knees.

It means that I told the adults who slut shamed me that “Jesus doesn’t care what I wear.” and “It’s hot. I’m wearing shorts. The end.”

I remember one incident, at a Super Bowl party at church, when a Very Important Lady chastised me for wearing a shirt, if I recall correctly, that had a smartass remark on it. (It was January after all, I could have been wearing a tank top, but there was no way I was wearing shorts.) Having enough, I called my mother. Having enough, my mother came to church to confront this woman and to take me home.

Now, Momma Beemer is one who, when people are ridiculous, loves to mess with them. In response to this incident, she showed up in a long, dark-colored trenchcoat, combat boots, with a hat pulled low over her eyes. (Not my mother’s normal choice of attire.) She strolled purposefully through the sanctuary toward this woman. They had words. With childish glee at my harasser getting hers, I watched. I wish now that I’d been nearer so that I could overhear what Momma Beemer said. This woman never bothered me again.

But of course, that didn’t stop everyone else from continuing their harassment of me and my friends. Someone made a rule that we could not go anywhere in the church, save the office, kitchen, and sanctuary, unless an adult was present. I broke this rule.The policing of our clothing continued. Adults were constantly suggesting we sneaked off with boys to “do stuff” while we were at church. Now, we were thirteen and fourteen when this began. Thirteen and fourteen year old girls. Grown men and women suggesting that preteen girls were dressing like “hookers” and sexually active. In church.

Though I was a fundamentalist Christian at the time, my reaction to this was not one of shame. It was anger and indignation. How dare they? I am not a slut. These boys are like my brothers. We grew up together. That’s gross, suggesting that I’m messing around with them. (I had no idea what sex actually entailed at that age. Are you surprised to hear that I never received any formal sex education?) My clothes are fine. My Mom and Dad are fine with them (my parents bought my clothes!) and it’s not slutty to wear shorts in church. If so-and-so is “led astray” when he sees me in shorts, that’s his problem. He’s the pervert, not me. That’s gross. Old fracking perverts.

Oh, I was not popular.

Years later, when I ran into one of the boys from that youth group, we naturally began talking about those days. “Brittany, none of us [boys] never knew what to do with you. You were so different.” Different meaning stubborn. Bullheaded. Opinionated. Independent.

Is it any wonder I eventually left?

Now, my leaving the church was not because of the slut shaming. No, it was something else–but that’s another story for another day.

The way those church members treated me and my friends was abhorrent. Unfortunately, however, it was not unusual. The video that sparked this post is here. It’s a thirty minute diatribe on slitted skirts and tops with too-large armholes–and let’s not forget the CLEAVAGE! (That horrible cleavage!) It really is maddening to watch (see Tweet quoted above.) but for those stuck within the throes of modern American Christianity, it is par for the course.

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About Brittany-Ann
Brittany-Ann is a proud, self-identified feminist with fictional tendencies. She currently writes for LouisvilleKY.com and moderates at My Fault I'm Female. She smokes camels, reads Dumas, and navigates a conservative state as "one of them darn liberals."

7 Responses to Slut Shaming Preteens in Church

  1. I surely hope that your career of choice is journalism because, darn it, you write so well. It will be a crime against humanity if you don’t make writing your career. 🙂

    • Brittany-Ann says:

      Thank you! You just made my day. I do hope to be a journalist, though it’s a long and difficult road to get to the point where I’m paid to write. The day I’m able to quit my data entry job for this will be a glorious day. 🙂

      • Developing a strong online presence is a great way to begin. This will be an important asset when you start aiming at jobs in journalism. It seems like you chose your majors very wisely. Do you have a mentor -somebody who made it in the kind of journalism you want to end up doing – to guide you? In my own profession, I have found that having this kind of person to give you career advice is priceless.

        Once again (and I never say it to people unless I really mean it), you can make an outstanding journalist.

        Have you tried starting a diary at DailyKos? You will be a progressive journalist, I presume?

  2. Thanks for the mention.

    Dress was a common subject in the churches of my youth. I grew up in the mini-skirt era and mini-skirts were a topic our pastor mentioned frequently. Even though I was a committed fundamentalist Baptist youth I must now admit that I preferred the min-skirts to the maxi-dresses that were so popular in the churches I attended. 🙂 I remember one girl, new to our church, who had a lovely singing voice. She was scheduled to sing one Sunday evening and as she came to the front to sing the pastor had someone stop her and tell her she couldn’t sing. Her “skirt” was too short. She never came to our church again.

    My wife was almost 40 years old before she ever wore a pair pants. I know if is hard for some people to wrap their mind around this kind of thinking but there are thousands of churches in the US that still preach stringent dress codes that forbid women from wearing certain items of clothing..

    Bruce

    • Brittany-Ann says:

      I can imagine it would be hard for some to imagine–it seems so outlandish from the outside, but on the inside, it’s just one of those things…even if you don’t agree, like myself, it’s a struggle–internally and outwardly, with others within the church. For me, I just wanted to be able to wear clothes appropriate and comfortable for the weather, and to not have to go to dozens of stores to find “decent church clothes” that everyone would agree with.

      I find myself wondering now why my old church wasn’t as strict as many southern baptist churches. One reason is that it wasn’t the pastor himself that was so concerned with clothing–it was prominent (read: deacons and wealthy) members. Part of it had to be the weather, since Kentucky gets very hot and humid in the summers. Part of it was perhaps our location in a city, rather than a smaller town or more rural area. I’m not exactly sure.

      Regardless it’s a small step from this, to something like Quiverfull, and it’s a small step from that to abuse. This sort of mindset and control is dangerous. But throw in the Bible and many will jump to defend even the most suspicious beliefs.

      That poor girl–that must have been so embarrassing. But it’s good that she got to see what it was up front, before she got attached and entangled.

      Thank you for coming out and writing about your journey. I hope your wife is doing well!

  3. B.C. says:

    Oh, the memories! My mother is very religious (but doesn’t go to church – go figure!) and my sister and I went to church religiously (no pun intended) until I was about 17. Although my church wasn’t as fixated on our clothing as yours seemed to be, we were taught about the evils of homosexuality and abortion. I didn’t even really “get” homosexuality, but I remember from the age of 12, I didn’t understand why we were supposed to hate gay people…that was my first indication that maybe I should go my own way once I had the opportunity to do so. And I did. I’m now a practicing Wiccan, which, of course, I’ve had to conceal from my mother, which is sad, because Paganism is so much a part of who I am now.

  4. Pingback: How I Left Christianity, Part Two: Family « A Bookish Beemer

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