I wrote about modesty culture and the time in middle school when I got in trouble for growing taller.
"Parents who raise their children this way are trying to do what they think is best. The problem is, they are motivated by fear to control their children… Many fundamentalists probably operate unde…
Secular Music and Purity: Part 1
by Lenée Antoinette
*note* this is a series of posts about the music that shaped my pre-teen and early teen years, and how the music helped me combat the internalization of purity culture.
I attended Christian day schools built within Black church communities. These were not pristine, prestigious spaces crafted as a veiled response to forced desegregation of Philadelphia public schools. Instead, these institutions were extensions of church families, a purported “safe place” for Black kids to be educated in “the right way.” That way included Christian science books (no mention of dinosaurs!), sex ed classes based on Bible scriptures, and immediate expulsion for any girls who became pregnant during their matriculation. I was Christian via osmosis, taught purity was the goal for any and everyone my age (girls especially). In this environment, the forbidden world of secular music and mainstream television was social capital. In hushed tones over lunch or in hallways, my peers and I discussed Black cultural trends. 1992 was the year after Jodeci had grinded and hoo-yeahed their way into the pages of Word Up!, when Boyz II Men ruled my hometown of Philadelphia, and Michael Jackson was the biggest star Black America had ever known.
When I was 12, TLC happened. I don’t say that I discovered them or found their music; these young Black women were a cultural phenomenon unto themselves. They happened. TLC’s first single shattered my world because it was an emphatically honest song about sex, being performed by young Black women. At twelve years of age, I only knew what health classes had told me about sex: how pregnancies occur, what ejaculation is, what menstruation signifies, and that STIs were a bad thing. I knew nothing of pleasure as it related to sex. T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli changed the narrative in my pre-teen life. There had always been subtle, demure, “adult” lyrics from quiet storm queens like Phyllis Hyman and Anita Baker, while the more danceable tunes of the day were schoolgirl crushed out (Shanice’s “I Love Your Smile”) and pop-soul monsters (Mariah Carey’s “Emotions”). TLC kicked in the door, wearing Cross Colours and condoms (!) on their baggy, boyish clothes, and embodying a self-awareness that I envied. They were the antithesis of everything I was “supposed” to be and strive for. Of course, I loved them.
I experienced a good amount of shame, of course, because of my love and knowledge of the entire TLC album. I studied the liner notes of that CD with fervor and sang along, even when I had no idea what T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli were singing about. There was incongruence. How could I ever expect to maintain my saved status if I kept backsliding by listening to secular music, particularly a song like “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg?” I prayed that I’d be guided down the right path eventually, because I was too busy enjoying sinning. I had catastrophic thoughts about what this meant for me: I’d become a teen mother, I wouldn’t go to college, I’d most certainly end up with a front row seat in the same fiery hell as murderers and rapists. All because I liked music with overtly sexual, self-advocating lyrics. Music by young women who could have been my neighbors or family.
The limitation of Black womanhood in many church spaces has had lasting, damaging effects on the emotional and sexual health of young Black women. When the most widely available images of Black women creating media come from popular music, there is a great opportunity to examine and admire the power of owning our narratives. Granted, every pop superstar does not write their own material. I find, however, that even having a Black woman or girl (in the case of Aaliyah, Brandy, and Monica) serve as a voice is crucial. I was able to challenge the idea that I should only be sexual in the context of a marriage because of these young women and their willingness to speak of sex as pleasurable to them, and also their advocacy for safer sex practices. When I consider this in the context of the abstinence-only sex ed we received, I am so thankful. Who’d have thought that girls with condoms on their clothes and oversized applejack caps could help the scales fall from my eyes?
Lenée Antoinette is a thirtysomething writer, cultural critic and media maker from Philadelphia. A self-described music nerd, Lenée lives in New York city. She tweets as @dopegirlfresh and hosts Hip Hop is for Lovers Radio (hiphopisforlovers.com).
Storify of the latest #nsmchat on modesty culture
Earlier, I wanted to write a poem for Black girls who were taught to be ashamed of their curves- particularly their bottoms
I saw an older Black femme self-consciously stretching her sweater to cover her bottom, and part of me wanted to tell her “everyone who told you that your body was immodest is a damn liar.”
I came across this article the other day and it really hit home for me. It’s called “How the Purity Culture made Me Afraid of Men”. It’s really worth reading, but it got me to thinking about what the purity culture did to me. I’m not going to go into huge detail or anything right now but this was what it was like for me growing up and what it was like for me until I dated the man that became my fiance. You could also insert rape every time sex comes up and you wouldn’t be far off from what I was so afraid of when it came to men growing up, and often what I’m still afraid of when I’m around men (mainly men I don’t know or that my friends or family don’t know). Purity culture messed me up. It gave me extremely poor self-esteem and self-worth, I was afraid of men all the time, it gave me poor body images in relation to myself, it gave me poor social skills because I was so afraid all the time of men and that if I did anything to attract a man’s lust that I would go to hell…And you know the sad thing? I’m still not over what the purity culture did to me. My fiance has really helped me get over my disgust of my own body even though I’m not overweight or skinny to the point where you can see my bones, he helped me to realize I am worthy to be loved and that I should be me and to hell with anyone who says being me is wrong or sinful, and it is because of him and some amazing friends that I am climbing out of that hole that the purity culture put me in. I know I’m not alone out there in this, and it saddens me that in the 21st Century we still have to deal with all the crap this movement is doing to women and young girls (and even the men if you think about it). Maybe I’ll write more in depth about what the purity culture really did because what I wrote about above really is only the tip of the iceberg, but for now I’ll just leave this here.
"Don’t Get a Case of the Stupids"
Here are some highlights of the Christian Dating book for teens called Smart Girls, Smart Choices I was assigned to read for my Gender and Politics class.
This is an updated version (see Twilight and Twitter references) from when I was in high school, but if follows the same dichotomy as what I was raised to.
- become too clingy or obsessed with him
- change who you are to make him happy
- put all your confidence in what he says
- become willing to do anything for him
- tolerate his rude or mean behavior
- ignore red flags
- become blind to his weakness
- assume this is as good as it gets.
These aren’t bad things, in fact I think it’s good to teach women some of these values. However, that is all that is taught young Christian women. And it is repeated, over and over throughout ones teen years. Don’t get too attached. Guard your heart. Basically women are taught to protect themselves against men as if they are the enemy. And with that mindset, they quickly become that.
In my attempts (and many other women’s) I have always done the direct opposite of what is listed above, to prove I am serious about the faith and that romantic relationships don’t control me. Women are taught romantic relationships can be their greatest temptation and downfall. This has landed me at 21 and my longest romantic relationship lasting a month. This is so twisted and my heart hurts for so many others whose sexuality was damaged by this rhetoric. This is not OK.
Amanda Barbee on how the purity movement cloaks female sexuality in silence and shame, stunting women in their growth as sexual beings and causing long-lasting psychological and spiritual damage.
I don’t normally post about social issues or personal stuff here, but I read this article a few days ago and haven’t stopped thinking about it or the light bulbs it set off for me as a former Evangelical. Today being International Women’s Day, it seemed appropriate to share this article with others who have been, and continue to be, affected by purity culture.
You see, I could have been part of the study group. That was me from the moment I hit puberty and my mother, my friends’ mothers, my Christian schoolteachers, and my church youth leaders began to hammer the message of modesty into my head. That was me when I became aware of sexual feelings but didn’t really understand them or my body or my emotions because my only sex education was 7th grade biology and True Love Waits. That was me when I was sixteen and asked my parents if I could watch Braveheart and they said it was okay so long as I closed my eyes while my friend’s mom fast-forwarded through the sex scenes. That was me when my parents found out I’d been kissing my boyfriend and suddenly it called my relationship with God into question. That was me on my wedding night, giving my husband the most precious gift a woman possessed, crying because I was naked. That was me struggling through the first few years of marriage because sex was supposed to be emotional for women and physical for men, and i just didn’t fit into that box.
This is me now, five years post-Christianity, ten years married, mother of a four year-old, and only now beginning to see how entrenched I was in the purity culture, how twenty-five years in that culture continues to inform my views on relationships and sexuality, how these themes are finding an outlet in my fiction. This is me, accepting of my own sexuality (and feeling damn lucky not to be as scarred by purity culture as many I know are), yet afraid to share my writing, or sometimes even to write at all, because I know that to those (I love) in the purity culture, there is no distinction between sensuality and pornography.
This is me, still naked and ashamed.
I don’t understand why Christian girls are told that if we have to pursue a guy, he’s probably not worth it.
But if a Christian guy chases me, that standard isn’t there anymore. Like what the heck?
What makes me worth it? Just because he has to chase me?
No. If I think a guy is worth it, I’m probably going to show some interest. Just because he didn’t show interest first doesn’t mean he’s a loser or less of a man!
And why does it make me more attractive that I “waited for him?” Where is my agency? My confidence? My independence?My man better like the fact that I get things done!
Geeze, I am so fed up Christian patriarchy, misogyny and purity culture.
THE LOGIC DOESN’T EVEN MAKE SENSE.
The Wilsons are part of an evangelical community that views both hookup culture and the media’s messages surrounding sexuality as deeply troublesome. So it’s ironic that the method they’ve chosen to combat the hypersexualization of girlhood is, well, the hypersexualization of girlhood.
When you get down to it, Purity Balls are literally all about sex. If your worth as a human being is invariably tied to what you do with the parts between your legs, who you are becomes defined by your sexuality; you’re either pure, or impure. Madonna, or a whore.