Existential perfection, problematic cultural systems, and being okay.

I am completely and utterly overwhelmed by the response I’ve gotten from “The body I have.”

On the one hand, I keep checking my stats with ever-widening eyes and a grin that I can’t quite get rid of. “People…are actually reading what I wrote? They like what I had to say?”

Then my introversion comes out, and I think, “I’ll just hide under a rock for a while until they all go away.”

And then my depression and anxiety kicks into high gear, like it has right now, and I frantically feel like I’m a fake and everyone will hate me if I’m discovered — until someone brings me back to planet earth with a reminder like this:

And now I can breathe a little easier.

Why did I write that piece in the first place?

I’ve been asking myself that a lot.

I think it boils down to me being sick of our culture.

A culture that scrutinizes women’s bodies or appearances and proceeds to make judgment calls about their very persons. Fat? You’re lazy and gluttonous and stupid and need to put the Cheetos down. Skinny? You’re vain and anorexic and stupid and need to eat a sandwich. Dress fashionably? You’re shallow and insipid and wasteful. Dress comfortably/unfashionably? You’re hardened and arrogant and simple.

A culture that thinks that women exist for the sole purpose of pleasure, whether visual or sexual. Women in public spaces are subject to sexual scrutiny in ways that men in those same spaces almost never are. Wearing something that shows any skin whatsoever? If you’re a man, you’re probably just warm and dressing for your comfort. If you’re a woman, you’re an easy slut, asking for attention. Wearing something that covers you from head to toe? If you’re a man, you’re probably just cold and dressing for your comfort. If you’re a woman, you’re a frigid prude and need to loosen up. A man jogging down the street shirtless is barely noticed. A woman jogging down the street in sports bra or tank top and shorts gets cat calls and leers. Same people, same space. Different sex, different expectations. The man may mind his business. The woman is expected to perform.

A culture that takes the above even further when it comes to matters of sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment. A culture that doesn’t understand that you can’t touch a woman sexually without her expressed permission. Being married does not give someone permission to your body. Being drunk does not give someone permission to your body. Being asleep or unconscious does not give someone permission to your body. Being afraid for your life or well-being does not give someone permission to your body. Knowing the person does not give them permission to your body. Being naked does not give someone permission to your body. These are things I never, ever, ever heard until the past 2 or 3 years.

A sub-culture in which I spent most of my life that believes itself to elevate women to a higher level of respect and honor, but still teaches that women “belong” to their husbands, are more easily deceived, are weaker, are unfit for leadership, are expected to obey like children or servants. If unmarried, these women must answer to their fathers, until they are “given” to their husbands. To remain unmarried is seen as a sign of an unsubmissive rebellious spirit. They must be pure, they must be silent, they must be sweet, they must be kind, they must endure abuse without a word, they must never “allow” themselves to be in “compromising” situations, they must shoulder the blame for the lust and desire and sexual sins and even sexual crimes of their brothers in the faith. None of this may be intended, but too many of us have felt this weight, and it cannot be the yoke that is easy to bear, the burden that is light.

These cultures, these systems of thought, are pervasive. Good people with good intentions perpetuate these systems unknowingly without understanding the consequences.

But these systems do have consequences.

For me, those consequences included extreme self-hatred — of my body, my personality, my entire existence. They included a deep shame that I still can’t shake — shame over my weight, shame over my breasts and hips, shame over my sexuality (because, oh yeah, women aren’t supposed to be sexual creatures, only sexual objects). Confusion over whether I wanted to lose weight to be attractive finally to someone anyone on earth, or stay fat so I wasn’t a temptation to anyone (not that PCOS gave me much of a choice on that one). The belief that I had to be thin in order to be considered a non-embarrassing love interest.

There are so many things that I never knew until recently. Things like the following:

  • It’s not okay to comment on someone’s body if you don’t have the kind of relationship with that person that it’s mutually agreed that it’s okay. In fact, it’s rude.
  • It’s not okay to comment on someone’s health if you are not involved in their healthcare or they have not asked for your input.
  • It’s not okay to touch someone without their permission.
  • It’s not okay to make fun of someone for looking differently than you want them to look.
  • It’s not okay to treat women like they are incapable of intelligent thought, self-care, basic and more-than-basic ability to reason and act and make decisions and lead and live.

And the other day, when shopping for pants that fit my size 20 belly and butt and thighs, the ridiculousness of my thought processes and memories and experiences hit me so hard. And I tried to dismiss them, and tried to dismiss them, until finally I thought, “I’ll just jot down a few thoughts to clear my head.”

The more I wrote, the more it all came together. I saw the system of fat-shaming at play from my youth. I saw the system of purity culture and modesty doctrine from my teenhood, that directly fed into my guilt and pain from being assaulted and the victim-blaming that takes place when people wonder if perhaps clothing or actions invited such an attack. I saw the system that told me that I as a fat woman was inherently worthy of less affection, less love, less respect, less dignity.

And it finally, finally, for the first time in my life really and truly hit me that I have the body that I have and it’s okay. And I am the person that I am, and that’s okay. And I am a woman, and that’s okay.

*I* am okay.

I am almost 26 years old. It has taken me this long to learn that I deserve respect, in large part due to the systems I just talked about.

These systems affect real people. They have deeply affected me.

And that is why I wrote that post.

42 thoughts on “Existential perfection, problematic cultural systems, and being okay.

  1. I am sitting here reading this blog and crying. I am so angry at our culture. No matter what a woman looks like is an excuse for all sorts of negative comments. What are we telling our daughters? (not to mention our sons) I have tried to hide my feeling about this my whole life, but I am getting so upset. We women need to start standing up for ourselves. ENOUGH MEANS ENOUGH! NO MEANS NO!

  2. This is wonderful! I love your list of things you know now, but used to not know. I didn’t learn many crucial things ’til my thirties. I, too, often want yearn to go into hiding after writing something that people read.

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  4. Speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) in the following comments.

    “A sub-culture in which I spent most of my life that believes itself to elevate women to a higher level of respect and honor…”
    1 Peter 3:7 “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding , giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” Women are to be respected and honored and Scripture encourages that. There are no verses in the Bible that say it’s okay to disrespect women and treat them as lesser humans.

    “…but still teaches that women “belong” to their husbands…”
    1Corinthians 7:3 “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” This, of course, does not mean that a husband and wife can misuse this authority. Those who may think it does misinterpret Scripture, because the Lord certainly wouldn’t bless the abuse of this authority. But essentially, yes, a woman does belong to her husband, as a man belongs to his wife.
    Genesis 2:24 also enforces this in the line referencing one flesh.

    “…are more easily deceived, are weaker, are unfit for leadership…”
    Again I reference 1 Peter 3:7. Yes. True. God made women the weaker gender. This does not make us less important. This does not mean we are to walk with faces covered, heads down and 10 steps behind our husbands. Woman was created from man’s rib, his side, not his tailbone. And as far as women being unfit for leadership? Ephesians 5:23 “For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church; and He is the Saviour of the body.” “Not fit” for leadership may not be a very accurate term; “not called”, however, much more so. Women are not called to be leaders. We are to love our husbands and children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to our husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. (Titus 2:4 & 5)

    “…are expected to obey like children or servants.”
    Where does Scripture say this? Ephesians 5:22 says “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” But that’s the only verse I can think of that could even be misconstrued to be anything close to your statement. There’s a difference between submission and being treated like a dog who is expected to come at the first call. The Lord isn’t saying women are to be doormats. Obey, yes. Submit, yes. Abused by submission, absolutely not.

    Christianity. Is. Not. Oppressive. But it seems that is exactly what you’re saying.
    It isn’t oppressive.
    Unless.
    Unless Scripture is misinterpreted. Or twisted. Or read into. Or taken out of context. Or simply and innocently misunderstood. These things happen. And that’s why we need to carefully study the Word. We need to open up Darby’s and study certain words we may be unsure of, as well as the various forms of words. That way we can understand Scripture as the Writer intended.

    I could touch on other things you mentioned, but I’ll stop because I’ve said so much already.

    • Perhaps we need to define the word ‘oppression’ in order to have an accurate and informed conversation about it.

      http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oppression

      Definition of OPPRESSION

      a : unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power
      b : something that oppresses especially in being an unjust or excessive exercise of power
      2
      : a sense of being weighed down in body or mind : depression

      I think it doesn’t matter if references to the Bible are intended to be oppressive or encouraging. What matters is how those references will be received by your audience.
      Next time, when you desire to respond to someone “in love” while referencing scripture, maybe it would be wise to consider how it will make them feel.
      Ask yourself how you would feel if the roles were reversed. Could it be that your words, which, according to scripture, hold the power of life and death, will hurt much more than they will heal? If so, they may not be “a word fitly spoken,” and will not be received in the spirit they were intended.

    • Maybe, just maybe, those of us who believe Christianity is oppressive just might have theological degrees. Or several copies of Darby. And Scoffield. And original Greek and Hebrew texts. Or have massive amounts of Scripture memorized. Or have read all the right books. And been to the right churches and Bible studies. And been told our entire lives the same things you just said. And told that by people who said they weren’t oppressive. And we might still disagree with you.
      And to state that there are NO verses that say it’s okay to disrespect women is quite the statement (and shows an ignorance of Scripture that you seem to have all the answers about) when even some of the rabbinical laws will explicitly value men above women, or allow men to escape their guilt, but not women. Different punishments for the same offense? Guys, rape a woman? Well, you have to marry her. Women, sleep around – not even rape – just sleep around? Burned in a fire. Pretty sure those commands aren’t taken out of context.

    • You cannot say that a system of beliefs is not oppressive when a person is standing in front of you, staring you in the face saying “My experience of it has been oppressive.” To deny someone else’s experience is the HEIGHT of insult, dehumanization, and dismissal. It’s not “speaking the truth in love.” It’s saying “every hurt you just said you experienced doesn’t matter to me because I prize the system above all else.” You become part of the problem when you refuse to consider another person’s experience.

      Oh, and if we want to play tit-for-tat on Scripture and oppressing women? Let’s look at the story of Jeptah. Or Lot’s daughters. Or Bathsheba, who was raped by the king. Or Deuteronomy 22, where a woman is punished if she is not a virgin on her wedding night or does not cry out loud enough if she is raped.

      And you want to argue that Christianity does not lend itself to oppressive systems in the same breath as saying that women cannot possibly be called by God? Well I guess Deborah, Ruth, Phoebe, Mary – who was, quite literally, CALLED BY GOD – are just anomalies, then. Guess God never ever calls women to preach for his purpose, except for, y’know, the women at the tomb who brought the first news of the resurrection to God’s people. Exceptions. Anomalies. God can’t call woman because…I guess because ladybrains or something. What a sad small world that is.

    • And who defines the “right” interpretation? Whichever interpretation isn’t oppressive? Who decides what the “Writer” intended? Whichever interpretation YOU found when “carefully study[ing] the Word”? And everyone else obviously misinterprets it? That’s a pretty arrogant claim.

      Does language have any meaning at all? This is the problem I find with most Christianity – the definition of words becomes so malleable. Explain what each word in my comment says and I can tell you how you’re misconstruing it and it means something else.

      Since a vast vast majority of people use the Bible and scripture to be oppressive, since Christianity has a long, bloody, oppressive history, either the problem lies in that it is in fact ACTUALLY oppressive, or your “Writer” is so unable to communicate to people in a clear way that there’s no point in even looking at scripture – it’s all a bunch of gibberish intended one way and written in another. But here’s a little writing tip: If the vast majority of your readers see something one way, that’s not the fault of the reader. It never is. It’s the fault of the writer.

      • In response to all the above comments, I was merely defending my faith, which I felt had been misrepresented. If it was taken as invalidation of the experiences of this blog’s writer, that was definitely not what what was intended. I just felt that Christians were being portrayed wrongly, and since every single one of us will take a stand for what we believe in, I think it’s okay that I shared my thoughts. I could go down through each statement made in response to me, but I won’t because I made my original comments with no intention of launching a massive theological debate. My response was for Dani. I wasn’t speaking to anyone else so I don’t know why so many had to butt in. I know that I will be ridiculed and made fun of, and I know that everything I speak has been and will be picked apart and misunderstood. But it isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.
        Dani, I have not intented to be sarcastic or condescending, or to invalidate your feelings and experiences. If that’s how it seemed, I am sincerely sorry for making you feel that way. I hope you believe me when I say that my comments were meant *only* in defense of what I so strongly believe in. There was absolutely nothing else behind what I said.

        • I don’t think it’s accurate to say that people “butted in.” This is a public blog, and the comment section is specifically for discussion. Maybe if you don’t want responses in the future, use the contact form?

          You may not have intended invalidation or pain, but it did happen. I’ve been where you are once. I’ve been the person to spend a lot of time and energy looking up Bible verses that back up a position I already hold, writing commentary to show that I’m right, and assuring someone that I wasn’t attacking them but only was speaking the truth in love. It never occurred to me that perhaps it was a little arrogant to do that. That maybe the person I was talking at knew the Bible just as well as I did and had come to a very different conclusion based on study, research, and experience. It never occurred to me that intending good things didn’t mean that bad things wouldn’t happen.

          That’s why I’m not angry, even though I disagree. Because I understand. I’ve been there. I’m just not there anymore.

          • The contact form isn’t available in my mobile options, except by using the link you posted. But thank you for posting it. If I have comments in the future I’ll use it.

        • ” I think it’s okay that I shared my thoughts.”

          Sure its ok. Just be prepared for what happens next when you offend people.

          ” I could go down through each statement made in response to me, but I won’t . . .”

          You mean you can’t. Saying you could answer something but won’t means that you can’t.

          “I speak has been and will be picked apart and misunderstood. But it isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.”

          Oh, so you’ve been taken out of context?

          • Saying you could answer something but won’t means that you can’t.

            I see where you’re coming from, though I don’t necessarily agree. Sometimes when it’s as clear as it is here that no agreement will be met, not answering is best. I’ve definitely used that strategy before, usually as a means of emotional self-preservation.

          • Dani, if someone is going to take the time to involve themselves, gets contradicted, then returns and claims they have the rebuttal but refuse to give it, that person usually doesn’t have the rebuttal to begin with.

            Not answering is different than saying you have the answer but won’t give it. It’s arrogant and condescending at worst, a bit rude at best.

            But I totally understand the need for emotional health. Comment boards can be full of emotionally draining interactions. :)

        • I assume then that you write long letters and such to prominent leaders such as Driscoll, Piper, etc….even (and maybe even most especially) the pastors you know who promote such oppressive Christianity. I assume that you defend your faith the most from those ones since they have the power. I mean, if you’re THAT considered about Christianity being misrepresented, I’m assuming you go and defend it from those who are in power.

          If you want bloggers such as Dani to stop “misrepresenting” Christianity, then maybe you should go fight the people who are ACTUALLY misrepresenting it.

          If it walks like a duck, eats like a duck, and waddles like a duck, it’s not misrepresention fora person who grew up being told “that’s a duck” to say “that’s a duck.” You should be defending your Christianity against the church leaders who are dressing up like ducks.

    • Great! So Christianity isn’t oppressive, unless someone misinterprets a thousand page, 2,000 year old book, written in a different language, by at least a dozen people in multiple completely different societies.

      I’m sure that will never, ever happen.

      • I’m often amazed at how it never occurred to me beyond lip-service/covering my bases that maybe my brand of Christianity wasn’t the only valid one. If there is room yet in Christianity for me, it lies somewhere outside of fundamentalism. And probably evangelicalism.

    • I don’t believe that you’re “speaking the truth in love,” because putting people down is not loving behavior.

      Also, if women are always naturally inferior to men because Bible, then explain Galatians 3:28. Or Priscilla.

  5. I’m a new reader that found you through some mutual Twitter people. This post and your last one are so touching, and I really connect with it. We’re about the same age (I’m 27), and I’ve only recently started connecting the dots of experiences in my life to see how things have been stacked up to make me constantly question my own right to be who I am, my own right to exist as I do. The way that you tied together all of those separate experiences (that cruel teacher, the comments about going out with wet hair, trying on the same type of jeans over and over again) especially resonated with me. There’s no one big moment that pushes us into the corners of our own lives; it’s a series of little things. This is a problem for two reasons: it’s really hard to fight against a series of little things, and people don’t take you seriously when you point out any one of them.

    I also really connected with you asking if people are only liking you because of the positivity of that last post. I can’t speak for the whole world, but I will say that I appreciate positivity most when it comes from someone who can also be vulnerable, who can also be angry, who can also be hurt. That’s real positivity. That’s positivity we can all use.

    Thank you for your writing!

  6. I’m crying. Just crying. Read both your posts and I can SO relate and you are not alone and why do systems (cultural and religious) make life so much harder than it has to be? This confidence in knowing you are okay is something i want. Until recently it wasn’t even something that I knew it was okay for me to want! Or okay for me to (GASP!) have in any measure! Just. Thank you. I will be coming back here when it all becomes too much.

    • Just so you know, sometimes it’s okay to NOT be okay. Really.

      And you’re welcome here whenever you desire – there’s a comfy couch and soft blankets and mugs of homemade hot chocolate and a really snuggly puppy. :) Sometimes there’ll be difficult discussions, I’m sure. But that’s okay. There’s still love in the end.

  7. “Christianity. Is. Not. Oppressive. ”

    HAHAHAHA It would be very, very funny if it weren’t for the fact that so many Christians are victimized and don’t even recognize it.

    FWIW, I was a fundamentalist/evangelical Christian until I was in my mid forties. I got used to seeing this kind of flawed logic. You’re arguing that because you think that somebody interpreted the Bible incorrectly, Christianity, as it is/was intended to be, is not oppressive.

    The problem, though, is that there are more than 30,000 Christian denominations, and every one of them thinks that they have the correct interpretation of the Bible. “I’m right!” “No, we’re right!” “No, it’s us. We have rightly divided the Word.” Heck, you as a group can’t even agree on how many books are in the Bible in the first place.

    When people who self-identify as Christian embrace oppressive attitudes and base those attitudes on their religious beliefs (and they clearly do this by the thousands), I’m sorry, but Christianity as a whole has to own this.

    BTW, when you start a message by saying that you’re writing “in love,” we all know you aren’t. It’s called a “slug hug,” and everyone recognizes it when they see it. Little Bible verses quoted don’t disguise it.

    “Obey, yes. Submit, yes. Abused by submission, absolutely not.”

    SMH… Poor, poor dear. Anyone who tells you that you must “obey” another person, without recourse, without question, without any opportunity to do anything different, is advocating for abuse. Ditto for “submit.” The scripture that says that women should do this, should submit, and obey, and offers them no way out, no way to say no, is opening the door very widely for abuse. I’ve seen it a zillion times over the years. Anyone in the conservative authoritarian segment of Christianity has seen it. Pretending it’s not there doesn’t make it go away.

  8. By the way, slug hugs that are posted by people who hide behind a screen name are even more vile than the kind where the person has the courage and decency to identify himself/herself outright. “Savedbygrace,” what are you afraid of?

    • I don’t think she*’s afraid so much as showing her faith? I’ve gone by many different screen names over the years less for anonymity and more for witnessing purposes. So I don’t think she’s trying to do a drive-by hug slug, but just doesn’t usually use her name on the internet.

      * I say “she” since she talked about women using the pronoun “we.”

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  10. On the “is Christianity oppressive” question I think the very question ignores how much Christianity is NOT self contained and is instead a reflection of the current culture within which Christian people exist.

    So Christianity tends to be oppressive to women in cultures that are oppressive to women. And is less so in cultures that are less oppressive to women. (Note every culture I am aware of is/has been oppressive to women to some degree.)

    This isn’t a blanket defense of Christianity as it certainly had some intrinsic elements of oppression but more an argument that God works within the culture that exists instead of remaking some ideal culture before they are willing to interact with people.

    • That was partly my point in including Christianity’s brand of sexism. None of this stuff happens in a vacuum, and it won’t change if people don’t call it out for what it is.

  11. Dani, I love your writing and your responses to the comments. Keep up the good work and remember that you never have to apologize for what you believe or what you know. it drives me nuts when someone feels like they have to defend their faith because it has been misrepresented. Their individual faith, maybe, but not Christianity. Christianity, or any belief for that matter, is not defined by one person’s thoughts, opinions, convictions, or beliefs.

    <3

  12. I’m twenty years older than you, and it took me much longer to see the truth, and to buy fitting clothes. I’m thin, ugly* and emphatically not submissive, which creates all kinds of problems even in secular, liberal academia. I love your posts, and will share them with my teenager daughter, who’s definitely not thin, and not submissive either.

    *as defined by current society, aggravated by my refusal to obey style and behavior standards.

    • I think we’d get along quite well :) Having grown up being taught that “the world” and Christianity are polar opposites, I’m always amazed at how often they’re just the same thing. My experience of sexism in the church may be different than your experiences in a secular environment, but it’s the same sexism. That boggles my mind sometimes :)

  13. Pingback: In which I am hesitant to call it abuse. | crooked neighbor, crooked heart.

  14. Pingback: From “assembly girl” to feminist: learning my worth as a woman. | Plymouth Brethren Dropout

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