Wednesday, May 8, 2013

You Are Not Gum

Image source.

[trigger warning: rape]

In a recent article, Elizabeth Smart speaks on human trafficking, Elizabeth Smart explains why, after she was kidnapped and raped, she didn't try to run:
Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.
"I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.' And that's how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value," Smart said. "Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value."
And oh my goodness. I know exactly what she's saying. This is EXACTLY what purity culture teaches. This is EXACTLY what I used to believe.

Smart did not misunderstand or make unwarranted extrapolations from the teachings about purity. This message- "if you have sex, then you are no longer valuable and no one will want you"- this IS the core of purity culture.

For those who are unfamiliar, let me explain her analogy about the "chewing gum." It is common for adults who are teaching girls about "purity" to use object lessons like this. Perhaps they will take a piece of gum, get a volunteer to chew it, and then ask if anybody wants the chewed gum. Or they'll hold up an oreo, and pass it around so everyone can handle it and lick it, and then ask if anyone would like to eat the oreo. Or they'll take a glass of water and let everyone spit in it, and then ask if anyone would like to drink it. Etc etc.

The point is, a girl's purity/virginity is the fresh piece of gum, untouched oreo, or clean water. Something good and desirable. But then, if she has sex, that's like letting other people spit all over it and get it all dirty. And then, who would want her?

(To answer that, please watch this excellent video: Jesus wants the rose.)

So. If you have sex before marriage, you're dirty and ruined. No chance of having a good marriage. Unworthy of any decent guy.

"But wait," you say, "Elizabeth Smart was raped. That's not even her fault. Purity culture doesn't make a distinction between rape and consensual sex?"

Well... actually purity culture doesn't really talk about rape at all. But as I've written before, purity culture only cares about the outward, physical, tangible things one does with the opposite sex. It's all about the physical. So as far as purity is concerned, it doesn't matter if you had consensual sex, or if it was forced on you. The damage is done. You're not a virgin. You are dirty. You are unworthy of marrying any decent guy.

Unworthy of marrying any decent guy. Because, in purity culture, everything sexual and romantic you ever do is SUPPOSED to be with your husband. (Important side note: I'm specifically talking about what purity culture says to girls- I write what I know. Also in purity land, everyone is straight.) So, there have been many testimonies given about apologizing to one's husband. If you ever had sex with another guy- even if it was long before you met your husband- you must apologize, because all your sexual activity was his rightful property. Ever kissed another guy? Apologize. Ever dated another guy? Apologize. And heaven forbid you took initiative and asked another guy out.

And as for the husband/ potential husband who hears all your apologies- he's under no obligation to accept you. He is well within his rights to dump you right then- you've given away what was rightfully his.

So if you were raped? Well, some guy stole your virginity. (Oh, by the way, in purity land, if you're not a virgin it doesn't matter if you're raped.) Some guy stole what was supposed to belong to your future husband.

Who would want you? Your virginity is your worth. Purity culture likes to say, "The most precious gift you can give your husband is your virginity." Which... seriously? How about friendship? How about unconditional love? How about shared interests and experiences? How about supporting each other through difficulties?

ALL RIGHT, enough of this. This is all a bunch of garbage- but yeah, this is what purity culture teaches. (Not specifically the part about rape- but because rape is never directly addressed, and purity culture is all about the physical, well... what other conclusion is there besides "rape makes a person damaged and worthless, just like consensual sex"?)

So here's the truth: Rape is horrible. It is a physically, emotionally, psychologically traumatizing event, and it should never happen to anyone.

But, if a person is raped, it is NOT their fault. They are NOT damaged and worthless. I mean, there's "damage" in the sense that there's trauma and a long and difficult process to healing (and I don't want to downplay that)... but that's all.

If you were raped, you are NOT dirty. You are NOT unworthy of love. You are NOT "impure." It does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to your worth as a human being. It does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to your worth as a potential spouse.

You are loved. You are valuable. I believe God loves every person. And no matter what happens with your genitals (rape, premarital sex, abstinence, WHATEVER), YOUR VALUE AS A HUMAN BEING IS CONSTANT.

And there are many people who want to help and support you. People who advocate on behalf of rape victims, and understand what you're going through. Because you are WORTH that support, you are WORTH getting help and finding healing.

You are loved and you are valuable. And I want to say that over and over again, to drown out all the victim-blaming, to drown out the voices of those who don't believe you, to drown out the shame and the lies.

The article about Elizabeth Smart ends with this line: "Smart says children should be educated that 'you will always have value and nothing can change that.'" And THAT is the message I want to see the church proclaim from the rooftops. Not purity culture. Not "you're damaged goods." Not scare tactics.

"You will always have value and nothing can change that."

1 comment:

  1. I know this comment is a little late, but I do have to point out that purity culture does talk about rape (In my experience). Rape is used as a threat. As in: "do the right things and you won't get raped" and "if you don't do everything we think you should do to avoid getting raped, than it was kind of consentual." So even if a portion of purity culture were to say that nonconsentual sex doesn't count, the problems wouldn't go away.