Sexism, Skirts, and Spirituality: Part One

The last few months, Ruth and I have been discussing clothes and what The Bible teaches of attire, so we decided to write about it for the blog. I am writing about the social implications in The Church this week (below) and Ruth will write about the theological implications next week.

A few weeks ago during our Women’s Camp, there was a banquet where we were encouraged to dress up. I really wanted to wear my “Doctor Who” TARDIS blue, “Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Whimey” shirt because, simply put, it’s one of my favorites. Instead, I ended up doing the socially acceptable thing and wore some dress I bought at Target for $7 cause that’s what’s expected of me. Even as a grown woman I get mocked for the way I dress. And without fail, at the banquet, I heard the inevitable and pitiful “You look nice” statements. I’m convinced; some people say this as a bribe to get me to dress nicer more often.   It’s more of being humored than being respected. This has been going on since my preteen years. During most of my 20s, I tried to meet people’s standards of femininity and finally, one day, I decided I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was done! I was exhausted from trying to be someone I’m not.

While growing up, I was never expected to be “frou-frou” just because I was a girl. I was only required to wear a dress for church, programs, and special occasions. Outside of that, whatever I wore, I wore (as long as it followed modesty rules). When I went shopping, my parents told me to get what I liked (within price range). If I asked my parents, “What do you think?” Their response was, “It doesn’t matter what I like; I’m not wearing it. So wear what you like.” This freedom was also given to my siblings, and I’m grateful my parents had this attitude.

So let me tell you a bit about my choices of clothing. I like things that express myself (i.e. “Doctor Who”, John Deere, raccoons, etc…). I like my clothes to fit loosely. Only on a hot day will you catch me wearing a skirt/dress. My favorite article of clothing is a beat up camp sweatshirt I was given as a gift in 2002 while working there. Clothes given as a gift to me that speak to my personality, no matter how old and tattered they are, are like a “Velveteen Rabbit” to me. I like to wear jeans with widened legs. Corduroy is my favorite! I love the sound it makes when you walk! Swoosh! Swoosh! Swoosh! I like the feel of cotton and polyester. My socks must have the hem on the top of the toe. Sneakers are my favorite type of shoe. Nothing is as comfy as a pair of “teddy bear soft” flannel PJs. And it’s not rare to see me wearing a hat.

So let me tell you a bit about what I hate in clothing. I hate the smooth feeling, such as with silk, it’s the grossest feeling ever.   Anything that is cold against my skin will make me cold. Pantyhose are from the devil created in the deep bowels of hell! Anything tight fitting makes me want to squirm, continuously. I avoid any kind of clothing that requires “an all-day dance”. One example of such dance: pull up from shoulders, pull down over buttock. My feet become extremely cold easily due to being frostbite one too many times in my childhood. As a result, dress shoes, pumps, flip-flops and sandals make my feet become so cold that sometimes they go numb.

As unselective as my clothing choices may seem, I am selective, just not in the traditional way.

I understand not everyone is like me, and I really could care less. If you want to wear dresses all day long, every day, because it makes you feel better, go for it! The problem is, too often, the favor isn’t returned, and that’s where the issue begins.

There are “diagnoses” made as to why I don’t dress up enough. There’s the statement, “You must be a lesbian” which isn’t true. Or the comment, “You must have low self-esteem” which is true, but I know many women who have low self-esteem that dress up daily.   Others say that if I had a man to dress up for, things would be different. Funny. I know girlfriends/wives who dress up just as much as I do, so this is just belittling singles. Some say the “diagnosis” is that I’m an introvert, which is quite plausible. Sometimes, I hate dressing really nice because it brings a lot of attention to myself. So, if I’m to dress up, I want to call the shot of when I feel like putting up with it. Also, introverts are inwardly focused and appearance is an outward focus. The other “diagnosis” that makes sense to me is people who have attention issues tend to be pickier about clothing because it can be a distraction. I don’t actually know the reason why I don’t like to dress up, and to tell you the truth, I don’t care. It just isn’t me.   And more importantly: why do I need to justify myself?

I think it’s strange how people emphasize that a father should tell his daughter what to wear. It’s not only men who hurt my feelings when it comes to clothes. In fact, I feel far more disrespected, pressured, and judged by fellow women! This leads me to believe that being more feminine is a high status in the womanly Christian world and that femininity comes from outward appearance. This annoys me. I had someone tell me once, that if I wore sexy underwear, I would feel better about myself and then become more feminine. So, I tried it. I didn’t feel better about myself at all. In fact, I felt worse. Why? Because all I could think about was how I could have clothed an entire third world country with the price I paid for four items that wouldn’t stop riding up my butt. Trying to improve my self-worth by wearing expensive sexy underwear doesn’t make any sense to me, whatsoever.

Speaking of sexy clothing… “modesty” annoys me too. I have 4 points to say to this: 1.) men’s brains are not more visual than women’s brains. This is just a myth. But even if it were true, why does it only apply to clothing? Maybe we shouldn’t eat cookies in front of men, because we are tempting them to gluttony. Maybe we shouldn’t watch our big screen television with our curtains open, because we are tempting them to steal. Maybe we shouldn’t allow men to drive past road construction sights, because we are tempting them to covet ‘big toys’. 2.) Women are attracted to men’s eyes. Sex starts when a woman looks at a man’s eyes.  Therefore, all men must wear blindfolds to keep all women from lusting after them. Keep’em covered! Especially… if he is… you know… endowed with big eyes… We don’t want to see that disgusting man-whore display! Shame on men for having eyes, which solely exist for sexual pleasure and serve no other purpose!   3.) Sex crimes are about control, NOT sex! Sex is the rapists’ weapon. It has absolutely nothing to do with a woman’s attire. No woman asks for it by the way she dresses! 4.) Bottom line: you’re responsible for your sin and I’m responsible for mine.

What I really wish we would teach in our culture is to dress in a way we want to present ourselves. If we are an artist, we should be able to dress like an artist without being judged. If we are sportsy, we should be able to wear a jersey without being judged. If we are “frou-frou”, we should be able to dress classy without being judged, etc… That way people dress to respect themselves and to express themselves instead of letting others use guilt to control appearances.

A few weeks ago, I googled the word “femininity” and at the very bottom of the website page, it discussed the topic of “cross-dressing”. If you are a woman and have ever worn jeans and a t-shirt, you have cross-dressed, however, we don’t call it that in our culture. It’s usually called dressing ‘tomboyish’, ‘wearing what’s comfortable’, or ‘dressing down’. However, if a man wears women’s clothing, they are judged and called gay cross-dressers. Why? Well, this comes from a very sexist perspective. You see, man is the stronger sex, so it’s okay for the woman to promote herself to be like the stronger sex. However, woman is the weaker sex so it’s wrong for a male to demote himself to try and be like the weaker sex. As an egalitarian and feminist, this sincerely bothers me! There is NO such thing as a weaker or stronger sex! So, I say, the heck with it! If a man wants to dress like women so be it! And when I stopped to think about it, I realized, just like I have clothes that I prefer and aren’t stereotyped as ‘feminine enough’, who am I to judge a man for wearing something that’s not ‘masculine enough’? He may absolutely feel better in women’s clothing and I’m totally cool with that.

Really, I think clothes are just some lofty standard and a sexist stereotype to be honest with you. If I wear a raggedy sweatshirt to a nice dinner, how exactly does that affect you? It doesn’t! I think people make a really huge deal out of nothing. And frankly, if we’re told not to judge a book by its cover, then we should also be told not to judge people by the clothes they wear. Really, I think we should acknowledge that clothes keep us from being naked and just move on with life. There are greater things to worry about in this world like starvation, slavery, and child abuse. Spending time judging people by what they wear or telling them what to wear is a waste of time, Middle School-ish, and to be honest, hurtful.

It’s interesting how we’re often told, “Be who God created you to be. There will never be another one like you. You are created in God’s image.” When what people really mean to say to us is, “Be who God created you to be, as long as it’s in this box I have predetermined to be God’s desire for you.

For my final thought… At Women’s Camp, when the woman in charge addressed us, she said right from the beginning, “You are all beautiful, and it has nothing to do with what you’re wearing.” Thank you for that. No, really. Thank you. Because frankly, I’m weary of being beautiful based on my clothing, my make-up, my hair, my bra size, my modesty, my femininity, my weight, and just in general, my appearance. And if we were honest, I think we can agree that we are all sick of it. Don’t we all desire to be loved and accepted for who we are instead of what we look like? If the only thing I have to give The Church is a nice, feminine appearance, then I am ssssssoooooooooo done! I have so much more to give. Actually, as women of God, we all have much more to give! Beauty comes from our hearts, our intellects, our relationship with God, our relationship with others, our ability to love, our creativity, our passion ministries, our spiritual gifts, our talents, our humor, our personalities, our perseverance, and from our spirits; NOT from an unattainable expectation of outward appearance our culture has assigned us that has leaked into The Church! So thank you for acknowledging that our beauty doesn’t depend on clothes. Thank you so very much indeed.

She’s been everybody else’s girl/Maybe one day she’ll be her own

–“Girl”,Tori Amos

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