I remembered something. There was this weird thing that happened to me a lot in the Pentecostal church, so it must have happened to others, too. Maybe it happened to me more often since I ran wild on bible college campuses as a child. I don’t know.
Men would offer to be my boyfriend. They would call me their girlfriend in intimate and flirtatious ways and pretend to want to date me. I usually knew they were not serious, but to have the attention of grown men as a ten or twelve year old girl was confusing and head-turning stuff.
Now I know their words were sexual predation. Grooming, if you will. Had any of those men, most only eighteen or nineteen themselves, some older, had a more nefarious bent and tried to corner me in a dark room, I would have complied. I would not have thought to resist.
As #MeToo moments go, being noticed in sexually or romantically suggestive ways by men is “not that bad.” I was never raped, have no violence to report, no molestation, no physical contact, except for that once, but I knew no one would believe me. And yet… I remember them all.
My value as a human was defined from day one by my appearance and my sexual value. “You’re going to be beautiful when you grow up,” they would say, with a glance up and down, while everything sexual was condemned and shamed within the cult of the United Pentecostal Church. Sex education was non-existent, information forbidden, genitals unnamed, normal developmental desires were an unspeakable sin punishable by the fires of hell. They were not joking.
Add in the Biblical philosophy of the second class nature of women and the demand for their submission, acquiescence, and silence. The female body was vile and a dangerous threat; our shoulders and kneecaps an abomination to the eye, designed to tempt unwitting men. Scriptures seemed to be full of stories of women whose offense was to be curious or smart or beautiful (Eve, Lot’s wife, Jezebel) and they were always killed or banished for their infractions. Jezebel had the audacity to decorate herself and so was fed to dogs. Her story was a little more complicated than that, but the Sunday School literature blamed it on makeup and jewelry.
But, still, be pretty. Be pretty and wait to get laid by your future husband, a man of god who will pick you to have his children and play his piano. The scrutiny of every detail of females’ appearance played into this culture of sexualization, even of children. Our only value was sexual; our sexuality was also our shame. What a twisted fucking message.
In defense of those males, except for that one who knew better, they were victims of the same culture. I doubt any of them gave a second thought to the things they said to the Bible college campus child-pet and would probably be horrified to have their words marked as predatory or even inappropriate. Who knows what they got out of it.
“A woman’s body always stands on the outskirts of town, verging on uncivilization. A thin paper gown is all that separates it from the wilderness. Half of its whole being is devoted to remembering how to live in the woods. This is why Witch, this is why Whore, this is why Unlucky and this is why Unclean. This is why attempts to govern the female body always have the feeling of a last resort, because the female body is fundamentally ungovernable.” —from Priestdaddy, a memoir by Patrick Lockwood
Of all of the books I’ve read that I wish I had written, this is the one I wish I had written the most.