When you’re a young woman growing up in conservative Christianity—or in a culture heavily influenced by conservative Christianity—you learn some things about your body, your sexuality, and yourself as a female, that you just accept. It’s not until you really take a moment to step back and question what you’ve been taught your whole life that you realize how damaging and just plain wrong these assertions actually are.
Being a woman myself, I can’t speak for the young men who grow up in the church so I will talk here only about the female side.
As you read the examples below of things you learn in conservative Christianity about godly womanhood, imagine that you are a young woman and these are the messages you are receiving from the people that you trust the most in your life. Some of these messages are taught directly and others are mostly just implied or demonstrated in the Bible.
(This varies a bit depending on which denomination you’re raised in and the particular beliefs of your parents and church leaders)
1. You were created from and for man. Man was created in God’s image, but you were created in man’s image to be his helper, companion and weaker vessel (Gen. 2:20-23, 1 Peter 3:7). Women were created for the specific purpose of helping and serving men and bearing children for them. Women are expected to embrace this and feel privileged to hold the position of a man’s help meet.
Truth: I was not created from or for man. I evolved alongside man and the only thing that separates me from a man is a single chromosome.
2. You are to be submissive to men, especially in church and in your marriage. Not only are you to be submissive, but you are to view it as a positive thing and suppress any leadership urges you may have because those urges are sinful. They go against God’s design for marriage and godly womanhood. The only place of leadership a woman should have is over children and other women.
That is actually quite watered down compared to what the Bible actually says about women being submissive. The Bible says that women should be silent in the church and that it is disgraceful for a woman to speak. Women may only ask questions and learn from their husbands at home (1 Cor. 14:34). Also, a woman is not permitted to have authority over a man, but must “be quiet” (1 Tim. 2:11-15). This passage so thoroughly describes a woman’s position that I just have to share the whole thing:
“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”
Truth: I do not have to submit to a man simply because he’s a man and supposedly has power over me. If I’m inclined to leadership, I am just as equipped for that role as any man. I can choose how to express myself based on my preferences, personality and skills.
3. Since you are a less sexual being than a man, you are responsible for making it easier for the men in your life to maintain pure thoughts. If you dress in such a way that highlights the attractiveness of your body or shows too much skin, you are responsible for any inappropriate actions or thoughts of the men around you. This includes rape or sexual harassment in many people’s minds (even if they only think it on a subconscious level, such as in the case of victim blaming). Deuteronomy 22:23-24 calls for the death of both the rapist and rape VICTIM if she didn’t cry out loud enough to be rescued. If you wonder why we live in a victim blaming culture, look no further than the holy books.
Truth: Women are just as sexual as men are. Our sexual drives can be quite strong and we are stimulated by all sorts of things, ranging from visual to physical to psychological. There is nothing weird about this. It’s simply biology.
On the point of victim blaming: If a man acts inappropriately toward a woman, he is responsible for his actions, not the woman. It doesn’t matter what she was wearing or how much she was wearing, a woman does not deserve to be treated disrespectfully, harassed or assaulted in ANY circumstance. I don’t care if she is walking around naked – a woman is NEVER asking to be raped. It’s a pity that I even have to point that out.
4. Your sexual purity is your worth. If you “give it up” before marriage then you have tainted yourself and are, therefore, worth less to your future husband. In Deuteronomy 22:21 the law demands that if a girl is found to not be a virgin on her wedding night then she should be taken to the doorstep of her father’s house and stoned to death. This is, obviously, not something that is practiced today (in most of the world), but the idea of virginity being a woman’s worth has lived on.
Truth: I’m worth a hell of a lot more than my virginity.
5. Each sexual partner you have before marriage takes a piece of your heart that you can never get back, and if you give away too much of your heart you will eventually have nothing left to give.
Truth: You cannot actually give your heart away. You can love someone deeply and choose to have sex with only them, but your heart and sexuality are still yours. In fact, it doesn’t matter how many sex partners over the course of your lifetime, your heart always belongs to you.
6. Within marriage, denying sex to your husband is sinful. You should always be willing even if you don’t feel like it or don’t get anything out of it, because he has needs that are your job to fulfill. Also, if you don’t fulfill your husband’s sexual needs, then it is essentially your fault if he has an affair. *This is what I was taught. It doesn’t necessarily represent what all Christian women are taught, though it is biblical.*
Truth: A woman should have complete control over the rights of her body. I definitely think that, especially in a monogamous relationship, it’s important to be considerate of each other’s desires and be available to each other, but it’s not right for a woman to feel like she can never say no. It is this way of thinking that has given many men the justification to force themselves on their wives. Yes, that is still rape. Also, if a man (or woman) has an affair behind their spouse’s back, that is on them and no one else.
7. It’s weird for women to masturbate. That is something that men struggle with, not women. If you do struggle with masturbation you are not only weird, but you are robbing your husband because masturbating will make you desire him less. It will also desensitize you to his touch. Vibrators will make it so that you are unable to achieve orgasm without it. Using a dildo will damage your husband’s self-esteem (which is your job to keep healthy) and if you want penetration it should be only your husband to do so. Anything else is just slutty and robs your husband of pleasure he could be getting.
Truth: Women very much enjoy masturbating and start at a very young age, just like boys. It’s not dirty or weird, it’s just our nature as human beings. In addition to being fun as hell and feeling amazing, there are many great benefits of masturbation for women such as stress relief, release of “happy hormones” (dopamine and oxytocin), familiarization with one’s body, experience of pleasure, sleep aid, etc. You can read more about the benefits of female masturbation here and here.
8. Women who seek out sex with multiple partners are sluts and probably have daddy issues. They are looking for love in all the wrong places and are damaging themselves on a psychological and spiritual level by acting out and seeking the approval of men. They don’t really enjoy the sex, they just want men to love them and boost their self-esteem.
Truth: The idea that women could only have sex in order to please men and seek approval is ignorant. See truth point #3. Women are sexual beings and can choose how they would prefer to express their sexuality. I’m sure there are some women (and men) who have sex to act out, in a way, but that is not the norm. If a person chooses to have multiple sex partners, that is their choice based on their sexual preference and orientation. As long as they are consenting adults and there is no deception involved, to each their own.
9. It is actually better if a man doesn’t marry a woman at all, but if he burns with lust then he’ll have to settle for marriage even though it’ll get in the way of him serving god to the best of his ability (1 Cor. 7:7-9).
Truth: This gives women the impression that they are more of a burden or hindrance than anything. Women have a lot to offer the world and are not simply an inconvenience that a man must suffer in order to get off from time to time.
10. If you really think about it, everything that is wrong with the world is because of women. If Eve hadn’t been deceived by the talking snake in the Garden of Eden then sin wouldn’t have entered the world and there would be no disease, pain, suffering, starving children, war or devastation of any kind. Women are weak vessels after all.
Truth: This is what it all boils down to. A woman caused the fall of mankind, therefore all women must be subservient to men and experience pain in childbirth as punishment for this fault. This is based on a mythical story told thousands of years ago that is completely based in fiction. Why is our culture still influenced by this ridiculous story in the 21st century?
These were the things I was taught growing up as a young woman and it greatly influenced the way I thought about myself, my body and my sexuality my whole life until I started questioning these concepts and my role as a woman in my mid-twenties. It all became much more clear when I became an atheist/humanist and embraced science, reason and rational thought over ancient ideology and cultural norms.
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Jenica Crail is a wife, mother, nursing and psychology student, and an atheist/humanist activist. She is also a passionate lover of learning, art, wine, dancing, conversation, relationships and deep thinking. She currently blogs at www.reallifebeyondfaith.com.