Sex and Seminary

I decided to do something bold tonight and attend class in a formal dress, high heels, with make-up on and hair curled. I was curious to see what kind of response I would get, because my usual attire is frumpy, non-gender-specific clothing (sweatshirt, T-shirt, jeans, sneakers). I was surprised to discover that the men of my cohort were very intentional about NOT reacting to my new look. Even my male seminary friends outside of my cohort had to be prompted before they would talk about it. I asked some of the older men why this was… why say nothing, why avert your eyes, why pretend that I wasn’t dressed up at all instead of complimenting me or at least acknowledging that I looked different? He replied that it was fear—fear of being misinterpreted and then accused of harassment, fear that I would take it as condescension and be offended. While this makes sense to me on one level, could it really be so after three years of classes together? Are they afraid of me as a woman? Really? That saddens me. I would have hoped that we would be beyond such surface tensions by now.

Then again, perhaps they aren’t the only ones feeling some fear. I present myself in a certain way to this group, every single week. While I do not do it entirely consciously, my habitual appearance is decidedly un-feminine. I cloak and cover all the parts of my body that could be construed as sexual… large shirts that hide my chest, long shirts that cover my hips, low heels that do not accentuate my legs, no make-up, my hair often uncombed and thrown together haphazardly (some of this is due to my day-job as mommy of preschoolers, but I don’t think that’s all of it). Not conscious, but very interesting… am I trying to pretend I am not a woman? Being a woman in this setting is clearly difficult. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t… sometimes I forget I am when we’re in the midst of an intense discussion (I’m just one of the guys, right?).

One of my cohort-mates remarked on the sexier outfit I brought with me but did not wear: “What is that doing in your closet, Kris Anne?” He was half-kidding, I know, but it was an honest question. In our Christian sub-culture, there are definite rules about what is and is not appropriate for women to wear. This is not often discussed, however, except in the homes of adolescent girls as parents forbid certain items of clothing to be worn outside the house. And the reasons given? It’s immodest, too revealing, too distracting to the men and boys. There’s a definite air of shame around these conversations, even as the poor girl is just beginning to get used to her womanly figure. She hasn’t even had time to appreciate its beauty, and she’s being told that it’s only there to be covered properly.

I am certainly not one to argue against modesty or privacy. And I do understand that men are visual creatures; I would never want to knowingly manipulate their thoughts in a sexual manner. I would never want my daughter to place so much value on her body and its sexuality that she places her self-worth in how men respond to it, and then does everything she can to attract attention to it. She has a powerful mind and spirit and so much to offer this world, apart from her sexuality! I hope I raise her to appreciate all of who she is and treat all parts with respect and care. That said, I am concerned about the sense of shame we place on young girls and the way we label their bodies.

I wonder about the sense of shame I carry into seminary every night. Why do I hide who I am? I’m accepted more easily by myself and my brothers when my femininity is thoroughly covered and hidden away. It’s termed a distraction when it’s highlighted or accented. The very fact that my brothers were afraid to talk to me about the way I appeared tonight reveals the Christian label we place on women’s bodies: DANGER. Is that a burden I should rightly bear; is it my problem to manage? Or does the real problem lay elsewhere, since according to scripture, my female body bears the image of Almighty God and is named “good” by God Himself?

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mike
    Mar 12, 2009 @ 00:14:10

    I have, as you know, often wondered at the fact that one of the prime reasons for excluding women from ministerial leadership (apart from some interpretations of scripture that seem to preclude it) is the very fact that men — used specifically in the sense of adult, male humans — are, in fact, exceptionally visual creatures, and tend to have the attention span of a fruit fly when presented, in a visual sight-line, with a(n attractive) woman’s body. Some have even gone so far as to speculate that this weakness in the male was the basis of (what they interpret as) the Biblical injunction.

    Let me just be clear in paraphrasing that: Men are weak, so women must be made weaker.

    Seriously?

    Remember, my dear friend, that what you have written here of your daughter is also true of her mother, and of a great many Godly women in the world. I share your hope, for your precious little girl, and I extend it to you, that the Church becomes more and more a place where it is possible for all, men and women alike, to love and serve God in the whole of being: heart, mind, soul, and strength (or emotion, intellect, spirit, and body).

    Reply

  2. Jamie
    Mar 12, 2009 @ 15:35:12

    Interesting Post, Kris Anne! It is one of those interesting things — sex and sexuality and how it mixes with faith, is it not? As you said so well, is the point of the woman’s body merely to have it covered correctly, or is our sexuality a gift from God (not to be flaunted).

    Either way, food for thought — and thanks for the entry,

    j (who is too hurried at work to write a proper response!)

    Reply

  3. Aunt Pam
    Mar 12, 2009 @ 19:45:18

    Good thoughts flowing htere, Kris Anne. This has been a tension in our home as well since all the females in this house have been involved in worship leading (being up front) and none of us like to dress big and floppy. It has always been a particular thorn in the flesh for the eldest daughter who is curvacious and very womanly. It saddens me when certain men say they cannot worship when such a woman is leading (then close your eyes for heaven’s sake!!) We have worked at modesty and yet encourage them to embrace who they are as women. Something that now some foftheir friends are trying to figure out how to do since they have hidden behind looser, masculine attire and now wish to rediscover their feminine side. However, as long as we live in a fallen world I think femininity and worship will always be a tension.

    Reply

  4. tim
    Mar 13, 2009 @ 11:33:37

    Interesting post, I’m going to have to do some thinking and try to word things properly. I hope to post soon. But you looked great and I respect your intentionality.

    Reply

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