My dad was my bishop throughout high school. In the LDS church, if you committed “sexual transgression” you needed to meet with your male leader in order to reach the forgiveness of God. The church teaches that sexual “transgression” is the worst thing in god’s eyes next to murder, thus instilling a TON of guilt and the need to get rid of the guilt. Due to this I 100% suppressed my sexuality. I was terrified at the thought of having to talk, in detail, to my dad about my sex life in order to be forgiven. Does anyone want to go into detail about their sex life with their dad? For some reason, I do not feel like that is just me.
I ran from relationships and guys in order to protect my virtue because I was afraid of what I would do if I was too attracted to someone.
One time the leader above my dad, a man in his 60s, came up to me personally and told me that if I did not feel comfortable confessing my sexual sins to my dad that I could come to him instead. Because it is way less weird to sit in an enclosed room with an old man and give details on my sex life. The sad thing is that rather than it being weird to me that he low-key was asking me to tell him about my sex life, I was touched that this male leader went out of his way to ask me about it. Thanks for following up on my purity?
Starting at age 8, you regularly need to be interviewed in a closed room alone with a middle-aged man to determine your worthiness. I distinctly remember noticing the thickness of the door and how you cannot hear a single thing going on inside. At my work, every office that can potentially have students inside HAS to have a window for the safety of the girls and therapists. And to avoid being sued and shut down legally. But, if I am an 8-year-old girl with a 50-year-old man it is fine. Utah Jesus said so.
When my younger sister was about to turn thirteen I remember her saying how she did NOT want to have to meet with the bishop because that made her feel uncomfortable. I could visibly see her discomfort when she talked about how much she did not want to. She decided to do so anyway because she did not want to be left out of the activities you are not allowed to participate in if you do not have this meeting.
Before going on a mission you need to meet with your bishop (a man) and your stake president (another man) to determine your worthiness. The interview with my bishop was pretty chill, but the one with my stake president still haunts me to this day.
The interview ended up being an hour-long (legit, this is no exaggeration) with most of the questions regarding my sexual life. I told him that up until that point I had only had one boyfriend and we kissed, literally for a second or two each kiss, twice. He then proceeded to ask me if I have been touched inappropriately over my clothing. If I had been touched inappropriately under my clothing. If I had ever touched someone else inappropriately over their clothing. If I had ever touched someone inappropriately under their clothing. If I had ever had dry sex. If I had ever participated in homosexual relations. If I had ever masturbated. If I had ever touched myself inappropriately. If I had ever laid on top of a guy. If a guy had ever laid on top of me. If I had ever watched pornography. If I had ever had sex with an ANIMAL. If I had ever given oral sex. If I had ever received oral sex. If I had ever had sex. I know there were more questions due to the length of the interview, but this is all I can remember.
This, for obvious reasons, made me VERY uncomfortable. I was flushed in my face and sweat through the jacket I was wearing. He told me that he could tell I was uncomfortable and it seemed as though I had something I needed to confess (it honestly felt like he was trying to pry anything out of me). I told him no and that it made me feel guilty just talking about it, and he told me to be careful to distinguish between guilt and shame because guilt comes from god and shame comes from the devil. Alright.
I was given the message growing up that guys do not have self-control and if sexual sin is committed, it is the girl’s fault. I was given that message because that is what I was told, so it makes sense that is the messaging I got. I was also told specifically, multiple times, that I would be held accountable before God for every “unpure” thought that goes through a man’s mind due to what I was wearing. This was a very distressing thought to a person already struggling with body image issues. I developed a curvy body before most girls my age. Early development of boobs, hips, and a butt tends to have a negative impact on body image for girls in any culture. Now, picture a culture where one was taught curves make men lose control, and it would be my fault if what I was wearing made them do so. This caused me to mostly wear loose shirts so that my curves were not apparent. The shirts I wore were super unflattering and made me look like a blob, further contributing to the hatred towards my body. On top of that, no matter how tight or high up my shirts covered, if I bent over you could see some cleavage. This stressed me out and so I made an effort to not bend over in front of guys.
It was a common thing for me to be asked to cross my legs to be more ladylike. If I wanted to wear running shorts to a church activity I would be asked if I would feel comfortable if the prophet saw me. A prophet is an elderly man by the way. I was told over and over again to make sure I dressed modestly so I would not make grown men uncomfortable. How about instead we address why 50-year-old men in the church are getting off to 14-year-old girls wearing leggings?
One time the general young women’s president, Elaine Dalton, came and visited my town. She told a story about a time she walked into Costa Vida and saw a group of girls in short shorts and one in knee-length shorts. The group of girls got embarrassed when they saw her because of their “immodest” dress. The girl in the long shorts went and talked to Elaine about the pressure felt to wear short shorts because her friends do. Instead, she decided to choose to please god and wear long shorts. This was to remind us to “be a witness of god at all times and in all things and in all places” (we literally recited that phase every week in church. But it is still somehow my fault for being “too extreme” with the standards I held myself to in the church?). Talking about the shame girls felt for what they were wearing was supposed to help us feel motivated to always dress modestly. I guess you never know who is going to be judging you on your outward appearance. Let’s make sure to focus on attracting/impressing those people. Great messaging.
Here was a prominent woman in the church objectifying these teenage girls to a group of teenage girls struggling with identity and body image issues (most teenage girls do). She talked about how the girl in the long shorts “shone brighter” than the rest of them because of what she chose to wear. She saw a group of girls and judged them all as “not being righteous” due to wearing shorts. That was all that mattered to her, she had decided their worth after a quick glance at what they were wearing.
For those non-christian readers, Jesus literally hung out with harlots and was able to see their worth when they were shamed by everyone else. But those who claim to be christ-like do not have to?
Our worth is not in being women but in our relationship with men. In being daughters of a Heavenly Father (a man) and being a wife to our husbands (men). The young women’s theme that is recited each week in church starts with, “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us and we love him.” At the same conference, Elaine Dalton shared a video on the young women’s theme and asked people to come to talk about it. I went up and shared how lucky we are to know we are daughters of our Heavenly Father and how sad it must be for girls who do not know that. She gave me a hug and said, “I believe a virtuous woman can change the world, and believe me, you will.”
Once again, she taught me that my worth was outward. That my ability to do good and change the world was based on whether I had sex or not. That phrase haunted me until the day I left the church, who doesn’t want to change the world? And I was promised that if I remained pure I would be able to do so. If you want to know whether or not I have “lost my virtue” pay attention to whether I change the world or not.
In the LDS church, you are given a blessing that is basically like a fortune reading from an old man. Mine told me that if I remained pure I would be led to a worthy man to marry. The curriculum in the church for girls is centered around preparing us to be wives and mothers. That is what we are meant for so we started preparing at age 12. I was being told that my ability to find a good husband, the most important thing I could do in my life, was dependent on whether I stayed “pure” or not. So, you can also pay attention to the quality of my husband to know how pure I remained before marriage. Or if I even end up getting married.
This is not a conducive list, I am sure I will continue to talk about this subject as it comes up for me. If we are going to talk about the exploitation of women, this is a good place to start.
I am not going to apologize for sharing the times I was objectified in the church/culture I grew up in. Some people try differentiating between the two, but it is the same for me. Shouldn't the state with the church headquarters and the most church members be a good reflection of the culture of the church?
If my being open in sharing these experiences makes you upset, you have no place in my life. Words cannot express how harmful it is to be objectified your entire life and I am not going to comfort anyone contributing to or defending the objectification of women. If you really want to talk about the exploitation of women you should start by looking at how your culture portrays women.