An Unwanted Conversation
Recently, our daughter had a question for my wife:
“Mom, when will I be allowed to dress sexy?”
It’s a devastating question. Because little girls shouldn’t want to dress “sexy.” Heck, because little girls shouldn’t even know the word “sexy.” And, most of all, because our daughter is so young.
In fact, she just turned 9.
As it turned out, our little girl has no idea of what dressing sexy actually means. For her “sexy” is more of a synonym for “grown up.” You see, in her mind, she’s ready for the earrings, the heels, the straps and the skirts. She wants to look like the girls she sees on TV.
And, for the most part, the girls on TV dress to impress the boys on TV.
In her article “A Grown-Up, Not Sexed-Up, View of Womanhood,” writer Tish Harrison Warren explores the question of whether the church can provide an alternative paradigm to the one that suggests that female adulthood is equated with romantic or sexual availability.
Clarifying the dominant cultural model of womanhood she writes, “In order to be seen as an empowered adult in our contemporary society, we can’t just be mature sexual beings; we must be sexually available. As females, we often demonstrate adulthood by using our sexuality in ways that invite, in fact that practically beg for, the male gaze. It is a sort of post-sexual revolution version of the debutante coming out.”
As I said in a recent post on “Mileygate,” “for the most part, in Tertullian’s reductionistic world, when it comes to sexuality men are there to be serviced. It’s our privilege.” It’s tragic, and, too often, so is the church’s response.
Warren’s diagnosis reads as follows: “The church…must offer another way to attest to our adult womanhood. If we do not, when we encourage young women to remain chaste and value modesty, it will inadvertently be a message of juvenilization–to remain good “little girls.” In order for celibate adults to be acknowledged as adults in evangelical churches, our understanding of adulthood needs to be clarified and decoupled from sexual activity or marital status.”
Simply put, the church right now has no category for unmarried women who are too old for youth groups. After all, not every women will one day be married; as my friend Steph helpfully noted this week, it’s more of an “if” than a “when.” So what’s the alternative?!?
Warren sees a confirmation rite as one way to celebrate a girl’s transition to womanhood. She writes, “Unlike baptism, confirmation is not a sacrament and does not have the theological import thereof. But if we want our young women to feel valued, welcomed into adulthood, and affirmed as strong, independent women without having to reject modesty and chastity or twerk with Robin Thicke, then we need meaningful, communal rites of passage. Maybe celebrating confirmation like we mean it is a step in that direction.”
In the end, I’m not sure if some sort of initiation rite will suffice. We need wholesale culture change.
We need the kind of change that tells women and girls that their identity is in Jesus, not in men and boys. We need the kind of change that affirms women of all ages for who they are, not who they could someday become. We need the kind of change that empowers women and girls with a vision for who they can become in Jesus’ church.
Closer to home, most of all, we need God’s grace to parent our kids the best that we can.
My 7-year-old daughter just decided she wants to be Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” for Halloween. I did a quick Google search for a Dorothy costume and half of the images were of “adult” costumes so low-cut, short, and revealing that I didn’t even want her to see the pictures. What is it about our society that says even a woman’s Halloween costume has to be “sexy?” I would love for my daughter to have a “grown-up, not sexed-up, view of womanhood” but quite often it feels like a losing battle.