It was a hot midwest summer in July and I was getting to go to summer camp! I had been a part of the bible program called AWANA since birth (literally went as a two year old, it was called bunnies, but it was just bible childcare).
I had to memorize all of my verses for that year. At that age it was one or two per week. I was 11.
My mom had taken me shopping to buy clothes for camp, with a list of what I could and could not wear. The list had pictures of stick figure boys and girls. There were about two for boys and like 6 for the girls. This included a specific measurement for how long our shorts had to be. Fuck.
If you know me in person you know I am six fucking feet tall, and by age 11 I was creeping up on 5’9”. The measurement for how long our shorts had to be was related to where our fingertips fell by our sides.
First of all I just want to laugh about the absurdity of this. The point of the “modesty” aspect of purity culture was to prevent men (just men lol) from lusting after us. Again, I'm fucking 11, and also, what is the difference in a few inches if someone sees me and wants to think about fucking me, do you really think that how much leg I am showing is going to make a difference? Sexuality is completely subjective (specific to each individual), and it's hugely related to hormones and chemistry when people are in proximity. So, again, fuck.
Anyway, My mom took me to the thrift store and I was really excited to be getting new clothes to go to this new camp and make new friends!!! (I was homeschooled until High school, so I was super into meeting new people, still am.)
My mom wanted to follow the rules, but to her credit she was lenient on the fingertips, by an inch. You see, I also have markers for Marfan syndrome, which means my arms are longer than normal. My mom was being reasonable and thinking that an inch wouldn’t be a huge deal on a few pairs of shorts.
My mom had this fantastically her phrase where she would say “if anybody is looking that closely at you, smack em.” and I love her for it.
I really loved camp. I arrived with all the hopeful enthusiasm of a midwestern kid who had never been on such a grand adventure.
The camp was in southern Missouri.
There were hay wagon rides through cornfields where we watched the fireflies light up the sunset while eating ice cream. It lit my heart on fire for nature and the wild.
One afternoon I was sitting on the side of a hill with my new BFF and my AWANA leader from home came over to me. (I knew instinctively that she didn’t like me, but was not allowed to admit that to myself). She said in a military like fashion “STAND UP.” so I did. She said “PUT YOUR FINGERTIPS BY YOUR SIDES.” “YOUR SHORTS ARE TOO SHORT. GO CHANGE.”
I remember my face turning bright red at all of this attention on my legs. She followed me back to my cabin and watched me change. Let me say that again. SHE WATCHED ME CHANGE. “To make sure I would pick something appropriate.” I picked pants, because fuck her, and said with utmost sass “Are these long enough?” she said “Are you getting an attitude with me??!” and I quickly melted and said “no.”
But I kept the pants and went and sat back with my friend and died inside, unable to cry. My friend bought me ice cream like the goddess she was and we avoided her the rest of the week.
I could say this woman was just trying to enforce the rules but we all know that's bullshit. A one inch difference on an 11 years olds shorts is not just following the rules, it’s a fucking power trip (it's an enactment of her trauma). It’s supremacy in action. She was a woman beat down by the patriarchy and then took her anger and power tripping out on me.
She did this over and over for 3 years because I saw her weekly at our hometown AWANA. She tormented me. With bible memorization (which increased each year with the amount that was expected) she would not let me pass if I got a single word wrong, even if it meant the same thing either way. The people who worked over her praised her zealous approach. She wanted to honor the “inherent word of god.”
I am not a technical person. I see things in the broader sense, in ideas, and in systems. I do not do technical detail. So this was hellish for me.
This is problematic for so many reasons, but what I want to focus on here is the fact that within that system she was simultaneously causing harm and lording power over younger girls and being supported in doing so. Her harmful behavior in many areas was supported fully by evangelicalism. This type of power over and harassment was just a part of things. A part of the “good work” of “breaking me” so that I could be a better “servant” to god.
If you were a part of a system like evangelicalism you know all too well what I am talking about. The system is meant to “break you” of yourself so that you can become “nothing” and let god be “everything.”
If you have left, like me, you know there is so much to heal and undo, and restore when it comes to your original wild and beautiful self. There was never anything wrong with you. There was never anything wrong with me.
Our work now is to find our wildish nature again, to find the girl that was wounded and broken, and tell her she is good, and okay, and fine, just as she is.
Want to know a secret? The things you were punished for in an oppressive culture are your greatest strengths. Seriously. Look back at what you were repeatedly punished for. Was it your voice? Were you always talking with your friends? Your power is in your voice.
Was it your questions? Your gift is your wisdom, and insight. Look back and observe yourself with new eyes. With eyes that see you as a good kid, trying to do good. Assign a positive agenda to your sweet little growing self and see what your gifts are.
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