Self Rules

I’m not sure exactly where I’m going with this blog site. I haven’t posted much over the last year, but that’s because I am a different person—in a sense—than I was in January 2014. I know I entitled this blog “Hope, Love, and Peace,” and I still believe in those qualities. But I also believe in authenticity, and I am more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever felt before. I want to blog more. You’re going to see a lot more of me—a lot more genuine me—probably a bit more edgy, and hopefully more inspiring. If you stick around, you might even witness me coming out some more. But you might not like it. I can’t help that last part.

Kate Schell recently published a long list of modesty “rules” that girls have to deal with, especially in religious fundamentalist families. These messages teach girls to be ashamed of their bodies, ashamed of being women, ashamed of themselves.

Her series is about messages that we send to girls. Unfortunately, boys encounter similar rules—not rules of modesty, but rules nonetheless. We all encounter messages from people who think they know who we are and who we should be. And when gentle persuasion fails to persuade us to comply with their dogmatic view of reality, they turn to judgmentalism and suppression, and push fear and shame. As self-aware adults, we know to push back. But as children, we internalize these messages as emotional triggers, and they may saddle us for the rest of our lives.

I’m going to spoil the suspense for you by quoting the end of Kate Schell’s list of rules for girls:

  • Be pretty, but not too pretty.
  • Dress attractively, but not to attract.
  • Be confident, but not sexy.
  • Be feminine in a specifically white, thin, Western, Victorian- or 1950s-inspired sort of way.
  • Treat your body like a temple, but don’t show it.
  • If your body shows, men will lust.
  • If your body shows, you disobey God and disrespect other people.
  • If your body shows, men might not be able to control themselves.
  • If your body shows, you get what you deserve.
  • Let your inner beauty shine.

That last one ought to be intoned with irony. But you have to realize that in extreme religious culture, it’s not. To many religious dogmatists, “God” really does “love” you, but only in the same way an abusive parent would, because cutting you down satisfies his lust to control you.

If my criticism sounds harsh, that’s because it is. That harshness is also well deserved.

By the way, the person who invented women’s jeans did the world a great service. Wear them genuinely, if that’s who you are.

I propose we stop teaching our kids to “behave” and “fit in.” I have an alternative list of rules:

Watch Brené Brown’s TEDx talk (to whom I owe a debt of gratitutude for a number of these lines).

Since my deconversion, I’ve begun to realize how deeply shame was part of who I was, how it controlled me, how it drove me to be afraid of myself and afraid of others. And I think I’ve begun to understand how my deconversion actually happened. It’s a long story. I believe that I learned to own my own shit— my feelings, my identity, even my psychological damage. And I saw that there is a way to authentically be. And I found people who would accept me and validate me, no judgmentalism, no shame. And when that happened, my escape from fundamentalism was guaranteed.

I’m still figuring out what it means not to believe in those messages anymore, but I know it feels good to be able to recognize myself feeling that inner shame, and to be able to tell myself:

(And yes, I really tell myself those things, all the time.)

To quote Erin Judge: “Figure out who you are, and stay true to it. Don’t try to change, and don’t try to change other people.”