Feminism

on how wearing pants didn’t turn me into a hooker

The first time I ever bought myself a pair of jeans is a vivid memory, complete with distinct recollections of every pair of jeans I tried on (six different stores, a grand total of twenty-one jeans). You might think this is odd. How old was I, twelve?

I was twenty.

I wore pants when I was a kid, up until I was nine. I was a military brat, and it never occurred to me to think of pants as I would later come to view them– as immodest, as unfeminine, as wordly, and frankly, when hip-huggers + thongs became a popular thing when I was teenager, as slutty. Interestingly enough, when I was eight and a Sparky in AWANAS, my mother mandated that I must wear pants to the activities, since we played active, flamboyant games and she’d caught a seven-year-old boy peeking up the girls’ skirts.

But, when I was nine, we moved to northwest Florida, to a town that was roughly twenty minutes away from the Alabama border, and we started attending an Independent Fundamental, hellfire-and-brimstone-preaching Baptist Church (IFB). And there went my pants. Mom didn’t even bother to donate them to the rescue mission. She cut them up and Dad used them for rags.

So, as a sophomore in college, I hadn’t worn pants in eleven years– certainly not after I’d sprouted “child-bearing” hips and an ass when I was fourteen. However, my family had finally left the IFB church and been excommunicated and shunned, and we were doing all kinds of crazy things like going to movie theaters and exercising in public. My mother even (gasp) cut her hair. One of my best friends decided it was high time that I own a pair of jeans.

To the mall we went.

We went to JCPenney’s first, back when they were uncool, and my friend outright forbade me from buying mom-jeans. But how, I thought glumly to myself, am I going to find jeans that are modest?

She dragged me, forcibly, to Aeropostale, the sluttiest of slutty teen stores at our mall. At least, in my opinion. At the time. I had no idea that things like the Body Shop, Wet Seal, and 5-7-9 existed. The day I determined to buy a “little black dress” and I went into a Body Shop is a whole ‘nother tale.  She threw me into a changing booth with a pair of jeans and told me to put them on.

Five minutes later, I still hadn’t emerged from the changing room.

“Well?” Her tone was bordering on the impatient.

“I can’t come out!”

“Why the hell not?” (My friend had a ‘potty mouth.’ It was invigorating.)

I practically whimpered. “You can see my butt.”

She laughed. Uproariously. “I think that’s kinda the point, dearie.” (My friend also had pet names for me.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I eventually bought a size-too-large pair of boyfriend-style jeans from the GAP. Now, five years later, I’m a jeans-and-hoodie girl. I even bought skinny jeans… last year. Took me a while to catch on to the whole “pants are not the devil” idea.

What took me almost just as long to realize is that the over-emphasis on modesty is a (one of many) false-front on a huge ideological problem: that women are nothing more than sexual objects. It’s laughable to me that the IFB movement spends so much time preaching against the over-sexualization of our girls when the very same preachers are guilty of the exact same crime against “womanhood” and “femininity.” I once heard a preacher claim  that wearing any item of clothing with a zipper in the front was immodest. Bizarrely, he said that a woman placing anything in front of her ahem “maidenly parts” called a man’s attention to her hoo-ha.

Because we all know that a woman’s ankles will force a man to lust after her in his heart, after all. Men have no self-control whatsoever, no sir. They see a collarbone and tip over from all the blood in their head rushing away. Women must guard men’s minds, you see. They’re base animals, nothing more than horndogs.

Which begs an interesting question… if men are all incapable of acting responsibly, why do they spend so much time talking about vaginas in church?

Photo by Francisco Osorio
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  • During our sojourn in the Christian Patriarchy Movement, my younger sister tried doing the whole “skirts only” thing. My brother and I informed her in no uncertain terms that we would not take her out with us on active events (hiking, soccer, basketball) if she didn’t wear pants. (And, to their credit, my parents didn’t object.)

    My wife, on the other hand, had an experience pretty much like yours. When we started dating (yes, dating – I’m a rebel), I insisted that she find a pair of jeans. And then shorts. Before long, she began to see the way that clothes are used to enforce gender roles, and I am happy to say that she has completely rejected that whole paradigm.

  • I absolutely LOVE your blog!!! Having no idea what body type you have, I’ll ask a question – have you ever noticed that the bigger a girl (not even necessarily talking weight here, even just curves), the more pressure she gets to “be modest” and cover everything loosely? I tell ya, I get pretty darn upset when some woman at church comes up to me (this hasn’t happened since switching churches, thank God) and tells me I need to put on a jacket or wrap one around my waist because she can see my bra strap or my pants are too tight – which would be bad enough if she was not herself wearing skin tight clothing, but conveniently happens to be about half my clothing size. Or the lady who told me when I was 15 that I was dressed immodestly because my shirt was too tight across my chest – I was wearing a turtleneck sweater that was unflatteringly loose around my belly and waist, but tight across my GOD GIVEN large chest. Or a woman I know who’s husband told her he was having trouble with his lustful thoughts after seeing me in leggings and an oversized tee shirt doing laundry – I didn’t have a bra on (only owned one, had to wash it sometime, ya’ll), and apparently that fact (which frankly, no one would have been able to tell unless they were staring raptly at my chest) overshadowed the fact that I hadn’t showered in 3 days and looked downright bedraggled and icky (sorry, new mom of a 4 month old at the time). I mean COME ON!!! And this guy’s a pastor! If unbathed badly dressed ol’ me got him hot and bothered,what do Sunday mornings before a congregation of attractive washed ladies do to him? And he’s a nice guy – a good husband and a kind father. I just don’t get it! Unless my theory is right – we place so much emphasis on feminine modesty that we completely ignore any masculine responsibility. Whatever happened to “take every thought captive to the glory of God”?

    • You are absolutely, 100% right about this. I’ve always been fairly slender- but I inherited a gigantic butt from my mother. It’s huge, proportionally. And I’ve always had to do my dead level best to hide it. I spent my entire teenage years clenching my cheeks so they wouldn’t jiggle so much when I walked. I doubled up on control top panty house and spanx underneath everything I wore (we hysterically referred to these as “bloomers” no joke). I was morbidly conscious of it everywhere I went, certain it was causing men to fantasize about me. I constantly had men feeling like it was totally inside of their right to comment on it- like my genetics were somehow put on this planet to plague them personally.

      It’s disgusting, because the modesty culture basically gives men the “right” to do whatever they want with women’s bodies- talk about them, think about them… Rape them- she was dressing immodestly, she deserved it.

      Infuriates me.

  • Rebecca

    I grew up in a religious community where women were not allowed to wear trousers or jeans, cut their hair or use make up. I left and moved into the “outside world” at 28. I found employment in an office where I was the only woman wearing a skirt. I gradually felt like the odd one out and at 30 started to consider wearing trousers for the first time.

    I really felt nervous and self conscious looking at trousers and it took a lot of courage to try a pair on. I was surprised at how comfortable they were. It really felt odd to find my legs encased in material and I just wore them around the house at first. I kept looking in the mirror to check if it was really me!

    When I wore them to work nobody took any notice at how differently I was dressed. I expected some comments like “look at Rebecca – she’s wearing trousers!” I have since bought several more pairs and wear trousers regularly

  • I wear pants all the time and if anybody tell I can’t I will tell them to get the fuck out of my face if you don’t I will let you have it across the face

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  • Lis

    “Which begs an interesting question… if men are all incapable of acting responsibly, why do they spend so much time talking about vaginas in church?” – And I know it’s been said before, but every time I hear something like this, it makes me think, ” If men are all incapable of acting responsibly and are all helpless horndogs held completely captive by their man-bits, HOW IN THE HECK are they capable of leading anything or anyone in any capacity??? Isn’t someone who’s basically an immature, undisciplined, irresponsible raging hormone robot the LAST person who should be leading, protecting, and providing?
    It’s a complete and utter logic fail that no one (including myself for many years) embedded in fundamentalist culture seems to be able to acknowledge.

    • Lis, I’ve been saying this for years! I didn’t grow up fundamentalist, but I grew up in the 90s when it was The Thing to embrace modesty, wait until your married, blah blah blah. It dawned on me, after I got married, and listened to girlfriends who did belong to modesty promoting churches talk about being modest for their husbands and submissive and giving in because he just can’t control himself…I thought ridiculous. How is it possible that this person – the Head of your house, your faith, the maker of all decisions – is in charge of everything, but ultimately will rape you because you’re showing a little leg or shoulder?