Let's Get rollin - this could take a while
So There I was
Preaching the Gospel in a Friends Church. It was the 1990’s I was still in my thirties. I loved preaching the Gospel. It was a beautiful spring morning, the house was full, the meeting felt gathered, the message I had brought come out smoothly. I was grateful for having been used. It was a good day.
After Worship an older lady took me aside.
“I really appreciated your message, Peggy. I really appreciate your ministry in general. But May I tell you something?”
“I only tell you this because I know you are a mature Christian and I know you can hear my heart in this.” (I have now learned that this is always your warning to escape)
“I know that you care about presenting God’s Truth. I know that you would not want anything to hinder your ministry. I know you would be open to ridding your ministry of any distractions.”
“Well, I guess I would. Are you aware of such a distraction?”
“Yes, honey. It’s how you present yourself, it’s how you look.”
“Really – I had no idea” I gazed down at myself. I was wearing sensible pumps, hose, and a business suit. It was robin’s egg blue, but it was exactly the style of suit that any lawyer would wear in court, or that I did in fact wear as a professional counselor.
“I think you may not be aware of what a distraction you are to the men sitting in the pews. Men have trouble with their thought-lives sometimes, and we women have to help them. It’s our job to not put a ‘stumbling block’ in front of them.”
“I’m a little confused.”
“Well, let me speak plainly then, I think your ministry would be greatly enhanced, if you would dress a little more modestly, less fashionably, gain a few pounds, and stop coloring your hair – maybe put it up. I think the men could receive your fine preaching much better if you changed the package a bit.”
I stood there in stunned silence. I think I may have actually thanked her for her input. I may have promised to take it under consideration.
It wasn’t the first time I had heard this theory, but it was certainly the most personal and blunt exposition I had encountered.
I was sure it was just a fluke, a left field thing. So I took it to my spiritual director -a very wise Quaker woman and minister. She disagreed about adding poundage, an obvious health issue, but acknowledged that we are to be thoughtful in how we present ourselves. She didn’t argue too hard against the point. She thought there was a core of truth in it. She did encourage me to “rise above” the critical, and to her thinking, possibly jealous presentation. Her nuanced, gentle and gracious response only modified the basic premise that it was my job to at least consider that my physical appearance might be a problem for someone else’s thought life, and that I might want to do something about it. I was flummoxed.
As I sat with the thing, and prayed about the thing, it didn’t get any better.
The first realization I came to was the obvious and screaming inequality of the thing. Never, in my decades in the church, had I ever heard a male minister criticized for simply looking too good. Male preachers obviously did better when they were physically attractive. My sense of justice objected. I just don’t like double standards.
But this observation did not seem to address the issue thoroughly. Something else still bothered me. I didn’t figure it out until a couple of years later, while taking some training in addictions recovery.
The problem is Co-Dependency.
Co-dependency is the flipside of addiction. They feed and fuel each other.
Co-dependency is defined like this. Somebody has a problem with their desire mechanism. But they can’t or won’t admit it. So someone else near to them, who doesn’t have the primary problem starts changing their behavior in order to make the problem or the consequences of the problem go away.
So say I like to get drunk. It causes me problems. But I don’t see it as a problem or I won’t do anything about it. You live with me. You see the problem clearly. But you can’t or won’t make me take responsibility for it. So you search out my hidden booze and pour it down the sink. I buy more booze. You call my boss and make excuses when I am late because my problem embarrasses you and threatens our livelihood. You yell at me a lot. But I do not change and say that your nagging ways drive me to drink. It gets worse
The real problem with co-dependency is that it does not work. It is completely ineffective. In fact it perpetuates the very behavior it chooses to address. This is what happens when the person with the power to change a behavior – the person doing the behavior – does not take responsibility for it. The person who is putting all the effort into the problem actually has no power to change the problem.
They will go crazy trying.
The answer is for the person with the problem to deal with the problem, and for everyone else to let them have their consequences, let them feel the discomfort until they want to do something about it. It is “Let go and let God”. This works.
If women cover in an attempt to ‘help’ men with their thought-life problem – willingly as in some churches, or unwillingly if you have the Taliban around – all it does is allow men to be lazy about self-regulation. And it won’t work. Because as we all know if you cover shoulders, arms become sexy. If you cover knees, ankles become very sexy. Sexy is in the brain of the beholder and that is where the change needs to take place.
Because actually, there is nothing wrong with sexy. All God’s creatures have it. Sexy only becomes a problem when it gets in the way of other things that God also made, Like you ability to listen.
Like your commitment to equality.
When sexy becomes so big in your brain that it crowds out those things then what you have is a problem with idolatry.
And nobody can fix that but you.
This reminds me of the judge who acquited a man of molesting a five year old girl, because "she had seduced him."
This is going to be one interesting topic.
Barbara C (who has seen a lot of gender inequality in my 61 years)
Let me see if I can get this straight: Men can wear anything they want, they are never objectified by their appearance:
Whereas a women is a lust-magnet, and has to dress and behave in a certain manner in order not to inflame the male libido:
That last picture is something you see a lot on the street in arab countries, the women all covered up, and the men just walking around in regular "guy" clothes.
There's something here I can't quite figure out. Maybe it's just me
I was discussing with a muslim why they felt it was necessary for the women to worship in the back.... uh, 'cause otherwise in kneeling and so forth on the prayer rugs, they would be presenting a distraction to the men. I, poor fool, asked if it didn't work the other way around under the present system. Oh well. We still have a long ways to go, don't we?
In His Lovee,
Thanks for the story, I agree with your point on co-dependancy all the way. And was shocked to hear you were in a business suit! haha, I've only seen you once and I'm pretty sure leather was involved? Imagine if she would visit FFC now?
This reminded me of a similar situation, but I was the one being reproofed. I never dress up, jeans, flip-flops, t-shirts, etc - I have a really hard time doing anything more than that (I has to do with my mom - she'd wear leather jeans to church and we were lucky if she put on shoes!).
Anyways, I was telling a Friends pastor in Ohio, that I wouldn't apply for a job at a church that asked me to dress a certain way, "if I can't show up and teach and preach like this, I'm not going to work there." He couldn't believe it, and we argued about this for what seemed like hours. Finally, he grabbed me, well my shirt, and said something to the fact that I was willing to be so proud to let this shirt stand in the way of the Gospel, etc blah blah blah - basically I've never been closer to coming to blows with someone in my life. I still get fired up just thinking about it.
This really is a fiery subject.
end of day 1
Hi all -
The midrash of this story includes the observation that I have never a man criticize me for the sin of looking the wrong way.
Over on Sarah's blog
she relates a on line "dressing down" that she received from "an older woman in the Lord"
I think it is really tragic that so many women have become collaborators in the abuse of other women.
Wess, Hope you are feeling less heat today. Still major hits I am sure.
I do not think that I wore leather at Quaker Heritage Days. It was too cold to bike the 700 miles.
If(when) you come to FFC you will still often find me in a very sensible dress, or jeans. Occasionally a little mood will take me, but my rep far exceeds my reach.
Hi Peggy,Post a Comment
My wife showed this blog to me and I recognized the subject as a related issue to a subject of much sacred work lately in the spiritual communities I participate in. This would be the expression of the masculine and feminine in sacred ways. I've noticed three levels to this subject represented by the dualities of female/male, woman/man and feminine/masculine. In reality all are intertwined and virtually inseperable in any general population. Yet on an individual level one can work through each duality and transform them into a wholeness. I had to search long and hard for models of the healthy expression gender, sexuality and partnership, even looking to other cultures and traditions. For where in Western Christianity are familiar models of these conditions that we can use in our ordinary lives? Where in society, in religious community, in school can one go to explore these fundamental questions of maturity? The inner strength, freedom and opportunity that comes from maturity with respect to these questions is huge. For me to be able to sit with a woman to whom I feel attraction (or not) and relate appropriately allows the interaction to move as led by Spirit. The feelings that arise I remain present to and neither deny nor indulge. Amazingly this allows passion to flow with balance, beauty and incredible power when the circumstances are right. In the living of ordinary life there is no end to distraction and finding Spirit (the still, small voice) in the midst of it all is what it means to me to be in the "kingdom of God" as Jesus spoke of in his parables. Thus, working with the questions of gender, sexuality and partnership has provided me with a doorway through which to come closer to the kingdom.