I spent my teenage years immersed in purity culture, in both evangelical and fundamentalist Christian circles.
If you were homeschooled, went to youth group, or wore a purity ring, you know what I’m talking about. Purity culture was an ideology, a movement complete with books like Dannah Gresh’s Secret Keeper and single women’s retreats.
One of my conservative Muslim Facebook friends often posts religious memes or quotes from the Quran. This week, he shared a few that seemed oddly familiar.
Here they are, along with their Christian duplicates.
1. You will only find a partner as you grow closer to God.
Purity culture (almost) guaranteed that we’d find The One, if we obeyed the rules. Following the formula would bring you closer to God and, by default, closer to The One.
Eric and Leslie Ludy, authors of When God Writes your Love Story, said, “Girls, if you will learn to wait patiently and confidently for God to bring a Christlike man into your life, you will not be disappointed. And guys, learn to treat women like the Perfect Gentleman, Jesus Christ, If you do, you will not only be promoted out of “jerkhood,” but you will then be worthy of a beautiful princess of purity who is saving herself just for you.”
Apparently Islamic teachings are nearly identical, except you may be waiting for The One[s].
2. Wives should obey and submit to their husbands.
In this view, men and women are equally valuable, but serve different roles. Men are the leaders and women are their helpmeets. Any attempt to live outside of these scripted roles will result in a failed marriage.
The most spiritual women, according to this teaching, submit to their husbands and obey them even when they disagree.
3. Men who respect women will marry them.
Purity culture teaches that sex outside of marriage is disrespectful to the other person and stealing intimacy from their future spouses. A sexually active woman is used and no longer desirable, like damaged merchandise.
Again, this idea isn’t unique to evangelical Christianity.
4. Specific instructions on what clothing is pleasing / displeasing to God.
The more covered, the better.
Long sleeves, long skirts to demonstrate that we’re women, and you better not show your midriff or have a neckline. In fact, it’s better if you avoid any clothing even suggesting curves. Shirts with V-necks are sketchy even if it doesn’t show cleavage, turtlenecks are safest. The goal is to become the least likely woman to make your brother in Christ stumble.
These ideas aren’t unique or special.
Conservative Muslims say the exact same thing. Purity culture isn’t exclusive to Christianity. We don’t have the inside track to something fabulous if we follow these teachings, it’s not a magical life hack formula that will fix everything broken in our lives. It’s more likely that we’re supporting an oppressive patriarchal system, but that’s a story for another day.
Most of this isn’t even in the Bible. Jesus doesn’t love you more if you wear the right clothing. I believe he lets you make your own damn choices.
Purity culture won’t make you a better person. It might just give you a superiority complex.