True Love Waits. Photo courtesy Starla E. Rose via Flickr Creative Commons

'Frozen,' evangelical purity culture, and what it's like being a girl

Disney Frozen DVD case. Photo courtesy Vongerlachter via Flickr Creative Commons.

Disney Frozen DVD case. Photo courtesy Vongerlachter via Flickr Creative Commons.

A friend recently posted some thoughts on Facebook on the movie ‘Frozen’ and the way it critiques the well-worn “love at first sight” trope that’s part of many other Disney movies:

“If a lonely, love-starved girl [see, for example, Tangled] has been sheltered in a castle her whole life, she might become more vulnerable to smooth-talking Prince Charmings ready to help her escape.”

The psychological set-up of earlier Disney princesses might parallel evangelical purity culture in some significant ways, he suggested, referencing a journal article dealing with clergy sexual misconduct.

As Samantha Nelson told me in a 2012 interview, clergy sexual misconduct is often described -- even by the women themselves -- as an “affair” with their pastor, rabbi, or priest. Even those who have been victims of sexual abuse often fail to see the ways in which the clergyperson abused his power in order to get sex.

And so they blame themselves.

My friend (and many of those who commented) reflected upon the stories of sexual misconduct emerging recently from fundamentalist Christianity -- most notably, perhaps, the case of Bill Gothard, who has been teaching reprehensible things in the name of Jesus for decades but has finally been discredited after numerous stories of his sexual abuse of young women have come to light.

It is hard not to think that there is a causative relationship between Gothard (and Gothard-esque) teaching and sexual abuse, particularly of women and girls.

Purity culture teaches unquestioning submission to authority -- and authority figures are almost invariably male.

Purity culture teaches that a person who has had sexual contact outside of heterosexual marriage is tainted (pre-chewed gum, a cup of soda that a group of people have spit in, and other inappropriate youth group metaphors.)

Purity culture very often -- not always -- loads responsibility onto women and girls for maintaining purity. It is their responsibility not to “make a brother stumble” by dressing “provocatively.”

True Love Waits. Photo courtesy Starla E. Rose via Flickr Creative Commons

True Love Waits. Photo courtesy Starla E. Rose via Flickr Creative Commons

(I once heard a young man ask his girlfriend to put on something besides the baggy flannel pajama pants she wore because they were “causing him to stumble.” Apparently the ease with which they might be pulled down was the stumbling block. Okay.)

And the narrative of purity culture -- not unlike the narrative of many, many Disney princesses -- implicitly and sometimes explicitly promises that passive virtue will exert a sort of magnetic pull on worthy young men, who will come flocking to her father for permission to ‘court’ her.

That Prince Charming’s intentions may be less than honorable is sometimes discussed, yes, but generally speaking, within the discourse of purity culture, young men are raised to be “pillars” and “leaders” and taught to avoid the deceptive wiles of licentious women who might lead them astray.

Another person -- a man -- commented on my friend’s Facebook post to insist that a “modesty/purity culture” in no way “sets women up to be vulnerable to sexual predators.”

His words startled me, not least because they seemed to ignore the patent evidence to the contrary (see again: Bill Gothard’s “ministry”) but also because they reminded me once again that the experience of women and girls growing up in purity culture is, I think, partly inaccessible to men.

Men, if anything, are empowered by that particular discourse. They, after all, are the ones with the active role to play. It’s through them that God (invariably imagined as exclusively and wholly male) exercises proper authority over the family, which is always “God’s chosen instrument” for working in the world.

I have no doubt that purity culture is harmful to men, I’m only suggesting that it might be impossible for a man ever to understand a woman’s experience of that same culture: that growing up female and fundamentalist is an experience inaccessible to anyone who hasn’t lived it.

What do you think?