The short version of the story was that Janice told us about the apple tree and about all the apples on the lower branches that had been handled and bruised, but that when a young man was going to choose the apple to keep that he was going to climb to the top of the tree to choose one of the untouched apples.
(Yes, this is an actual story from my adolescent days.)
And I remember leaving that meeting being really, REALLY angry.
I didn't have words to articulate why what they were teaching us was wrong but at the core of my being I knew that it was.
Tonight on Facebook, I read two stories from Christian bloggers relaying this similar idea. One talked about the letter that used to get posted at her Christian university each spring warning young women how to dress so as not to incite lust. Another was a Christian blogger, who blogged why she was no longer going to wear leggings so as "not to cause others to stumble."
I am happy to say that now that I am no longer fourteen, I actually have much better words to be articulate on the subject.
1. There is an assumption that guys have bigger more uncontrollable sex drives than girls do. This is a cultural myth. Girls get turned on. Girls like being desired. And while yes, most porn is aimed at men as consumers it is women who star in it. The billion dollar sex industry aimed at women is in sex-fantasy romance novels. Yet there is no way for women to even have this conversation in a Christian circle with guys without one just shaking his head as if women don't understand. (No, buddy. You don't understand. Just because a girl doesn't want to sleep with you doesn't mean they aren't incredibly interested in sex.)
2. The way we think (and talk) about people matters. I was at a Bunco game one night where I heard the phrase "I'd do him" more often than I could possibly count. The way we talk about people--even sort of "fantasy people" like celebrities--matters. People are not for our mental consumption. It messes something up in us when we view them that way. And yet, there is this incredible tolerance for it--not just in the media but in daily conversation.
3. There is no equality as long as women are viewed as "bad" or "dangerous." Many churches have rules about men and women being alone together. (Honestly, I had no idea about this until this year when I was told that I may not be able to pick up a man from an airport to take him to a Christian conference.) First of all in the corporate world, this rule would never fly. You couldn't get any work done. Gender is not part of the equation. The challenge in religious culture is that the minute it becomes a rule, then men and women working together becomes "bad" or "improper" and just the fact that we view it that way communicates either that "men will be overcome by lust" or that the woman did something wrong, and both ideas take it out of the realm of being responsible for our own sexuality and shift it to someone else's.
4. Both men and women buy into the "boys will be boys" myth. A girl who owns her sexuality is a slut, yet a man is 'macho.' Who the hell came up with that? I'm pretty sure it wasn't a woman and the fact that there is any remnant of that in any conversation anywhere is just wrong.
5. Our sexuality matters. Sex is awesome. (Like, really, really, really, really times infinity.) It is also a driver for us. (Marketers capitalize on this all the time.) It's the reason there are boundaries on it. Affairs, pornography addictions, ignoring our sexual selves totally....all of that is damaging in ways that we know about because it happens all around us. And maybe that is why the topic of sex gets distorted. Sex is powerful. No. Let me rephrase that, sex is power. Unscrupulous people use it as leverage all the time. But shifting responsibility for maintaining those boundaries or not misusing that power doesn't get to be assigned by gender. That assignment is at the heart of what is wrong.
We are sexual beings responsible for how we use our sexuality. And quite frankly, it isn't even that complicated. It's about honor and respect and an overwhelming protection of the "other" that you engage with. And that is equal.