God made girls
Ashton Weber | Tuesday, March 16, 2021
Last month, my TikTok page started to fill up with videos set to RaeLynn’s 2014 hit song “God Made Girls.” The song, which I loved in my early teens but hadn’t heard in years, brought a long-repressed memory with it.
It was my freshman year of high school and the principal asked my friends and me to prepare some sort of entertainment for the Mother’s Day brunch. We had been in “model training” for the past year because we were going to be in a Pure Fashion show in the spring. We thought it would be the perfect opportunity to practice our modeling skills, so we decided to entertain our moms with a mini “modest fashion” show. At the time, there were 15 people in our high school, so we were all allowed to go to prom. As freshmen, this was an incredibly exciting privilege, so it was imperative that our prom dresses be included in the show. We paired ourselves off with the boys and strutted down the makeshift runway in our auditorium as “God Made Girls” blasted through the speakers.
The song — which features lyrics like “Somebody’s gotta wear a pretty skirt, somebody’s gotta be the one to flirt, somebody’s gotta wanna hold his hand, so God made girls” — felt perfectly emblematic of the womanhood that we were taught. What is a woman if not beautiful, approachable and entirely dedicated to the happiness of men?
We had no way of knowing. In eighth grade at our K-12 school, the girls-only religion class was all about modesty. We watched a video about the evils of the bikini and a few videos from a former model who became a chastity speaker. We answered questions like “If Jenna wears a short skirt and Brad goes too far with her, whose fault is it?” and talked about why Brad and Jenna were both in sin but how Jenna could’ve done a better job of not tempting Brad. Our teacher frequently told us that, as women, it was our job to be “pursued.” We could be flirtatious in an innocent way, but we should maintain a proper level of “mystery” in the relationship. The pursuit was not to be completed until we had secured wedding rings on our fingers. Until then, we should fix our eyes on Jesus and allow ourselves to be “held by him.”
In contrast, I’ve been told the boys spent a lot of time talking about football.
My experience is part of a phenomenon called “purity culture” which is incredibly common among the religious right in the U.S. In my Catholic school, we used resources like the Chastity Project to learn an extreme form of abstinence. We were to avoid all forms of sexual contact, from passionate kissing to PIV intercourse, until marriage. We often listened to chastity speakers, adults who had “gone too far” in their teen years and became so overwhelmed by the guilt that they dedicated their lives to preventing teens from making the same “mistakes.”
The Chastity Project’s website is filled with the toxic rhetoric that we were spoon-fed. It consists of the personal reflections of Jason Evert, a 46-year-old queerphobic Catholic man who is a full-time chastity educator. Throughout the site, Evert claims that men are inherently more interested in sex than women, so women should do everything in their power to lead men away from sin. Evert advises young women, “The best approach is to make your intentions for purity clear, and make sure that your words, your actions, and your outfits convey the same message. Also consider this: Lots of guys will date a flirt, but who wants to marry one? … A girl is much more attractive if she does not flutter around trying to get attention.”
The obsession with female modesty was overwhelming. As I mentioned earlier, I was part of a program called Pure Fashion, which re-emphasized the Chastity Project’s unfortunate ideology about women. It seems that the program has since been discontinued because its website is no longer on the internet but fear not… I found it on the internet archives. At Pure Fashion, we learned that the way we dress dictates the amount of respect we deserve and we were given a set of fashion rules to follow if we wanted to dress in a “God-honoring” way. Then, we put on a fashion show for our families and other young girls in the community and tried to “set a good example” of how to dress modestly.
At the time, I didn’t realize how harmful the practices of purity culture were, but they worked in such a way that faith became intensely entwined with sexuality. It wasn’t until this year, when I saw an Instagram post from one of my former classmates, that I realized what purity culture did: It encouraged us to pivot our sexual desires and impulses towards religion, to the point where many of us began to sexualize God.
I know that sounds bizarre, but stick with me for a minute… The post I’m referring to had language about being “held by Jesus” and “touched by him” and “filled by his love.” One slide of the post included a picture of Flynn Rider from “Tangled” doing his iconic “smolder” into Rapunzel’s eyes. In the caption section, the person who posted it noted that this is the way Jesus looks at us because he is so madly in love with and obsessed with us.
I showed the post to my friends, my girlfriend and my sister and I asked if they thought it was weirdly romantic. They all responded with shocked yeses. I then started to think about the kinds of retreats I went on — as part of the Pure Fashion program and also as part of the high school theology curriculum — and I reflected on the way that we, as women, were taught to be. In “falling in love” with Jesus, we were supposed to become infatuated with his word (which religious leadership controlled our access to) and to accept his teachings (their teachings) as infallible.
In denying that teenage girls are sexual beings who have important questions about their bodies, their relationships and lives, and instead teaching us that men are the only ones who have sexual agency, these programs were grooming us to be dutiful wives and mothers, the kind of women who would someday send our daughters to a modest fashion show. As I’ve written before, many parts of Catholic doctrine are about control and power, but this special emphasis on controlling women’s bodies and minds creates shame, which (in my experience) does more to hinder a relationship with God than it helps to foster one.
Instead of focusing on how men can benefit from the way God made girls, let’s re-center the conversation on women’s unique experiences of the cisheteropatriarchal world and truly embrace the way God made girls.
Ashton Weber is a junior with lots of opinions. She is majoring in gender studies and economics with a minor in sociology. Ashton can often be found with her nose in a book, but if you want to chat about intersectional feminism, baking blueberry scones, growing ZZ plants or anything else, she’d love to hear from you. Reach Ashton at [email protected] or @awebz01 on Twitter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.