Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lenten Project: Day Seven

I was a rebellious kid, so defined because I secretly listened to country music (I thought it was heavy metal), enjoyed CCM, and wore jeans a couple times before my parents decreed them not to be sinful after all. Oh, and I went to a couple movies in the cinema.

I dressed the part. Sneakers instead of ladylike sandals.  Vests over longsleeved shirts or tshirts instead of blouses or dresses. I wore as short of a skirt hem as I could get away with (so, about to the middle of my knee).  I wore "cool shades."  I tried to be grunge.

This was not an easy outfit to wear in 95 degree Caribbean weather!

If these rebellious behaviours sound unrebellious to you, you've got to understand, to a patriarchal, Fundamentalist father, image is everything.  Especially as all eyes were supposedly on us since we were missionaries, the highest of God's spiritual callings.

We kids dressed modestly because that was the way to "bring glory to God."  And modesty was defined very strictly.  We read books about it, heard sermons about it, lectured one another about it, all for the glory of God.

Thank God this book has gone out of print.
Once, as an 11 year old, I asked my mother while were shopping at the flea market in Miami, "Mom, can I have pants?"

She looked at me with disapproval. "We don't wear pants."  Not five steps away stood her own mother, who had driven and accompanied us.  She was wearing pants.

So the message was clear: we were better, more holy than anyone else, even our own grandmother, because we adhered to stricter standards of modesty.

When our clothes didn't come from the missionary barrel or Goodwill, we handmade them.  Long dresses and culottes were the fashions we displayed.  We usually ended up looking like homeless persons, but the goal was to be identified as godly.

Bob Jones University visit, 1998
While on a solo visit to my grandparents when I was a teen, I bought myself a pair of ill-fitting jeans.  (I also bought a Barbie, since I'd never been allowed to own one.  I didn't realise that normal teenage girls don't buy or actually play with Barbies.)  Upon going home to Grenada after my visit, I hid my contraband carefully in my luggage.  It was still found and tsked over during the public unpacking of the bags.  I wasn't made to throw away my things, but I wasn't allowed to wear those jeans either, or openly play with the Barbies.  Eventually, the shame and guilt got to be too heavy, and I repented, packed up my rebellious items, and burned them in the metal trash bin in the backyard.  My reformed behaviour didn't last long, and I fell right back into my sinful, immodest, rebellious ways.

I'm the one in black culottes, with brown shoes, cool shades, and messy hair.
Dad's modesty rules had biblical basis, of course, just like every other law he preached and taught to us.  We girls were not allowed to wear "men's clothing," because the Bible said that was an abomination.  And the whole skirt-must-cover-knees thing was based on a verse about Old Testament priests' garments.  Our modest outfits reflected our respect and honour of our father, our ruler and head of the family.  Of course, if we ever wore any immodest garment, like a sleeveless blouse, we would be causing the men around us to sin because they would have no other choice but to lust.  (I remember one reason given for the old no-pants-on-women rule at Bob Jones University was that it protected us girls from getting raped while off campus.  Think about that one for a moment.  Wouldn't it be easier to rape a girl wearing a skirt??)  Therefore, the only way to protect ourselves was to dress like hobos.

In 1998, we attended the Quinceanera party of a girl from our home church.  We didn't own anything fancy enough to wear (homeschoolers don't get prom or school dances), so our mom took us to Goodwill, where we three eldest girls picked out what we imagined were fashionable gowns.  Only when we got to the party and saw what everybody else was wearing (normal late 90's party attire) did we realise how uneducated and naive we were.  It was not a fun realisation.

We honestly had no idea we were at least 10 years out of date because our mother said we looked amazing!
But when we moved from Grenada to Singapore, we suddenly were allowed to wear pants.  At first, it was just the billowy pants in the punjabis or salwar suits we started wearing (and I still wear them to this day, because they're so comfortable and pretty).

Then we gradually started wearing pants, and then jeans.  Our parents said we were allowed now because of Chinese culture (pants are considered very modest, and whores are known to prefer dresses, according to our dad).  But those Bible verses the previous family modesty rules had been based on didn't just cease to exist.  It never made complete sense to me why we rejected Scripture in order to conform to culture.  Southeastern Asian culture is okay, but American culture is not?  The double standard (and change in standards without apology or explanation) left me questioning the validity of Fundamentalist teaching once again.