Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free

Inside the purity culture, girls and women are not only responsible for their own sexual thoughts and actions but also those of the boys and men around them says Linda Kay Klein, author of Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free (Touchstone 2018 $26).

Linda Kay Klein Author Photo by Jami Saunders Photography            “Because women are seen as the keepers of sexual purity which is a necessary part of their living out their faith, when men or boys have lustful thoughts about them, then it’s about what they were wearing, were they flirting,” says Klein, who grew up in the evangelical movement in the 1990s before breaking free. “It creates a tremendous amount of anxiety because your purity is assessed by others around you. It makes you worry about when you’re going to fall off the cliff and no longer be considered pure and no longer part of the community.”

But if being non-sexual before marriage is of utmost importance, afterwards the onus is on the woman to be extremely sexual, able to meet all their husband’s needs lest he cheat—which of course would be her  fault.

“Zero to 100 is extremely difficult,” says Klein, noting it’s better to ease into sexual experience. “I interviewed women who didn’t know what sex was and suddenly they’re expected to be a sexual satisfier.”

As far as sexual abuse, well, if girls and women were just pure, that sort of thing wouldn’t happen.

Klein was in her 20s when she left the evangelical church. The impetus was in part when she learned her pastor had been convicted of child enticement with intent to have sexual contact with a 12-year-old girl who was under his pastoral care. She was a senior in high school and as awful as it was to learn that, it was even more devastating when she discovered the pastor had been let go from two other evangelical institutions after he confessed to committing the same acts.  But her evangelical upbringing still bound her.

“I thought I would be free,” says Klein who during her teenage years was so obsessed with staying pure that she took pregnancy tests even though she was a virgin and resisted asking for help when dealing with what would later be diagnoses with Crohn’s Disease because she wanted to prove she was a woman of the spirit and not of the flesh. “But I wasn’t able to escape them, they were me.”

At least at first.

Writing her book, which took 12 years, was cathartic for Klein who interviewed many evangelical women and likening the fear and angst they experienced as similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Noting there’s a dominant gender teaching in the evangelical church—as well as many other churches, Klein says that patriarchy hurts both men and women except those at the top of the hierarchy.  There is also something else off putting about the purity culture and that is the profit motive in the development of products.

“The people on the ground are believers,” she says.

Others make money off of purity rings which can range in price from around $10 to $600 or more, abstinence education, Christian purity parties, father-daughter purity balls and clothing including t-shirts reading “Modest is Hottest.”

“Over the course of time I did a lot of healing through my research for the book,” says Klein, who. “There have been phases in this journey. I’ve been angry, but keeping my focus on healing, knowing I’m not alone—I think there’s something powerful that happens.”

Ifyougo:

What: Author Conversation: Linda Kay Klein & Deborah Jian Lee

When: November 7 at 7 p.m.

Where: Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL

Cost: Free

FYI: 773.769.9299; womenandchildrenfirst.com

 

 

 

Cecile Richards: “Make Trouble”

“How much time do you have?” Cecile Richards laughs when I ask how her mother, the late Ann Richards and the first woman governor of Texas, influenced her.

“She taught me so much,” continues Richards, the outgoing president of Planned Parenthood who will be in Chicago next week to talk about her new book, Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead — My Life Story (Touchstone, 2018; $27). “There were the practical lessons, like never wear patterns on TV, or before you name your child, think about how it will look on a bumper sticker. And then there were the life lessons I think about constantly: People don’t do things for your reasons, they do things for their reasons. You only get one life, and this is it – there are no second chances, and no do-overs. And most of all, that there is no higher calling or better way to spend your time than public service and making people’s lives better.”Cecile Richards portrait

Richards recalls how, when eight months pregnant with twins and campaigning for her mother, she had to figure out what to wear to such events as the Luling Watermelon Thump parade and how  despite all polls to contrary, Ann Richards won the governor’s race. All of these experiences developed in Richards a resiliency and an ability to persevere no matter what.

“To me, that’s one of the ultimate lessons for activists today: Never let practicality stand in the way of doing the impossible,” says Richards. “Whenever you’re working for social change, there are going to be people who disagree with what you’re doing. If there aren’t, you probably need to set your sights higher. Anything worth doing has its challenges, and I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to be able to choose to do the work I do.”

Calling herself a troublemaker, she encourages others to take that role as well.

“Activism and working for social justice are not a chore – they’re fun, inspiring, powerful, and introduce you to people who will change your life and change the world,” says Richards.

She’s also excited that there are currently 35,000 women in America running for office.

“They’re not waiting for permission or an invitation,” she says. “They’re looking around at the people – especially the men – who are supposed to represent them and thinking, ‘I could do better than that.’ Women are leading the resistance, and that is one of the most hopeful, encouraging signs I’ve seen in my life. The number of people in this country who believe politicians should be able to interfere in women’s personal health decisions, who want to go back to the days when women didn’t have the opportunities they do today – that’s a small iceberg, and it’s floating out to sea.”

Ifyougo:

What: David Axelrod, Chief Strategist for Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns and current Director of University of Chicago Institute of Politics and a Senior Political Commentator @CNN, will be in conversation with Cecile Richards:

When: Saturday, April 14 at 4pm

Where: Nicholas Senn High School, 5900 N. Glenwood Avenue, Chicago, IL

FYI: Tickets are for sale by Women & Children’s First and can be ordered at brownpapertickets.com/event/3335756. The price includes a pre-signed copy of the book.

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