Since time immemorial, the burden of men’s misbehavior has always been put on women and the church itself has helped enable the raising of men who never take responsibility for their actions. A pure example is the biblical story of Dinah who was “defiled” which is what we hear instead of “Shechem raped Dinah.”
Such stories reinforce the belief system that the honor of a woman lies in her vagina, and any engagement in pre-marital sex, forced or not, makes her worth become next to nothing.This story also goes on to talk about how Shechem hated Dinah once he raped her, emphasizing the fact that she had become worthless to Shechem and the world at large. Purity culture like rape culture, has never been about sex, rather, it is about the control of women’s bodies.
Too early, I recognised that there was a problem with the world and the way girls were raised. I saw the problem in my own home, my church and my society, and at an early age, I would ask myself why virginity was taught to girls and not men too. I would ask myself why my dressing was policed, and men’s were not. I found the explanation given as excuses for men raping people, “men are moved by what they see” a tad too stupid for my liking, because I also get turned on by the bare broad chest of a man, the depth of their voice, but I don’t go off raping every man who “moves” me. We do women a great disservice when women are taught to value chastity of their bodies and men are not taught the same for their own bodies, because then, you create an imbalance in the society.
There are so many things wrong with purity culture, and for the most part, it puts a young lady who wants to devote her life to God in a confused state for a myriad of reasons. Purity culture tells girls they are supposed to dress a certain way, all covered up, because their dressing can cause a man to stumble in lust, hence when a church leader assaults a girl, we assume she must have dressed in a way to “lure” him to sin.
It tells girls that the only thing that makes them worth being respected is their virginity and so when a woman is raped, mundane questions like, “was she a virgin?” are asked. It enables a culture where girls are told that women don’t need or don’t enjoy sex as much as men, even though it has been scientifically proven that the clitoris has more nerve endings than the penis. Purity culture witholds sex education from girls because it is trying to preserve their “purity” and so, they grow up not knowing the meaning of consent.
In so many ways these teachings by purity culture enable rape culture inadvertently. A culture which teaches you to dress a certain way to prevent men from raping you is rape culture. A culture which tells you to avoid certain places so that men don’t rape or harrass you is rape culture. A culture which tells you that you should bring yourself low so that a man can find you desirable enough to treat you with bare minimum respect is rape culture.
The culture that tells you that virginity is something you give your husband is rape culture and propagates the idea that sex is something that takes from you! By teaching girls that men are the gatekeepers of our sexuality, we enable marital rape. We enable people to think, “Why should a woman refuse her husband sex?” or “Can your husband who paid your dowry, rape you?” or, “Why should your husband request for what is rightfully his?”
In recent times, more incidences of sexual assault and harrassment in the church have come to light. Many of which the church itself tried to sweep under the carpet. The reason is not far-fetched. Many people in churches today still believe that a woman who was sexually harassed brought it upon herself, either by the way she dressed, or the way she carried herself or, for just plain existing, again, we have purity culture to blame here.
An example of this is Biodun Fatoyinbo who has allegedly harassed a number of women in his church in his time as pastor. However, men like him who are the sexual offenders are soon looked upon as the victims, and you hear stupid defences like, “you know he is just a man,” or “he is first a man before he is a Man of God.” However, I beg to differ.
Consider that you were in a flight and the pilot came on to announce that he is first a man before he is a pilot and so should not be held accountable for anything that happens in flight. How would you react? However, that is not so, because his training as a pilot calls him to a higher purpose of taking you to your destination safely. This is why air crashes are investigated to ensure that pilots are not falling back on their jobs. So also the calling of a man of God which is to a higher purpose of leading your faith and so, he should never be excused for such behavior that falls short of his call especially with behaviors bordering on sexual harrassment and rape.
Stories like this give credence to hot blooded young and sexually hungry pastors and ministers today to travel in the tracks of such leaders like Biodun who still has a thriving ministry, as they know that purity culture would always trace the blame back to the women. And, once that happens, they only need to suspend themselves for a minute or two and their members would sympathize with “what pastor is going through”, “the trials and tribulations of pastor.” An example of this is Ayo Ajani of Petra Christian Centre who was called out recently on social media for the harassment of several women in his church.
While I understand that purity is a fundamental part of the church, there needs to be changes to the way it is preached and this cannot happen without the church being involved, bearing in mind that the times and culture in which the Bible was written has changed. By all means be chaste or celibate or whatever rocks your boat. But the reasons behind such decisions should be questioned deeply.
Girls need to know that they can be celibate for a myriad of reasons from, because they want to focus on building their life, to because they want to strenghten their relationship with God, and not because virginity is something they want to “give” their husband, or because “virginity” is something that makes them superior to other women who are not virgins.
I understand that it is hard to go against purity culture especially if you are an ardent follower of the church. Many times, it is much easier to bend, but we owe ourselves the duty of fighting back every time. We need to ask ourselves what kind of world we intend to leave behind for our own children. We did not inherit our mother’s silence, and so our children must not inherit our own inaction.
The YNaija #RapeCulture Special Series will run from September 15th to September 30th. Visit YNaija.com/Specials to catch up on all essays and excerpts from our Instagram interviews.