My Mother Told Me Not To Pick You, You Dirty Dish Rag You

Lori Frostad’s Dirty Dish Rag

Lancaster Baptist Church’s Pastor Paul Chappell laments that women do not aspire to “purity” before marriage and instead walk down the isle “like a filthy dish rag.” So I suspect that by purity Chappell means virginity, and by filthy dish rag he means not virginal. But why the euphemisms? Is sex, like Lord Voldemort, so bad that we cannot speak its name?

Evidently sex is unspeakable, at least when women do it. I can’t find an objective antonym for virginal. There’s unchaste and stained but both of these suggest fault if not ruin. Experienced is as allusive as Chappell’s language. Even the dictionary.com I usually like tells me that an appropriate antonym for virginal is evil.

In his sermon, Chappell boasts of his church’s rule that women wear at least knee-length dresses so that church-attending men can attain “wonderful grace and Jesus.” Like contemporary culture at large (don’t believe my sweeping claim here? ask Rehtaeh Parsons‘s family) Chappell blames women for men’s thoughts. He blames women for temptation and sin.

How are we still doing that? I thought we’d long pardoned Eve. Didn’t the Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo? In his now legendary Sistine Chapel ceiling, Adam reaches for the fruit, too. See?

Michelangelo Sistine Chapel Eve Adam

History certainly suggests men reach for the proverbial fruit. How many wars have men made? How many executions? tortures? shootings? rapes? But when men fall prey, call temptation what it is: power or wealth or knowledge or fame or thrill. Don’t call it a woman in a short skirt.

Maybe Chappell missed Michelangelo’s ceiling. Maybe he missed the Renaissance. Or, like Martin Luther, maybe he didn’t want to look.

But our voyeuristic culture loves to look. And then blame our distractions and actions on the women we’re looking at. Because she asked for it.

We begin the sexist cultural training early. School dress codes more often target girls than boys, again, for others’ reactions to them. Like when authorities assume that while boys wear tank tops because they want to, girls wear tank tops to distract boys from their educations. So when a girl wears a tank top, she’s in violation of the code. Here, to attempt equality is to challenge a social norm. And in calling girls obstacles to boys’ higher pursuits, school dress codes take us right back to Chappell’s sermon.

Of course Chappell appears extremist when he hangs the salvation or damnation of men’s souls on women’s skirt hems. But what’s not so comic is that he’s part of a larger trend that blames women for men’s thoughts, and shames women for men’s actions. And so, the thinking goes, to save our men – to save us all! – our women must be “pure.”

While I doubt my virginity could have saved anyone’s soul, I’m convinced that this purity myth might damn us all. Tennessee’s made recent headlines with our regressive state constitutional Amendment One and its potential to wreck our women’s privacy, independence, and equality. But we’re just one of the first states to fall. Or one of the more obviously fallen.

The war on women isn’t limited to the south or to Baptist churches. The war on women isn’t coming. Look closely. It’s already here.

Your filthy dish rag,

At Love and Biscuits Blog

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