How Growing Up Evangelical was like ‘Twilight’

I had my first piece, ”‘Twilight’ and Evangelical Christianity’s Eternal Girlhood,” published in The Huffington Post this week! Here is a teaser…

I see my teenage self in “Twilight.” I never fell in love with a vampire per se, but as an evangelical Christian teenager I was taught that all men were vampires of a sort — threatening and hungry — but that the right vampire would, like Bella’s Edward, protect me from himself.

Author Stephanie Meyer has said that her Mormon faith played a role in the creation of her characters, but I didn’t have to hear that to recognize in Twilight’s erotic mix of want and withholding the stuff of religious girls’ lives.

Perhaps I see myselfmost in Bella’s desperate desire not to grow up. Bella begs Edward to grant her eternal girlhood, making her a vampire before she turns 20. Likewise, my friends and I “girled” ourselves — giggling, pretending not to understand sexual references and more — in an attempt to avoid becoming the thing we most dreaded becoming: women.

Whereas good girls were prized in our community, women were often mistrusted. We were warned that if not careful women could be sexual temptations to men and boys, and the especially brazen ones might even try to take men’s rightful places of leadership. A friend of mine was once told she was getting dangerous close to this and could no longer lead her Bible study because her voice was too low. Good women in my community retained the qualities of little girls — sweetness, purity, receptivity and a certain degree of passivity. It was these qualities that allowed the adolescent mother of Jesus to be chosen by God. It was these qualities that gave her life purpose, that gave her life power. By the time the Virgin Mary grew up and demanded Jesus to turn water into wine at a wedding, even calm and patient Jesus was annoyed. Mary had become pushy, too bold for her own good. My evangelical friends and I were determined that these things would never happen to us.

But could we avoid it? we wondered. How could we-junior high girls growing breasts, teenagers picking up sass, and fully grown women who knew suffering and had developed a wisdom and confidence that made us feel like anything but kids-force our fleshy bodies into the shape of children?

The answer was: we couldn’t. Whereas Bella was successful in stopping time, my girlfriends and I failed. And the consequences of this failure lasted well into our adult lives.

I was 21 when a college performance poetry professor played me a recording of my voice, demanding to know why I spoke in such a squeak when my singing voice implied that my true vocal register was actually much lower. (In fact, she was right, though it took me many more years to come into my authentic voice.) I was 25 when an evangelical friend and I went to a fairy festival wearing homemade wings and discovered that we were the only adults there without a child. And I was 26 when I quit my job at a library in Montana after having left the evangelical community and returned to my Midwestern hometown, driven by my desire to know how many of the young women I grew up with were struggling with issues of sex, sexuality and gender the way I was.

I spent the following year sitting in coffee shops, bars and living rooms interviewing evangelical and ex-evangelical women in their 20s, all of whom had grown up in my own church. The next year, I moved to New York City and performed two more years of interviews with evangelical and ex-evangelical women from various backgrounds. Among the many issues that came to light was the recurring issue of eternal girlhood.

One of my friends and interviewees, a 28-year old woman, told a story of being at a Christian conference when she realized what her future would be were she not to address her own girling. My friend sat down at a workshop beside a woman in her 50s, who was wearing sparkly red slippers. Throughout the workshop, the woman kicked her feet out from under her chair and asked the group if they agreed with her that her shoes were just the sweetest, cutest, prettiest little princess shoes they’d ever seen. Every time she kicked out her feet and again asked the question, my friend said she felt like throwing up. Then she remembered: Just a couple of months earlier, we were at the fairy festival. She gulped.

This may seem relatively innocuous. Harmless even. Who cares if there are a few girly women out there? What am I, afraid of the color pink?

My concern is not about girliness. My concern is what happens when this girliness cannot be turned off, when a desire to avoid womanhood overwhelms an individual and seeps into her life in ways she is not even aware of, and sometimes cannot escape.

Within today’s overall culture of eternal youth — with its proliferation of anti-aging products, Cover Girls, Hooters Girls, and even knee-scraped roller derby girls — the way in which girling plays out in religious communities is unique. Sexualizing secular girling sometimes verges on performance; girlhood can be put on and then taken off. Whereas de-sexualizing religious girling goes deep. Real deep. Girls are told that if they become the wrong kind of woman not only will their eternal life be threatened, but the eternal lives of men and boys who trip over them on their path to God will be at risk. (For this reason, women and girls in my church were often called “stumbling blocks,” a term that makes me shudder to this day.)

But we are set up to fail. We can’t actually remain girls forever. So we develop into women, and hate ourselves for it. Read more on The Huffington Post….

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4 Responses to How Growing Up Evangelical was like ‘Twilight’

  1. gary matthews says:

    Linda,
    What a great article. As always your voice is loud, clear, and strong. You know, you and I have had this discussion about being evangelical. I still consider myself to be evangelical, in the most basic sense–here’s the good news sense. I feel that your writing rips evangelism from the tyranny of masculine oppression, and reestablishes it in its natural setting–good news and nothing more, yet so much more. Your decentered/true centered world view is a much more comfortable place to live. Thanks for being a guide; a Zarathustra claiming hypocrisy in the name of God is dead.

  2. christen says:

    I have been thinking about this post for awhile turning over in my head what you said and how true it is for girls in my religion too. Catholicism. We are taught many of the same things and I see it played out by so many girls that I went to school with. So many are marrying young while they are still girls. We are taught differently then boys also. We are taught to be pure and holy while I rarely heard the same message being taught to boys. What I always find amusing is that the girls that were so set on being pure and holy are the ones that are now pregnant or having babies out of wedlock because they did not understand how they were not girls anymore. The religions are similar in that it’s the same message just preached a different way.

    • Linda says:

      Thank you for this message Christen! I agree with you: Though it plays out differently in various religions, I see shades of eternal girlhood in almost all of our major religious traditions. Sigh. There is much work to be done….

  3. Tremendous things here. I’m very happy to peer your post. Thank you so much and I am taking a look ahead to contact you. Will you please drop me a mail?

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