The Day I Wore Yoga Pants Out of Spite

Yesterday I read a blog post called, The Day I Wore Yoga Pants, from a woman who talked about her boyfriend’s objection to her wearing her workout pants in public. Wearing these pants has consequences, she argued. Namely, they make men lust unnecessarily, and are a genuine burden for Christian men who shouldn’t be subject to “myths” like, “it’s his job not to look,” and “lust is his problem.”

It made me so mad that I wore yoga pants today out of spite. (Look, I’ve never been great at rebellion, ok? In high school I was friends with my teachers. Some of them still write on my Facebook wall, and I love it, ok? Give me a break.) I realize that this is pretty childish, but it’s my own little uprising. That and these words.

Here’s what bugs me about that post: it perpetuates the idea that women are responsible for how men (or other women–another thing that bugs me is that LGBTQ Christians are left out of the conversation here entirely) look at and think about them. We are responsible for someone else’s thoughts, which is just a quick hop to the left from saying we are responsible for the actions those thoughts lead to. It’s the kind of thinking that leads people to ask what survivors of rape and sexual assault were wearing.

Last year I worked in a church where a local domestic violence shelter sent speakers to talk to the youth group about boundaries and healthy relationships, and the presenter did a great job of engaging both the boys and the girls around this topic. He tried to make it clear that boys and girls are both getting some messed up messages from society (boys should be players, boys will be boys, girls should be sweet and modest, blah blah blah), but they both have the ability to make other choices. He talked to them about making sure both people are comfortable with anything and everything that happens in a relationship and encouraged boys not to push boundaries instead of just telling girls, “Listen, the guys are gonna push because they’re guys. Girls, it’s your job to say no.” It was incredible. I was so happy the kids were getting such a well-rounded message. Afterwards parents and even one of the male counselors complained to the youth director that the presenter “picked on the boys.” Being held accountable for their own behavior was seen as being picked on. Interesting.

I think this happens because boys and girls get very different messages about sex and their bodies from a very young age. We’re conditioned to look at them differently, but we never really explore why that is and how that plays out in relationships.

A few weeks ago my boyfriend and a female friend of his and I were chatting after dinner about gender norms and some of the messages we got growing up (I know, we are some wild and crazy kids).

“Yeah,” she said, “like the whole gift thing.”

“Exactly!” I said.

“What?” Matthew asked.

“You know, our virginity is a gift that belongs to our future husband, and we’re not allowed to give it away to anyone else before we get married,” we explained. “And if we do, we have to apologize to him because we took something from him. That is if anyone will still marry us. Because everyone wants to get married, and of course every woman is going to marry a man” we added sarcastically.

“Are you serious? I have never heard this before.”

gift

This woman and I  had met once before and grown up in different cities, but we had somehow managed to hear the exact same message over and over again from church leaders, camp counselors, teachers, friends’ parents, the retired sex ed teacher they brought in to talk to the girls in 9th grade–everywhere. They all followed the same script. Meanwhile, my boyfriend and I went to the same youth group, and no one ever once told him his virginity was a gift tied to his self worth. No one told him his body belonged to his future wife and that he would have a lot to overcome with her if he gave it away to someone else before their wedding night, assuming he could find a woman understanding enough to take him in his now damaged state. He was told something along the lines of, “Sex is great, but don’t do it before you’re married.” And that was it.

Do you realize what a heavy burden this gap in understanding puts on women? Sex is already more of a risk for women physically–an unexpected pregnancy can be a challenge for both people, but women are the ones who will physically carry a child (and the social stigma associated with being an “unwed mother”) around with them everywhere they go for nine months. I know that many men do happily and lovingly take responsibility for their families, but some don’t. And ultimately, they don’t have to in the way that women do. If they don’t want anyone to know about their child, no one will. If they don’t want to have a child, they can walk away.

With this gap already so wide, we have no business teaching our children such vastly different messages that widen it. We tell our little guys that sex is a no-no for abstract reasons about purity, but if they slip up, it’s no big deal. After all, guys will be guys. We give them an out for their behavior because girls will pick up the slack. We tell our little girls that sex is sacred and tied to their self worth and to “lose it” would be shameful and terrible. We tell them that boys will be boys but good girls have to say no, giving them the responsibility for both their own behavior and boys’. They are to protect both their “treasure” (or gift, or flower, or other patronizing euphemism of your choice) and their Christian brothers’ purity. And failure to do that would fundamentally damage them for the rest of their lives, physically and emotionally and spiritually. After premarital sex, boys are just boys and girls are damaged.

I know this is not what we want them to hear, but loves, this is what we are telling them, loud and clear, whether we mean to or not.

kids holding hands

That’s a lot to get from a blog post on yoga pants, but these conversations about modesty that place the burden for lust on women point to a bigger problem in the way we talk about sex and our bodies in the Christian community–at least the Christian communities I’m familiar with.

So how do we change that? For starters, I think we should consider having some of these conversations with boys and girls together. We should have a chance to compare notes early and figure out where these gaps are so we don’t wait until an off-handed comment between 24-year-olds reveals how very differently men and women are taught to think and speak about this topic in the Church. We should also invite our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who are usually excluded or ignored in these conversations up to the mic to share what all these messages have meant for them in their lives. Basically, I think a little honesty and transparency could go along way here. It’s gonna be messy and awkward, but that’s what family is, right? Personally, I think if the Church isn’t messy, we’re probably not doing it right.

What do you think? What messages have you received about sex and your body from Christian communities? Have they been helpful or hurtful? Have you seen this done really well–if so, can you teach me how please?

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8 thoughts on “The Day I Wore Yoga Pants Out of Spite

  1. Anonymous says:

    The reason for not wearing said yoga pants in public is not because men are placed inside some sort of privilege, but because women are placed in this privilege. The relationship market is a market for sex, whether your morals say so or not. Biologically speaking, women are first and foremost the suppliers of sex, whereas men have to compete for the women. Having sex and producing offspring requires the man to be the “Alpha male”, so to speak, thus the men are forced into conflict of interest in the relationship market, with the females being the merchants supplying the sex. Therefore, women already hold this advantage. Men desire sex and women can supply it. However, like any market, there is a cost. Men provide for the women and the women in turn provide sex. The entire argument of men being taught they are incapable of being responsible, while well-thought-out, is flawed. Women ought to be able to preserve themselves. Women hold the key to metaphorical paradise, not men. While men ought to restrain themselves, as taught by the public, women are portrayed in public media as having their own sexual desires and as being independent of men. And yes, both statements, at least in modern times, are very much true. But it is the independent woman that flaunts her sexual desires that tempt men. Modern politics apply feminism to law and, at least up until now, the system itself is proven ineffective. Women are claiming rape after drunken sex and men are thus arrested for false charges, the jury confronted with a crying, hysterical woman. With this understanding of male fear of dominant woman, and of the value of the female body, it is now possible to understand the male hatred of a woman partner’s wearing yoga pants in public. If males are vastly more attracted to a female wearing tight pants (biologically speaking, this is the case), a female wearing such pants would attract more males than a female not wearing these pants. Males, in desiring to be the only dominant partner to their female (both for the sex market and modern morality), would protest against their female attracting unneeded attention from the opposite gender. Refusing to accept this boundary would appear to the male as a female’s inability for commitment. Likewise, other males would see the female wearing the yoga pants as a woman attempted to attract attention, a suitable response from a sex-driven culture. This attention given by these competing males adds pressure to the dominant partner of the female, thus creates unnecessary conflict. So in conclusion, it is the female’s choice to wear attracting clothes. If she does, however, be prepared for emotional conflict that arise from natural instincts.

  2. suchpoeticjustice says:

    Anonymous, thank you for your comment—you’re the first one! I can tell that you have put a lot of thought into this, and I appreciate that, but I think we’re looking at this from totally different perspectives. Reducing both men and women to their sex organs and assuming that everything they do is driven entirely by sex leaves out a huge part of the human experience. Relationships are about so much more than biology, and assuming that people are only ever capable of acting based on sexual urges (which is the argument you seem to be making) strikes me as just another way to “teach men that they are incapable of being responsible.” In my post I’m not trying to argue that women can do whatever they want and men just have to deal with it. I’m arguing that we should get conversations about sex and our bodies out of gender silos and create dialogue between both groups with the same messages. The ultimate goal here is that the playing field would be evened out enough so that men and women can relate to each other as equals and make decisions about their sexual lives from positions of equal power. As it is right now, that’s just not the case.

    And I’m not sure where you are getting your information about rape, but I would like to clarify a couple things. False reporting of sexual assault is negligible; in fact, most men and women who do experience sexual assault (usually by male perpetrators, though, less frequently women do commit sexual assault, too) never officially report it, likely in part because they are afraid of the kinds of accusations you are making here. Of those who do report the crime, only about 3% ever see their rapist convicted and sentenced to even a single day in prison. This website has more info on that if you’re interested: http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates. With those facts in mind, the argument that women are somehow privileged by current sexual assault laws and in terms of sexual politics and relationships more broadly just doesn’t hold water.

  3. Eric Jones says:

    I agree with your points of reform for the ways we go about teaching sex to both boys and girls. However, in arguing “We are responsible for someone else’s thoughts, which is just a quick hop to the left from saying we are responsible for the actions those thoughts lead to”, though this can be seen as a valid view, from a Christian standpoint it can be said that your actions can lead to the demise of others. As said in 1 Corinthians 8:9 “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”, so as a Christian woman, not wearing yoga pants can be seen as not being a stumbling block to your fellow Christian male. This is what I’d see as a Christian apologetic for your way of thinking. With this being said, the Christian male also needs to learn self control within himself as well if a woman decides to wear yoga pants, for Galatians 5:24 says “You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires.”. Just to shed a Christian viewpoint on this matter 🙂

  4. Anonymous says:

    I, a 24 year old woman, do not wear yoga pants in public for several reasons. I have deep respect for my own body, dignity, and sexuality – yet I am not only a sexual creature. In fact, that is only one part of my identity as a human. I do not wear clothing that clings tightly to something (my legs and butt) that is highly sexually appealing to men because I do not want men to look at me in a sexual way, and I value myself as more than a sexual being and desire not to portray myself in that way.

    This is when my response makes a very important note: the most holy of men cannot change the fact that they are attracted to a woman’s legs, butt, and breasts. If these things are displayed for public view, it is simply ignorant to state that a man–however holy–will not feel extremely tempted to look. I know this from numerous conversations with young guys that try every day to respect women and not look at them in their physicality, yet find it the highest mountain to climb in today’s culture of spandex and v-necks. My second biggest reason, then, for not wearing yoga pants is to encourage these men in their quest to see women for their whole selves and avoid the temptation of viewing them sexually. Of course, a man can look at a butt and avoid sexual thoughts – but truly, why would we do this to a guy? We as women cannot begin to understand this struggle, even cross, they carry.

    While I’ve surely not given a perfect response, I think that wearing something out of spite to say to men, “see, I can do whatever I want and you can just deal with the temptation” is not what I feel called to do as a Christian woman (I understand you are not saying you are doing this, but many women think this way). I absolutely agree that the message to men and women must be equalized – a man’s sexuality is just as precious and valuable as a woman’s, and they should be told so!

  5. Henry says:

    I think the biggest flaw here is in the author’s delivery of a very pertinent topic to discuss. The heart of this matter is that the conversation about sex and sexuality is drastically different between men and women (or more particularly boys and girls). This schism between the two camps helps explain a very widespread occurrence that the author touches on extensively. However, it is a conversation that you can divorce from yoga pants, or telling women they shouldn’t wear this, or they should feel free to wear that. The Islamic faith takes that idea to its completion, with full coverings and hijabs being required as a component of the faith. And I don’t think anybody here is advocating for that. What we are advocating is an ideal. In an ideal world, a Christian woman can go out wearing daisy dukes and a tube top without fear of tempting anybody, or without objectifying and idolizing herself, or promiscuously/subconsciously/consciously seeking sex. And a man can go out and see a Christian woman exposing her exquisite breasts in public and be confident in his own faith to not even bat an eye.

  6. Kenzie says:

    A religious friend of mine posted the “5 myths about modesty” on facebook, encouraging all her friends to read it. I randomly clicked on it, and I can say that I have never been so agitated/sickened/disturbed/down right angered by an article in my life. After a few minutes of cooling down, I posted the link on my facebook with a brief description of my opinion. The feedback I got was astounding. The majority of commenters were my college classmates (age 20-24) who whole heartedly agreed that it was absolutely outrageous to basically blame women for a man’s lack of self control and to chastise the staple of every college girl’s wardrobe because they fit this one woman’s idea of what crosses the line of being modest. I don’t understand how the author doesn’t see that 1. her partner appears to be a controlling, ignorant individual with a “boys will be boys” attitude and 2. that she is perpetuating rape culture to the fullest. I googled this article after I read it to find some more opinions which led me to your blog and I completely agree with everything that you have to say. There is an extreme double standard both in the religious and nonreligious community and the media continues to enforce the notion that women have all this power to control men solely because they have the vagina and have a say on who can have “this gift” (which alone is creepy). Thank you for taking the words right out of my mouth. Kudos!

  7. Mac says:

    Websites supposedly coming from a “Christian” viewpoint rarely present any attitude other than an “I want to __________ (fill in the blank) and no one has the right to tell me I can’t (or shouldn’t) and the Bible doesn’t say I can’t.”
    Only extremely rarely do I see “Does my conduct (including how I dress) promote the kingdom of my Lord and Savior?” and “How should I behave so that no one, brothers and sisters in Christ or the unbelievers among whom I dwell, will doubt that I am a citizen of the kingdom of heaven?”
    Paul apostle wrote, “Everything is lawful but not all is expedient.”
    Christians are ambassadors of the kingdom of God whether they believe it or no. The pagans commonly have a better understanding of how Christians are supposed to conduct themselves than many Christians appear to.
    So continue to act as if you are trying to see what you can get away with and not go to hell. Keep on showing the heathen that you don’t give a damn if they all go to hell – you think you are and you aren’t going to give up one jot’s or tittle’s worth of your liberty to influence them to become citizens of Christ’s kingdom, so there!

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