Monday, December 19, 2016

Ice. And Men Who Aren't Nice.

This past week we got cold weather and freezing rain, which coated the whole world in ice.  Then we got cold temperatures with clear skies and sunshine, which pretty much never happens here, so the ice didn't melt and the world felt like a glassy fairyland.  Then it got cloudy and foggy and frosty, and still the ice clung to every blade of grass and fence wire and lilac twig.

The Minnesota girl in me--that young lady who loves walks in bracing frosty air and thinks it just isn't Christmas or winter unless the world is white--she was ecstatic.

I feel a bit inconsistent because back in our northern Ontario days I liked winter and ice and stuff but I used to get so sick and tired of it by February that I thought it was just beyond bearing and that surely God never meant for people to live this far north.

This is what I really like: four distinct seasons, with a good dose of each, and then moving on to the next one when it's time.

Ontario didn't do this.  Neither does Oregon.

But this week it was cold and frosty and icy and beautiful, and it made me very happy.

I took pictures and pictures and more pictures.











Recently I wrote about a few things that are a bit dangerous to discuss, things that make certain decent-appearing folks turn into online rats, sneaking along with shifty eyes and gnawing at chair legs, and also hens, pecking unctuously at stray seeds, and also dogs, howling at moons and other imaginary threats and also biting you in the haunches when you turn your back.

But then life went on and all the animals slipped back into their lairs and changed back into decent-seeming people that say hello to you at the post office, so I realized one can survive these storms and spats, and the wounds heal if you wash them with peroxide and bandage them up good.

Also I'm getting older, which makes me less afraid.

So I will share something else I've been thinking about.

Jenny endured a bit of harassment the other day.  She was with a few other girls and a man made some creepy comments and also floated a lewd suggestion of something they could do.

She was at a place where we frequently go, so it wasn't like she was out of her normal setting.  It was the man who was out of place.

Also, there were enough people around that she was not in physical danger.

Thankfully, she didn't feel all violated or fearful.  But she had two matter-of-fact observations:
1. It was the first time something like that has happened.
2. She didn't look Mennonite.

It was a cold day.  She was wearing a long coat and a hat and scarf, so it wasn't obvious that she wore a skirt and prayer veil.

We found this very interesting.

And I've been thinking too much about it and wondering what conclusions one can draw.

I know that harassment, catcalls, propositions, and other forms of disrespect happen to women.  From some discussions online, I get the idea that they happen to most women and they just conclude that Men Are Like That and you just learn to live with it.

I've had just a few unsavory encounters over the years.

But for the most part, these things don't happen to me or my daughters, at least not when we look obviously Mennonite.  It shouldn't happen to any woman, ever, no matter what she looks like. So why have we been spared to such an unusual degree?

I asked the family about this.

"Well," said Emily, "there's what ought to be, and then there's what IS."

Steven said, "People treat you different depending what you wear.  If you walk down the street in a buttondown shirt, people treat you more respectfully."

I said, "But YOU would never treat a woman disrespectfully, no matter what she wore.  Why is that? I don't remember ever teaching you that."

Paul said, "You set the bar so high with how you treat people that that kind of behavior didn't really come up."

Ben said, "Well, there WERE a few 'don't you ever's."

"Is there still enough residual respect for religion that people are more careful around a woman who looks religious?" I asked. "Like how people are still sort of reverent around nuns?"

Ben said yes.  He thinks guys are more careful around this Muslim woman he knows.

All the guys in the family agreed that men take cues from women as to what kind of behavior they're willing to put up with, and act accordingly.  So, said Steven, some sleazy guy sees a Mennonite woman  and he thinks, Nuh-uh.

That statement puts a lot of responsibility on women, which is disturbing.  And yet, what is it exactly that makes him step back, if he does indeed decide to step back?  Surely there are a variety of other factors that influence his choice.  He's not going to holler something inappropriate with a policeman nearby.  What power and influence, if any, does a woman have in this situation?

Looking Mennonite isn't a magic wand against assault--let's be clear about that. And our culture can breed the secretive sins of sexual abuse and such, which is a whole other subject.

But this is about harassment from strangers, and about most-of-the-time, rather than always.

I have never dressed conservatively or taught my daughters to do so for the reason that Christians often give--to keep the brethren from sinning.

I've learned that the brethren whose hearts are bent on sin will find ways to sin no matter how women dress.

What I teach my girls is that they belong to God, their lives ought to reflect Jesus, and their bodies have the sacred role of being temples of the Holy Spirit.  So their clothes should communicate dignity, royalty, value, beauty, femininity, and respect.

Somehow, that has also worked to protect them.

Maybe it's not so much the clothes as the confidence they project. Or perhaps the aura of being protected and cared for.  I don't know.

My daughters and I have all attended public colleges and worked and traveled and stuff, so it's not that we've never left the farm.

I'm curious how our experience compares with that of Christian women in general.  Or city vs. rural women, or Midwest vs. West Coast.

This is a touchy topic primarily because if you tell women how to act and behave to lessen the chances of getting raped or harassed, it's called victim-blaming because it's so easy to make it a "you should have just" conversation rather than holding the man fully responsible for his crime or behavior.  It's hard to talk about minimizing risk without also assigning blame.

So I am not telling women how to act and behave and dress.  But I'm wondering if maybe women have more power than they realize to raise the general cultural standard of morality, because someone needs to correct this situation, and, as my sons say, a rapist isn't going to stop for anyone, but most guys will take their cues from women about what they can get by with.

I don't think women should think of themselves as passive and powerless.

At the very least, we have the power to teach our sons right from wrong.

I wish all men would treat women the way my husband and sons treat women. Every woman in every circumstance is safe around them.

I also wish every woman could experience the sense of safety that I've always known.

What's the best way to make that happen?

Feel free to comment thoughtfully but don't be a rat, chicken, or dog.

54 comments:

  1. The verse in I Corinthians 11:10 may give us a clue. I'm not sure exactly what the phrase "because of the angels" means, but I believe it speaks of an extra layer of protection that women have when wearing a head covering (v.5). It's not a guarantee that nothing bad will happen to women with their head covered. I have a friend who wears a head covering and was violated.

    On a related note, I seldom hear men use bad language, but I remember one time hearing a man swearing softly repeatedly just out of sight in a store. While he was talking, I couldn't see him and he couldn't see me.

    And this is also an incident of showing respect rather than a safety issue. Years ago I attended a community tent meeting (Baptist perhaps) in Virginia where the preacher preached what I perceived as sound messages. After the service he put on a hat and met various people, until a friend and I (both wearing head coverings) met him. He took off his hat to shake hands with us.

    LRM

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    1. Thanks for sharing your stories/experiences.

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  2. I think it does make a difference how you are dressed. And it doesn't necessarily have to be mennonite. Modestly seems to be the biggest difference. (as in conservative type skirts) Also I have noticed a huge difference in the way men act around women wearing head coverings. Traditional or even just a scarf of any kind.
    I can't comment on Muslim women and wonder about that considering how some men feel towards Muslims. I think it still instills more respect.
    Women however....can feel hostility toward you if you wear a covering (scarf etc.) I have had that happen. I intentionally try not to stand out in the type of scarf I wear. I feel like I should just blend in. (praying in public to be noticed is considered to be bad in the case of the Pharasees and being told to go into your prayer closet where no one sees you) But that is just my personal opinion on it. I understand Mennonite women where a very distinct type of covering.
    But even with my scarf that is meant to not be conspicuous I have noticed a difference. Or on the occasions that I am not wearing any but still wearing a nice modest skirt I have noticed a difference.
    I've been a "worldly girl" in the past so, I know from experience that if you dress immodestly, you will be noticed by men. You just will. But, maybe for some at least, that is the intention. To be noticed. I do also know that it is not the intention for all. And it seems to come out. I know women who are simply modest women in the heart and wear pants etc. I don't see them being harassed and noticed by "not nice men" to the same extent.
    This is really long and I'm sorry for rambling. It just happens to be an issue I have thought and analyzed much over the years.

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    1. Fascinating. There really is a lot going on, unseen, and somehow who we are in our hearts comes out in ways that people pick up without even realizing it.

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  3. We live the next county over from a well known Christian fundamentalist university. All the students are required to dress very conservatively but that has not protected the women. In recent years it has come out that there are sexual assaults every year and the females are called into the deans office and told that they caused it by something they did or said. The males have been without blame for these assaults. When this hit the media no one here was surprised I am sad to say but this has not changed as far as I know. This university has many such skeletons in their closet but are still highly respected since these revelations rarely get out of our immediate area. Adult female friends whose parents required them to attend this school or they would not give financial assistance have come out deeply scarred by what went on there. This should not be allowed to go on!!!

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    1. This really is a tragedy and it happens far too often in conservative cultures.

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  4. I live in the south so it's fairly common to have men open the door for you. However, I've had men run past me to open the door before I get there, and men backtrack to open the door. Are they simply being southern gentlemen or is it because I'm a Christian with a veiled head? I've often wondered.
    Can we also take the protection of being under Gods authority for granted sometimes??

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    1. Here, in Ohio as well. I also wondered. :) And I am grateful.

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  5. I live in the south so it's fairly common to have men open the door for you. However, I've had men run past me to open the door before I get there, and men backtrack to open the door. Are they simply being southern gentlemen or is it because I'm a Christian with a veiled head? I've often wondered.
    Can we also take the protection of being under Gods authority for granted sometimes??

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    1. I too have men leap to open doors for me. I'm never quite sure why they do, but I like it. And as I said to another commenter, there are unseen dynamics going on that we may never know.

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  6. I think while some men find that a Mennonite or similarly dressed modest woman is not one to treat in a lewd manner, that it doesn't have much to do with actual assault.
    I could list, if I were listing names, hundreds of women and girls that were sexually assaulted, lewdly ogled and molested while dressing modestly. I know many that were targeted because they dressed modestly as they are considered easier prey. One man stated that he loved women in dresses as there was easier access.

    Another one said that christians in conservative church groups are so "forgiving" that they don't take care of watching to protect their children like others would around him because of his past.

    I was chased down the street at one time, called names because of my clothing choices as a teen. I was harmed because my dress was not ankle length, but only below the knee, according to the man that assaulted me.

    When we say that our dress and head covering protect us, what are we saying to those assaulted wearing them? God doesn't care as much about them? Or it is the fault of those that were not wearing them when someone sins against them.

    It all comes back to sin and sin alone.

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    1. That's the tough question here--how to share a general principle without accusing those who were molested/assaulted while following that principle. Psalm 91 is true, but sometimes God's people get attacked, imprisoned, etc. There's a lot I don't understand.

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  7. I have always attended Mennonite churches that did not require a covering or specific form of dress. I was minorly assaulted when i was about 8, and wearing dresses certainly made it easier, since we did wear them to church where it happened. I have occasionally had problems with men making comments or looking at me badly, but I was raised to have enough respect for myself to demand respect from others for the most part. I think that men and women need to be raised to show and give respect. There are definitely things that women can do to protect themselves, but men still have to want to give that respect.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your story.

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  8. I have experienced definite blessing and protection from wearing a head covering. I seriously would not want to be without mine. I think it does make a difference - a huge difference.

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  9. Martha Artyomenko hit it on the head. Sin is sin, and will always be with us. Respecting yourself probably deflects minor attentions. Carrying a big gun will repel major ones.

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  10. I'm just thinking out loud here... I think that perhaps modest dress and a head covering may offer one some "protection" from men outside our culture, possibly because they don't know what to make of it, and they fear us a little. But it most certainly doesn't protect a girl or woman from other men in the same culture. Lana above mentioned a fundamentalist college. My assumption is that the women there were being assaulted by other men in that same college, or men of the same culture. And that is also true in the Mennonite circles.

    I certainly do not wish to be assaulted by a strange man, but I can only think that being harmed by a father, brother, uncle, grandfather, or a leader in the church that you should be able to trust completely, would be far more devastating in the long term.

    Just some rambling thoughts I had.

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    1. Yes, it's truly a tragedy when women are assaulted by their own family or church members.

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  11. I think looking "Mennonite" has been protection for you and your girls. I have always dressed conservatively and have lived a quiet life (not going to bars, etc.) but I was harassed as much as any woman during my late teens and early 20's. ALL my friends were. (I didn't know anybody who wore a head covering so no way to compare except from your post here.) The harassment stopped by the time I turned 30 and I totally believe age of the woman has a lot to do with it.

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    1. That is very interesting and makes sense. And I'm sorry you were harassed despite your gentle and beautiful demeanor.

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    2. You're very sweet -- thank you.

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  12. Very interesting to read your thoughts. This is something I've mulled over much since my recent experience in a local coffee shop. The clerk respectfully took my order and handed me my latte then minutes later I heard him flirting shamelessly with a group of young girls from another less distinctive church. At first I felt a bit jealous?? thinking in my state of single insecurity that here's just one more guy who can look straight thru me and see all the "pretty" girls. But wondering over it... I'm grateful. I have never experienced harassment from men. From my culture or otherwise. My daddy and uncles and brothers allowed me to grow up in an atmosphere of love and security and protection while at the same time allowing me to confidently try my wings. I thought this was the norm. Only as I grow older I realize it's not that way everywhere. And I am so sorry if any of you have been betrayed by the men in your life.
    Certainly the way we dress sends a message. But confidence and security is also visible on our faces. I can never express enough to all the Dads out there like mine THANK YOU for giving this to your daughters.
    I probably notice this more since I don't have a husband with me for protection.

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    1. So interesting. There's something about a strong dad that makes for strong daughters.

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  13. I'm always fascinated with the strong feelings that a modesty discussion brings out but this is not a comment on modesty. Your post alluded to something else fascinating to think about: the power women have that they don't realize. Esp in our sub-culture that prioritizes submission and surrender (not bad things, but not exclusively for women to do) we women tend to not affirm/embrace/own the power we carry. Whatever power we have (it's still a mystery to me) gives us something to value and treasure, not flaunt. It makes surrender and submission become acts of incredibly valuable strength and potential. Because only the strongest can submit and surrender. This is not a I-am-a-woman-hear-me-roar kind of speech. I'm saying your call to women to use their power to change society is empowering, not saying it's ALL on the women, but it's something we can share an integral part in. Keep talking!

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    1. Thanks for "getting" this....women have so much power to affect the world around them and so few seem aware of it. We focus on the power of position--the "world" urges companies to hire female CEOs and the church discourages women in leadership, but I think our real power is in our influence.

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  14. While I definitely don't feel that women are responsible for men's actions, a woman that is dressed immodestly or provocatively is sending a message, whether its a deliberate message or not. Since we are each responsible for our own actions, that means women are responsible for the message they send, men are responsible for the way they react to that message. But it can't help but send a mixed signal to be dressed suggestively and then say "look but don't touch". It also says something about our level of self-respect. Does dressing modestly and/or wearing a head covering always protect us? No, but we might be surprised at how often it has without our being aware of it. I'm guessing there's also some truth to the thought that's been presented, that women who have been raised with respect, expect it from others. As for women having power to influence those around us...yes! As long as we don't use it to be manipulative:/

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    1. You're right that our clothes send a message, whether we intend it or not.

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  15. Still thinking over here...and maybe I'm a hound barking up the wrong tree now but these are my thoughts...the churches/cultures that practice modest dress would also teach submission. Is there a connection between the "level" of submission taught (for lack of a better word) and the level of self-respect women have. For instance, if you are raised in a church that teaches submission at all costs, that submission is more important than the personhood of women, that women's opinions and thoughts don't count, are those women actually MORE vulnerable to being preyed upon because they've been taught that they have little or no value and so they don't have the confidence to stand up for themselves? I'm not advocating a feminist viewpoint here but I've certainly heard of churches/cultures that take the whole submission thing out of context...

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    1. This is an important concept. I've seen women emotionally beaten down in the name of submission, and it makes them vulnerable to manipulation and being preyed on. That's not how Jesus treated women.

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  16. Thank you for starting this conversation. I too often do not realize the power I have as a woman.

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  17. While I think modesty is a factor, there is another factor as well. That is looking American. When I was Mennonite I was treated with kid gloves, now I'm treated like a "regular person". This was one of my biggest adjustments leaving the Mennonite look behind. The thing is then, once that is established, there's more of a need to verbally define oneself. One is not now "other", so one must personally show what one will put up with. I had no idea how much group identity protected and sterotyped me till I left. Then I was forced to find my own.

    If one is in desperate need of finances, and far from home where she can ask questions about odd behavior without feeling uncomfortable, and what's happening is at work, and normalized by company culture, it takes a great deal of personal confidence to stand up to it. (Side note: I love working in startups, but in the future I will ask for references for business owners who've just started up. A business that's been running awhile has some level of respect or it wouldn't be running. If other staff are already hired, I'd ask them about working there.) The hardest stuff for me to deal with is stuff that appears "gray". "Gray" things happen much oftener because they're tolerated until someone decides its not gray anymore. And tells the boss, or leaves the company.

    Another note is that confidence builders for women who aren't Mennonite seem to be more in the self defense category. Which is completely contrary to anything we learn as Mennonite women.

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  18. Oh and wearing dresses at work when you're not Mennonite (depends on work) in my experience makes things worse cuz it looks cutesy and feminine as opposed to "I'm here to work, don't mess with me."

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    1. Rose Mary, I'm glad you shared this because it's the voice of experience from both cultures. That experience of blending in and NOT being "other"....I would think it's unnerving and scary in many ways.

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    2. It's not scary. It's challenging. To figure out how to present oneself in a new context. I still do not blend well in many circumstances.

      My worst experience was wearing a form of a headcovering and a long black skirt. I am glad I was protected. This was at a three month long job I had that I desperately needed. My clothes made it worse, but at the time I was scared and I felt like I needed the protection of the covering more than ever. Later I would recognize my whole demeanor plus my clothes were reminding him of Indian women who submit. I had always been around safe men with power before, as with regards to sexuality, but now was with men who used that power negatively.

      On another subject, I think movies are one of the worst influences in how men treat women. I don't mean all movies. I think there's a lot of protection in having experiences with men and women be real to life. You scare a girl and she doesn't fall in love with you, she runs the other way. I agree with what one of the men said on your Facebook page, raise a rumpus when nastiness happens so it's not a fun experience.

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    3. Oh. One other thing. I can't remember ever having been bothered by a stranger.

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    4. I find this SO interesting.
      And Amen on the bizarre/unrealistic messages in movies.

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    5. I wondered if I'd have to take that last comment back. I like strangers and talking to them and I also knew that if I was bothered by one it would easily go forgotten. Sure enough I did remember a small disrespectful unnecessary incident, one I didn't understand completely at first.

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  19. Your pictures are beautiful, especially the one with the silver arch framing the barn. Obviously, they depict the winter season. As you know, just as there are physical seasons, so there are seasons of life. Wouldn't it be frightening if the seasons got mixed up? What season of life you are in determines, to a degree, how you will be treated. Wear an appropriate hat for each season! ML

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    1. Thanks for your wise insights!

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  20. First of all, coming from a home where I have not been safe emotionally in my dad's presence, the statement you made about all women in all circumstances being safe around the men in your family is beautiful. I have had seasons in my life when I've been with men like that, and I've never felt more truly like a woman than during those times.

    I don't feel that I can add anything new to the discussion here, just some of my own experiences.

    I lived and worked in a developing country where establishing a relationship with a "white" woman was the culmination of many men's dreams. You can imagine the attention given to me, a young, single, white woman. I am from a conservative Mennonite church, and had no idea how to respond to these advances from sometimes quite goodlooking men. The first several months I gave them the "don't touch, I'm independent" treatment. Then the mother of one of those men told me that if the men view me as an object difficult to attain, they will only try harder to get me. I started letting men open doors, taking their hand when offered (think difficult steps), and politely declining marriage proposals instead of stonily turning my back. And I felt the power of being a woman who accepts her vulnerability but doesn't live in fear because of it. I discovered that, for the most part, I received respect where vulgarity had been shown.

    Coming back to America, I attended a secular college where I made many friends. I walked the halls with girlfriends who had little bits of skin covered here and there, and who turned to me and asked "why did he do that?" when a guy would whistle at or pinch or nudge them. I was in study groups with young men who swore at every interval, apologizing every time when I was within sight or hearing.

    In short, I think modest dress makes a difference in the way men treat us. I was never harassed at college, even when walking beside immodestly dressed girls who were.
    Our attitude makes a difference as well. Snub a man and he will see you as an object, maybe to pursue in order to get to know you as a person, maybe to take advantage of. Respond as a woman truly in touch with who she is, a daughter of the King, and men will, for the most part, see and treat you as such.

    On the other hand, I agree with you, Dorcas, that a man bent on sinning will sin no matter what. May the women who have been hurt find people who listen and care and leave the judging to God Who will bring justice.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. And good for you for figuring out what works in the culture you find yourself in.

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  21. I am a woman who dresses conservatively. I always wear skirts and dresses that are below the knee and I wear a prayer veiling. I have experienced 3 rather unpleasant incidents. While I do believe that it is important to dress modestly, sometimes people are bent on acting terribly no matter how a woman is dressed. Sometimes dressing conservatively actually makes you a target. There are not many women in my area who dress as I do. In the end, I believe that the way a culture treats women shows something about either how godly the culture is, or how godless the culture is. Cruelty comes with godlessness just as gentleness and self-control are part of the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus tells us to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. After the last incident, where I truly feared for my safety and the safety of my children who were with me, I decided that carrying maise spray was a good idea. I have nonresistant, but that doesn't mean that I am going to just roll over and die. I had responded while praying very much with kind but firm words. And still that man became utterly irate and was on the brink of violence. I rushed into my vehicle with my children and locked the doors. Thank God for His protection!!!!!
    So, while modest dress is important for both men and women who are followers of Christ, wisdom is also very important! We must spend time daily in prayer and Bible reading!!!!! We must be able to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd!!!!!!

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    1. Gwendolyn, that is AWFUL about your horrible and scary encounter. Good for you for being a mother bear and protecting your babies. I agree that "cruelty comes with godlessness."

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  22. I have one more thing to add......aura, unseen messages have a lot of power!! I am thinking now of a woman and her daughters who hold modest dress in very high regard. Yet somehow, a inner modesty is a few steps behind.....body language, refinement, discretion and self control with relating to men and boys would do well to catch up. Here's what I find interesting: I observed even Christian men treating them with a discernibly lower level of respect. I am sure they don't realize it. I was irritated when I confronted my husband about how he related to them - if I acted the way THEY did, I would get an immediate negative reaction from him! How can they just get away with it?! Later I realized that he doesn't expect any more from them than that but he certainly knows I know how to behave better than that. Ladies, in the long run, you WILL be respected for acting and dressing as a lady! And you begin to see yourself more cheaply if you lower your self to seek out make attention.

    Thank you for this article!

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    1. I totally agree that we communicate a lot more than we intend to, and what's in our hearts can supersede what we try to say with clothes.

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  23. Dorcas...this post inspired MY post. Here is the link:http://mlraminiakcomingtoterms.blogspot.com/2016/12/opinions-3-victim-blaming.html If you're uncomfortable with it, just delete it.

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    1. Lisa--I'm honored that my post inspired yours, and I like how you said a few things that I didn't have the nerve to.

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  24. When you are talking about strangers, the only social cues they really have to go by, if no conversation has occurred and no introduction has been made, is appearance. Nonverbal communication (which appearance is a big part of) is more heavily relied on than we might realize. Everyone is always trying to make sense of the world, of the people they meet, and of each situation. Nonverbal cues like appearance are one way we all do this. That is why it is important to consider things like the way we dress. But, like you pointed out, that is not THE reason to dress modestly; I agree completely with your reasoning on that topic. I just think it is something we should consider.

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  25. Very interesting to read your thoughts. This is something I've mulled over much since my recent experience. From my culture or otherwise. My daddy and uncles and brothers allowed me to grow up in an atmosphere of love and security and protection while at the same time allowing me to confidently try my wings. I thought this was the norm. Only as I grow older I realize it's not that way everywhere. And I am so sorry if any of you have been betrayed by the men in your life. buy shoes online

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