Zelophehad’s Daughters

Blind spot: The assumption that all women can use their sexuality to influence others.

Posted by Beatrice

I was recently listening to the awesome feminist mormon housewives podcast episode in which Lisa Butterworth talks to Brad Kramer about what it means to be a male feminist.  I particularly liked his discussion about modesty and sexuality and how he wants to frame those issues for his children.  There are many, many parts of this discussion that I wholeheartedly agree with.  For example, I really like his discussion about how the current modesty rhetoric in the church reinforces the idea that girls and young women are primarily sexual instead of sexuality being only a part of who they are as a person overall.

That being said, there were a couple of statements within this discussion that brought me up short. For example, this statement at about the 33 min mark:

I think that most women remember what it was like when they first realized as young women that they were capable of using their looks, their bodies, to influence boys and men.  That’s just something, I think, that comes with the territory of growing up as a young woman.

When I heard this statement, my first thought was, “Huh, I never had a realization like that.”  There was also this statement at the 38 min mark.

I do want my daughters, when they become capable of having that effect on men, on boys and men, I do want them to choose not to exercise that.  To choose not to take advantage of that.

If you grow up surrounded by the LDS rhetoric about female sexuality it is perfectly reasonable to assume that all (or almost all) young women have a power through their bodies to influence men and that they know how to use that influence.  However, these statements don’t ring true to my experiences as a young woman.  Although Brad more than adequately demonstrates that he is well versed in the issues surrounding sexuality and modesty within the LDS church, I think these statements reveal a blind spot (which we all have, by the way) in his thinking about these issues.  In this case, I think that Brad is ascribing to women more power or influence over men than they actually have.  (Of course, I don’t want to misrepresent Brad or take these quotes out of the context in which they were stated.  Thus, I encourage you to listen to the podcast to form your own opinion about what he was saying).

For example, I was a very shy teenager that had very little interactions with boys at church or at school during Junior High or High School.  I didn’t really think of myself as pretty and, thus, never felt I had any power or influence over the young men because of my physical appearance.  I did fantasize, at times, about some boy that I liked noticing me and being physically attracted to me.  However, on the occasions when I tried to use my physical appearance to influence certain boys (by dressing up for an event where particular boys would be), I never seemed to be able to attract their attention.  Furthermore, I didn’t think lessons about modesty were directed to me because the boys didn’t look at me *that* way.  Overall, I think that young women’s experience growing up is very similar to young men’s in that they hope and pray that certain people will notice them and find them attractive, but often those people don’t.  The mere fact that you are female does not necessarily mean that you have power or influence over others because of your body.  Instead, I think that a small percentage of the male and female adolescent population are attractive in traditional ways, confident, and know how to use their physical appearance to influence others.

In my mind, one of major problems with the current church rhetoric about female bodies is that it ignores the variability among young women.  There is wide variability in both young women’s actual appearance and in how they feel about their appearance.  For example, there are some young women who would be considered pretty by the traditional way that attractiveness is defined in American culture (tall, thin, white, and clear skinned), but the vast majority of young women don’t fit within this traditional definition, and many who do don’t think of themselves as being pretty. So when church leaders frame lessons around the idea that “you are highly attractive to boys and thus you have a large influence over them”, there are many young women who count themselves out of that discussion.  Of course, I am not denying that there are many young women who unexpectedly find out that they are attractive to men or do have an influence over them.  For example, one of my former mission companions was very busty at age 14 and was completely caught off guard when she was hit on by a couple of High School seniors at a state fair.  However, despite these experiences for some,  in no way should we assume that the realization of some kind of  sexual power or influence is universal for female adolescents.  Yes, there are some young women who do hold a lot of power because of their physical appearance, but I think this is equally true of some young men.  Furthermore, the experience of being hit on by older guys doesn’t necessarily make a young women feel like she has a lot of power or influence, but often just creeps her out.

In my opinion, the way to change these cultural assumptions is to bring more authentic women’s voices into the conversation about sexuality and influence through sexuality.  However, this is not an easy thing to do within the current LDS church culture.  For example, the way that the current female church leaders frame these issues closely follows the rhetoric established by the men.  So increasing the number of talks by female leaders on these topics probably won’t change the discussion very much (in fact I wish female leaders were talk less about these issues and focus more on other aspects of young women’s lives).  Somehow we have to shift the conversation from a heterosexual male’s view of how women influence men to a discussion about how both men and women approach and feel about sexuality during adolescence and adulthood.  Although it wouldn’t necessarily fix the problem immediately, one of the strongest ways to make this change would be through including a lot more women in the leadership structure of the LDS church.  If we continue to have mostly men framing these discussions, these blind spots will continue to be overlooked.  Furthermore, we need to offer the opportunity for women and young women to honestly express how they feel about these topics in a safe-space without the requirement that what they share fits into the dominant rhetoric.  Somehow women need more free rein to talk to young women and girls about sexuality without everything being filtered through a male lens, and men need to hear more about these issues from a female perspective so that they can recognize their blind spots.  Because large changes in the leadership structure of the LDS church are unlikely (at least anytime soon), maybe one of the strongest ways to make that happen is for women to speak out when the framing of the issues are not consistent with their experiences.  Nobody is going recognize their blind spots unless someone else starts pointing them out.

Some discussion questions:

1-Are the quotations consistent with your experiences growing up (both in what you heard in church settings and how you felt about your own sexuality or influence)?  What aspects of the current LDS framing of sexuality are consistent with your own experiences?  What aspects are inconsistent?

2-How do we change the current conversation about sexuality (especially female sexuality) within the LDS church?  What aspects  of the conversation should be changed?

3-How do we better recognize blind spots within ourselves and point out blind spots for others?  What changes to the LDS church leadership structure and culture would reduce the number of blind spots in church governance and the framing of church doctrine?

27 Responses to “Blind spot: The assumption that all women can use their sexuality to influence others.”

  1. 1.

    Are the quotations consistent with your experiences growing up (both in what you heard in church settings and how you felt about your own sexuality or influence)? What aspects of the current LDS framing of sexuality are consistent with your own experiences? What aspects are inconsistent?

    I never had an experience as a young woman like the one Brad describes. On the contrary, one of the main things I felt was invisible. I was an anxious anorexic uber good girl with terrific hair, nice clothes, and an all-out obsession with my GPA and my personal worthiness. I got very used to being ignored by boys at church and school activities, which wasn’t always so bad because often attracting their attention just meant bearing the brunt of their adolescent meanness. It never occurred to me as a young woman that my body could have had any influence on a boy or a man, and I am not being the least bit hyperbolic when I say that I would have preferred to die to trying to use my body deliberately provoke any influence. It would have been too emotionally dangerous–I would have expected it to provoke nothing but laughter and ridicule.

    Admittedly, I’m describing what it feels like to have painfully poor self-esteem. But surely I’m not the only adolescent female who suffered from it.

    I’m astonished and pretty grossed out by his comment. It’s really arrogant in its assumption about the importance that male reactions plays in Every Last Female Choice. I’m not saying that male reactions aren’t important–they are–but good grief, that doesn’t mean that young women are trying to manipulate boys or even know that they can. Most of the time, I think we’re just trying to live our lives. And the fact that he doesn’t see that is REALLY problematic.

  2. 2.

    OK–deep breath–I’ve calmed down a bit and can step back from my previous comment. I didn’t listen to the whole podcast, so maybe Brad’s statements aren’t as shocking in context as they seem here.

    Buy I would like to know what would make him assume that just knowing that they “were capable of using their looks, their bodies, to influence boys and men” is ” just something… that comes with the territory of growing up as a young woman.” I can see how you could get that idea from watching tv or movies, but I don’t see how it could survive conversations with real women about their experiences.

  3. 3.

    [Edited]

    That said, yes, I remember the moment that I realized that I was capable of using my body to influence a man. It wasn’t until I was into college (my high school dating years weren’t filled with many dates, and it was my BFF that all the guys liked–I got to be the sorry sidekick). And I have carried great shame over that evening. I been quite judgmental of myself, believing that I apparently cared so little of myself as a person that I would stoop to using a cute miniskirt to get the attention of the guy I’d been hanging with (it was during that sort of phasing-out time that happens when you both realize this isn’t going to work, but there’s enough good there that it is difficult to make a clean break and I was desperate not to let him go).

    But now, all these many years later, I hold myself with substantially more compassion. And I get to tell myself a different story about the events as I remember them. First, it was no wonder that I a bit drunk with this attention–though he wasn’t my first boyfriend, he was the first guy who I believed actually cared for ME–for all of who I was and wasn’t. I’d been hearing all those YW lessons about how I was supposed to be chaste and I’d been hanging with this manipulative BFF and I was convinced no guy would, in fact, ever see me as being attractive–that wasn’t ever going to be my problem, and THAT was what I saw as being the problem. (In other words, it was hard as an adolescent to muster up that much self-confidence to ever believe that I could have power, as has been discussed.)

    I might like to go back and tell my 20 year old self that, in the end, he wasn’t worth my attention (I’ve kept tabs on him, and am grateful we went our separate ways), but I also would go back and tell myself that there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be touched and to touch back, especially someone with whom we have developed a close relationship. And it is my power to choose to use when I will–it isn’t a power that I have to be afraid of, it isn’t a power that I have to suppress. It’s a power that God gave me, and ought to be used wisely and with the man who has earned it. But it certainly isn’t “wrong.” (Disclaimer: I haven’t heard the podcast, I’m not saying that Brad thinks it’s “wrong.” I’m saying that was what I told myself.)

  4. 4.

    For reference, I think it would be helpful if the following assumptions prevailed in this conversation:

    (a) Brad is a terrific individual.

    (b) All of us have blind spots—many of us more even than Brad. Some of our blind spots are so big we’ve missed Brad’s terrificness. Some are so big we’ve missed Brad altogether.

    (c) The topic of today’s conversation is not Brad’s merits, nor any one person’s merits. It is the degree to which young women, as they go through adolescence, recognize and/or exploit their sexual power over men; the degree to which the Church assumes they recognize this power; and the degree to which this is a male projection.

  5. 5.

    Yes. I remember feeling doubly bad–first, because I was ugly and couldn’t get boys’ attention, and second, because I couldn’t even _choose_ to be modest or virtuous, since I was, as it were, “compelled to be humble.”

  6. 6.

    I think the discussion in the OP is both a fair and an extremely helpful counterpoint to my comments in the podcast. I will say that the comments and the perspective and assumptions they convey were based not on my own imagination but on real conversations with real women, particularly conversations sparked by reading Kathy Soper’s piece at patheos on standards night.

    http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Standards-Night-Is-Substandard-Teaching-Sexuality-to-the-Young-Women

    Thanks for continuing this conversation, Beatrice. It’s an important one.

  7. 7.

    I think that by the time I was in high school, I and most of my church peers recognized that dressing certain ways and looking certain ways would get attention and increase our influence on boys, simply because we saw girls who dressed certain ways and looked certain ways get a lot of attention and exercise a lot of influence in our high school corridors every day.

    Some of us took action and did those things. We had the general looks and personalities to make it work and it looked fun. And it was.

    Some of us took action and did those things and it backfired pretty badly. We didn’t have whatever it was to pull it off well.

    Some of us just knew in our bones that we could never carry it off and that if we tried, we’d feel like a fool, so we just watched and did our own thing.

    And a substantial portion of us decided that though we’d love to have influence we’d rather go about creating it by doing other things that we hoped would create influence that was based on courses of action that were more important to us. And we did.

    So, yes, I think that we all recognized the influence or power of great looks, a bit of an alluring air to one’s wardrobe and a flirty personality. And I also think that many of us, in spite of our awareness of it, chose not to exploit it or employ it in our own lives.

  8. 8.

    I’m glad Brad showed up to comment on the matter and that he had some input from real women about it.

    But I’m still bugged by the matter-of-fact way it’s suggested that all young women experience this at some time, and I’m even more bugged when I stop to consider that if all young women realize they can influence men with their bodies, that there’s probably a point when older women realize they can’t do it any more–and so are irrelevant and redundant to conversations about sex and modesty, if not just a flat-out joke. Older or fat women have to cover themselves up not so they will arouse men, but so they won’t gross them out.

  9. 9.

    Also, just by way of clarification, the main thrust which I failed to convey in the conversation was to redirect attention away from the effect young women’s bodies have on young men and to the effect that affecting (or not affecting) young men has on the girls. Thinking about questions of dress and self presentation primarily in terms of its affect on the girls themselves rather than on boys. I think modesty discourse preoccupied itself solely with male sexuality and erases the sexual desire of girls from the equation. My point is that I want my daughters to think about their self presentation choices in terms of how dressing a certain way (and affecting or not affecting others inn the process) affects _them_. If dressing a particular way and trying (and succeeding) to elicit a certain response on boys/men is an act of self- indulgence, I want that to be the driving reason behind making less provocative dress choices rather than protecting the boys from their own desires.

  10. 10.

    Thanks for your comments, Brad. I appreciate you weighing in and am I really glad that your thoughtful discussion on the podcast has provided an interesting discussion topic.

    I did specifically remember Kathy Soper’s piece when I was thinking about this issue, and I do think that her piece illustrates an experience that may happen to many women. Hopefully this discussion can continue to broaden and flesh out the issue by showing a wider variety of perspectives and experiences.

  11. 11.

    My experience has been so far from realizing any sexual power over men that there are only two brief instants in my entire life where I realized that men were looking at my body in a way that put me in charge: the first a week after high school graduation on the street outside the telephone company, the other on the stairs in a fire station two years later when I had changed out of my uniform into a dress that fit oh-so-well. Those moments were fleeting, and I never had the slightest idea of how to repeat them. (Oddly, there have also been only two moments when I felt pretty –a particular evening when I was 15, and in the Celestial Room on my first temple visit — my pleasure in my own appearance, and men’s pleasure in my appearance, have exactly NO overlap.)

    So no, Brad’s assumption doesn’t match my experience beyond a combined total of about 10 seconds.

  12. 12.

    Still, I think it’s accurate to charge that I made it sound as if I presumed this experience to be universal among adolescent girls. The fact is, I presumed it was common, and there’s an excellent chance I presumed it’s more common than it actually is. Apologies.

  13. 13.

    Oh, and please continue to engage in the conversation as you have points to add. I believe we all have something to learn by hearing each other’s points of view.

  14. 14.

    My first reaction was that I had to refer back to the first paragraph or so of the OP to find out whether it was Lisa or Brad who had made the first quoted statement. As the OP doesn’t specifically say, I just assumed it was Lisa, who had in fact “grown up as a young woman.” It was only after reading several comments that it became clear that it was Brad who had made the sweeping generalization about what “comes with the territory of growing up as a young woman.”

    Yeah, that seems more than a little misguided, as others have pointed out. After mulling this over, I actually think what he’s talking about more accurately comes with the territory of growing up as a young man. That is, to feel that women’s bodies have a certain kind of power over them. I would venture to guess (and this only based on my own experience, and a few other women I’ve heard discuss it) that young women’s developing bodies make them feel even more vulnerable, self-aware, insecure, as they start to attract the attention of larger, more powerful, often older, men.

  15. 15.

    Apologies for crossing a line earlier.

  16. 16.

    Yes, I have noticed, felt, and wielded that power. However, it is a scary power, because men are physically stronger, so a woman is never fully in control of an interaction with a man. Also, this particular source of power wanes as we age.

  17. 17.

    One more comment – it’s just reality that women can use physical attractiveness to influence men (and vice versa!). Because of this, I always dress down for church. For example, I don’t wear eye makeup to church. But I do wear eye makeup to work, because I recognize that attractiveness is/can be a factor in professional success.

    I realize as I’m typing this that it sounds horribly anti-feminist. What can I say, except that I’m being honest about my experience.

  18. 18.

    (I’m guessing that my comments are going to make some people’s heads explode…)

    I agree with Brad that young women (and young men, too) realize that their maturing bodies have an effect on those around them, and that becoming an adult charges all interactions with sex/sexuality. But I don’t agree with him that women (or men) should not use sex/sexuality/attractiveness to influence each other. In fact, I don’t think there’s a choice involved – sex/sexuality/attractiveness is a factor, whether we want it to be or not. Maybe that’s why modesty is so important? Because modesty gives a little bit more control of the situation to the woman. At least, that’s my experience. If I am modestly but attractively dressed at work, I notice that I set the pace with male co-workers. If I’m dressed unattractively, then I am invisible to some of my male co-workers. And if I am dressed immodestly, then there is a definite unprofessional undercurrent.

    I could go on, but I’m sure I’m making some people crazy by sharing this. I just think its reality – sex is a factor. Ignoring this reality is not a virtue. We must learn to navigates this reality.

  19. 19.

    I think this reflects a massive blind spot in the way we discuss sexuality with both young women and young men: it’s problem-focused, so it’s all directed at the kids who are actually at risk of having premarital sex. Advice like “avoid passionate kissing” went right over my head even when they weren’t using outdated lingo like “necking and petting.” Passionate kissing wasn’t really an option at that stage of my life — you have to find someone who’s interested first, and if anyone was when I was that age, I was oblivious to it.

    I’m sure there are young women who feel powerless in most aspects of their live, but discover a form of power in sexuality, as Kathryn Soper’s patheos article indicates. I think the article is important for pointing out that, as important as straightforward desire is, teenagers have sex for other reasons too — and feeling powerful may be one of those reasons. Still, I would treat her anecdotes about her and her neighbor as indicative of one facet that needs to be addressed, not as something that “comes with the territory” for all young women in general.

    But, all the rhetoric is directed at the kids who might actually have sex, and they’re the ones who have discovered the power of immodest clothing or whatever. Meanwhile, the young women and young men who are like I was will, no doubt, continue to sit through endless “don’t have sex” lectures wishing the opportunity to say no would even come up.

  20. 20.

    @ Sherah (#14):

    I actually think what he’s talking about more accurately comes with the territory of growing up as a young man. That is, to feel that women’s bodies have a certain kind of power over them. I would venture to guess (and this only based on my own experience, and a few other women I’ve heard discuss it) that young women’s developing bodies make them feel even more vulnerable, self-aware, insecure, as they start to attract the attention of larger, more powerful, often older, men.

    and Angie (#16):

    However, it is a scary power, because men are physically stronger, so a woman is never fully in control of an interaction with a man.

    I think you both bring up an important dimension of this that is all-too-often lost in these discussions (and, I would argue, it’s lost because these discussions are often framed from a heterosexual male perspective): yes, young women both in and out of the LDS Church typically notice when they start getting attention from (usually older) men. But for many – if not most – young women, this awareness doesn’t lead to a feeling of empowerment, it leads to a feeling of fear for precisely the reasons you mention. Women can avoid wearing plunging necklines and short skirts, but they often get unwanted attention from men just for existing in a female body.

    And because most men are bigger and stronger than most women, the realization that one’s body, regardless of how it’s dressed, makes one a potential target for anything from unwanted attention and commentary all the way to assault, means that women are constantly conscious of their surroundings and their own relative vulnerability. In other words, women may be aware that their bodies have “power,” but they don’t know how random men in their environment will react to it.

  21. 21.

    Angie 18

    (I’m guessing that my comments are going to make some people’s heads explode…)

    Yeah, when people are saying, “This WASN’T my experience” and you come along and tell them, “This WAS your experience,” that’s pretty much a trigger for head explosion–just not in an interesting way.

    I could go on, but I’m sure I’m making some people crazy by sharing this. I just think its reality – sex is a factor. Ignoring this reality is not a virtue. We must learn to navigates this reality.

    Here’s the problem with your comment: saying, “I was had no sense of my body having any special affect on men when I was a young woman” isn’t anywhere near the same thing as ignoring the reality of sex, though, is it, Angie?

    Anyone who pays attention in our culture is aware that female sexuality is exploited–particularly to sell stuff.

    But an awareness of diffuse human sexuality doesn’t always translation in a keen awareness of one’s one sexuality.

    You have probably heard the old adage, “A way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Many of the interactions we have as adults involve food. In fact, human beings influence one another through food. I went to a party just last night where food and drink were used as a social lubricant, to get people to talk to each other. And how often does a guy take a woman he’s interested in to dinner?

    As a young woman, I discovered that my cooking had an influence on men. I received marriage proposals for my cookies and brownies and cheesecake.

    Am I therefore entitled to say, “I think that most women remember what it was like when they first realized as young women that they were capable of using their desserts, their main dishes, to influence boys and men. That’s just something, I think, that comes with the territory of growing up as a young woman” and to expect people to agree with me?

    I realize as I’m typing this that it sounds horribly anti-feminist. What can I say, except that I’m being honest about my experience.

    What you are saying doesn’t sound anti-feminist. It just sounds like you’re not listening to other women when you assert that all women’s experience matched yours, particularly when they are saying that it didn’t.

    The fact of the matter is, human beings are social creatures who affect one another. We all learned pretty early on, both through explicit explanations and experience, that our clothing affects how others treat us, which is why we all dressed up for job interviews, even as teenagers.

    But that did not mean that we learned that how we dressed gave us power OVER others. or that it gave us some sort of unfair advantage, which is what is implied by Brad’s statement quoted in the OP that he would want his daughter “To choose not to take advantage of that.”

    That’s what really gets me: the “choose not to take advantage of that,” like not tempting or tormenting the poor little menz is what’s really important here.

    Not, “I’ll explain to my daughters that human sexuality affects us all, and I’ll encourage them to develop their full humanity and to live their lives with integrity and to enjoy expressing themselves and getting to know their bodies and the pleasure it can bring them–and their sexual partners.”

    No, it’s “I hope they choose not to take advantage of that.”

    And the problem is also the privileging of young female sexuality as a power women have over men, as if men are utterly incapable of resisting the allure of perky tits on a 16-year-old and will inevitably do dumb stuff when confronted with them, instead of a full recognition of the vast influence human beings have over each other.

  22. 22.

    Oops–just realized that I somehow missed Brad’s comment 9, which addresses some of the concerns I had with the statement quoted in the OP. Thanks for the clarification, Brad, and sorry I didn’t see it before I posted comment 21.

  23. 23.

    since my previous comments all focused on question #1 from the OP, I’ll offer an answer to question #2:

    2-How do we change the current conversation about sexuality (especially female sexuality) within the LDS church? What aspects of the conversation should be changed?

    We need to change our message to young men. I would recommend something like the following:

    How young women dress should not be not about you. Our culture will tell you that what a girl wears, including her clothing makeup, hair styles, how she stands and moves, are all designed to attract and impress and influence young men like you–maybe even specifically you. Sometimes it is, but often it isn’t. But culture ignores the fact that that’s not always true and further says that because women’s appearances are all about men, how a woman is dressed entitles men to treat her certain ways. For instance, a woman in revealing clothes can be raped, and it will be her fault, not the fault of the man or men who raped her. She exerted her sexual power, and men couldn’t help but respond to it. The ultimate point is to prove how puny and inconsequential female power is, and to remind us all that women need to be afraid of men.

    But you don’t want women to be afraid of you. No decent young man does. You don’t want your sisters or your daughters to be afraid of your friends. And so you will remind yourself that YOU are in charge of your thoughts and your actions. You will never take advantage of your power over women or behave in a way that will scare them.

    Our culture tells us that when women created arousal in men, even unconsciously but especially intentionally, it’s ALWAYS an invitation. It’s not. So above all, you will understand that the fact that you get an erection from looking at or thinking about a particular girl does not mean that she wanted to arouse you, and you will understand that even if she did, your arousal doesn’t entitle you to treat her any particular way without her explicit consent. In other words, wanting to arouse you doesn’t mean that she wanted to have sex with you, right that minute.

    Getting a hardon is awesome, and you don’t have to be ashamed of it. You don’t have to try to make it go away by imagining that you are eating worms. Feel free to enjoy it. But don’t imagine that your body’s responses to other people determines what you are permitted to do to their bodies.

    And don’t imagine that your body’s responses to girls’ bodies means that they have to control their bodies so that you won’t have to control yours.

  24. 24.

    Angie, your comments don’t make my head explode. As a psychologist I am aware of research that supports some of the points you bring up. For example, women who wear some make-up (as opposed to no make-up or a lot of make-up) are viewed as being more professional in work environments. But I am not sure if that really is an issue of attractiveness or more of an issues of cultural expectations (women are viewed as putting in effort and looking more put together if they wear make-up). Other research shows that people who are more attractive are more likely to get hired , succeed etc. And I agree that we need to be aware of how sexuality might be influencing others. However, I don’t necessarily agree that it is a fact of life that women (and men) can use physical attractiveness to influence others. One of the main points about my original post was that *some* women and men can use physical attractiveness to influence others, but this ability (both being physical attractive and knowing how to use it in a way that is not going to blow up in your face) is far less common or universal than the way we talk about it in church.

  25. 25.

    I was a painfully shy child, and that shyness continued well into my early teenage years. I saw other people (both girls and boys) around me who were able to dress and act in ways that attracted attention from the opposite sex, but I never felt very successful at it myself. My experiences were very similar to Ardis’s, in that the times when I felt pretty were rarely, if ever, times when others seemed to notice me.

    I had many good friends who were boys, but few of them were ever interested in dating me. My male friends always seemed shocked when I looked attractive, but unlike in sitcoms and books, it never made anyone think about me as a romantic prospect. I simply remained “one of the guys.” I still remember a guy friend telling me “You looked really pretty–yesterday.” All I could think was “Gee, thanks. The way you say that makes it sound like today is quite a step down from yesterday. My ego thanks you for the back-handed compliment.” So I learned to dress for myself, without worrying too much about what boys would think of my clothes or hair, etc. because most of them seemed not to notice or care. But I still felt incredibly awkward in my own body.

    For me, the real shift came when I went to the temple before my mission. The specific blessings for my physical body that were part of the initiatory ordinance had a profound effect on me. The awkwardness that I felt about my body as a teenager began to fade away. It was replaced by a sense of strength and power for what my body could accomplish that had little to do with my sexuality, although when I got married about a year after returning home from my mission, becoming sexually active seemed to be a natural progression of that change. It hasn’t been all uphill since then, (I have my own set of body image and food issues) but I have survived the physical and emotional challenges of giving birth to four children over a span of eight years.

    Now that my youngest child is starting school, I’m beginning to have the time and energy to transition out of the pure functionality of jeans, plain t-shirts and sweats. It feels a little frivolous to spend time and money on nicer clothes, haircuts, etc. but after so many years of feeling like my body is not really my own, it’s kind of nice to do something for myself. My husband doesn’t mind it, either.

    So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I never really had a sense of my body being a source of power and influence over men. Then again, I was a teenager before the whole modesty rhetoric got out of control.

  26. 26.

    I never felt that power because:
    I was not introduced to sexual activity early.
    I did not hang out with older boys and date them.
    I wasn’t sexually abused.
    I was raised in a fair way. Dishonestly, manipulation, pretending, etc. wasn’t part of my home life so I didn’t learn certain social skills that girls in that circumstance do.
    I was a good Mormon girl so I wasn’t interested in opening the Pandora’s box of sex before marriage.
    I wasn’t trying to get into romantic relationships before 16 and once 16 I wasn’t trying to get into sexual relationships. I was not motivated to TRY to experiment with the sexuality of males around me or my own sexuality.
    I was raised to develop more important aspects of my person and personality during my teen years. My friends and family and church did not admire females who acted sexual or who used feminity as an excuse to get their way or call attention to themselves (over just looking nice or having age appropriate positive attention from boys).

    The first time I can say I felt any sexual power would be with my husband when we were dating or engaged. Once I got married I did feel more confident because it was a power but it was a power I have never used on anyone else. I remember being married and at some point realizing that if I could do it over again it would have been nice to have the confidence that my marriage (and sexual activity with a good man who loved me) had given me. I can guarantee I did not ever feel this power before my husband. It would have been mainly off limits to use it.

  27. 27.

    I think that the reality is that some girls might discover this “power” at age 12 or 15 or 18 or 25 or 35. So many things might go into this.
    This isn’t sexual power but I was 35 when I went into a donut store and the clerk was irritated with me, and I used a smile and my conversation to make her like me. My social skills were not good enough before my 30s to do that.
    So I am sure that girls who are naturally more social or more exposed or have more awareness of others or of themselves might have noticed a power and actually been able to use it.

    Also, I echo the idea that this power that the OP is trying to talk about in certain situations isn’t power. It feels like fear.
    Because I do remember an indecent letter a guy I met once mailed to me from his boarding school. In no way did it feel like power. It feel creepy for him to write the word penis in a letter. I also remember other guys over the years who came off as creepy.
    Is that the power you are talking about? Because it just made me scared that he would stalk me when he came home for the holidays.

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