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Did You Know Spaghetti Straps are Sinful?

girl wearing spaghetti straps
Girl Wearing “Sinful” Spaghetti Straps

When people think of Christian fundamentalism they most often think of the fundamentalism found in Evangelicalism and the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. However, as the following story will show, fundamentalism is alive and well in the Roman Catholic church.

Melanie Pritchard, Founder of Vera Bella Catholic Girls’ Formation Program and the Executive Director of the Foundation for Life and Love, recently wrote an article about why she does not let her four-year old daughter wear spaghetti straps:

My four-year-old daughter Ella received a doll from a relative for Christmas that was wearing a fluffy pink skirt and a spaghetti strap tank-top covered by a sweater. To my daughter’s wild surprise, she also received the same outfit as her doll, in her own size. She put on her new outfit immediately to match her doll. I call them “the twinsy-bops,” since my daughter proceeded to try to wear the same outfit as her doll for the few days following Christmas.

Although I love the doll’s and my daughter’s outfits in their completion, I don’t allow my daughter or her dolls to wear spaghetti straps without something covering the tank-top. Some may think I go overboard or even call me a prude, but I am parenting with an advantage. I have inside knowledge of the working relationships between parents and their teenage daughters. Since I have been speaking to teenagers and their parents for the past 15 years, I have gained an extensive knowledge of the kind of drop-down-drag-out battles parents have with their teenage girls and their wardrobes.

One of those battles is over spaghetti strap tank-tops being worn without something else covering them. Now, I’ll admit, when my four-year-old attempts to wear the new spaghetti strap tank-top, she doesn’t look immodest. She still manages to look innocent and dignified. So, why won’t I allow my daughter to begin wearing these types of tank-tops at age four? Because the battle she and I will inevitably have over tank tops will be a lot easier to win if the standard never changes. The same rings true for two-piece bathing suits and other clothes that will not protect her dignity and mystery when she is at a more womanly stage in her life…

For those of us raised in the IFB and Evangelical church, Pritchard’s argument is quite familiar. Better to win the battle over clothing when a child is young and impressionable than when she is a teenager. Better to teach her “modesty” at age four than try to get her to dress “modestly” at age fifteen.

Pritchard recounts a story about her daughter that she thinks illustrates that her daughter is starting to understand the importance of modesty and why she should not wear spaghetti straps:

A couple days later, we went to enjoy taco Tuesday at a locally owned restaurant in town. We were sitting at our table waiting for our food when Ella grabbed my arm and pulled me close to her. She was pointing to the hostess with the very womanly figure wearing a spaghetti strap tank-top that kept sliding up to reveal her stomach and was accentuating and revealing her large chest. Ella whispered in my ear, “Mom, her mystery isn’t protected. She is wearing a spaghetti-strap and it’s not modest.”

Ella saw it for herself. It clicked for my four-year-old. She began to have a small amount of judgment in her voice as she continued to talk about this woman. I explained gently, “Ella, we can’t judge her or talk about her behind her back. She may not know her beautiful mystery and why she should protect it. Instead, we should pray that God may reveal it to her, so she knows just how special she is.” Ella was satisfied with my answer and agreed to pray for her.

Later in the article Pritchard reveals the real reason she won’t let her daughter wear spaghetti straps. Some day, her daughter will be a teenager, and if she hasn’t learned to be modest she might dress immodestly and attract poor, helpless horn dog Catholic boys:

I meet many parents who have allowed their daughters to wear spaghetti-straps, tube tops, leggings as pants, two-piece swim suits, and other clothing when they were young when their figures hadn’t emerged, only to find out there comes a time when they become extremely uncomfortable with their beautiful, womanly, innocent, teenage daughters wearing them in public. Fathers are by far the ones who cringe the most when they speak to me. They know teen-age boys. Every father was a teenage boy once. They cringe at the way their daughters are dressing, but the fight is so big, they often back down and let their girls wear what they want.

As a parent of six children, I know the importance of teaching children to dress appropriately. However, there is a difference between appropriate and puritanical. Pritchard goes far beyond appropriate and teaches her daughter a way of thinking that will result in her thinking her now-womanly body is sinful and must be covered up lest poor, helpless men take sexual advantage of her.

Pritchard, with her silly objection to her daughter wearing a top with spaghetti straps (and tube tops, leggings as pants, two-piece swim suits), is making sure her daughter will grow up to be a sexually repressed Catholic woman. Instead of teaching her daughter to dress appropriately, she is planting the seed of sexual repression.

Her ban of certain clothing will do little to help her daughter when she becomes a sexually aware woman. Silly talk about a woman’s “mystery” will not keep her daughter from desiring what is natural: sex. While we can certainly debate whether it is a good idea for teenagers to have sex, the fact of the matter is they do:

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the year 2007, 35% of US high school students were currently sexually active and 47.8% of US high school students reported having had sexual intercourse. This percentage has decreased slightly since 1991..

Self-report surveys suggest that half of all 15- to 19-year-olds have had oral sex. That percentage rises to 70% by the time they turn 19, and equal numbers of boys and girls participate. Research indicating that oral sex is less risky to teens’ emotional and physical well being than vaginal sex has been advanced;[13] researchers at the University of California do not believe this conclusion is warranted. They found that oral sex, as well as vaginal sex, was associated with negative consequences. Of adolescents engaging in oral sex only, girls were twice as likely as boys to report feeling bad about themselves and nearly three times as likely to feel used. Despite their behaviors, 90% of adolescents “agree that most young people have sex before they are really ready.”

The average age of first sexual intercourse in the United States is 17.0 for males and 17.3 for females, and this has been rising in recent years. The percentage of teens who are waiting longer to have sex has been increasing. For those teens who have had sex, 70% of girls and 56% of boys said that their first sexual experience was with a steady partner, while 16% of girls and 28% of boys report losing their virginity to someone they had just met or who was just a friend.

Pritchard belongs to a sect that is known for sexual repression and the denial of natural human sexuality. The Church also condemns masturbation and birth control. One would think if the Church wanted unmarried Catholics to remain sexually pure that they would encourage masturbation as an acceptable release of sexual tension. One would also think that the church would encourage Catholic women to use birth control since it would help eliminate the need for abortion. But they don’t. I wonder how different the discussion and rules would be if women were allowed to have a say in the teachings of the Church?

When it comes to human sexuality, the male-controlled Catholic Church is fighting a losing battle. In 2012, the Guttmacher Institute had this to say about Catholic women having sex and using birth control:

“Guttmacher’s analysis of data from the federal government’s National Survey of Family Growth found that the vast majority of American women of reproductive age (15–44) — including 99% of all sexually experienced women and 98% of those who identify themselves as Catholic — have used a method of contraception other than natural family planning at some point. Women may be classified as sexually experienced regardless of whether they are currently sexually active, using contraceptives, pregnant, trying to get pregnant or postpartum.

“By their early 20s, some 79% of never-married women — and 89% of never-married Catholic women — have had sex. (Presumably, all married women have done so.) In short, most American women (including Catholics) have had sex by their early 20s, and virtually all of them have used contraceptives other than natural family planning.

It is now known that the best way to combat unplanned teen pregnancy is to provide sex education and easy access to birth control. Just say no because God says so, is not a plan. Yet, Pritchard’s church wants to deny teens and unmarried women the means to keep from getting pregnant.

Knowing how the Catholic church views human sexuality helps to explain Pritchard’s puritanical obsession with her four-year old daughter’s clothing. She doesn’t want her daughter to grow up to be one of those “easy” Catholic girls whom boys are fond of talking about.

Instead of teaching her daughter to embrace her sexuality and prepare her for life as a sexual being, she is teaching her that a woman’s body should be covered up so her “mystery” is not revealed. This is no different from the teaching of the IFB church, with its prohibitions against wearing any form of clothing that reveals the female shape and body. The reason?  The teens and men of the church are pathetic, helpless creatures who are little more than dogs seeking bitches in heat.

Instead of teaching accountability and responsibility, religious zealots such as Pritchard teach repression and impotence. Sexually awake young women wearing spaghetti straps is not the problem. Any teen boy or man who can’t sexually control himself if he sees a woman wearing a top with spaghetti straps is pathetic. Men, regardless of their age, need to be responsible for their sexual behavior and the manner in which they treat women. Women should not be forced to manage not only their own sexuality but the sexuality of men who can’t help themselves. They are not the gatekeepers, the protectors of the “mystery.” Men need to own their sexuality and act appropriately (as the Catholic church needs to own its cover-up and protection of the real predators that roam the sanctuary and rectory: Catholic priests).

Lest readers think Pritchard is a lone fundamentalist Catholic, I leave you with the advice another fundamentalist Catholic woman, T.M. Gaouette, gives to sexually aware Catholic girls:

In a 2004 article titled “The Forgotten Virtue: Modesty In Dress,” author Monsignor Charles M. Mangan lays out a basic guide founded upon principles of modesty set by Pope Pius XII in 1957. These values are still valid today and I’ve found them to be very helpful in determining what’s modest and what’s not.

With Mangan’s help, I will offer specific guidelines on dressing modestly.

To dress modestly is to avoid deliberately causing sexual excitement in oneself or one’s neighbor (Mangan).

The objective of modesty is to refrain from wearing clothing that causes lustful thoughts, whether intentionally or unintentionally. When dressing modestly, Christian girls should avoid clothes that reveal, enhance or highlight certain body parts.

  • Bust: Avoid tight or see-through shirts or tops without appropriate undergarments, and tops with low plunging necklines that reveal a cleavage. If you have a large bust, then you should also stay away from spaghetti straps and strapless designs.
  • Thighs: When it comes to skirts, select those that are no shorter than above the knee. Make sure you account for how high the skirt rises when you sit. When it comes to shorts, opt for those that don’t expose too much of the thigh.
  • Back: Refrain from wearing backless shirts or dresses that plunge in the back. These styles are designed to look sexy.
  • Stomach: Shirts and tops should always cover the stomach.
  • Butt: Avoid tight skirts, shorts, dresses and pants that reveal the shape and curve of the buttocks. I also would avoid pants with words printed on the butt, since they are designed to cause the eyes to gaze at that area of your body.

I added “butt” to Mangan’s list because it often causes lustful thoughts in men when highlighted by tight shorts, pants, dresses and skirts.

There usually are no exceptions to the above rules in the case of everyday clothing. When it comes to athletic wear, make sure that your ensemble doesn’t look sexy.

Clothing fulfills three necessary requirements: hygiene, decency and adornment. These are ‘so deeply rooted in nature that they cannot be disregarded or contradicted without provoking hostility and prejudice’ (Mangan quoting Pope Pius XII).

In addition to these guidelines, I believe that, in some instances, modesty is subjective. One item of clothing may be immodest on one person, but modest on another. For example, spaghetti straps can look both modest and immodest, depending on the size of the person’s bust. However, modesty in this case can usually be attained by adding a cardigan or light jacket.

Dear reader, what do you think? Is Pritchard correct in not allowing her four-year old to wear a top with spaghetti straps? You already know what I think. Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

040816

What Happened to Ohio?

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News. Published July 13, 2014

Dear Editor:

What has happened to Ohio, a state once known for its progressive politics and values? In a few short decades, religious and political fundamentalists have taken over the state government and are now attempting to take over the state board of education. Ohio is now being compared to backwater states like North Carolina and Mississippi.

The Ohio House of Representatives is considering HB 351, a bill that would effectively make abortion and birth control difficult to obtain. This bill has no abortion exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. Evidently, women impregnated through rape or incest are supposed to realize their pregnancy is God’s wonderful plan for their life. Rep. John Becker, the sponsor of HB 351, made it clear that this bill is all about his personal religious convictions when he stated “This is just a personal view. I’m not a medical doctor.”

The Ohio Board of Education now has several Christian fundamentalists on its board. Mark Smith, the president of Ohio Christian University, is one such member. Smith, in a recent speech at the 2014 Road to Victory conference, made it clear that he is part of a movement that is determined to take the schools back for God. According to Smith, “it’s no secret that our educational system is full of teachers and professors who desire to obfuscate truth, and these individuals are effectively (deconstructing) our nation.”

Truth to Mark Smith and other Christian fundamentalists like him is the Bible. Smith stated “You see I’m excited to lead the cause for the rebirth of faith values in America, the rebirth of embracing a love for God, the love for family, and a love for our nation. I like traditional marriage. I’m for traditional marriage. Let’s embrace traditional marriage … .” Rather than focusing on education, Smith wants to focus on inculcating our children with his brand of Christianity. Our children may not learn to do algebra but at least they will know which God is the right one and which holy book is truth.

Sadly, most Ohioans are clueless about what goes on in Columbus. They continue to send Republicans to the state house without ever considering what they might do when they get there. The only way to stem the tide of religious extremism is to vote the extremists out of office. As it stands now, the Ohio Democratic party is weak and here in rural northwest Ohio it is almost non-existent.

The solution remains the same. We must stand up and fight. We must vote. We must support candidates that want to return Ohio to the days of its progressive greatness. We must be willing to make our voice heard. The editorial page of this newspaper is filled with letters from right-wing political and religious extremists. Surely there are Defiance County residents who are willing to stand up for the liberal/progressive values? Perhaps it is time to write a letter to the editor.

Bruce Gerencser

Ney

Reducing the Number of Abortions

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News, published March 1, 2009.

Dear Editor,

President Barack Obama has made a plea to the pro-life movement asking them to work with him in reducing the number of abortions in the United States. One would think that his overture would be readily accepted. No matter what position a person holds on abortion, it would seem that reducing the number of abortions is in the best interest of everyone, especially for the unborn.

Unfortunately, President Obama’s plea was rejected. It seems pro-lifers don’t want to get their hands dirty by holding hands with those with differing views. Better to stand on the sidelines and chuck rocks than actually work toward reducing abortions.

The latest pro-life attempt to outlaw all abortions is to encourage the passage of “personhood laws.” Such laws would grant personhood at the moment of conception. Thus from the moment of conception forward that which grows in the womb of the mother is a person protected by the same laws and constitutional rights as those who are born.

I am sure that pro-lifers are well intentioned in their attempt to get personhood laws passed, but such laws would wreak havoc on the our legal system.

If such laws were passed, women having an abortion would be guilty of murder as would the doctors who perform abortions. Women who lose the implanted egg during a car accident could be guilty of vehicular homicide. Disposing of fertilized eggs at a fertilization clinic would be considered murder. Women who take birth control pills that cause a spontaneous abortion would be guilty of murder. I could go on and on about the implications of such a law.

Whatever we may call the fertilized egg, a person it is not. Until the fetus is viable outside of the womb it should not be granted personhood status.

The vast majority of all abortions take place prior to viability, with most occurring in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. Instead of focusing on the point where most abortions take place, the pro-life movement would rather focus on later-term abortions which make up 1 percent of all abortions. Of course this is a calculated political move. What raises more money? Pictures of four-week-old fertilized eggs or 30-week-old aborted fetuses?

The pro-life movement here in northwest Ohio is missing a great opportunity to work with people, like myself, who don’t believe life begins at fertilization, but who sincerely desire to reduce the overall number of abortions.

I am in contact with a number of people who have similar views as mine. They sit in the back pew of the church, silenced by the rhetoric of the pro-life movement. They desire to work toward reducing abortions, but they have no opportunity to act on their beliefs because they are considered baby killers and often considered non-Christian.

If pro-lifers are sincerely interested in reducing abortions, then it is time for them to move down from their lofty pinnacle to where sinners like me, who are willing to work toward reducing abortion, are found.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney

A Consistent Pro-Life View

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News, published October 5, 2008.

Dear Editor:

Ed Singer wrote the one letter I have read so far that succinctly distills the issues at stake in the 2008 presidential election. His appeal to Catholic school tradition is key to our choosing the next president of the United States. I only wish evangelical Christians had such a social tradition.

While groups like Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action attempt to bring social issues to the forefront of public discussion, evangelicalism is, for the most part, still a captive of the Republican Party. Many evangelicals are two-issue voters — abortion and homosexuality.

While I am certainly pro-life, I believe we miss the mark when we become single-issue voters. The issues are much broader and more complex than that. We need to think carefully about the current condition of our country and where we want to go in the future. I am 51 years old and I have voted in every election since Jimmy Carter won the White House. I am of the opinion that the current election is the most important election of my life.

I would ask my fellow evangelicals to consider what I call a “consistent life position.” It is not enough to be pro-life. We must also consider the issues of war, terrorism, torture, capital punishment and poverty. We must also consider the broad issue of social justice. What does it mean for me to be my brother’s keep? In a world filled with poverty, disease, war and injustice do I have a moral obligation to keep in regards to my fellow human beings?

America is a great nation filled with honorable, loving and just people. In recent years, as we waged pre-emptive wars, turned our backs on the poor of the world and continued to ignore to hurting and suffering in our own country, we have become less honorable, less loving and certainly less just. We need a president who will take a completely different course than the one we are on now and who will lead us back to being a nation of honorable, loving and just people.

As much as I like John McCain, I believe he will be four more years of George Bush. Will Barack Obama be any different? I don’t know. I find his speeches to be stirring, and they certainly are filled with all the things I think are important. Time will tell whether or not Barack Obama can deliver on what he has promised. I am willing to give him the chance. We cannot continue to stay the course, and I fear that is exactly what John McCain will do. We need a radical departure from the status quo.

Barack Obama’s message is one of change, and I can only hope that the change he brings will reinvigorate us as a nation and that will return to being a people of goodwill, both at home and across the world.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney

Bruce Gerencser