The borders of my world seemed to explode

There’s nothing like an escape narrative, is there. No Longer Quivering, naturally, is full of them – there’s a lot to escape from, and (happily) a good few women doing the escaping.

Sierra enrolled at a Community College. She took a philosophy course. She worked at Wal-Mart. She felt uncomfortable in her godly clothes.

Every day, I worked an eight-hour shift at Wal-Mart, and despite my best efforts to vary my wardrobe and to solicit comments on being overdressed rather than appearing strange, inevitably somebody noticed that I didn’t wear pants. “It’s Biblical,” I sighed. It was a shortcut other women had taught me to say when I didn’t want to have a long conversation about my dress…

I felt as though the Holy Bible were plastered to my chest. There was nothing I could do to avoid mentioning it. I began to obfuscate when strangers and friends confronted me. “It’s religious,” I said sometimes. Other times, “I just like skirts.” As I looked around at my coworkers in cute jeans and tank tops, I felt less and less inclined to “witness” and wanted desperately just to go about my business without incurring questions from strangers…

Every time I got dressed in the morning, I took a stand for the Message by donning yet another floor-sweeping handmade skirt. To dress otherwise would be to send up a battle flare, declaring my apostasy in one stroke. I’d be set upon instantly by a horde of Message women, all reminding me why Brother Branham said women shouldn’t wear pants and praying that the Lord would lead me to repentance.

All that – and that’s only a sample – about wearing jeans.

Then she takes a class in American literature to 1865, and she writes very good papers, and one day the professor says to her –

Read it



  1. says

    No, he wore skirts. So did all the disciples. And the priests. And all the other men. Therefore, skirts are men’s clothing, and women who want to follow Old Testament rules must never wear skirts.

  2. latsot says

    It reminds me of Lalla Ward’s “I didn’t know I could.” For all the horrors of religion, the most shameful part is when it makes people believe they can’t build a life around doing what they love.

  3. Marie-Thérèse O'Loughlin says

    Sierra’s writing is so full of sincerity. She’s really having to ‘get places’ by the skin of her own teeth. No silver spoon to the back of her at all. She is a credit, considering the obstacles that she’s had to overcome in her young life. She’s an inspiration for all those who have to climb big hurdles in life.

  4. says

    Susannah is right about first century A.D. dress codes. Trousers were associated with barbarians (especially Celts), and were fashionable — get this — among Roman women at various times because of the attractive patterns woven or dyed into the material. We would consider those patterns ‘tartans’ now. Roman men, however, were discouraged from wearing fancy Celtic trews. This was not because of the bright colours (Romans loved bright colours; all their temples and sculptures were garishly painted, for example), but because of the cut.

    The only exception to this rule were cavalrymen in the army (or people who worked with horses generally), who wore trousers under their skirts for reasons of practicality. These were often leather, and tanned and coloured to match the horse’s tack.

    All of these ‘dress codes’ are utterly culture specific, and completely bogus. Here’s a few more:

    Paul’s injunctions against long hair on men reflects Roman prejudices (he was a Roman citizen, remember); the Roman male ideal (for both gays and straights) being what most of us would recognise as a USMC ‘high and tight’. Romans looked down on both Jews and Greeks because they wore beards; Romans considered beards festy homes for lodgers (don’t ask). Roman women usually wore their hair long or long-ish, although there were periods when it was fashionable to wear it long and curly (piled up around a frame) in the front, and shaven in the back. One of my classics tutors called this hairstyle ‘the Roman anti-mullet’.

    And, as with us, hemlines went up and down, colours and cuts went in and out, and even the toga was turned into ceremonial dress (lawyers wore it, for example, when everyone else had stopped wearing it, which is typical of the legal profession).

    Often, cultural explanations are the last resort of the analytically bereft, but I’m afraid there is nothing so culture specific as fashion.

  5. says

    This is great stuff, Ophelia, opening up the world for more people, if they drop by. This moved me especially:

    “How did you do?” My mother asked as I walked in, clutching the paper with my heart ringing as loudly as my ears. I looked at her and tucked my waist-length hair behind my ear, grinning. “I got an A.” And I went upstairs to think about how big the world had just become.

    It shows what is so wrong about religious narrow-mindedness, and the idea that every person has a place, and that women’s place is always at the bottom. It’s evil, positively evil, and most of the stuff that you’ve posted about the new patriarchy, or whatever it is, is downright creepy! How is it possible for women to be taken in by this hokum? That’s what I can’t understand. Worlds of experience out there, and they are content to subordinate themselves to a man, even to an abusive one. There’s something deeply wrong here. I do remember a study that was done here in the Maritimes (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island) about religon a domestic abuse. It was much higher in fundamentalist and strict baptist households. Religion is such an evil thing, a truly evil thing. It can’t take a course in American literature to 1859 or whenever in order to liberate women from this servitude. But to have presidential candidates who support this evil — that really is too much.

  6. Ophelia Benson says

    Eric, I know. I’m horrified by what I’m learning. I thought I had some idea of it, but I didn’t.

    In a way the most infuriating and frustrating aspect of it is the total bogusness – it’s not really “religious” at all – it’s just a dopy nostalgic fantasy, derived partly (at least) from popular culture. It wouldn’t be better if it were “religious” but there’s still something maddening about people thinking it’s “scriptural” to try to look like the cast of “Little House on the Prairie”…not to mention stunting their children’s lives for that purpose.

  7. mordacious1 says

    Jist anuther exampel of wut dem unooversitys dew ta r wul-mennered wimin folk. Its descusting is wut it is!

  8. Grace says

    @skepticlawyer That’s really fascinating stuff.
    My former Greek Orthodox priest complained to me once that the newer, younger priests were all wearing their hair short, were beardless and went around in pants. Pants! Proper Eastern Orthodox priests are supposed to wear a long beard, long hair (pulled back in a ponytail), those long black robes and those big funny hats, even on their days off.

  9. says

    From the other side of this equation, I am a bit dispirited when I see how often perfectly good women philosophy students are shocked and skeptical when I tell them that they are doing great in class discussions and to keep it up.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *