It seems a lot of people can’t fathom why a woman could support Brett Kavanaugh. I can, and here’s why.
I come from a young generation of women who were never taught consent. In our world, we were taught that our bodies didn’t belong to ourselves. God owned them, they said, but really that meant that men owned them. Our fathers. Our pastors. Our husbands.
This was the 1990s evangelical movement known as “purity culture.” A pendulum swing from the free love culture of the 1970s and the AIDS scare of the 1980s, the 1990s were all about abstinence.
Purity culture taught young girls to hold responsibility for men’s lust. Our formative years were spent in shame of our bodies, in suspicion of our sexuality, and in earnest ownership over the behaviors of men.
When I was 13, I went to my female youth pastor, shaken by my first aggressive catcall. She said, “welcome to the wonderful world of womanhood,” with an edge of tired sarcasm to her voice.
When I was 14, I was lying on my belly reading the bible on the church floor before youth group. A youth leader told me to sit up. You don’t want the boys to picture you naked, she said.
When I was 15, I was violently assaulted on a missions trip. I was asked by my team leader, “What were you wearing?”
When I was 16, I sat in a dark movie theater with my crush. It was my first official date, and I was too consumed by fear to enjoy it. You see, we were taught that women who have sex before marriage are like a trampled rose.
When I was 17, I attended a purity retreat where I signed a pledge to save myself for my future husband. I didn’t even think about what I wanted because that didn’t matter. My body wasn’t my own.
When I was 18, a guy at my Christian college lectured my friend and me for stretching in the student union. He said it caused him to picture us in the positions we could maintain in bed and that we should work harder to protect his thoughts. We acquiesced. After all, we wanted to be worthy of our future husbands.
When I was 19, another girlfriend of mine went to visit a guy who was housesitting off campus. He forced himself on her. She didn’t report it because we knew that girls who had sex were expelled from school.
When I was 20, I got dumped by my Christian boyfriend. “I want a pure woman,” he told me, after one of our kissing sessions. We hadn’t even had sex.
When I was 21, I was engaged to another Christian man. We sought Christian counsel to prepare ourselves for marriage. Always be available to your husband, they said. If you don’t fulfill his needs, he will lust after other women.
When I was 22, I began to untangle myself from purity culture. I had to relearn basic concepts of bodily autonomy and consent.
So this is why it is not surprising to me that so many women defend Kavanaugh. The women who grew up being guardians of male sexuality are now approaching middle age, and many of us are still assuming that role, and expecting other women to as well. The lingering effects of purity culture run deep. We were taught to distrust women—beginning with ourselves.
Carly Gelsinger’s book, Once You Go In: A Memoir of Radical Faith, was published Oct. 16. Gelsinger is a Gilroy resident.