A woman raised in the Evangelical Christian community reflects on the "purity" movement and its devastating consequences on the psyches of women, linking her personal experiences with interviews and research.
Part memoir and part journalism, Pure is a horrendous, granular, relentless, emotionally true account of how it feels to be taught—by parents, neighbors, teachers. and pastors—from the youngest age that one’s sexuality (including organs, physical body, and sexual impulses) is disgusting, a mind-set that can lead to only one place: that deep inside, the girl is disgusting, too. Popular writing about conservative religion, especially by secular authors, is often cliché ... She is not a secular outsider, calling out the sexual abuse and subordination of women in the Evangelical world with the condescension and shock of one who 'knows better.' She is an insider who has, through much anguish, shed the damaging constraints of her upbringing ... I have never seen anywhere a more intimate and heart-rending description of what it’s like to be 14 or 15 or 20 years old living under the expectations Evangelicals have about 'purity' ... There will be readers who are tempted to place Pure atop their pile of outrage porn, to tweet and blog about its revelations as more evidence of the hegemony of patriarchy and the oppressions levied upon women—this time by organized religion. They won’t be wrong. But for me, the value of this book is in its gentle and sympathetic descriptions of how a girl learns to absorb the lessons of her oppressive culture and to internalize them.
Refugees from the 'purity industry,' which had a heavy influence on evangelical youth in the latter years of the 20th century, may recognize themselves in Pure, Linda Kay Klein’s eye-opening study of what went wrong when strict interpretations of biblical Scripture became cultural touchstones ... Klein has since spent years interviewing many women about their church experiences, and their accounts are strikingly similar, graphic and disturbing ... Klein’s research supporting the need for reform is compelling, and she makes it clear that sexism and sexual shame directed toward women and young girls are endemic in our society ... For those who seek spiritual community without gender bias, Klein offers empathy and new choices.
She combines memoir with survivor interviews and research on shame, sexuality, and religion to effectively argue that the evangelical sexual purity movement has done lasting harm to many of the women who embraced its message as teens in the ‘90s and early 2000s ... This analysis promises to offer insight for mental health professionals and for those dealing with the fallout of purity teachings. A second valuable contribution of Pure is Klein’s emphasis on the connection between sexual- and gender-based shame in evangelical purity culture ... As Pure demonstrates ... Departing from these long-held patterns to embrace a more nuanced, personal sexual ethic—as some of the interviewees in Pure have done—will be a stretch for many, even as the #MeToo movement knocks on the church’s door.