Who are the Real Babies? House-Proofing and Modesty

I was raised on the Pearls’ disciplinary methods. The Pearls teach that you don’t child-proof your house, you house-proof your child. As soon as a child is old enough to move around, say nine or ten months, you teach her what not to touch. If she reaches for a laptop left out on the couch, you tell her “no” and give her a little slap on the hand. If she does it again, you repeat, over and over, until she eventually learns not to touch it.

I was also raised on the modesty teachings of the purity culture. I was taught that women must be careful what they wear so as not to lead men astray into sexual thoughts. Women should cover their bodies to protect the men around them from temptation.

Blogger Biblical Personhood pointed out in an excellent blog post not too long ago that there is a contradiction at work here. Babies are expected to have self-control, but men are not. I’m not sure how I didn’t see this contradiction growing up! Let me fill it in with some more detail: 

First, the Biblical Personhood piece quotes from a post on my blog that dealt with my own participation in “house proofing” one of my little sisters when I was in high school.

Sixteen-month-old Faith reaches for a glass bowl on the coffee table.

Faith, no, don’t touch that.

Faith touches the glass bowl. *pop* I slap her hand. She looks startled.

I said no.

Faith reaches for the glass bowl again. *pop*


Her little hand reaches out once again, her lower lip trembling. *pop*


Faith whimpers and looks like she’s going to cry, and I sigh. I gather her in my arms.

Faith, it’s okay, but I said no, and that means no.

She looks up at the glass bowl with pain and confusion in her face. I set her down by her toy box, pointing to her toys, and she soon forgets about the glass bowl and is busy with a doll.

Next, the Biblical Personhood piece quotes from a thread on Gentle Christian Mothers:

The “defrauding” and extreme modesty aspects are also pretty demeaning to men, IMO. Those poor little men who can’t control their animal natures need us women to cover nearly every square inch of our bodies in order to stop them from sinning.

There’s no responsibility for men to keep themselves from sinning by, oh, I don’t know, turning their heads AWAY from the temptation. There’s no accountability for men either. All that responsibility for the men’s lust is given to the women and girls.

Not to say that modesty isn’t a positive thing… but not when it’s used to absolve an entire gender of the responsibility for their own sin and instead places the responsibility for that sin on the other gender.

The piece next directly points to the contradiction.

Babies - should be taught self-control. To not act on what they see. If what they see (i.e. Mom’s glass vase) causes them problems, they should be taught to simply not act on their urges. Nothing should be hidden to protect them from stumbling.

Adult men - should be protected from seeing things that makes them stumble. If what they see (i.e. the female shoulder or knee) cause them problems, it should be hidden from them. Nobody expect that their self-control has to protect them from stumbling.

There is something seriously wrong with a system where babies have to be punished if they don’t act right, and the world has to be adult-male proofed to not tempt them. In a sane world adults are punished for not acting right, and houses are baby-proofed.

. . .

Who are the babies in patriarchy? The 16- month olds who are expected to have self-control even though your ornaments are on display, or the 30 and 50 year olds from whom you should hide things? And why does patriarchy want people to be led by the “babies” from whom self-control is not expected?

As I said, I’m surprised I had never thought of this before. When you’re raised in the movement, even the smallest children are taught to have self control and to not touch what is right in front of their eyes. In fact, it’s considered quite the accomplishment to be able to leave an expensive vase or dish of candy on a coffee table and know that even the child just learning to pull herself to standing won’t touch them. It’s a way of showcasing your children’s obedience and your success at child training.

For some reason, doing the same for adult men – i.e. placing a woman in a miniskirt or low-cut shirt in his line of vision and expecting him to not act on his desires – is unacceptable. Babies have to have self-control. Adult men can’t be expected to have self-control. Parents shouldn’t remove objects of temptation from babies’ line of vision. Women should cover up everything that might prove tempting from men’s line of vision.

And as the Biblical Personhood article finishes, it strikes me as ironic that in the Christian Patriarchy framework the very men who need to be protected from their uncontrollable sexual desires are the ones who are supposed to lead. Maybe they should put their toddlers in charge instead. They, after all, know self-control.

The Modesty Rules---Not So Simple, Really
When Marriage Looks Like the Only Escape
The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
Nine-Year-Old Sluts and Masturbating Dinner Guests
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy

    For some reason, doing the same for adult men – i.e. placing a woman in a miniskirt or low-cut shirt in his line of vision and expecting him to not act on his desires – is unacceptable. Babies have to have self-control. Adult men can’t be expected to have self-control.

    I’m not sure that’s exactly it. Babies are expected to have self-control, as are adult men. However, babies are not protected from having their desire sparked, while men are. Because the desire to have sex with an attractive woman is considered a horrifying sin in and of itself, while anything the baby might desire is merely temptation. When it comes to sex, temptation = sin. This viewpoint leads to excessive shame and shaming and damages men as well as women.

    • eric

      Joy, I think the 10th commandment makes pretty clear that thoughts of temptation = sin for sex AND other forms of covetousness. So I don’t think the ‘with babies, mere thoughts of temptation aren’t sin’ defense works. Desire for a glass vase may not be a sexual desire, but its directly analogous to a desire for your neighbor’s ox or ass.

      • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy


      • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy

        Actually, I misread your response–sorry I can’t delete my comment above. The sin of covetousness is generally thought to be closer to avarice than lust. In any case, it implies that a woman’s sexuality is a man’s property (which was socially/legally true when the 10 commandments was written), and, well, if I thought that, I would be a patriarchal type and I’m not.

        But covetousness is not just temptation to sin, it IS sin. One could be tempted to covet and just not GO there, just as one can look at an attractive woman, think “she’s hot,” and then go on with one’s life without obsessing about or maneuvering to acquire or have sex with the woman. David seeing Bathsheba on the roof = not necessarily a problem. David having Bathsheba brought to him = problem.

      • Rumtopf

        I figured child trainers would see the baby’s actions as a desire to disobey their parents rather than a desire to touch the pretty vase.

  • Kevin Alexander

    The Pearls point out that you can train a child the way you train a dog. The tragedy is not that a child’s mind is not like a dogs but that it very much is.
    When training a dog and training a child you expect completely different outcomes but if you train them the same you will get the same outcome. A dog will be dependent on his master all of his life. You want a dog to have no mind of his own, you want only that he obeys.
    If you use the same training method on a child, you will get the same outcome, someone who can’t think for themselves.
    A dog likely won’t outlive his master but a child likely will and so will go looking for someone else to obey. Many a cult is recruited this way.

    • seditiosus

      I think you’ll find that’s exactly what the Pearls et al want. People with minds of their own don’t make good Soldiers for Christ(TM).

    • The_L

      And if Quiverfull isn’t a cult, I’ll eat my hat. They don’t want kids to think because it’s harder to convince people to join/remain in their cult if they CAN think.

      • Contrarian

        Eat it!

        The Quiverfull movement is large and varied. It has some cult-like proper submovements, such as the Gothardites, but it is too broad and loosely organized to be, in its entirety, a cult.

    • http://azurelunatic.dreamwidth.org azurelunatic

      One instance where I trained my nephew the same way as you might train a dog, and I think that the situation was supportive of independence rather than against it:

      The little guy (LF) was constantly getting in trouble because he’d be focused on whatever he was doing at the moment, to the exclusion of all other things (occasionally including bodily functions, which was embarrassing for everyone), and genuinely wouldn’t notice that his name was being called. (A few years later he was in fact diagnosed with ADHD, which made sense; I automatically compensate for ADHD tendencies without realizing I’m doing anything special.) He’d then get in trouble with his mom’s new fiancé for being disobedient and not paying attention. (The new fiancé and I had very different approaches to childrearing. I was aware of the LF’s capacity for monofocus and made sure I had his actual attention before telling him to do something. The new fiancé did not.)

      The LF was frustrated with his own inability to notice his name being called and came to me about it because he was sick of it happening and getting in trouble. (He was about 7 at the time.) I suggested that we treat it like we did all the other things that he had trouble with, and practice it. I laid out the training plan: I would call his name, he would stop whatever he was doing, look at me, and say “What?” Then I would cheer and praise him. He thought it was a little silly (okay, a lot silly) but he agreed to the idea. We did it. His ability to respond when called by name improved markedly.

      I feel I worked ethically with him by:
      a) working on something that he was frustrated with his own inability to do
      b) explaining what I was going to do and getting his assent to the lesson plan
      c) not using punishment as a training tool
      d) using a small, sustainable reward (clapping and cheering, which is free and doesn’t encourage later bad habits, rather than candy or something expensive)
      e) framing the process in a way so he could with any luck understand the training, helping give him the tools to train himself in the same way through other things he has difficulties with in life — practice and congratulations on a successful try.

  • Twist

    Because the desire to have sex with an attractive woman is considered a horrifying sin in and of itself

    But then, covering a woman from head to toe isn’t going to prevent that desire. Baby proofing a house . You prevent the child from drinking drain cleaner by putting the drain cleaner out of the child’s reach. Covering women up just changes the focus of the temptation. Once breasts and buttocks are covered, shoulders and knees are tempting. Once shoulders and knees are covered, ankles and arms are are tempting. Once they’re covered, it’s the hair, or jewellery, or nail polish, or makeup,or the face and you end up with a a culture where women walk around covered from head to toe in shapeless black sacks, and religious leaders talk about whether it’s immodest for a woman to reveal even her eyes in public.

    I have though of fundies, particularly fundie men as comparable to babies before though, based on the temper-tantrum-like reaction to not getting their own way. You want birth control? Well my god doesn’t like that, waaaaaahh! There’s a woman in shorts over there? Waaaaaaaahh! Gay people exist? And they want rights and stuff? Waaaaaaaahh! Evolution in a biology book? Waaaaaaaaahh!

    Then the whole “I’m head of the household, I’m in charge, everyone has to do as I say” thing reminds me of the spoiled kid who always has to be in charge of the game or they’ll run off and tell on everyone else for being mean to them.

    Although, babies and small children can be excused here, on account of being babies and small children. Adults have no excuse.

    • Meggie

      I agree. In Victorian England, when all woman wore long sleeves, high collars and long skirts, catching a glimpse of a womans ankle if her skirt lifted was considered incredibly sexy.

      • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com Amelia

        I know that for me, the longer my skirt, the more revealing it seems to feel to reveal smaller pieces of skin.

        Its really quite interesting how a floor-length skirth pulled up out of the way of my ankles feels almost risque, while I’m quite happy to wear skirts above the knee (and shorts to only halfway down my thighs at the gym). I guess though its all about revealing what has been hidden / imagined. My husband enjoys that game too…

        In pre-revolution France, it was unseemly for a womans ankles or wrists to be seen in their dresses. Yet the dresses were often cut BELOW the nipple, with only a sheer gauze covering the nipple… Couldn’t get away with that now really…

  • Twist

    Sorry, that should have said *Baby proofing a house works* rather than just *baby proofing a house*. I should start proof-reading.

  • Besomyka

    Wow, when you first highlighted the contradiction it was like a slap in the face. Something in my head snapped into place. that conflict right there is precisely what ha been bothering me, I just didn’t know it. I felt there was something wrong, like a stone in my shoe, but I couldn’t put my finger on it — but there it is!

    • ScottInOH

      Ditto. Great post.

  • Interrobang

    And these people think that we feminists hate men. Personally, I think men are adults and can therefore be expected to change their own diapers and mind their own manners.

    • http://carpescriptura.wordpress.com MrPopularSentiment

      Precisely. I respect men enough to believe them capable of interacting in an adult way and of shouldering adult responsibilities. Beware the feminist boogey-woman! WoooOoOOooO she might expect you to take ownership for your household by doing chores!

      • Ariel

        Lmao. That is awesome.

  • http://www.quiverfull.wordpress.com Heart

    Excellent! Thinking more about it, the issue around babies touching things is that they are to learn to obey their parents immediately. Along the same lines, why wouldn’t men be expected to obey God immediately, regardless the temptation, if the expectation holds for babies.

  • http://carpescriptura.wordpress.com MrPopularSentiment

    YES! I want the fundies to start blanket training their grown men! Put a blanket on the floor and tell the men to sit quietly. Put a bunch of Playboys just out of reach. If the men try to reach for the Playboys, whack them.

    And then women can dress in whatever is comfortable, rather than in clothes that are man-proofed!

    • Tsu Dho Nimh

      I like that idea … catch them leering and slap them and say “Avert your eyes, young man!”

  • seditiosus

    I have to say, I find this view of men extremely insulting. It basically states that all men are sexual predators with no capacity for self control and no ability to see women as anything other than sex toys.

    No. That is not the case, and it’s offensive. It might be what some of these fundy men are, but they should get the psychiatric help they need and leave the rest of us out of it!

    • Alex D.

      Of course us heterosexual men can have self control, mind our manners, and be respectful. (as try to be every day towards all the women in my life)

      We also love boobs – probably have since being a baby. I’m good with that – makes life more fun.

      • seditiosus

        Agreed. There is absolutely nothing wrong with healthy boob appreciation. The fact that the fundies think it’s sinful says far more about them than it does about you and I and the rest of the normal population.

  • Yukimi

    I love the post :)

    Small typo at the end of the 3rd paragraph starting by the end.bIt says you’re success, it should be your success (or you are successful I guess).

  • http://wanderinweeta.blogspot.com Susannah

    Have pity on the poor menz! They’re bombarded with temptations all the time. Let’s face it; covering a woman in a pup tent with a tiny peep hole doesn’t reduce the temptation. Try not to think of an elephant. See?

    So here’s a black-shrouded figure coming down the sidewalk. Hidden under there, it could be a scrawny 90-year-old; it could even be a man undercover, for all you know. But it could just as well be a nubile teenager in a bikini. Don’t think of a nubile teenager, guys!

    Didn’t work. You’ve just turned that 90-year-old into a sex object. And the poor menz who had to watch her promenade slowly down the street have to fight a new temptation.

    Better confine all the women to their own private women’s quarters. It’s all for their benefit; they’re safer that way.


    • MadGastronomer

      Congratulations, you have managed to be Islamophobic, ageist, homophobic, and repeat a tired transphobic trope.

      • http://carpescriptura.wordpress.com MrPopularSentiment


        She’s making the point that covering up doesn’t remove the temptation, because deliberately covering up merely tells others that there is *something* there to be covered, thereby drawing attention to the body as a sexual object.

        Both the burka and the bikini are equal in this. They scream “I am a sex object!” The only difference is that one says “and I will hide it” while the other says “and I will flaunt it.”

      • http://wanderinweeta.blogspot.com Susannah

        Both the burka and the bikini are equal in this. They scream “I am a sex object!”

        Thank you, Mr Popular Sentiment.

      • http://wanderinweeta.blogspot.com Susannah

        I’ve been away. I’m back. MadGastronomer; about your accusations. Islamophobic I am not. I chose the example of a woman enclosed in a burka because it is well known and it is a complete covering. I could have referenced nuns, although they are not quite so well hidden, and then you would have called me anti-Catholic.

        Ageist? I am pushing 70 and I think I’m fine. I was looking for what a young man on the street would not usually find “sexy”. (Maybe he’s ageist; maybe not.)

        As for “homophobic”, the same criterion applies. I was not thinking “gay” or “trans”, I was thinking that a burka would be a great way for someone wanted by the cops to traverse a busy city without being recognized, if they are out looking for a guy.

        Maybe I should have phrased things differently; I guess I could have invented a slimy green alien to hide head to toe. Or a robot. Would you have called me anti-alien then?

      • The_L

        I don’t see transphobia here. Under a formless burqa could literally be anyone:

        a cisfemale;

        a transfemale;

        a transmale who is forced to dress as female based on cultural mores;

        or a cismale who likes to wear them for whatever reason.

        I think that’s Susannah’s point with the “it could be a man under there” comment.

  • cottonnero

    In between infancy/toddlerhood and male adulthood, is there a lot of ‘boys will be boys’ in the typical Pearl-style upbringing, either explicitly or implicitly?

  • Sam C

    Not disagreeing with the original post (although as a non-Christian I am happy to look at any immodest women without feeling any urge to do anything illegal, immoral or unwelcome to them, and I resent the Christians’ damning of all men in this way).

    But is asking women to dress and act modestly really about men’s sexuality? I think it’s more about the male leaders exerting control over women and casting them as the guilty party if problems arise.

    It is always important to remember that religious arguments are usually “post hoc” – they are attempts to concoct a justification for the leaders’ whims and to assert dominance rather than a deduction of conclusions from more basic principles.

  • Eclectic

    Spelling fix: “your children’s obedience and your success at child training.”

    I’m not quite sure how the incorrect usage snuck in 4 words after correct usage.

    Sam C: I’m not saying that you’re wrong, but pointing out logical inconsistencies in justifications and apologetics is still useful.

  • Judy L.

    I’ve always thought it very sad that there are people who regard children as property, as pets, or as sub-humans who require ‘training’. It breaks my heart even more that such people are allowed to adopt children, and when they kill those children in the process of ‘training’ them via the guidelines set out by the Pearls, the Pearls disavow any responsibility.

    And yes, Patriarchy and misogyny are so normalized in all human cultures that we don’t see the twisted logic in requiring women to be responsible for protecting men’s eyes from our irresistible, sinful flesh. The gaze-holder is the agent, and the object of the gaze has no choice in the matter. Anyone can plainly see that it would be far more efficient, far more just, and require far less fabric to make blindfolds for men than burqas for women.

  • Rainbow68

    I think that if a man sees a woman in a miniskirt and is instantly turned into an unaccounable sexual maniac, it say a lot more about him than her. Don’t get me wrong, I dress modestly, but this teaching is foreign to me. As far as “house-proofing” a baby, we didn’t do that with our kids. If my child picked up something he wasn’t supposed to, we’d say “No” accompanied by an explanation. We did baby-proof the house, but say we’d inadvertantly left something out where the child could reach it. Let’s say it’s a match. We would say, “No! That’s a match. It could hurt you.” Or if we were at someone’s house and they were headed for something on display. We’d say, “No, that isn’t ours.” I think Christians are allowed too have common sense. While I’ve never been friends with my kids, I did afford them the same respect and dignity I gave to other adults. My younger child was strong-willed, but because of the way we’ve treated him, he’s actually received the character award at every school he’s attended. You don’t have to be mean to parent.

    • http://azurelunatic.dreamwidth.org azurelunatic

      My parents treated my sister and me as beings who had the capacity to become rational, and we were both expected to obey instantly for safety reasons (the cabin was baby-proofed to the extent that a small wood-heated cabin in Alaska can be, which is to say not completely) and they provided us with the reasons for their rules: do not eat that, it will hurt you; do not touch that, it will hurt you (and I still bear a scar from that woodstove); do not spread that all over the floor, I will have to pick that up; do not pull your sister’s hair, that is mean; do not do that loud thing now, I need to sleep. We came to expect rules with a sound basis in practicality and safety from them, because there were always reasons why it was a better idea to do it their way. The “there is always a good reason” thing was so strong that one of my first memories, in which I could not have been older than two, was of being denied the freedom to go rampaging across the unfinished 2nd floor of the house they were building, on the grounds that I was too heavy and would fall through. I was furious: they were heavier than I were, and they were not falling through. Clearly they were feeding me a line to keep me out of the way and pacified. When I brought this up to Mama many years later, she was confused at first, and then clarified: the boards were not yet nailed down, and they were walking on the places where the boards overlapped the beams. If they’d stepped wrong, they’d have fallen through. That was the only time I can remember that I thought they were giving me a rule for a bad reason.

      (They were not perfect and we were not perfect, but there was enough respect and love that I think it worked pretty well.)

      I approve of the general idea of training small children to obey when it is important for them to do so, but not exercising the ability to command them if not needed, both for ethical reasons and to avoid diluting the urgency (this also applies to dog training: if you use a command word when you’re not commanding them, they learn to ignore it). Not every place that you bring small children into will be babyproofed, and it’s good to have verbal control just in case someone gets loose somewhere they really shouldn’t be.

  • StaceyN

    Haha. We live in a relatively small house with FIVE baby gates and innumerable latches and safety locks, not to mention the three locking doors my hubby made to baby-proof our bookshelves. My big kids have a couple of “safe” areas where they can go behind gates and know they will not be harassed by the little ones or have their things destroyed. And I know my little ones will not suffer early deaths or untimely disability due to having access to dangerous items (like butter knives that fit perfectly into electrical outlets). THIS brings peace and unity into our family, and I thank God for the creative (and desperate) mothers who invented all of these wonderful baby-proofing devices. They are worth every penny we have spent on them.

    I don’t think that placing temptation in front of my littles and then spanking them all. day. long. would benefit anyone. Can you say “counter-productive?” Children ARE a blessing. And they are an inconvenience, too. There really is no healthy way around that fact. Just accept the inconvenience with the blessing, and know they will eventually grow up, and then gates, latches, locks and emptying the bottom three bookshelves will no longer be necessary… umm, unless they grow up to have the kind of self-control that some patriarchal men do LOL!

  • Timothy (TRiG)

    I’ve seen arguments that “baby-proofing” a house is better for the child’s mental development than stopping the child looking at things. It means you can allow the child to explore, not stunting zir natural curiousity. Of course, the Pearls may well see this as a bug, not a feature.


  • Olga

    It is not surprising that being raised by the Pearl Method results in adults who are very lacking in self control. When you slap a child’s hand for touching something, the child learns not to touch out of fear of punishment. The child doesn’t learn internal self-control. Remove the external control, and you are left with a person who has no ability to self-regulate. In patriarchy, boys become men who are the lords of their homes– because they are the top dogs and are not really accountable to anyone, and because they are pretty inexperienced in the realm of doing the right thing in the absence of immediate punishment, they have to make women take responsibility for their lack of self-control.

  • LutheranEmily

    Interesting, but the two are not exactly the same thing.

    One has to do with actually touching and the other does not. No sane person would expect that a child will not have “lust” for the candy dish. We just expect him or her to obey us by not touching it. If they sit there and stare at it, hopefully, they are not in trouble.

    We also expect the grown men to not touch the bikini-clad woman. It is her body and no matter what she wears, we expect good respectful *behavior* out of them.

    We can’t really control what they think about, but if we don’t want them to objectify our cleavage and muscular legs.. if we don’t want them lusting after us and we want them to respect us, then dressing modestly can certainly help. ..though of course it is not a perfect system. Lust and objectification certainly existed even in biblical times when women wore long robes and head coverings.

    You have an excellent excellent point about the items being on display. Baby proofing at least to some extent makes sense. I think we do want toddlers to be able to show self control, but its foolish to let them loose in a room full of breakables and expect them to be able to control themselves.

  • natalie

    “There’s no responsibility for men to keep themselves from sinning by, oh, I don’t know, turning their heads AWAY from the temptation”

    When your brother tried to turn his head from the nudity you showed him in a film, you felt sorry for him and said he shouldn’t have to…

  • Lilly

    Fabulous point.