This post doesn't focus on any specific chapter in Dear Princess.
Rather, we will follow up on the unhealthy views of sex the book promotes by highlighting a sprinkling of quotes from throughout the book, although most of them are in the chapter entitled "Boyfriends," for those of you who, for some reason, have yet to burn your copy.
For those of you who just clicked the link because the title made you curious, we're doing a series on a classic work of feminine repression entitled Dear Princess. You can start reading the series here.
The Conservative Mennonite view of sex is a complex, labyrinthine thing. They will, of course, give lip service to the idea that sex is wonderful and a blessing when it is done in God's way. (God's way, of course, being not too often and no birth control.) (I personally know a couple who was told by their ministers that three times a week was plenty.)
But they don't really, and can't really believe that. Not when sex is such a troublesome thing. Such a dangerous, uncontrollable thing.
So with one corner of their mouths, they say that it is the gift of God, but they constantly disparage it, and make it sound dark and creepy and icky and bad, BUT IT'S TOTALLY GOOD, CUZ WE AREN'T CATHOLICS OVER HERE.
But, it's easier to show you than tell you, so let's dive in.
When the young girl enters her early teens, some new and different things begin to happen to her. Before now she has been a child, growing fast in height and learning. Her days have been filled with much play.
Now in her early teens something new is happening. With her tenth birthday behind her, her body begins to change. She may not be aware of it at first, but soon she will be aware that her body is taking on the forms and functions of a woman.
I assume that when our Dear Author refers to "forms and functions of a woman" she means the physical changes that take place during puberty, such as the development of breasts and the beginning of the menstrual cycle. Although I have never thought of menstruation as being a "function of a woman."
The reason I must assume that she is talking about these things is because this vague series of oblique references is as specific as she gets.
This is how the whole subject of sex is dealt with throughout Dear Princess.
Just insinuatory metaphors and vague nuances, as if the reader knows what she is talking about already. It must leave young girls horribly perplexed, especially with no alternative sources to get information from.
Then in the midst of all this, there is a new and strange stirring. The love nature is awakening.
I have to be honest. That is one of the strangest, weirdest terms I have ever heard in regard to sexual awakening. You can tell that it is supposed to sound sweet and happy, with a hint of mystery. And instead, it sounds creepy and weird, and incongruous with how that same set of feelings is depicted in Bold Youth, whose love nature commands them to pack six girls into a compact sedan.
There will be many years until this love nature is mature and able to love with the spiritual depth of warmth, loyalty, and understanding that will bless the life of a godly young woman.
And in the years between, while this nature is yet undeveloped and immature, the young girl will find within herself urges she cannot understand and finds hard to control.
Once again, she gives us that vague sense of foreboding, without really giving us any real details.
It's like a gossip who tries to work you up, without actually giving you the juicy tidbits.
"Have you heard what happened to Joe's family?"
"Oh, it was really bad. No one could believe it."
"So what happened?"
"Well, people were saying that there was a lot of upheaval going on, and things were said that shouldn't have been."
"What was said? Who said it?"
"I don't know why anyone would say what they said. It just doesn't seem right. But then, it wasn't right to react that way, either."
If you don't want to talk about it, why even bring it up?
These urges are awakening within the young girl an interest in boys and a desire to be admired by them.
With this seeking to be admired will come efforts to please, attract attention, appear beautiful, and to show off the womanly form that has so recently developed.
AHA! She WAS talking about boobs! But we couldn't be sure until just now.
These urges that draw and attract the young girl to a boy are the awakening of the mating instinct that the Lord has given to the human race.
OK. I was wrong. "Mating instinct" is several orders of magnitude worse than "love nature." And it makes it sound like these young people are wild animals on the verge of entering a life-long mating season.
These urges are right and holy when they are controlled according to purity and virtue and the standards of the Word of God for the Christian woman.
But when these urges are not controlled by these standards, they lead the young girl into lust, sin, vileness, corruption, and disaster.
Apparently Mrs. Landis's thesaurus ran out of synonyms at this point. But we understand what she was trying to say. Failure to control the love nature's mating instinct is bad juju.
Of course, there is a lengthy passage on how everyone around the young girl needs to set up those all-important rules that she can't possibly understand, so she just needs to shut up and listen, and (the book doesn't spell this part out) that practice will stand her in good stead for the rest of her life.
Then we come to this weird passage.
Too many young girls are allowed to play with the new urges that are coming to life within them.
They experiment with this, and exploit that, until the delicate plant that was putting forth its tender leaves with such good promise, has been rudely handled, trampled and blighted and will never be beautiful and lovely as the Lord planned and intended it should be.
I'm pretty sure that she's talking about masturbation here. I mean, it sounds like she is talking about masturbation here. But you can't really be sure. You just feel creeped out.
Reading this stuff is the literary equivalent of those magic pictures, where you squint and cross your eyes and eventually, something pops out, but you still can't tell if it's a phonograph or Abraham Lincoln riding a camel.
I mean, the part about exploiting and experimenting sounds like maybe she's warning against masturbation, but then suddenly we're talking about rudely handling a tender plant, which either means some super disturbing stuff is going down, or else the metaphor just shifted on us, what with the plant being trampled now and wrecked for life. (Either way, this is a disturbing passage.)
Honestly, I can't tell what she's saying, but I suspect she's trying talk about masturbation while avoiding actually talking about masturbation, so instead she references crushed flower petals, and that's supposed to clue us in. And she manages to make her metaphor more awkward than actually talking about masturbation, which hardly seems possible, but there it is.
Also, if she IS talking about masturbation, and a girl "falls into it," it certainly sounds like she's wrecked for good. Her life is ruined. Her delicate plant will never be beautiful as the Lord planned. (Good grief, does that ever sound pervy!)
The princess should dress modestly, not accenting in any way her bodily form, for this will place a temptation to unholy thoughts and desires before young men. She has no right to do this. It is unfair. More than that, it is wrong.
And here we have, besides the usual tedious "dress modest because lust" schtick, the trademark doublespeak of conservatives.
We were just told how the budding love nature, and mating instincts were put there by God as part of his plan. And now we are told that if she makes herself attractive to those young men with that God-given mating instinct, she is inducing them to sin.
So, which is it? Is this attraction good or bad? (Obviously, the sexual attraction starts before marriage, so let's stop pretending otherwise.)
Now, let's check out these strangely specific injunctions, whose specificity is all the more strange, following such vague discursive passages.
Consistent with her modestly clothed body, the princess will have a modest reserve of manner and speech. The princess will stand, sit and walk in a reserved and modest way that will not attract attention to her body. She will not pull at or adjust her underclothes in public. Correcting the arrangement of her dress, sweater, and such like, she will do in a modest, reserved way only when really necessary.
Because some people apparently adjust their clothes when it wasn't truly necessary, and this is a grave sin.
I'm going to go out on a very long and narrow limb here, so watch out below!
WARNING: This next section talks in very specific terms about "doing the sex." If you are offended by frank discussions of this subject, do not read this section. If you are easily offended but also curious, go ahead and read on, but don't blame me when you don't like it.
If you read that last paragraph, you will find a form of the word reserve three times.
I am about to make some assumptions and draw some conclusions here, centered around the exaltation of that word and idea. Reserve means "to hold something back."
1) I strongly suspect that there is a great deal of sexual dysfunction and frustration among Conservative Mennonites.
2) This assumption is based on the fact that there are so many unhealthy sexual attitudes and mindsets, and frankly, if people were actually having a lot of fun doing the sex, they would just laugh at silly people like Mrs. Landis, who are trying to spoil things.
3) The reason, in my opinion, that Mennonite people, specifically female Mennonite people, are not having fun during sex, is that the enjoyment of sex is predicated upon the ability to let go. And these girls and women are told, "Have reserve, have reserve, be reserved, hold back, be in control at all times."
Then when they get into the bedroom with their husband, they are supposed to be able to let go of a life-time of this programming, and completely let go and throw themselves into the sexual experience. And they can't.
(And this doesn't even factor in the horrible effects that abuse may have brought into the equation.)
Don't you think that all of this contributes to frigidity in women, which leads to sexually frustrated marriages? I do.
Any attention you give to your clothes, their arrangement or defects calls others' attention to them also.
Spreading your legs, throwing your arms about, or reclining anywhere in the presence of boys all show unconcern for modesty and reserve and make others wonder if you possess the meek and quiet spirit that should adorn a young princess.
That's so icky. And strangely specific. And notice the two themes. 1) Don't draw attention to yourself. Stay invisible. 2) Worry at all times about what others will think of you.
This makes girls horribly self-conscious, and will do far more to crush, rudely handle, trample, and blight that young plant than anything else that was warned against in this chapter.
And it's not just boys you have to worry about.
Friendships with girls can become too intimate in a physical way, as well. It is safer and wiser for girls not to frequently hold hands. They should not sit with their arms around one another or fondle the bodies of one another familiarly.
OK. That was also some extraordinarily over-detailed ick.
When they sleep together, they should not snuggle up against one another or sleep with their arms around one another. Allow your friend privacy in dressing, undressing, in rest rooms and showers, and insist upon it for yourself.
To ignore these rules is very unwise and has led many a pure and innocent girl into sins of which she never dreamed.
Yes, some of these things are common sense. (Privacy in the bathroom is one of them.)
But the rest of this stuff is pure bunk, and the poor girl who reads this is likely confused and afraid to have any close friends, male or female, for fear of some grave, unspecified bad thing happening to her.
Yes, Princesses, if you got your sexual views from Dear Princess, or similar avenues, I am truly sorry for the pain that you have suffered.
The way forward, as always, is to see the lies for what they are, and begin to rebuild from God's truth.
Sex is beautiful and wonderful and truly a gift from God!
If you would like to start the process of rebuilding and reprogramming from God's truth, check out our resources page.
May Christ walk with you.