“In our culture, boys are like gems,” he said. “If they get dropped in the mud, it is easy to pick them up and clean them off.”
We are sitting cross-legged on the wood floor, eating from platters piled with rice and dried fish.
“But girls in Cambodia are thought to be like cotton balls. If they get dropped in the mud, they can never again get clean.”
As a first-time visitor to this country, it is a shock to hear the age-old lie explained so unapologetically and bluntly. If there have been any politically correct words used to soften the cold facts, they’ve certainly been lost in translation.
I think back to my own muddy teenage years. So many of my willful mistakes and rebellious actions would have most certainly rendered me unclean, slopping around in the filth. What would life be like for me, had I grown up here?
A beautiful young Khmer girl – the oldest daughter of the house – sits quietly in the shadows, listening intently to our lunch conversation. I wonder what life will be like for her in the coming years?
So much of the world believes a girl’s life to be worth less than her brother’s. How impossibly high the cultural standards are for these women.
Even so, our own Western culture regularly waters the same poisonous seed: boys will be boys, and it is the girl’s responsibility to keep herself out of the mud.
It’s a lie.
My outward appearance and actions mean everything. I must be careful not to do things, or associate with people where I might get dirty. I cannot make a mistake and invite unwanted attention. It is up to me to be worthy. It’s up to me to earn respect.
In the USA, our modern society nurtures a different ideology that is equally harmful to women. It is tailored to those of us with means, education and freedom. If we were to sit together on my living room floor in Austin, eating chips and salsa, I might sum it up like this:
“Of course we know our girls are gems! They can do anything they set their minds and hearts to do. A woman’s personal choices and opportunities are endless. And so, girls should be able to get as dirty as the boys without consequence. They should be free to roll around in the mud as much as they wish, without anyone else’s judgment.”
It’s a lie.
My outward appearance and behavior means nothing. My individual actions have no significant consequences. It is my right, and completely in my power, to express myself in any way I see fit. It is society’s duty to always treat me as the gem that I am, no matter how I treat myself.
What lie are you more prone to accept without thinking? Are your thoughts on modesty rooted in the idea that girls are like a cotton ball or a gem?
The truth can be found by admitting that we are entirely both things.
We are all cotton balls, stained and discolored, unable to clean ourselves from the wrongs we have done to others and the wrongs that have been done to us.
None of us is perfect.
All of us are a mess.
In the same way, we are all gems, rare and of great worth. We have been lovingly created and bought with a price, not to wallow in the mud, but to shine for the benefit and beauty of the world.
Each of us is valuable.
Each of us has been made to shine.
Let us be women of real beauty who are deeply rooted in the truth.