Some Honest Thoughts About Modesty

It’s not like me to do stuff like this, but I’ve just gotta get this one off my chest.

Recently I came across an article entitled Sincerely, One of Many Girls Who Care. The article starts off as an apology letter to men for the immodesty of women today (or to put it bluntly, slut shaming). When I first started reading through this, I thought “okay, let’s see where she goes with this.” The blogger writes about the temptations that men face on a day to day basis from the way women are dressed when they’re on the beach to the ads of half naked women plastered across internet screens and TV commercials. After talking about how hard men have it, she goes on to encourage the male population to keep resisting temptation. She shares encouraging words as well as scripture, and ends with a big thank you to men who are striving for purity. While I appreciate the sentiment behind her writing this article, and while I do greatly appreciate, respect, love, and care for men who are striving for purity and I also encourage them to keep pursuing God seeking holiness, I hate this blog post. I hate it because it is one of many sources that I have found that takes modesty and turns it into something that only women need to practice, and more so, something that women need to practice for men. (I feel it important to disclose that the remainder of this blog is going to be talking about modesty; not so much the blog post mentioned above.) While I do see the well intent behind this, at the end of the day I find this viewpoint (in particular the second one) to be quite harmful. Here’s why:

1) Saying that women need to be modest to help men out adds to the tired and harmful excuse of “boys will be boys.” By saying that women need to be modest for men it is suggesting that men have no control over themselves or how they react to a woman. By taking accountability away from men in this aspect, one gives excuse or pardon to men for how they treat and act towards women from how they look at them or talk to them to what they do physically. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A young woman is dressed for a day at the beach. A couple of men take notice of the fact that she is wearing a bikini. They start whistling and making rude comments. She is with her sister who shrugs and says, “boys will be boys,” and her mother who says, “if you don’t want them to make comments, you shouldn’t dress that way.” She is doing nothing provocative. She merely put on a swimsuit to hang out on the beach with her family and maybe even get a tan in the process. Yet her mother calls her immodest and the blame is put on her for the rudeness of a few men who are more than capable of not doing this. Sound familiar? How about this one: a young teenage girl wearing shorts that come to her knees, a blouse with two tank tops, and a pair of sneakers walks by. She happens to be a little larger and her cloths fit around her snuggly. A teenage boy watches her walk by and is staring at her buttocks. His mom, noticing this runs up to the girl and begins to scold her for being so immodest. She then returns to her son and they both walk away. Notice how in this scenario and many real life experiences the young man is not disciplined or spoken to about this. No, he is just an innocent victim here. And now the young woman is blamed for the action of said man, when she had absolutely no control over it. Which brings us to our next point.

2) We (largely in Christian and other religious communities) put pressure on young women to dress modestly for the sake of men. How about taking the time to explain to young men not to objectify young women? How about taking the time to explain to our men from the time that they are teenagers that women are not sexual objects? How about teaching them to value and respect women? How about explaining to them that no matter what happens, they are responsible for their own actions. And, while we’re at it, how about explaining to them that they are not entitled to a woman’s body in any way shape or form, no matter what the circumstances.

3) Saying that women should be modest for men puts it in women’s heads to spend too much time worrying what other men think of them. When girls are teenagers, do we not tell them not to worry about what boys may think of them? Do we not tell them that what a boy thinks of them is irrelevant to the fact that they are beautiful and that their self worth should not be measured by what a guy thinks of them? Why then do we turn around with this rule of women should help out men by putting it back into their heads what males could be thinking about them while they’re wearing x, y, or z?

4) Making women dress so “as not to arouse men” perpetuates rape culture. Rape culture is defined as “a concept that links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society, and in which prevalent attitudes and practices normalize, excuse, tolerate and even condone rape.” ** Now, I can go on for another few paragraphs or even pages about rape culture, and explaining how our society has become so much like it. I do think it somewhat necessary to get my point across on the matter, so below I will post a few links explaining. For now I will say that rape culture is prevalent where we live because often times the conversations that we have with our children when they are older is that men are extremely sexual and women aren’t. That men expect sex and ladies, if you don’t want to give it up, don’t do this, this, or that. Don’t wear skirts that are too short even if you have leggings on underneath. Don’t go out alone at night unless you’re carrying pepper spray. Don’t lead a man on. Don’t flirt. Don’t do this or don’t do that because otherwise you are asking for it. I personally, would like to see that conversation change. I personally would love it if the prevailing narrative was not “hey women, don’t get raped” and if it instead was, “hey, we should stop bringing up our boys to expect or even demand sex.” What if we did that? What if we talked to our boys about entitlement? What if we spread a message of love, appreciation and respect for our young women? What if we stopped treating women like they are a temptatious curse that needs to be bottled up and hidden away?

5) I do not believe that women should be modest for men. I believe that women can put into practice modesty for themselves. I believe that modesty is so much more than what a woman wears. It’s about how she acts in what she wears. We as women, more often than not are force fed this sexualized image of what a woman should dress, act, and be like. But we are so much more than sexual beings. One of the deepest longings of my heart is for we as women (and for men too) to see ourselves as such. As being made for more than ogling, sexual metaphors, and physical pleasure. Women are strong, powerful, and beautifully made in His image. When did we start disregarding that for a cheap sexualized icon?

If you’re still with me here, I have listed five main reasons for why I think women being modest for men is a harmful rule. But as I think about modesty, I find myself asking a very big question: is modesty simply something women can do, or is it something for men to practice as well? To be honest, that is potentially a blog post for another day. (mostly because I’m getting tired but also because that is something to chew on a bit more.) With that in mind, I think I will bring this post to a close. Have a good night dear reader and friend.

 

** P.s. If you wish to learn more about rape culture, here is a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_culture

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