Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why Dress Modestly?

There has been quite a controversy around the Bloggernacle the past few weeks about modesty of dress and how it should be taught at church.

Julie M. Smith started off at Times and Seasons with a post entitled Stop Telling the YW to Be Modest for the YM. She objects to the commonly stated view that the reason we need to teach teenage girls to dress modestly is to avoid arousing the teenage boys (and men in general). She doesn't have a problem with modest dress per se; her problem is with the way it is taught.

Geoff J posted a rebuttal at New Cool Thang entitled Please Keep Telling the YW to be Modest for the YM. He basically said that women who dress in an immodest manner are inviting sexual attention, and they need to be told that so that they will cover up and not invite that attention.

Kmillecam posted a rebuttal at The Exponent entitled Modesty: Rape Culture, Rape Apology, Young Women, Young Men. Her point was that promoting the idea that a woman's dress invites sexual attention is on the same spectrum of telling a rape victim that she was asking for it by what she wore.

I agree with Julie and Kmillecam. It is totally inappropriate to put the burden of men's sexuality on women. This model is oppressive and contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. It also improperly makes modesty a strictly female phenomenon. Modesty is not a strictly female phenomenon; all of God's people should be modest.

Christ specifically placed the burden of lustful thoughts on those having the thoughts.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
Matthew 5:27-28
Note that Jesus didn't put in a caveat that said "unless she showed too much skin, then it's her fault". He didn't say that both the one lusting and the one being lusted after were guilty of committing adultery in their hearts. He placed the burden squarely on the one who lusted.

Plus, modest dress is wholly ineffective in deterring sexual objectification. I used to work and go to school in San Francisco. It gets unbelievably cold there. (I'm sure my non-California readers are laughing at my wimpiness, but whatever. Mark Twain said the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. I believe him.) I would almost always be wearing long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a scarf, and a beanie. That left only my hands and face showing. That did not stop the leering on the bus. It did not stop the catcalls while walking down the street. My manner of dress did not stop one of my professors from sexually harassing me. Covering up does not mitigate the reality of living in a female body. (And even if it did, the answer is to change the reality, not force women to cover up.)

So, this raises a few questions. The question of what the bounds of modesty are is outside the scope of this post. (For a good discussion on the meaning of the New Testament Greek surrounding modesty, see this post by Hugo Schwyzer.) The more interesting question is this: If modest dress has nothing to do with sexuality, why should we dress modestly?

As I have noted previously, I adhere to LDS standards of modest dress. I do this because of a promise God made to His people.
Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.
Exodus 19:5-6
If I am to be a member of a kingdom of priests, I need to dress the part. I have been clothed in the Garment of the Holy Priesthood, and it is sacred to me. Because the garment is a personal reminder of the covenants I have made, I wear clothing that covers it. It has nothing to do with those around me and everything to do with my relationship with God.


Erstwild said...

I heard about one rape case in the eastern US, where the Judge felt that the 10 year old girl victim acted in such a way as to "deserve" it. The girl said she didn't.

Sad, but some men will leer no matter how women dress. Catcalls are over the top, IMHO. I'm sorry you had to go through that. My daughter said strange guys were also hitting on her for dating when she was on the bus around here.

Christine Jain said...

THANK you. Now I just wish someone would say this in church :)

Erstwild said...

Kerri" Ms. Jack just complimented your post here:

Thanks for that link, Mike. What a great post by Kerry. I love the reason she gives for why she keeps the LDS standard of modesty:

Erstwild said...

Now I see that the Friend piece, about the dress showing shoulders on a girl being immodest, is taking on a life of it's own in the Bloggernacle

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised by this debate. One of the reasons I've been attracted to the Mormon church is the idea that males are held accountable to the law of chastity, too. It wasn't like that in my baptist upbringing; the boys definitely had different rules than girls in our house. Was I wrong about lds equality in this area?

Keri Brooks said...

Anonymous - Men and women are doctrinally required to adhere to the same standard in regards to chastity. Premarital and extramarital sex are forbidden for both men and women. However, there's still a lot of culture to wade through.

We live in a culture (as a wider society, not just in the church) where there's a double standard for sexuality. (i.e. Men who are promiscuous are "studs" and women who are promiscuous are "sluts".) Some of that creeps into the language used to discuss modesty in the church.