Modest Is Not Hottest
So for those of you who aren’t familiar with how Mormons dress, we have modesty standards, similar to other faiths. We wear clothes that have some sort of sleeve, shorts/skirts to the knee, and nothing too low in the front or back. This is an outward expression of an inward commitment. This essay is in no way intended to imply I am unhappy with dressing modestly. This is actually something I have chosen to do, and love to do.
Modesty is a lot of things, and it is primarily a way in which we show respect for our bodies and Heavenly Father. However, over the years, as I’ve attended Firesides, Girls Camp, Youth Activities, Sunday School, etc., I occasionally heard a different message. Modesty was my responsibility to make sure the boys around me were not tempted toward immoral thoughts or actions. Now that I’m older, I’ve started hearing it even more. This is simply unacceptable.
Implying that a woman’s modesty is something to be done for the benefit of men and boys is a destructive message for several reasons. The second Article of Faith states, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins…” Constantly telling a girl that a man’s thoughts and actions are her responsibility is doctrinally incorrect. It also translates closely to the idea that it is a woman’s responsibility to maintain the sexual standards of a relationship. Elder Jeffery R. Holland said, “I have heard all my life that it is the young woman who has to assume the responsibility for controlling the limits of intimacy in courtship because a young man cannot. What an unacceptable response to such a serious issue! What kind of man is he, what priesthood or power or strength or self-control does this man have that lets him develop in society, grow to the age of mature accountability, perhaps even pursue a university education and prepare to affect the future of colleagues and kingdoms and the course of the world, but yet does not have the mental capacity or the moral will to say, ‘I will not do that thing?’ No, this sorry drugstore psychology would have us say, ‘He just can’t help himself. His glands have complete control over his life–his mind, his will, his entire future.’… I refuse to buy some young man’s feigned innocence who wants to sin and call it psychology.”
Another problem is these ideas can kill a girls image of herself as a daughter of God deserving of respect. Girls are often told boys will give women respect if they are dressed in a respectful way, and they will behave inappropriately if you are dressed inappropriately. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. Some men behave disrespectful to women regardless of dress. Instances of rape and sexual assault are often higher in countries with laws dictating how a woman dress. Men with that mindset will not be deterred by fabric.
I know in my own life, I have always been meticulously modest. However, I have constantly been at the receiving end of some of the most degrading comments. “Wow, you can tell you have a huge rack even in that sweatshirt!” and “You’re a solid 8, except for your boobs. They’re a 10,” probably come in as most memorable. I had FHE brothers admit to me that they assumed I was not a very good Mormon because of the way I’m built. As sweatshirt man pointed out, there is really only so much I can do, short of wearing a giant bag to hide the fact I look like a woman.
For a long time, when I would hear these things, my mind couldn’t but help think that it was somehow my fault. I clearly wasn’t a very good person, or else I wouldn’t be having men say things like this to me. My value as a daughter of God was being degraded, and instead of demanding to be treated like a human being, I shrunk back, thinking I had been the one in the wrong.
Probably one of the most concerning aspects of this mindset is it is a form of victim blaming. Women at the receiving end of verbal, physical, or sexual assault are often asked “Well, what did you do to provoke him,” “Were you asking for it,” or, one of the most common, “What were you wearing?” Last I checked, when given the commandment not to commit adultery there was no addendum that said “Unless she was dressed like a slut, then it’s totally her fault, and you’re off the hook.” Someone once told me that when you are teaching women to change what they do to prevent being assaulted or raped, what you are actually doing is saying “Make sure he assaults someone else.” You are not fixing the real problem, which is the man’s problem. Men have to exist in the world where women will have a variety of dressing habits. All of these women all are deserving of respect, and if his thoughts or actions cannot be controlled, that is his problem.
I like dressing modestly. I like other people being comfortable around me. But the real reason I want to dress modestly is because for me, it is a way of looking forward to respecting the covenants I will make in the temple. When I get dressed, I ask myself, “If I was endowed, could I wear this?” No offense, but as a woman whoes figure is somewhere between a greek sculpture and the women they used to paint on airplanes in WWII, and legs that go to Canada, certainly dressing modest is not hottest. But my choice in clothing is not about that, nor is it about a need to hide my body. As I said at the beginning, it is an outward display of an inward commitment, one that I would like to remind certain people they are supposed to respect, too. (Yes, I’m looking at you Mr. RM who spends the entire summer in a cut out tank top.) Modesty is an important principal, but it is not one that should be taught as a scapegoat for men’s responsibility.
DISCLAIMER: I have had the privilege of interacting with a lot of stellar men in my life. This is in no way supposed to be an indictment of the entire male population.
UPDATE: Due to the unexpected popularity of this post, I’ve had a mountain of comments so go through. I love the discussion, and pretty much approve all of them (As long as there is no foul language or threats to another person), but I do have other things to do than moderate this post. So…
The comment section will close today, 2/17/14 at 10 pm MST. Get all of your discussion in before then. Happy blogging!
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