modesty – a roundup of posts and thoughts

It’s summer time. Time for the big swimsuit question.
As a woman who used to swim in athletic shirts and an athletic top to ensure proper modesty, i know what the modesty teachings are. However, I don’t agree with them anymore.
I feel that modesty culture demeans and harms both men and women, promotes unhealthy thoughts, and operates based on stereotypes and misunderstandings.
I’m posting links to some posts on the subject, along with highlights, and my thoughts will follow.

There’s been this post about modesty and The Bikini Question making the rounds, (it’s down right now, cached page here)and it feels very rape culturey. Defeating the Dragons explains how it promotes rape culture, as well as how futile it is for a women to try to dress in a way that certain men won’t objectify her.

But, this article, like every other article I’ve read on modesty, emphasizes that it a woman’s obligation to help protect men from our bodies. It’s our duty to make sure that we make it possible for men to forget that we’re a woman– which is, frankly, impossible. I don’t care how loose your clothes are– if you have T&A, there’s no getting rid of it, there’s no hiding it.

emily joy allison talks modesty and purity culture in her new post about How To Be a Lady:

LET’S GO AHEAD AND TIE A WOMAN’S CHARACTER DIRECTLY TO HER CLOTHING WHY DON’T WE. Yeah. That seems like a good idea. Also let’s shame women who’ve been disrespected or mistreated by men by making them think it must have been their fault somehow for wearing the “wrong” clothes and attracting the “wrong” kind of men. And to top it all off let’s pretend like Christian men do (and should) actually treat women better who “appropriately cover themselves.”

Another good post about the problems for both men and women inherent in modesty teachings:

Shaney Irene has this post about Why The Modesty Survey was a Bad Idea (for the record, Shaney, I forgive you 😀 i’m thankful that you are writing against it now.)

In offering a platform to over 1600 guys, many of whom shouldn’t have been given it, we lent legitimacy to some very dangerous ideas.

Many guys admitted to losing respect for girls who didn’t live up to their ideas of modesty, feeling “disgusted” or “angered” by these same girls, and even going so far as to say, “…she loses her right to ask guys to stop looking at her like something to be had…you are asking to have guys stare at you.” The word “cause” in relation to guys’ lust also made a frequent appearance.

and now for my thoughts:

I feel like the biggest problem with the modesty culture is the confusion between lust and attraction. i never once have heard anyone make a distinction. It’s as though it’s a sin for a man to notice a woman is attractive.
Look, people. i’m visual. And the dude who plays Thor is attractive. I noticed. That’s not cheating on my husband. that’s not me wanting to rape the actor. That’s just me, noticing a very attractive guy is attractive. I’ve seen men that were so attractive, it makes me blush. For real. It doesn’t mean i’m lusting. I am not fantasizing. I wouldn’t ‘do’ anything with him.
But there’s nothing wrong with me or the guy, if i notice he’s attractive. If I start having sexual fantasies, that’d be objectifying and mentally unhealthy.
Here’s big secret: women can be visual, too. I’m more visually oriented than Luke. And there are a lot of guys objectively more attractive (and by that I mean, with really ripped abs) than him. it’s okay. i still find him breathtakingly handsome and i love him more than anybody. He’s the only dude i intend to ever [expletive deleted] with. But I’m gonna notice Batman’s biceps. And it is okay. And anything beyond that is my responsibility to deal with.

The flipside of that is, if a guy sees me in a bikini and notices i’m attractive, or more likely, notices i am very curvy, there is nothing wrong with that. I AM very curvy. No suit is gonna hide that.
If he ogles me – and I have been ogled while dressed modestly before and my young and frightened response was to dress rather more frumpily and blame it on my ‘accidental immodesty’ – that is all on him. It’s not my job to try my hardest to dress in such a way that people will treat me with respect; and as noted in many of the blogs above, it DOES NOT WORK; oglers are pretty much oglers. As far as keeping a man from sinning – him noticing I am a woman isn’t going to ‘make’ him sin.

And if a woman judges me as a slut because i’m a curvy woman in a bikini, that’s all on her too.

So much for my opinions on modesty culture in general, now for the chocolate cake analogy in the post, which many people think is wonderful. I found it a problematic analogy. It made me angry that a woman enjoying herself at the beach – happening to bare a midriff rather than not (perhaps because she can’t find a well fitting one piece or tankini, perhaps because she likes how she looks, who knows) is considered the same as following a dieter around with something tempting.
I am a person, dressing for me. It would be more like if i ate a cake at a cafe and you walked up and shoved your face into it and ate it all up, and blamed me for you stealing it, because i should be tempting you with my cake in public.
Unless I am deliberately and provocatively and obviously flirting with someone, he has no reason to think my clothing is an invitation to him. (and even then he STILL wouldn’t have any right to touch me without a clear verbal invitation or permission).

I am planning to go to the lake this summer, and i will be wearing my bikini. partially in protest, but mostly because it’s flattering, comfortable, stays in place better than any suit i have, and will allow my body to get some sun, and there’s really no reason for me not to, if i’m comfortable in it.
Dianna Anderson is joining the bikini club too. (For the record, i have another suit i’ll be wearing when we go to the inlaws to swim, out of courtesy to their beliefs and because i would be the only one in a bikini, and i’m not comfortable with that.)

comment section: am I missing any good posts in my links? did you read the bikini article? do you have a cute new swimsuit you’re excited to wear? i got a polka dotted tankini for everydays, and a black bikini, with full cups and gathers in the fabric, for the lake.

(edit: Sarah over the Moon wrote a post about modesty today too, responding to another post about modesty from a bit of a different angle than the first, but the points about the problems and inequity of translating clothing into ‘messages’ still stand. worth a read)
(Another edit: here’s a post from one of my favorite bloggers, Libby Anne, about the problematic chocolate cake analogy, focusing on chocolate cake’s inability to consent, and the lack of clarity as to what the anologue to eating the cake is: attraction? Lust? Rape?)

19 thoughts on “modesty – a roundup of posts and thoughts

  1. Brannan

    Yeah. This. All of it. The fact that noticing has been equated with lusting. The fact that men are portrayed as helpless to their own desires. The fact that women are expected to be responsible for men, but you don’t see anything out there asking men to not make women stumble.

    I remember bringing this up in youth group once. Why do girls have a dress code and guys don’t? I got laughed at — by everyone, including the leader — for basically being a horny freak.


    This is a good one on the topic, tho sad —

    1. lanamhobbs Post author

      it really is insulting to men :/
      it’s awful you got laughed at for that; it really is a good point. the whole cultural idea that men are all visual and women are odd if they are visual is a lie and also harms peoples views about themselves.
      I should blog about this…. see, i’m visual and luke isn’t much, and what is more, i was taught he would constantly be thinking about sex. imagine when i try to seduce him by wearing practically-nothing, and he doesn’t respond? talk about series self esteem issues for me – the problem must be i’m not attractive to him at all (or he’s actually gay and in denial, because any straight guy would want sex no matter what upon seeing a scantily clad woman, right?). We understand better how each other’s minds work, now. the big thing is, i didn’t marry ‘a man’. i married luke. and there is no prototype of ‘a man’, which is what people don’t mention when they talk about modesty and purity.
      in fact, i would venture to guess that a very large percentage of guys are not constantly thinking about sex (and if they are, or are just waiting for a reason to, would wearing a one piece instead of a bikini be any more likely to prevent that?)

      1. lanamhobbs Post author

        the idea that i can control a man’s thoughts (because when people say ‘help them out’ that’s really what they are talking about) by my clothing choices alone is kind of alarming.
        they use words like ‘sacrifice’, ‘help’ them and ‘don’t defraud them’ – so the control of the language makes it difficult to talk about on their terms. but it boils down to thinking guys are all horny timebombs waiting to go off, and womens bodies are innately sexual and need covering. and i reject that.
        i simply don’t think it matters what women wear, and putting all the burden of mens reactions to women on the women is unfair, especially in an already male-dominated society.
        sorry i just feel the need to continue ranting on this issue.

      2. Brannan

        YES. BTDT. Drilled into your head constantly that they can think of nothing else and are just waiting to jump on the first thing that sits still…then YOU get turned down? Bad, bad news. It’s so ridiculous that the idea that men are sexual and women should just shut their eyes and take it is still out there, even subconsciously.

        Really, gender role confinement in general is rooted in this. Why can’t we just be who we are, rather than trying to assume what we are because of our genitalia?

      3. lanamhobbs Post author

        a large part of my disillusionment with conservative christianity is the way it propagates and upholds damaging parts of culture (and calls them biblical) instead of working towards more radical and healthier views. (consider how the SBC began as a denomination to promote keeping slavery. now they promote keeping strict patriarchal gender roles, even though doing so means twisting what the bible actually says about deborah, or what the Prov. 31 woman actually does). And doesn’t the chick in song of songs experience some pretty heavy sexual desire??
        I honestly didn’t know that women could enjoy sex, except as they enjoyed pleasing their husband, the same way you feel happy when you cook a dinner that someone likes… Imagine my happy surprise when i discovered otherwise 😀

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  4. Brannan

    And defraud is the most ridiculous word ever, redefined entirely by gothard and cronies. Seriously, to take something by deception? How can you ACCIDENTALLY DO THAT?

    1. lanamhobbs Post author

      I know… remember when… oh, i can’t remember. a certain teacher came to do a conference in fortsmith for Believers, probably in 2003? he talked about defrauding – more in the context of dating than modest. i swallowed it hook line and sinker though. i was also, at that time, interested in psychology and possibly becoming a psychiatrist or therapist. my parents got me this guys teachings on mental health, which really screwed up my thinkings even more than the basic fundamentalist stigma against depression, for years… but it’s all just so twisted, twisting scripture AND logic to make your point.

      1. Brannan

        Yeah…I would guess it was that…oh his name is something wonky like with a bear or something in it. I can’t remember. He’s big on family/relationship type soapboxes.

        This is the danger in false teaching. Claiming to speak for God and sounding close, but being off a hair at the foundation…it derails so quickly and screws with lives.

  5. Brannan

    Judaism held sex as the woman’s right. And yeah, man…Jesus DID shake things up. When did that stop? To be fair, tho, he shook things up for the church of the time. Soooo…maybe that’s what is still going on.

    1. lanamhobbs Post author

      i just feel like the church is clinging – they say to god but it feels like it’s to a culture like idealized victorianism – and it’s not full of new life or fresh air.

  6. lanamhobbs Post author

    another great post on the subject of the chocolate cake.
    best part is this:
    The underlying problem with Christian culture’s modesty rules is that they’re part of a vision of the world in which the male experience is preeminent, and women’s experience is secondary. You can call it patriarchy or kyriarchy, if you want; the bottom line is that even though this seems to be a world that revolves around women’s bodies and sexuality, everything the women do is in relationship to how it will be seen by the men. Men are the central characters in this story. The Cake Post describes a world where a woman’s clothing choices must be dictated not by her own comfort, or her sense of style, or her budget, or whether she likes to feel the sun on her tummy when she’s at the beach — all the ways that our clothing choices can be expressions of our own unique God-given selves — but foremost by how she is seen by the men around her. It idolizes the male gaze.

  7. Pingback: The Big Swimsuit Question: A Roundup of Posts and Thoughts | H • A

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