Thursday, April 26, 2012

Self confidence is hotter than modesty

The latest in the round of Utah County scandals that wouldn't be scandals anywhere else is a teen girl who was asked to leave prom because she was wearing a one-shouldered dress, a violation of the dress code.

This is actually just a segue into what I want to say, so I'm going to get rid of it super fast — if sleeved dresses is what community standards dictate then girls are not wearing sleeved dresses because of the dress code, and she didn't follow the rules. Could everyone have handled it better? Obviously. But there you are.

My bigger concern is the way modesty is taught culturally. (Writer's note: I can only speak of the LDS Church because that's the only church from which I ever learned about modesty, and I obviously cannot speak to every Mia Maid class in every ward or branch in the world.)

The prevailing cultural lesson on modesty, however, goes like this: "Girls, let's help the boys stay worthy to pass the sacrament, go on missions and generally hold the priesthood, OK? So you make sure you're all covered up. Boys have a harder time controlling their minds, so you need to dress modestly to help them."

Courtesy of Ryan J. Wolsey on Facebook
The variation I heard came from a leader and mother of two teenage boys. I was 13, and I distinctly remember her asking how, when her 17-year-old son went to pick up a girl for dance and she was wearing a strapless dress and he didn't have anywhere to put his hands, how could he be expected to respect her?

I also remember losing respect for her at that exact moment.

There are so many things wrong with this. First, men and boys, you should be offended, because the prevailing cultural thought here is you see a little female skin and instantly become a drooling hound. Or even a lot of female skin and are unable to stop yourself from hopping on that slippery slope.

And, why exactly is a girl responsible for the thoughts and actions of the boys around her? Does he not have agency? Can he not look away? Can he, after a thought springs to mind, not pursue said thought? Many women already have guilt complexes. Can we please not add to that by blaming them for the impure thoughts around them? (I should note that I don't know many men who subscribe to this belief. Thank you for that.)

However, I am willing to subscribe to the above train of thought if it means that I am not responsible for my lascivious drooling when some beefcake with pecs and biceps walks by.

But back to the rant at hand. Even if it is true that men need help controlling themselves, that's not the point of modesty. From a Christian perspective, a woman — or man — dresses in such a way to show respect for her body, which she believes is a gift from God. Because she has a loving relationship with God, she wants to show that she is willing to do as he has asked. 

Frankly, I could make the same argument for how chastity is taught. You don't abstain from having sex before marriage because once you have you're used merchandise. You don't tell teenage girls that having sex outside of marriage makes you a nasty licked cupcake that no good boy will ever want or that you're cheating on your future spouse. Because you know what message that sends? You screw up, you're toast. Repentance is possible, but it will never take away the knowledge that you're damaged goods and you will always be damaged good.

Yes, I know it's easier to tell a bunch of randy 15-year-olds that sex is bad and having sex makes you a bad person than it is to actually teach them that sex is a beautiful, God-given act meant to draw a man and a woman closer together and then discuss why he intends it to be between married couples. But that doesn't make it the right thing to do. And it doesn't create modest, chaste women — just women who do what they're told because they're scared of being judged by God and by people around them. Everything I know about God says that is wrong.

1 comment:

  1. you will make a great YW leader. hahaha saving the young women one lesson on chastity and modesty at a time. I love this!