Friday, October 11, 2013

LDS Modesty-To Women From Men

My Facebook page was recently inundated with re-posts of a video made by some Mormon boys.  They took the song "That's What Makes You Beautiful" and changed up the words to make it a pro-modesty song.  I had to watch it 4 times before I figured out what it is about the video that bothers me.
   I don't like how these boys are singing about how modesty makes women more attractive.  Maybe it's because I grew up with these standards and saw the harm they caused women.  I was taught that my modesty, my virtue, my virginity were "precious gifts" that I shouldn't give away or show off. If I wore something too revealing, I was risking being "too easy", and would, eventually, end up alone.
   Women who grow up in modesty cultures are taught that men's thoughts and lust are a direct result of what they wear.  Show too much shoulder, and you tempt guys to have inappropriate thoughts about you.  Wear a dress that's fitted, and you're showing things that should be meant for your future husband.  In fact, modesty is so important, there are lessons in youth classes about it, and a section in the Church-issued statement called "For The Strength of Youth."
   FTSOY is a book (or webpage now) about Mormon standards, meant for teenagers. Modesty, Sexual Purity, Dating, Agency, Gratitude, Media, and a host of others. Honestly, I hadn't read this or thought about it for a dozen years. Things really have changed since I was a teenager! For example, my version was a huge list of "do-nots". Don't masturbate, touch sexual parts of yourself or others, kiss for extended amounts of time, etc.  I'm really impressed with this new version, mostly because there's a paragraph about sexual abuse victims.  It says that victims aren't at fault, nor do they have to repent. I wish that little note had been in my book.
   But back to the modesty section.  The opening paragraph says: "Your body is sacred. Respect it and do
not defile it in any way. Through your dress and appearance, you can show that you know how precious our body is. You can show that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ and that you love Him."
   I thought about that.  I never understood the connection between modesty and respect for self. Modesty made me feel ugly, fat, and unwanted. I thought my actions showed respect for myself and my body.  Also, that idea causes a lot of people to judge others.  "Oh, look at that tank top.  What a slut!"  or "Oooh. You can see her midriff, she clearly has no self-respect."  Even today, I still struggle with my judgements of people that don't adhere to Mormon standards.
   And then it hits me. They are MORMON standards.  Written by old, white Mormon men, and meant to be applicable to everyone everywhere.  Mormons get indignant when non-LDS girls wear trendy prom dresses.  I have actually heard the comment "My sons will be looking at them! Don't they realize what they're doing to them?"  It makes me want to hit my head against the wall.  
   Simply by underscoring the differences between LDS culture and the rest of the world makes it important. If boys are told "girls who don't dress modestly are trash", they will begin to see and treat these women as such.  Trash that doesn't have feelings, matter, or "count" as a moral infraction, because "they were asking for it".  
   I'm not saying every Mormon boy is a rapist, or has those tendencies. I'm saying cultures that encourage strict modesty standards on women have a population with a skewed view of the outside world.  They view non-LDS women as temptresses out to steal either their husbands or the chastity of their fragile sons.  Women are especially judgmental. I wonder if it's because they wish they could dress like them. I know there were times and clothing styles where I would look longingly at, pick at my Mormon garments, and sigh. Then I would pat myself on the back because I was modest, and respected myself, and wasn't causing troubles with any other man. Or I would hate my garments and curse Mormonism.  Depended on the day.

   But back to the movie. It seems it's not enough to have Prophets, Apostles, Teachers, Bishops, and parents telling girls that their worth is tied to modesty.  Mormon boys have to say the same thing.  The irony is that, at least the Mormon boys I knew, LOVE looking at immodest girls. They would rather talk to them, date them, and be around them.  I realize that teenagers are horny, and I'm not discounting that. I just find it irritating that while their lips are saying "Modest is hottest", their eyes are on the cleavage of a non-Mormon girl.
   Which makes this movie extra ironic. Because you can bet if, during the filming of this video, a girl in a bikini walked by, 3/4 of the boys would stop singing and dancing to watch. And very few of them would be thinking "She doesn't respect herself." You can bet, though, if it were Mormon girls seeing a bikini-clad woman walk past, that would be their first thought!
   It's weird how modesty is a directive from men to women.  Under the guise of "This will keep you pure", modesty causes men and women to lump people into categories. Not getting into my feelings about purity, but I think that people, especially religious people, should be more engaged in fixing the state of the soul than the state of the shirt.


  1. The part that really grates me is that men/boys should not be dictating to women/girls what they should be wearing. I think it's incredibly unhealthy to teach boys that girls have a responsibility to conform to their values in order to prevent them from lusting. And telling young women that it's their duty to dress how men tell them to is just icky.

    Here's what I wish young girls were taught about clothing choice: Your clothes are for YOU and no one else. You should never give into to exposing more of your body than you feel comfortable in order to gain male approval. Nor should you feel the need to cover up more than you wish in order to keep men in line. Humans are sexual beings. Men (and women) will continue to feel lustful thoughts regardless of how much society tightens modesty restrictions. Instead dress in a way that reflects your own style, comfort, values, and that is appropriate to the situation.

    Here's what I wish young men were taught: Feelings of sexual attraction are normal and nothing to feel ashamed of. Expecting girls/women to help you regulate these feelings by conforming to your modesty standards is unfair and unrealistic. Men who live in societies where all women wear full burkas do not experience any reduction in the amount of lust they experience. It just increases their sensitivity for arousal. It is solely your responsibility to manage your attractions in a way that is respectful to others and is in keeping with your personal values. Women are people, not objects and they deserve respect regardless of clothing choice. You never have the right to force unwanted attentions (including staring) on anyone because she is not conforming to your values. Focus on the beam in your own eye instead of pointing out the mote you believe is in hers.

    1. A million, billion times this!

    2. I need a "Like 100 times" button!

      And the computer put my first comment in the wrong place, hence the deleted comment.

  2. Yes, to get into your feelings about purity. That is why I keep coming back.

    You have to write for yourself and where you're at, so don't take this comment as any kind of directive. I've been deconstructing my worldview for about 8 years. I got to where you're at about 3 or so years ago. I was at battle with sickos like the Pearls for much of my adult Christian walk. I've read Libby Anne's continued striking of those same keys on the piano for some time. I'm over it, at this point. I'm sure, as you've found, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them acknowledge that it's water, much less drink it. They find their way there when, or if, they are ready.

    I come to read your thoughts and reflections on your personal experience. I come here for the privilege of hearing your story. That is powerful. That tells me that I'm not alone. That tells me it is worth hoping for a better future for my daughter, because people like you exist and continue to have the courage to come out of slavery and cultural/religious bondage. You could write twice as much twice as often.

    Especially being a woman, I strongly value your perspective on purity. Please to share and expound...

    1. Thank you. And I totally agree about the water part. So many horses around! Thank you for your comments and your support. Thank you so much.

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