Saturday, August 16, 2014

Men Should Talk Less About the Modesty of Girls

I don't think men should talk so much about the modesty of girls. Let me preface this by saying that I know many (probably a higher-than-average concentration, in fact) thoughtful, fair-minded, good men. I'm not against them. Of course some pervs always sneak through but in terms of leaders with good intentions and wise fathers who care about daughters—They definitely exist. Good for them. But there are so many other things to worry about besides the sleeve and skirt lengths of young women.

"Modesty" is a big thing right now. It's en vogue to talk about it. I'm sick of talking about it, personally. I understand the issue and I think it's good advice to dress modestly. I am not blind to provocative dress. But I sort of wish men were. At least, I wish they would stop talking about how cap sleeves help them keep their thoughts pure. Even if it's true. Because it strikes me as kind of gross.

Guess what I saw at Girls's Camp? Priesthood plumber's crack. Do I wish it had been covered? I guess. But I'm not going to make a big deal about it. It just seems like a funny slip up, not a moral failing on the part of the person bending over. And when I dropped my son off at scout camp almost all the boys there were wearing shorts. What if I came home and breathlessly insisted that they make a rule to cover boys' legs because they were too provocative? I would seem kind of pervy. (As if the musk of Webelo weren't enough to drive me wild!)

I don't think General Authorities who explain guidelines are pervy. We need guidelines. I'm a huge fan of guidelines! I refer to For the Strength of Youth a lot. I'm so glad we have it. It's there. We can read it. We don't also need Facebook tirades and viral videos (well-intentioned though they may be) of young men singing "If only you saw what I can see you'd understand why I want you so desperately. . . That's what makes you beautiful."

I like how Pope Francis talks about modesty better. He reminds us to live a modest and humble life and to treat others with dignity. This kind of discussion is so much more uplifting to me than most of what I hear about modesty. At girl's camp I heard some girls chatting (from a different stake, OF COURSE) about how they were, like, so mad that they had to bring their $100 jeans to camp. Bless their hearts. I don't judge. But: If I were to judge, I'd probably want to curtail that kind of braggy, worldly talk more than I would want to curtail capris, which aren't allowed at camp (which is OK because it's a rule and I respect rules) but come on—which is worse? Immodesty or "immodesty"?

When I was in graduate school we talked about "the gaze" and "the male gaze." Basically, in media and advertising the gaze is a concept for analyzing visual culture. How something or someone is viewed is determined by the person doing the gazing. Women are usually the objects of the gaze rather than the possessors of the gaze.  You can see how this would apply to literature and how graduate students would love to talk about it and feel smart.

I haven't thought much about the male gaze until now when it suddenly springs to mind as a completely apt way to describe contemporary discourse on modesty within the church. There's a lot of gazing going on. I don't like being the object of it and I like it even less when my daughters or any of the young women I work with in my stake are objectified by these discussions about modesty. It sexualizes them more than any tank top ever could.


  1. i love conversations about stuff like this. when i was the YW president it felt dumb trying to have a lesson about modesty when my young women probably only had two shirts they felt were nice enough to wear to church and they were sleeveless. so what, who cares? they also came from homes where they were sexually abused and i doubt it had anything to do with their sleeveless shirts.

    i also recall my first realization that the church culture's view of modesty was completely skewed—i was 16 and at EFY, wearing a pair of (boy's!) dickies shorts. (it was 2001—don't judge me, it was the style back then.) i bought them for the sole purpose of having a pair of knee-length shorts that i could wear for a week at EFY. at one point we had to sit cross-legged out on the grassy area by the HBLL and my well-meaning/confused/very chaste counselor came over and whispered to me that i needed to go back to my dorm to change my shorts because of the way they were riding up my leg when i sat down. "you'll distract the boys," she said. looking back i really wish that i had just laughed in her face and said "DISTRACTING? I'LL SHOW YOU DISTRACTING!" while laughing maniacally and tearing off my shirt.

  2. You are so well-reasoned and calm. Can you make me some index cards to keep in my pocket for when I am about to rage stroke and lose all of my words?

  3. "Musk of Webelo" is my new favorite imaginary cologne. I agree with all of this. Standards are great, but I think we overemphasize how many square inches of skin are covered at the expense of talking about what's in the heart. I think motives are what really matters.

  4. Great thoughts Kacy!! I spent 17 years at Girls' Camp in varying capacities, and the issues over dress were so divisive and did not contribute one iota to the success or failure of camp. Modesty is more of an attitude than anything else. And the "Priesthood plumber's crack" may move into LDS lore!

  5. Power in the gaze can be transmitted in both directions. While not always a witting participant, the object has some power to transfix the viewer. In our culture, girls are getting pummelled with examples of how to "succeed" based purely on their ability to get as many eyeballs gazing in their direction as possible (Paris Hilton, Kardashians, Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus...). Surely these women have found a form of power in being the object of society's collective gaze.

  6. I totally agree. And frankly, it bothers me that modesty is equated with temple-ready. Is there something inherently sexual about upper arms? Do I not get it because my arms have always been flabby? I read someone describe modesty as would you feel comfortable wearing it in front of the Savior, which I think is a good baseline.

  7. Thank you:

    >>I don't like being the object of it and I like it even less when my daughters or any of the young women I work with in my stake are objectified by these discussions about modesty. It sexualizes them more than any tank top ever could.

    Also, it is always a great day when a new Every Day I Write the Book post appears in my feed. I totally love to gaze upon *that*.

  8. I loved this and I'm soooo tempted to share it on facebook.

  9. I want to kiss you (modestly, of course) I too am sick to death of this issue. Thank you so much. I am going to memorize this post in my heart.

  10. This is a funny issue for me, because when I was at girls camp, I was a serious enforcer of the shorts-to-the-knee rule. I felt like it was unfair to the girls who followed the rule and wore long shorts if a few could run around in little nylon wind shorts with split sides. I'm all about consistency, see? But if it were me making the rule in the first place, yeah, I'm with you. We focus on it way too much. When I was a teenager, I wore short shorts specifically to get attention from boys. I wish that we would address the core issue, so to speak, and help girls figure out how to build up their self-esteem without regard to how many boys think they are cute.

    1. Exactly! The way "modesty" is taught now, it's still about doing what the boys want. "Modest is hottest." Who cares what the boys think is hot? It shouldn't be about them. Give the girls chances to grow self confidence through sports, developing leadership skills, competing, learning new skills, and being creative. Teach them to stand on their own, rather than just showing them a new way to objectify themselves.

  11. Modesty: reserve in speech dress or behavior. I equate it with an effort to refrain from doing things solely for the sake of calling attention to oneself. Thus, a loud voice or pink hair may be more immodest than a sleeveless shirt. In the end, only the individual can know the motivation. I am merely responsible to give guidelines to those in my care.

  12. Thank you. I fear sending my 8 year old to class at church because I know any time now, they could start harping on sleeve length and helping the boys keep their thoughts clean instead of using church time to teach about Jesus, kindness, and forgiveness. The only time Jesus mentioned clothes was to talk about how bad it was for people to use them as a marker for righteousness. And yet here we are.

  13. Anonymous8:26 PM


    (And no capris?? What the heck?)


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