not in Primary anymore

how our modesty rhetoric distracts from modesty

It’s gotten to the point where all I have to do is read the word modesty and I cringe, and that disappoints me.

Modesty, at its core, is a beautiful virtue and something that, as Jesus Christ exemplified, I would love to be better at. The problem is that whenever I hear it in an LDS context it seems to be about policing the length of a woman’s skirt, and modesty is so much more than that. I hate doing this because it makes me feel like I’m writing a sacrament talk, but the Webster’s Dictionary defines modesty as freedom from conceit or vanity. When I am able to push aside all my preconceptions about modesty I see it as it is: a synonym to humility and moderation. Those who are modest are not boastful, arrogant, or flashy…which is actually kind of the opposite of how I see modesty being portrayed today.

Hold on, what? How can that be?

Simple; if too much focus is put on hemlines, it can actually cause people to be LESS modest. It’s become a tool of the modern-day pharisee; something that was originally intended to help us be more like Christ is turned into an obsession of policing women’s bodies. If you are telling a woman that the clothes she woke up and decided to wear that day are immodest, you are being arrogant by thinking you know better than her. Phrases like “modest is hottest” are boastful. And spending large amounts of money to buy a prom dress, and then more money (not to mention time) to alter it to an acceptable cut when you will only wear the dress once is flashy.

I wish that, rather than telling the young women that they are responsible for the thoughts of the boys (and men, how creepy is that?) around them that they were taught real modesty. The young men, too; by focusing all of our modesty lessons on the women, men are being given implicit instruction to judge women based on the clothing they wear (which, again, is arrogance).

Don’t take this the wrong way and think that I am telling everyone to run around naked. I wear garments myself and consider it a form of respect to myself and to the covenants I made in the temple to dress in a way that covers them (which surprisingly gives me a LOT more freedom in dress than the strict standards I was taught to follow in Young Womens). There is nothing wrong with wearing clothing that covers your skin, and everyone’s choices to wear whatever they desire should be respected. I also think that wearing clothing that is designed to grab people’s attention can be a form of immodesty in and of itself, whether it covers a little or a lot of the body. But I think it best for all involved if discussions of modesty are uncoupled from discussions of clothing.

If people were more modest, really, truly modest, there would be less judging, less finding fault, and more love. We would mourn with those who mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort. We would give more to the poor rather than making public displays of wealth. And we would become more like Jesus; isn’t that what this church is all about?

11 Responses to “how our modesty rhetoric distracts from modesty”

  1. Lorrie

    Excellent post. I especially love your closing paragraph, as my early (and continued) experience with the LDS church was long on criticism and woefully short on compassion.

  2. Phil Prince

    Lovely post that I whole heartily agree with. If modesty is actually important, then we’ve got to start teaching it differently.

    First off, as a man, yes it is creepy and insulting when anyone claims that clothing on others’ bodies controls my thoughts. There’s this thing called agency that is actually more powerful then fabric. I control my own thoughts, thanks very much.

    Also, as a mormon man in his late twenties, I don’t think I’ve ever had a lesson at church about modesty. Ever. In the Strength of Youth section about dress and appearance, young women are provided with a detailed sentence about shorts, skirts, stomachs, shoulders, and the cut of their tops. And the young men get, “young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance.” And yet, it is a Christian virtue that everyone could work on–men included. When women are getting lessons about “modesty” that are actually about fashion, and men are getting zero lesson about modesty at all, it makes me think that modesty isn’t actually that important. So, if modesty really is important, we certainly need to change the way it is taught in the church.

  3. BV

    I love this. I’m not LDS–raised in a very Catholic family–but the challenges of being a Mormon feminist and being a Catholic feminist seem pretty similar! Thank you for opening up this conversation!

  4. Samuel

    You have defining issues, I [love] how you address girls as “young women” and boys as well, “boys”, which would be fine otherwise, but here just plain old sexist babble. Later you made a sly attempt at sneaking in “young men”, which was probably just you being to lazy to erase your sexism. You throw in “creepy” for added effect in commenting on how MEN may look at “young WOMEN”but I suppose you really meant young GIRLS although most young WOMEN seek out men 7-10 years older than themselves for security reasons.

    “Creepy” is the new “I hate men”. Creepy is thrown around randomly and recklessly by girls/women as it was once primarily reserved for pedophiles and horror films. Sadly, feminism has marked ALL males as pedophiles and modern Christianity has had a big role in this with constant media coverage of children being sexually abused by clergy members and other male attendees.

    No one should have to tell you that you are dressed inappropriately. America is full of women and GIRLS who dress like full blown sluts. There is constant discussion in female circles about how to dress, what to wear, or how you should wear your clothing. When I hear modesty I hear Location, Location, Location. It’s really about where you are and what you are doing that makes your clothing immodest. Obviously wearing a long dress to the beach is insane. However, if your attempt like many, is to wash away traditional dress codes in sacred places such as church then I would say that you have a big anchor to cast if you plan on holding this position for very long. There is no perfect policy for telling each woman how to dress. Modern women have embraced “empowered sluthood” to the fullest. They make every attempt to test the bounds of modesty and tell men that if they don’t like women dressing like sluts then they have a problem, that they are the ones who must conform to this childishness gone wild.

    Being a grown up is difficult for most Americans these days, especially men. They have had 40 years of feminism ripping their fathers from them. 40 years of women telling them that “women are always right”. Men have been pushed out of the education system to the extent that you rarely see male teachers. No father, no male role models at school, no men in their lives. They are raised by corrupt women with social agendas and spending problems. Men today are childish, especially around women. Church men are even worse due to their biblical teachings that “you should be like children” and the lack of quality education for boys. Men for the most part have become cuckolds in society.

    When women jumped on the coattails of the blacks in fighting actual social issues in the 60s-70s they tore the American male to pieces. Using black females was an easy choice for feminist recruiting as “oppressed” was an easy sale due to racial laws and standards of the time. Young people will always be easy targets of social agenda based groups. They have been living by their parents rules for two decades and are ready for “freedom”. They will fight long and hard for their own “freedom” no matter what it costs society.

    All in all, women know what modesty is. They know what is not appropriate. They are masters of deception and getting their own way, again no matter what it cost society. They want what they want and they call these wants needs. If you can’t supply those “needs” then you are victimizing them. We are a nation of childish men and women. Everyone out for themselves. Everyone wanting what they want at any cost. Women have a special place in society. I’m not exactly sure what level of equality women wish to have, but feminism makes it clear that fathers aren’t part of it. Mythology and mystery seats well with womens train of thought. They love a good mystery. Christianity fills those needs and with that they have set out to create their own Disney version of Christianity with women as God and men as the children. And they are doing a great job at it. There are still some churches in America that haven’t embrace “Empowered Sluthood”, but those are churches without the fancy shows, bands, preachers in silk suits, and gigantic buildings (as big as a Disney castle).

    This will all come to a grinding halt soon as educated women have realized that feminism is really just “empowered sluthood” in disguise as an abused womens group. Men have stopped watching TV for the most part as the fantasy shows with a bumbling, ugly husband with an intelligent, beautiful wife are just that, fantasy, specifically targeted for their largest audience…women. The more women improve their finances the less men will feel obligated to do anything for them, which will eat at the core of most women. They want their cake, they want to eat it, and they want to make sure that no male ever has a piece of cake…ever. Luckily for men, they still have a natural source of physical power that women haven’t seem to be able to get rid of. They can’t figure out how to make men weak enough to control while still using them to do 99 percent of the hard labor in the world. Sex is their only option for now, but as education in humans improves at its normal pace there will be a line that women will either have to cross or turn around and run in the other direction back to the security of men. Real men, the ones the 2nd grade teacher/feminist haven’t destroyed. Real men, the ones that don’t watch fantasy TV with their wives. Real men, the ones who get up every morning and take care of their families. Real men, the ones who seek out feminist circles and toss a logic bomb right in the middle of it.

    Men and women will constantly fight for the attention of the other sex. Showing more leg will always be an option for women. Men simply dress for work most of the time to show that they are men. Women dress to get out of work, especially at work. If they can’t manipulate someone they feel like less of a woman. If you find their clothing slutty then they tell you that you are just paranoid or sexist. However, we all know that women are the biggest trash talkers of women. Women know how women are and they for the most part, besides feminist, sadly do not like them. They know what their agenda is and this often conflicts with their family life, dating life, and career path. They see how women manipulate the system with this “empowered sluthood” and they can’t stand that being a good girl is getting them nowhere.

    Childish and feminist is the modern womans character. With a blade of logical fallacies in one hand and a microphone in the other they have turned a once great nation built by hard working men into a sea of babies living on welfare and in debt up to their ears. A touch of reality would help most of them. However, in this fantasy Disney driven society of magically getting everything your heart desires some hearts will be broken. Some women will have to take a back seat. Ouch. It’s gonna hurt. The return of kings is near and they aren’t bringing Mickey and Hillary Clinton speeches. They are bringing a fist full of grounding, punishment, and sorrow to a lot of little girls dreams. Reality and the end of the feminist religiosity are at the gates of Femney Land. Grab your magical shoes and get back to work, WOMEN. The time for games is over.

    Sam Y., Harvard ’12

  5. Matthew

    Actually, it is women who are being arrogant by thinking they know better what sexually distracts men than men know themselves.

    If you want to know if something is sexually distracting, you ask the opposite gender. If I want to know if my chest hair is sexually distracting to a woman on a hot day, I would ask her, not my male friends nor myself.

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