Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sartor Retardus

Behold, fellow sinners in dress, The Modesty Survey.

Please click on the "open questions" link to peruse such progressive sentiments as:

Answers to the question "If you could say one thing to your sisters in Christ about modesty, what would it be?"

Respondent age 18:
First, don't be legalistic about clothing. Don't say that gauchos are always modest or that PJs should never be worn in public. Modesty isn't a list of dos and don'ts but a matter of the heart. Be sure you are in the right place with God and that you aren't trying to make guys stumble and you'll be fine 99% of the time. Secondly, PLEASE, talk with your parents, especially your fathers, about modest dress. Seek advice from older women in your church, your mother, older sisters who can guide you, or experienced friends. If the two conflict, if the survey disagrees with your father, have NO QUALMS about kicking the survey out entirely and following your parents wishes. Don't let this survey force you into an outward looking person who doesn't see the real value of internal modesty. Use it for its purpose (to aid in assessing current fashion and as a tool for parents) and no more.

Respondent age 24:
Sisters in Christ, you really have no concept of the struggles that guys face on a daily basis. Please, please, please take a higher standard in the ways you dress. True, we men are responsible for our thoughts and actions before the Lord, but it is such a blessing when we know that we can spend time with our sisters in Christ, enjoying their fellowship without having to constantly be on guard against ungodly thoughts brought about by the inappropriate ways they sometimes dress. In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul presents believers as the members of one body - we have to work together. Every Christian has a special role to play in the body of Christ. That goal is to bring glory to the Savior through an obedient, unified body of believers - please don't hurt that unity by dressing in ways that may tempt your brothers in Christ to stumble.

Did I mention that "modesty" applies only to women? But you knew that already.

In fairness, the site does include a question about men's responsibility in these matters, to which we get answers such as that of this enlightened 26 year old:

A girl has been given something for which she is responsible. That gift is a beautiful body and mystique which has power over a man, and so in being responsible with that gift, a girl must give thought to men. This is just like how men have been given bodies with a different power - physical strength. A man is responsible for that strength and must not abuse it or be careless with it - be that in the context of other men and children, or with women. In relation to one another, we are responsible for the gifts and roles God has given us, the power and ability we have, and the godly attitude is to be diligent in ensuring we are responsible and not negligent. That's how we are to treat others.

On the surface it seems promising that a 19 year old responded thusly:

We need to keep our thoughts pure and stop blaming girls for our impure thoughts. And guys can be modest too. Nobody EVER touches on that. We can be just as distracting to a girl as they are to us. Keep your shirt on. Pull your pants up. Seriously.

But...this whole "modesty" obsession is only a symptom of a more distressing disease. What we need for our children is honest sex education, not shame and disgust for bodies and sexuality. When I lament the sartorial choices of young girls it's not worry about "modesty" but worry about buying into the pornification of femininity, the shallow construction of female identity that is the other side of the coin of patriarchal control. Once we're squeezed into those narrow roles of virgin or whore, we've lost ourselves, our right to define ourselves instead of being crafted by Pygmalion for his own ends.

I don't recall what we were reading, but for some reason this virginity thing came up in one of my high school classes last year. They were stunned to hear the history of the cult of virginity, namely that its roots are not moral but economic. In a system wholly dependant upon first born sons for the transfer of wealth, paternity is crucial, as is producing many, many sons--as well as amassing many, many wives to produce them--since babies and wives had an inconvenient habit of dying a lot. And a man wanted to know that everything he owned was going to his actual son, not the spawn of some other guy. Thus, girls were snapped up as soon as they menstruated and were compelled to wave the bloody sheet out the window the morning after their weddings to prove to the community that any resulting offspring would be legitimate.

Does the current lack of such concerns mean teens should be banging each other like it's 1999 now? Of course not. We need to talk to them openly about sex and the consequences of engaging in sex immaturely. There are plenty of good reasons for a 15 year old not to have sex. Reasons that don't depend on self loathing and guilt.


At 1:35 PM, Blogger The Freelance Cynic said...

Ohhhh it's hideous Shell.

Just hideous.

At 4:15 PM, Blogger Sassy Sundry said...

Wow. The worst thing about that kind of obsession with *modesty* is that it makes sex the focal point of absolutely everything. And that's just what teenagers need.

Reading that makes me want to go out and flash people.

At 11:37 PM, Anonymous Michelle said...

Well, I for one, have never had an impure thought due to mens' sagging pants! :-)

I wonder if the modesty stuff still applies if one is fat.

I do wish some of the girls on myspace would put some clothes on. It worries me, this expectation that if one has a socially acceptable body, one should display it for the enjoyment of whatever random man happens across that photo.

At 11:39 PM, Anonymous Michelle said...

Another thought...I have heard quite a few people who weren't Christian express the sentiment that fat women should cover themselves up.

At 11:03 AM, Anonymous Tense Teacher said...

This makes me so-o-o-o-o mad. It reminds me of a time not too long ago when Geek and I had some relationship troubles, and we sought help through our church's counseling center. Our therapist recommended a book that, in many ways, described exactly what we were experiencing and suggested some ways in which to work on those things. However, there was also an entire chapter in the book which essentially blamed wives for their husbands' uncontrollable sex drives and wandering eyes. It said that if we undress in front of our husbands, we should be prepared for them to want to have sex right then and there, and we should oblige because men really can't control those urges.

Uh-huh. The book went in the trash after that, and I let Geek and our therapist know exactly what I thought about that chapter.


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