Modesty

Some friends have been circulating a video on Facebook that I find disturbing.  I’m going to share my thoughts on the video first, then post the link at the end.  Complete honesty here: I want to put in my own bias before anyone sees it.  I’m attempting to counter the bias many people would already have going into it.

The video is about the idea of feminine modesty, sort of.  The person doing the voice over is telling the story of young guys and their hope for girls who dress modestly.  On the surface, that sounds really noble.  Trust me, it’s not, and there are several serious problems with the line of thinking in the video.

First, there is no clear definition of what they mean by modesty.  At one point, it’s suggested that a girl should not have any patch of bare skin showing because it’s “distracting.”  Gee, maybe boys ought to stay away from the beach, then.  Even modest bathing suits show plenty of bare skin.  Now, I suspect that we’re supposed to just know what they mean, but it would help to have it clarified.  Are girls supposed to look like they’re auditioning for Little House on the Prairie, or do we just mean, “don’t look slutty,” or is there some invisible line in between that shouldn’t be crossed?

Second, what girls are we talking about that are dressing so enticingly?  I have spent time (recently) on both college campuses and in high schools.  I didn’t notice that the girls were dressed inappropriately, even at the non-religious universities.  Are the scantily clad young ladies just in hiding?  I’m not sure what I’m missing here.

Third, I’m not completely convinced that this is all teenage boys and college guys can think about.  I mean, don’t they have homework?  Band practice?  Sports?  I know it’s been awhile since I was in high school, but I don’t recall my male friends being quite so sex-obsessed.  Of course, I also think this might be unique to the conservative Christian set.  I like Brian McLaren’s take on this.  It’s like the game where you tell someone not to think of an elephant.  But once you do, all they can think about is the elephant.  We keep telling boys and young men not to think about pretty girls and their bodies.  The harder they try, the less likely they are to succeed.  By the way, I think this is worth revisiting.  I think I’ll address it in a future post.

Finally, why exactly are we blaming girls for a problem we claim boys have?  This, to me, is a classic case of blaming the victim.  I thought we’d left that a long time ago.  Now it seems to be back–in the form of telling girls that if they don’t dress “right,” then they have only themselves to blame for boys who get “out of control.”  I also think this falls in the category of denying that girls have any sexuality apart from boys.  In other words, young women are dressing provocatively to entice young men into sin, not to express their own developing sexual feelings.  I’m not suggesting that inappropriate dress is a good way to express oneself.  There are, in fact, lots of unhealthy ways to cope with these simple facts of human biology and development.  But there are lots of good, healthy ways to handle sexuality as well, and they don’t necessarily involve laying on the guilt.

As promised, here is the video.  Watch it, keeping in mind what I’ve said about it.

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