The emphasis here is on for the YM, not to be modest. In fact, most of you would consider me to be ultra-conservative in the modesty department: when I had toddler boys, I would not take them out of the house in clothing that didn’t reach the knees and cover the shoulders. So I’m plenty uptight about dressing modestly, I promise.
There are all sorts of good reasons for the YW to be modest. But being modest for the sake of the YM is not one of them.
(1) I don’t know what things are like in the Jell-O belt, but out here in the mission field, the average YM sees plenty of immodest clothing: at school, at the mall (Do kids still go to the mall? I have no idea. I’m 36.), at the library, in the express lane at HEB. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in this entire zip code with sleeves on at this moment; the high is 100 or 101 every blessed day this week. He may even go to a ward swim activity where our faithful YW wear (modest) bathing suits. I can’t understand why this parade of flesh wouldn’t tempt him, but a YW wearing a shorts five inches above the knee would. If he’s able to survive the daily it’s-way-too-hot-for-fabric parade, it isn’t our YW (who, on average, he rarely sees anyway) who are going to push him over the edge. To suggest that our modestly-dressed YW are the only thing between our YM and wild abandon is . . . bizarre.
(2) I’m sure you’ve heard counsel to the YM along the lines of “Don’t just marry a girl because she’s pretty–you may be stuck with a shallow, or faithless, or humorless hag for all eternity” (of course, they phrase it a little more nicely). But you never hear this: “Don’t just date the pretty girls, because you’ll cause girls to obsess about their looks and possibly sin as they try to win the beauty arms race.” In other words, we always couch the counsel in terms of the costs and benefits to the boy himself–not to the girls affected by his decisions. We should do the same with the YW. Each YM or YW should be the star of their own story–not the subject of someone else’s.
(3) If all girls hear is “Be modest so you don’t tempt the YM,” they might think, “I have zero risk of tempting anyone anyway because I look like Jabba the Hut–even if I wore a bikini . . . especially in a bikini!” The fact is, I’m sorry to say, that there are some YW out there who aren’t going to turn heads no matter what they are (not) wearing. They know it. But they still need to be modest. I have to wonder if what I consider to be rampant immodesty on the part of some middle-aged LDS women is tied to the fact that they think that because they aren’t likely to tempt anyone anymore, they can (not) wear whatever they want now. Linking modesty solely to its effects on other people ignores a much broader underpinning of respect for our own bodies, regardless of how others perceive those bodies in terms of sexual attractiveness.
(4) We believe that YM will be punished for their own sins. It is a terrible theology that suggests that a YW could cause another person to sin. None of us wants to see that thinking come to fruition with a YM thinking that he ‘had no choice’ but to sexually assault a YW because she tempted him beyond what he could stand by dressing immodestly. I’m absolutely sure that no adult who has told YW to be modest for the sake of YM would be anything but horrified by that kind of thinking, but it isn’t too far of a leap for an immature, hormone-addled brain to make.
(5) Kathryn Soper has explained this far more eloquently than I will be able to, but can we stop reminding the girls of how much sexual power they hold? Their immature, hormone-addled brains hear “If I dress immodestly, I’ll have power over boys!” Combine that with their lack of institutional power and recognition (“We’d like to thank the Aaronic Priesthood for the reverent way in which they . . .”) and the extreme emphasis that we place on their marriages (and the demographic imbalance that makes those unlikely for some of them) and it’s no wonder we have problems with modesty.
I’d like to see us develop a narrative of female modesty tied to their power and individual worth, not to their impact on other people.