Reconciling Modesty with Feminism

June 24, 2013 | 39 comments
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Some folks enjoy poking a hornet’s nest, but just writing that title has me quoting Shakespeare in my head: “Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more.”

I’m going to go ahead, however, because even though I may be about as welcome in most feminist circles as Feminists for Life (or as my friends at Secular Pro-Life when they showed up at the American Atheist Convention) the reality is that as long as women face staggering rates of sexual assault and systematic discrimination–things I’ve witnessed second hand through friends and family–I will consider myself a feminist. So tough luck all around; it looks like we’re stuck with each other.

The most recent modesty/feminism Internet brouhaha was kicked off by former Power Ranger and current swimwear designer Jessica Rey. In a video for Q (apparently the Christian equivalent of TED), Rey cited a Princeton study to argue that bikinis disempower women via objectification. The video was applauded by religious social conservatives, but quickly drew fire from religious social liberals like To Everyone That Believeth (Mormon) and Liz Boltz Ranfeld (Commonway Church) who approve of modesty (in theory), but not of Rey.

2013-06-24 Jessica Rey Power Ranger

Jessica Rey as Alyssa Enrile/White Tiger Wild Force Ranger (Noble Tiger) in Power Rangers: Wild Force. Not relevant, but come on: Power Rangers.

The main argument from Rey’s critics is straightforward: you can’t ask women not to wear a bikini just to protect men’s fragile sexual equilibria. First of all: because it doesn’t really have any impact. Haters gonna hate, and sexual objectifiers gonna objectify, seems to be the slogan. Secondly: because women should be modest for their own sake and not because men may or may not sexually objectify them. So Ranfeld writes: “Objectification is never the fault of the person being objectified. I cannot turn myself into an object. I cannot use myself as an object. Only someone else can do that to me, and those actions are up to them, not me,” and To Everyone That Believeth chimes in: “[I]t is not the responsibility of women to manage men’s sexual desires.  Full stop.  It is not women’s job.”

The problem with that logic is that sexual objectification is not just something men do to women. Speaking at TEDx about what she calls The Sexy Lie (the idea that sexual objectification can be empowering), Caroline Heldman points out that “we see men’s magazines with scantily clad women, and we see women’s magazines with scantily clad women.” Heldman argues that we live in a culture of sexual objectification in which men sexually objectify women and women participate in their own sexual objectification.

This isn’t just theory, as Heldman goes on to list a dismaying catalog of the psychological toll wrought by self-objectification: depression, sexual dysfunction, eating disorders, and depressed cognitive function are just a few. The most shocking example, to me, was habitual body-monitoring. According to Heldman, the average woman engages in body-monitoring (i.e. checking how her body looks to others) about every 30 seconds.

2013-06-24 The Sexy Lie

In other words: concerns about sexual objectification need not necessarily be concerns about men, but rather about the subject/object dichotomy that places men as sexual subjects and women as sexual objects even to women. Is wearing a bikini participating in that culture? Probably so, but what matters more is the principle that Heldman illustrates. Whatever the standard of modesty for a society is, by choosing to follow it women are rebelling against a culture of sexual objectification that would seek to co-opt their own self-expression and turn them into objects. In short: a women-centric view of modesty.

Religious feminists often state that modesty is something women should do for themselves, but they less frequently explain why. What’s in it for women? Without a specific articulation of modesty as modesty the seeming defenses often boil down to a much different and fundamentally libertarian argument that people should be free to wear what they want (modest or not). I don’t have a problem with that position, but let’s not confuse a defense of freedom of expression for a defense of modesty.

So far so good, but I’m not done. I would also like to discuss the excessively vitriolic way in which the mere idea that women would dress for men’s benefit is repudiated. What, fundamentally, is wrong with this notion?

I think a lot of the anger comes from the fact that, in current American society, gender expectations for men are few and far between relative to the intimidating array of judgments, standards, and expectations for women. The Art of Manliness can seriously talk about “reclaiming the lost art of manliness” (emphasis mine), and we have the mommy wars but no daddy wars. This inequality is unfair, but I think we shouldn’t be too hasty to solve it by tearing down all gender expectations. Rather than by lowering the high standard, an alternative redress to double standards is to raise the low standard.

As a man, I just don't have to deal with this kind of judgment. Which is good, because it terrifies me.

Just one example of the Mommy Wars. As a man, I just don’t have to deal with this kind of judgment. Which is nice for me, because I find it terrifying.

In addition, I just like the idea of gender roles as an expression of John Donne’s “no man is an island.” Reading works by David Brooks and Colonel Dave Grossman has impressed upon me the degree to which humans are social animals. Not in the superficial sense of happening to organized ourselves in groups, but in the much deeper ontological sense of defining our selves in a context of relationships with other selves. And not just cost-free spontaneous associations freely entered into or exited from, but roles, duties, and obligations that have a durability outside whim and preference. I share the drive for equality, but the almost Ayn Randian approach of insisting that all notions of obligation between the genders be severed or reduced to ad hoc consensual contracts seems counter-productive and even anti-social.

So what might we have as some increased gender expectations from men? Well, if women should dress modestly first and foremost for themselves (which I believe), and dressing modestly is also a nice thing to do for men, then men ought to keep their own minds pure by (for example) abstaining from pornography first and foremost for their themselves, but also as an important element in refusing to participate on the demand-side of sexual objectification culture. Along these lines, men have a broader obligation to accept responsibility for their own mental lives. While it’s true that women can influence men’s thoughts with their dress, whining about it is not a valid response. Men should understand that they are not entitled to expect women to dress a certain way, and must take their environment as it is and learn to deal with it. This doesn’t seem like a special skill, because it’s how we instinctively think about virtually every other question of interpersonal morality. Example: it’s obviously easier to be kind to nice people, but ultimately our impatience or anger are our problem. We don’t need to deny that women’s modesty can influence men’s thoughts to apply the lesson we generally learn as toddlers: that blaming our bad behavior on provocation does not fly.

For me, the important principle is complementarity. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with women dressing modestly for men as long as it is secondary to their own interests and as long as it happens in a cooperative context in which men are expected to be altering their behavior in complementary ways for women.

39 Responses to Reconciling Modesty with Feminism

  1. Adam G. on June 24, 2013 at 6:24 am

    “Rates” and “second hand through friends and family” aren’t the same thing. Its highly dubious that our culture has low expectations of men, whether its Mormon culture or American culture that you have in mind. The expectations are different, but that’s compatible with complementarity. But here I’m arguing with your background assumptions, I guess, not your argument, so that’s probably less than helpful. The thing is, I have a hard time seeing what your argument is. If it comes down to an assertion that a group should not be expected to take an action primarily for the benefit of another group instead of for themselves, I’m dubious–selfless sacrifice is something of a gospel principle.

  2. Amy on June 24, 2013 at 6:48 am

    “To Everyone That Believeth” (“The TETB Church” on second reference) is named Amy Grigg.

  3. SilverRain on June 24, 2013 at 7:09 am

    I fully agree. Thanks!

  4. Nathaniel Givens on June 24, 2013 at 7:38 am

    “Rates” and “second hand through friends and family” aren’t the same thing.

    The first are data, the second are the reasons that data has personal significance to me.

    Its highly dubious that our culture has low expectations of men, whether its Mormon culture or American culture that you have in mind.

    Well, we disagree strongly on this one. Samples:
    Where have all the good men gone? Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This “pre-adulthood” has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it’s time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn’t bring out the best in men.
    Hardwired to DisappointYoung women are more sexually confident than ever before. Hooking up is less emotionally devastating than we’ve been led to believe. They enjoy unprecedented personal and professional opportunities. Yet the same book that reports this welcome news also describes contemporary 20-something young women as more overwhelmed by “confusion, uncertainty, and anxiety” than any prior generation. Hungry for romantic fulfillment, they’re highly doubtful about their own chances of being able to find both enduring love and professional success. As it turns out, a healthy chunk of this cynicism is rooted in ever-diminishing expectations of men.

    It should be obvious that I don’t agree with everything I’ve just quoted, but the fairly enormous ideological gap between the WSJ (not to mention The Art of Manliness) and Jezebel illustrates how sweeping and broad the consensus is that men just don’t have any real expectations left. I’m not sure how you missed that one.

    The thing is, I have a hard time seeing what your argument is.

    Well, if I have to explain it in the comment section clearly something has gone awry! :-) Point 1 – Look, here’s an affirmative argument for modesty that is compatible with feminism. Point 2 – It may be OK for women to have obligations towards men in a context where men have corresponding obligations towards women, although that is not the current state of affairs.

  5. Nathaniel Givens on June 24, 2013 at 7:42 am

    Amy-

    Let me know if you’d like me to edit my OP to include your name. That would have been my preference in the first place, but your name wasn’t in a signature on the original post, in the URL, or even in the About Me section of the blog, and that led me to believe you didn’t want your name out there so I stopped looking for it.

  6. Jax on June 24, 2013 at 7:57 am

    It may be OK for women to have obligations towards men in a context where men have corresponding obligations towards women, although that is not the current state of affairs.

    Don’t men have an obligation to be modest as well? I didn’t think modesty was solely a feminine virtue. I can’t imagine you thinking so; which means that female modesty has a corresponding obligation in men’s modesty. We ask women to help men keep their thoughts pure, but don’t we also ask men to protect women’s virtue?

  7. Geoff - A on June 24, 2013 at 8:18 am

    In Australia there is no debate about women dressing “modestly”. Women dress how they want usually taking into account appropriateness and comfort.

    Some how without someone telling them how to be modest most do a pretty good job by them selves.

    Why do American/LDS women need to be told how to dress? What do you think would happen if they were left to themselves like much of the rest of the world?

    Certainly French and Italian people present more stylishly (and not less modestly), and I think Australian women are at least as attractive and stylish, without modesty codes.

    Why all this obsession about someone else’s modesty, seems patronising from here.

  8. Nathaniel Givens on June 24, 2013 at 8:18 am

    Don’t men have an obligation to be modest as well? I didn’t think modesty was solely a feminine virtue.

    As I mentioned in the OP: men’s and women’s magazines each have scantily attired females. Not males. 96% of sexualized images are of females (from Heldman’s presentation).

    Objectification culture targets women and not men, and as a result modesty is a difficult issue for women but not men. So–while men have a corresponding obligation to be modest–it’s purely theoretical. No one is urging them to do otherwise.

    We ask women to help men keep their thoughts pure, but don’t we also ask men to protect women’s virtue?

    Broadly speaking–as Americans and not just Mormons or social conservatives–no, we do not. And, as Mormons who live in this context, we’re not immune to it.

  9. Howard on June 24, 2013 at 8:24 am

    Libido varies greatly so I doubt most young men will actually transcend or learn to control their natural man to a level of achieving autonomy through just naive abstention and verbal instruction so it often leaves men horny and and somewhat out of control. I know of a Catholic priest who tells Catholic school teachers 80% of males admit to masterbation and the other 20% are lying. This is a much healthier attitude than denying it and hiding it in a closet. Much of the LDS problem with this is sexual repression and inexperience with one’s own body, young men should be taught to masterbate without lust.

  10. Nathaniel Givens on June 24, 2013 at 8:26 am

    In Australia there is no debate about women dressing “modestly”. Women dress how they want usually taking into account appropriateness and comfort.

    What’s the difference between “appropriateness” and “modesty” in your mind? Because to me it sounds like you just said “There’s no debate about women dressing modestly in Australia because they dress modestly.”

    In any case, the reason for the concern is that sexual objectification leads to depression, sexual dysnfunction, cognitive impairment, eating disorders, and many other detrimental factors. Watch Heldman’s video. That is the reason I’m concerned.

  11. Rachel Whipple on June 24, 2013 at 8:26 am

    Unfortunately, any time a woman points out problems like those in the modesty/feminist debate, she may be dismissed as whining:

    While it’s true that women can influence men’s thoughts with their dress, whining about it is not a valid response.

  12. Nathaniel Givens on June 24, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Rachel-

    I’m not sure I follow your comment, and I’m afraid I may have been unclear. The whining I was talking about is men whining that women who dress immodestly tempt them to sin. I’m saying, to men, “Get over it.”

    Temptations to sin virtually always come from somebody else doing something provocative (e.g. cutting you of in traffic), and we’re usually pretty good at separating the provocation and our reaction to it. No: people shouldn’t cut you off in traffic. But it happens, and it’s our job to be civilized in our actions regardless. So, while it would be nice for women to dress modestly, that doesn’t excuse men who want to outsource their obligation to control their own thoughts and attitudes.

    Sorry if you got all this already, but I just wanted to be clear that I’m taking men to task for whining here.

  13. Rachel Whipple on June 24, 2013 at 8:45 am

    Thanks, I misread. There is a difference between appropriate and modest when it comes to clothes. Appropriate is defined by the person and the situation. Modesty, especially in an LDS context, is a set of rules or of standards that are less dependent of circumstance, which is why some LDS notions of modesty dictates that we wear two layers of clothes, sleeved shirts and knee length shorts even if mowing the lawn in the full heat of summer when it may well be more appropriate to wear less. I say “less dependent” because even a modest one-piece swimsuit is more revealing that what is generally accepted to be modest for street clothes by LDS standards. But it seems that more and more, those FSY standards are creeping into areas where the rigid rule is not appropriate, like some girls here in Utah valley being encouraged to wear t-shirts with their leotards for dance performances. I’m glad that’s not universal, but that it even happens is weird.

  14. Jax on June 24, 2013 at 8:50 am

    Objectification culture targets women and not men, and as a result modesty is a difficult issue for women but not men. So–while men have a corresponding obligation to be modest–it’s purely theoretical. No one is urging them to do otherwise.

    I disagree! For each magazine, movie, music video showing scantily clad women there is also one showing men that in order to “be a man” you must sexualize women – that any male who isn’t constantly thinking about sex is somehow less of a man.

    On these T&S posts we constantly have people screaming that modesty isn’t just about clothing, but about an attitude of self-respect and keeping oneself pure. And I agree. And those constant messages about how sexually active “real” men are, the bawdy jokes they should tell/laugh at, how they should react to those naked women, teachs men to be immodest in thoughts/actions toward women.

    No one is urging them to do otherwise.

    EVERYTHING tells men not to be modest! For women the message tells them to be the sex object, and for men it tells them its fine to objectify – to use their bodies to satisfy their lusts.

    We HAVE to tell women it is okay not to be dress like/act like/aspire to be a sex symbol, and it is okay for a man to not want to look at her.

    Broadly speaking–as Americans and not just Mormons or social conservatives–no, we do not. And, as Mormons who live in this context, we’re not immune to it.

    You’re right, that as Americans we don’t ask it of men. And that is the pressure for immodesty that men have! Try being the only man in a 60 man group who says he doesn’t appreciate the stories of sexual conquest, or to say you don’t want to look at that porn magazine. Then you’ll see that the pressure to be immodest is truly intense from men to other men. I have done it and can attest to it!

    We, LDS people, have to fight against immodesty from both sexes, and from pressure all around us, including from our own membership. This isn’t just a feminine problem. You’re deluding yourself if you think otherwise.

  15. Nathaniel Givens on June 24, 2013 at 9:03 am

    Thanks, I misread.

    NP. It wasn’t as clear as it should have been on my part.

    There is a difference between appropriate and modest when it comes to clothes. Appropriate is defined by the person and the situation. Modesty, especially in an LDS context, is a set of rules or of standards that are less dependent of circumstance,

    If that is the definition of ‘modesty’ then I think modesty is stupid.

    There’s always a tendency to fixate on objective rules, but nowhere is that less appropriate then in questions of language and dress. Modesty only makes sense in context: a general context of time and place but also specific context like work vs. a track-and-field event.

  16. Nathaniel Givens on June 24, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Jax-

    I think that you and I are defining “modesty” differently, just as Rachel and I seem to.

    I can see how men thinking about sex all the time would be considered “immodest”, but it’s just not how I usually think about it. I agree with most of the points you’re making. we just have different terminology.

  17. Jax on June 24, 2013 at 9:17 am

    Nathaniel,

    I figured we did. But I think you are narrowly defining modest in terms of clothes, and I include behavior. The scantily clad woman in a music video isn’t being less immodest than the fully clothed man next to her making sexual motions. They are both on the wrong side of modesty. And I think the pressure on men to act like a sexual creature is just as great as for women to act like one. which brings me back to this:

    There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with women dressing modestly for men as long as it is secondary to their own interests and as long as it happens in a cooperative context in which men are expected to be altering their behavior in complementary ways for women.

    Men do have a obligation toward women, just as women to toward men. Both obligations are ignored in our US society. It is unfortunate IMO that the converstaions about modesty focus on women, when men are just as too blame AND just as much a victim of immodest pressure.

  18. Nathaniel Givens on June 24, 2013 at 9:22 am

    Jax-

    I like your approach. I’ll definitely be mulling it over. You may persuade me to change the way I talk about the issue. Thanks!

  19. Alison Moore Smith on June 24, 2013 at 9:31 am

    Nathaniel, this is a fabulous, thoughtful post. I appreciate the care you put into it.

    Last week I wrote about Evolution of the Swimsuit on Mormon Momma and some interesting discussion followed. Fundamentally, I think most of the arguments against Rey’s presentation are straw men.

    The main argument from Rey’s critics is straightforward: you can’t ask women not to wear a bikini just to protect men’s fragile sexual equilibria.

    No where does Rey promote this idea. She doesn’t say or imply that men need to be protected from “dirty thoughts” or anything else. Rather, she presents scientific data to tell women the truth about male perception. That is real empowerment. It allows women to CHOOSE how they will respond based on how they want to be perceived.

    There seems to be this underlying current in feminism that encourages the idea that equality means “I can do anything I feel like. Shut up.” I can be a pole dancer. Shut up. I can have the job I want, even if I can’t do the work. Shut up. I can stab scissors into my half-delivered baby’s skull. Shut up.

    This just doesn’t compute with me. How does this improve the quality of women’s lives generally?

    That said, I think we do a poor job of teaching modesty in church — perhaps because we don’t really know why it’s a moral issue. We can’t keep blaming women for men’s thoughts/actions — which IS how I was taught about modesty in church.

    I remember teachers saying, “You don’t understand what it does to boys when you dress that way!”

    All I could think of was, “Um…yes, we do! That’s why we do it!”

    Yes, it is important how we impact and influence the lives of others. But I think we need to get some clarity about why covering out bodies matters for women and why God cares about it. Otherwise it just seems like either an irrelevant cultural artifact (that many cultures don’t deal with) or yet another way to put the burdens unduly on women.

  20. Jax on June 24, 2013 at 9:32 am

    No problem Nathaniel. Thanks for a good post and good discussion!

  21. Carey on June 24, 2013 at 10:03 am

    While on one hand the video is focused on bikinis, I found it ironic that Jessica Rey was not dressed according to the strict standards of Mormon modesty.

    While I like a lot of what you said Nathaniel, I sort of felt like whats missing from OP is a direct discussion of whether the current Mormon standards are “appropriate” for the society which we live in? Do you feel that perhaps we have over emphasized the issue to the point where we have ended up objectifying woman by stigmatizing woman who don’t follow the strict modesty standards making them feel?

  22. Wilfried on June 24, 2013 at 10:06 am

    What Geoff (7) said. Same in Europe. The American obsession with this theme seems pretty incomprehensible over here. But I assume there must be a cultural / religious or whatever reason for our US friends to continue to talk about it.

  23. Peter LLC on June 24, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Rather, she presents scientific data to tell women the truth about male perception.

    That’s one way to look at it. Here’s another.

  24. Nathaniel Givens on June 24, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Alison-

    That post of yours is why you continue to be one of my favorite people. Seriously. I laughed out loud and then I called my wife in to appreciate what you’d written!

    Carey-

    I found it ironic that Jessica Rey was not dressed according to the strict standards of Mormon modesty.

    I don’t really find it ironic at all. Different cultures have different standards. She’s not Mormon. Why on Earth would we expect her to dress according to Mormon conventions? What puzzles me is not that a non-Mormon doesn’t dress like a Mormon, but this odd expectation that she would. There’s no objective standard for modesty. Modesty–for men or women–is all about conforming to a subjective social standard. This isn’t surprising. Convention is the same basis by which all written and spoken language work as well.

    As for whether or not Mormon standards are appropriate for the larger society, it’s an open question whether Mormons would want to carve out an independent social standard to which all Mormons everywhere respond or simply live according to the society within which they live. That honestly seems like a matter of personal preference to me, so I don’t really care. A certain amount of universality is requred by the temple garment, and that’s fine, but the idea that the BYU honor code ought to apply everywhere is (to me) a farce.

    Wilfried-

    Alternatively European inability to grasp American concerns with immodesty may be just an example of fish not understanding what “wet” means. Who’s to say? Truth be told: I’m not terribly interested in cross-Atlantic comparison.

  25. Sarah Familia on June 24, 2013 at 11:04 am

    Truth be told: I’m not terribly interested in cross-Atlantic comparison.

    I am interested, Wilfried, and so are many others, so please don’t be put off by the Nathaniel’s American solipsism.

  26. Peter LLC on June 24, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Given his lack of interest in things cross-Atlantic, and presumably cross-Pacific, Givens’ use of the term “Mormon standards” is puzzling, especially in light of the oft-cited fact that more than half of them live there.

  27. Jax on June 24, 2013 at 11:28 am

    What Geoff (7) said. Same in Europe. The American obsession with this theme seems pretty incomprehensible over here. But I assume there must be a cultural / religious or whatever reason for our US friends to continue to talk about it.

    Why DO those Americans keep talking about modesty, don’t they know Europeans don’t care?

    And why do they keep talking about “church”, don’t they know Europeans don’t care.

    And why do they keep talking about what people eat/drink/ingest? Don’t they know people in Europe don’t care?

    And why do they keep talking about ______ ? Don’t they know people in Europe don’t care?

    Sure we know. It is the lack of caring (= apathy) about morals/standards/virtue that is the problem. We believe in prophets and a church structure intented to help fight the apathy that people feel toward all things spiritual. It is an apathy toward modesty that is a problem here in the US as well. But at least some of us are willing to fight against that apathy. Telling us that your culture has accepted such apathy is an indictment of your culture, not a good defense of it, and definitely doesn’t make me desirous to mimic you!

  28. Nathaniel Givens on June 24, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Sarah-

    please don’t be put off by the Nathaniel’s American solipsism.

    This has nothing to do with solipsism. I have plenty of interest in Europe (for family reasons and because I served my mission in Hungary and my brother is currently in Germany), but the implicit condescension of Euro-smug is quite off-putting. I’m aware that the comments from Geoff and Wilfried have plausible deniability in that score, but I’m not interested in dancing to that tune.

    Find me a European who doesn’t open with stereotypes and thinly veiled criticism and then we’ll have a great discussion. (I know: I have such friends and such conversations.)

  29. Wilfried on June 24, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Thank you, Sarah Familia (25). My remark (22) was not meant to be dismissive of the American approach, but is keenly interested in why we have those cultural differences. I also think transatlantic comparisons are valuable as we try to build this international “gospel culture” Elder Oaks has often talked about.

    Preemptive, this is not to say there are no related problems nor challenges in European countries, but that would lead to different discussions. So I think it’s important to focus here on our common Mormon realm as it is influenced by church culture and by the overall culture (which answers, I hope, Jax (27) concern).

    As Geoff (7) said, in countries outside the US there seems to be a natural code: “Women dress how they want usually taking into account appropriateness and comfort. Somehow without someone telling them how to be modest most do a pretty good job by themselves.” Nathaniel (10) questioned the difference between appropriateness and modesty. I think “appropriateness” has simply to do with cultural conventions where “style” is the main factor, adapted to the social circumstances, the person’s age, and the weather, without sexual innuendos. Someone may not wear the appropriate “style” for the occasion, but that is a question of not well adapting to the unspoken criteria. As soon as you bring in the sexual factor, things seem to go wrong in the discussion.

    What I and others are particularly worried about is that the Mormon-American obsession with sexually-determined modesty is being spread around the world to Mormons (and also to many Mormons in the US) who never worried about this kind of things. If a European Mormon girl, wearing a pretty sleeveless summer dress in warm weather, would get a disparaging comment from a well-meaning sister (or worse, brother), and that kind of judgmental talk spreads, the whole social interaction could be undermined in the long run. And it’s starting to happen here and there, already leading to tensions. This development — to illustrate with an anecdote — makes it increasingly difficult for a happy French Mormon family to tell that they are off on their yearly vacation on a nudist beach — something they have done for years as a healthy natural experience.

    I know, the above is a superficial comment on a topic that would require much more explanation. Still, it seems, from experience around the world, that not talking about modesty is a pretty good way to solve (part of) the problem.

  30. Nathaniel Givens on June 24, 2013 at 11:50 am

    FWIW, I think Wilfried raises legitimate concerns in the above post. I’m out of time for responses today, however (I use a Chrome plugin to limit myself), so I’ll be stepping out for now.

  31. Carey on June 24, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    I wasn’t implying that I thought she should adhere to Mormon standards I was trying to point out what Wilfried did in #29, but much more eloquently than me, by suggesting that when we have “over emphasized the issue to the point where we have ended up objectifying woman by stigmatizing woman who don’t follow the strict modesty code” we have for them.

  32. Paula on June 24, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Here is an interesting quote from Rah’s post that was referenced in #23 Peter LLC:

    “In even plainer English: ONLY men who already held “hostile sexist” attitudes toward women demonstrated higher neural or behavior proclivities to treat sexualized (read: bikini-wearing) women as objects compared to others.”

  33. tay on June 24, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    Thank you. My thoughts exactly.

  34. Geoff - A on June 24, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    I was pointing out that women, left to their own devices (no modesty lessons)can dress themselves, often as well as those who have the modesty concern.

    In the environment where this is obvious, we insert Mormonism and get examples like a YSA convention last summer, where the young women were not allowed to participate in the water activities in a one piece swim suit unless they also wore board shorts to the knee. The women left as a group and went to the beach where they were acceptable.

    If extended modesty is one of the reasons you are not welcome in church it needs to be rethought. It is, after all not anything to do with the Gospel, just US culture that is packaged with the church.

  35. Kami on June 24, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    I kind of view Mormon “modesty” as “then you won’t have to change your wardrobe after you start wearing garments.” Sure, you can wear a sleeveless dress, but not while wearing garments. That doesn’t make the dress immodest, just garment-incompatible, and for the sake of simplicity, I’d rather not own it. That said, I think the whole culture surrounding conservative Mormon “modesty” is … weird.

  36. Jim Cobabe on June 24, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    I always enjoyed the vignette about modesty in Ken Verdoia’s Brigham Young documentary. When a cadre of Brigham’s wives pleaded with him for permission to modify the cut of their garment to comfortably accomodate the latest in French fashion, Brigham responded, “Cut and be damned!”

  37. Hedgehog on June 25, 2013 at 7:43 am

    I don’t object to her business idea. A greater variety of swim-wear. Wonderful. I do object to the misrepresentation of the research data. That’s wrong. That’s what I hate. I’m not interested in the modesty argument.
    Her marketing claim is misleading because Mr Hungry Wolf already sees you that way (by other measures), even before you don the bikini, and Mr Nice Guy is still Mr Nice Guy, even if he might feel somewhat uncomfortable by your choice of attire.
    And it wasn’t comparing bikini with one-piece costume, but bikini with fully-clothed female. So really, is the response to a bikini or other type of bathing costume going to differ for Mr Hungry Wolf? We don’t know. So there is no information in this research for anyone to point to and say objectively, that the one-piece swim-suit is the better/safer choice.
    The egregious and damaging point was the suggestion that all men become Mr Hungry Wolf when confronted with a bikini-clad woman. They don’t, and the suggestion that they do hurts men.

  38. Geoff J on June 26, 2013 at 2:37 am

    I like the gist of your argument here. Seems to me that feminists ought to generally be all for more modest dress for women as an act of defiance against our culture that pressures women and girls to dress in increasingly “sexy” outfits.

    Oddly, rather than locking arms with Mormonism in a fight against a culture that pressures girls and women to dress in ways that they’ll be deemed “sexy”, I often see Mormon feminists vigorously arguing against the less-sexy Mormon dress standards and for their right to comply with our “sexy lie” culture that TED talk speaker described.

  39. chris on June 28, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Hedgehog – In your comparison of Mr Nice and Mr Wolf, you neglect the affect of social norms on marginal behavior (and how marginal behavior affects social norms).

    I have no doubt that how “we” are doing things with regard to modesty is not ideal. But the fact is we can only have that conversation because we see how flawed the world is and recognize things could be better.

    The more I experience, the more I see that *this* recognition and personal desire/action for change is really part of the point of life. I do not suppose that we could just create a more perfect world or more perfect way of looking at things (and explaining it to our children) and they would get it right. Rather, they’d like just start off on the wrong foot in a different area.

    The garden of eden, the fall, etc. is a pretty powerful narrative for considering all facets of life.

    I return to the scripture, “The Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.”

    Through the opposition in the world, which we are necessarily a part of, we have the opportunity to experience enlightenment from the spirit for how things can and should be. The moment we presume we can stack the deck just right so everyone else can be enlightened, we reveal our hubris. Each generation must discover these things for themselves, and that requires personal experience.

    That doesn’t mean I’m in favor of no progress in this or other areas. But tweak Mark Twain, “You can’t say civilization don’t progress much. In every generation we screw things up in a new way.

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