Challenging the Fundamentalist View of Modesty
Posted on January 6, 2013
This is a GREAT article by Sierra at Patheos that expands on a lot of the ideas I explored in my “Myth of Modesty” series. Sierra, the author, has a different title for what I call the Myth–she calls it the Modesty Doctrine. It has been really interesting to see that so many Christians seem to be questioning Christianity’s status quo when it comes to this concept of modesty.
Since getting worked up and publishing my series, I’ve seen the following articles and posts online, each with compelling arguments against the fundamentalist point of view that women need to be modest in order to help men to keep from sinning:
- The Modesty Myth at Two To One
- How the Modesty Doctrine Hurts Men, Too by Sierra at Patheos
- Irresistible Attraction by Dan J Brennan
- Modesty & Lust: His Problem or Yours? by Angie Schuller Wyatt, whose URL is the best thing I’ve seen all week: www.godandboobs.com
These are some great starting points if you’re beginning to question what you’ve always been told about modesty.
In Sierra’s post, “Challenging the Fundamentalist View of Modesty,” she points out that the idea of modesty in the church makes certain bodies “inherently problematic”:
The modesty doctrine isn’t about clothes, it’s about bodies. It’s a method for punishing women who do not conform to an idealized, asexual, inoffensive body type. The “offenders” are women with large breasts, wide hips, or discernible “booty.” The modesty doctrine claims that the right clothes conceal a woman’s figure, and that the wrong ones expose her curves. The problem is, some women have figures that cannot be concealed. Even denim sack jumpers will reveal a curvy woman’s hips or breasts when she moves. When I was rebuked for my clothing as a teenager, it was often identical to the clothing all the other girls were wearing. The only difference was that I had “developed” first. The modesty doctrine defines some bodies as inherently problematic.
This is why Christian teenagers start to notice the inconsistencies. In the youth group, Jennifer with the flat chest gets to wear spaghetti strap tank tops and short shorts, but Laura with the boobs gets chastised for her immodesty when she wears the exact same outfit. According to this survey of young evangelical men, women shouldn’t even wear a sheer shirt over a completely modest shirt, because that can be a stumbling block to guys. They also shouldn’t wear spaghetti straps or halter tops, which are automatically immodest. (I’m not sure what makes shoulders immodest, but I guess 17-year-old Christian boys really have a thing against them.)
The problem with the Modesty Doctrine, Sierra explains, is:
The modesty doctrine frames this idea in terms of clothing to preserve the veneer that women are somehow to blame for this, and that there’s something they can do about it. There isn’t. The modesty doctrine revolves around the assumption that a man has a right to sex with every woman he finds attractive. In Christian fundamentalism, he only has a right to sex with his wife. Therefore, other women who are attractive to him seem to taunt him with something he can’t have (extramarital sex).
THIS is why I get upset when I hear Christian men say that women just don’t understand what it’s like to be a guy, and they don’t know what it’s like to “struggle” with lust. It’s because when men say that they struggle with lust, and women need to help them fix that problem, what they’re really saying is that they can’t handle wanting something that doesn’t belong to them.
We never frame jealousy or envy or greed in the context of “the person whose stuff is envied should stop having such awesome stuff.” Lust is ultimately an issue of greed, and so I don’t believe we should tell women that they need to hide or get rid of their “stuff.”
I hope that more and more Christians will rise up to challenge the idea of modesty as a tenet of the faith.