I'm not, like, a religious EXPERT or anything... But remember that time Jesus was like:
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
I thought that was pretty awesome.
Lots of people, across multiple religions, have this weird, perverted idea that women are not only supposed to be mind readers, but also mind controllers, keeping men from thinking certain thoughts.
They think they get to tell women how to dress, that they need to "cover up" or "dress modestly" because some dude who's not Jesus says you should.
A couple of problems:
First, Jesus, himself, did not say, "When a man looks with lust, women should cover their bodies, which I gave them... but which are also somehow inherently sinful and shameful."
Jesus did say, "When a man looks with lust, that man needs to grow up and take accountability for his own thoughts and behaviors."
Which... makes a lot of sense. (See also: Men, if you think women are the problem, YOU are the problem. Women don't like whiny little boys who can't take accountability for their own actions. They like men.) If Jesus wanted women to be able to control men's minds, he would have given us the power of mind control.
Second, biblical modesty isn’t about managing other people's sexual impulses. It’s about cultivating humility and propriety. It's about rejecting materialism. As Rachel Held Evans writes in Modesty: I Don't Think It Means What You Think It Means:
In 1 Timothy 2:9-10, the apostle Paul writes “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” The Greek word translated “modesty” here is kosmios. Derived from kosmos(the universe), it signifies orderliness, self-control and appropriateness. It appears only twice in the New Testament, and interestingly, its second usage refers specifically to men (1 Timothy 3:2). In fact, nearly all of the Bible’s instructions regarding modest clothing refer not to sexuality, but rather materialism (Isaiah 3:16-23, 1 Timothy 2:9-12, 1 Peter 3:3).
Which... also makes a lot of sense. Lots of people like to dress as though they're better off than other people, because downward social comparison is the number one best way to feel better about ourselves. (Though, for what it's worth, comparing yourself to others can be one of the best ways to improve and get motivated, if done correctly.)
They like to dress as though they're better off than other people, because it's impossible not to care what other people think (unless you're a psychopath or a sociopath).
On the one hand, I feel like if my $12,000 watch makes you feel bad about yourself, you probably need to work on yourself, and learn to love yourself for things other than ostensible displays of success and wealth. Scripps College has this supplemental essay prompt, "If you could trade lives with someone (fictional or real) for a day, who would it be and why?" At first, I didn't see that "for a day" part, and I was like, "Literally no one. I'd rather be me. Or possibly LeBron or Taylor Swift. But basically no one but me." There are so many people who are richer, more beautiful, or more successful than I am... but... they're still not me. So what would be the point of being them?
On the other... materialism won't make you happy (though money can, when spent pro-socially and on experiences, rather than things), and the Bible is pretty clear on this.
But, going back to sexual modesty, Rachel Held Evans also writes:
We turn modesty into objectification when we hold women responsible for the thoughts and actions of men.
It's normal to be attracted to others. No one is saying to gouge your eyes out just because you notice someone is gorgeous. Just... behave like a normal, responsible adult and take accountability for your own actions.
Evans mentions that different religions and cultures treat modesty differently, some offering guidelines, some wanting to make laws to regulate what women wear. Of course, we've all seen this comic:
It's clever. I like it. Though I feel like the major difference here is choice.
Maybe the bikini lady is dressed that way because she feels like she doesn't have a "choice" -- if she doesn't show skin, men won't show interest in her.
But that's a little different from feeling like you don't have a choice because people will judge you, assault you, or exclude you if you don't dress like the niqāb lady. (Which obviously isn' the case with everyone who wears a niqāb... but it's definitely the case for some -- and isn't that tragic?)
Sure, different cultures treat modesty differently -- and lots of fellow travelers think that it's "respectful" to subscribe to the soft bigotry of low expectations and participate in rape culture while visting certain places. I think that diversity is beautiful... but I also think that not every part of every culture deserves my respect.
Including the gross, so-called "evangelical" culture that supports putting rapists in office and on the bench, because who cares if they're a rapist if they might maybe make it harder for women to get abortions? (True story. According to a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, 48% of white evangelical christians said Kavanaugh should be confirmed to the Supreme Court even if the charge of sexual assault is true.)
It's just... so gross and backwards to me that people still think women are accountable for men's actions... including people like Gabby Douglas, who had many teammates who were sexually abused by an adult team doctor as little girls.
Hopefully, Gabby's MUCH classier teammate, Simone Biles, managed to talk some be-less-rapey-ness into her...
(While we're on the topic of gymnastics, don't miss Aly Raisman's autobiography, Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything.)
It doesn't take most girls and women long to realize that their bodies will be noticed by men no matter what they wear. If your goal is not to be raped, "modesty" is an approach that has been proven ineffective time and again. "Modesty" is, however, a really convenient way for rapists to shame girls and women into believing they were somehow responsible for that happened to them.
But... Jesus would be the first to point out that this is not the case. If your eye makes you lust, pluck it out. If your dick makes you want to rape, cut it off.
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Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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