The Modesty Problem

When it comes to matters of women’s issues there is always controversy. Something as simple as yoga pants can send the whole world into a tizzy. A few years back there was a major uproar that conservative women shouldn’t wear yoga pants because they were too sexuality tempting for men, and we just can’t have that. Now the NYT is also saying no to yoga pants because it’s a way to sexualize women during their workout and women shouldn’t have to be sexy while working out. 

So while they agree, yoga pants are just too dang sexy, their logic comes from polar opposite viewpoints. One extreme says women shouldn’t be so sexy, the other says women shouldn’t have to be so sexy. Both agree they are too sexy, and both agree that being too sexy is bad. And both agree that being too sexy is problematic because, get ready for it: MEN! 

When it comes to “modesty” there are two extremes. There is the daily pop culture approach that pumps us all with airbrushed photos of skinny celebrities and sex sex sex! and how to please your man in bed better. New fashion trends that give new ways to show off your legs, breasts, booty, curves. The accepted social culture norm values women for their sex appeal first, and not much more second. And a lot of women feel a lot of pressure to live up to these unattainable sex appeal expectations. 

But there is also the other extreme in this “modesty” conversation. The “conservative side”.  This is the side that tells women, girls really, to cover up. Adults will measure girls skirt lengths, shame girls into wearing baggy clothes. Young girls are told countless times by preachers and  men of authority in their youth that our legs, breasts, booty, and curves are sinful, lustful, shameful, and we must cover them up so as not to tempt and sway the boys and men in our lives to sin. Young girls are shamed for their sexuality before they have even discovered it.

I grew up in a church culture. I remember being lectured and shamed many times about “modesty” and the rules for what I could and could not wear. Skirts had to be of a certain length (the finger test, as long as it was past the tip of your fingers it was long enough), but I also had to wear something under the skirt too, tights or leggings or jeans, so as not to show too much skin or leg. One piece bathing suits with a t-shirt for the pool. No cleavage, only high collars. All while pumping the message that all men in my life, even the Christian men, were so overtly focused on sex that if I tempted them even a little they were too weak to fight it and they would sin. But because it was me causing them to sin, I was the one actually sinning, not them. 

The reality is that these two extremes are just different sides of the same coin. Both are overly sexualizing women. Both ask a women to think of men first when they get dressed, to worry about how men will react to them, to contemplate what a man will think about them, all because of how we dress. Modesty also assumes that a woman’s #1 concern when getting dressed in the morning is her sexual currency, whether she wants to downplay that or showcase it, it’s all the same. 

And both extremes expect women to accommodate her clothing and her body to the expectations and needs of men. In both extremes the woman is expected to manage the sexual desires of men, either to cool them off or rile them up. And these two extremes (“be attractive, but not too attractive”) leaves women feeling ashamed and devalued. 

Modesty is just another way we have socialized and normalized controlling women. It’s just another way we excuse over sexualizing women. Modesty is just another way to objectify women. These rules have been made that women are now expected to follow, they are inconsistent, and they are contradictory (women must attract men, but they also must not tempt men). Both extremes set women up for failure. And nothing about modesty is meant for women. 

Modesty is extremely problematic for many reasons. It excuses objectification, it blames women for sexualization, it promotes rape culture, and it places the responsibility of managing sexual advances (wanted or unwanted) on the woman. It promotes an unhealthy balance and is yet another way that we let men off the hook.

And I’m so over it. Boys will be held accountable for their actions, and women can wear whatever the fuck they want. This may be hard to believe, but when a woman gets dressed in the morning primary objective does not revolve around men.

So men, stop making yet another thing entirely about you. It’s not about you.


One thought on “The Modesty Problem

  1. Pingback: Bathing Suit Season – Angry Feminist

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