why I’m questioning “modesty”

Disclaimer: I don’t feel like I’ve said this perfectly or even particularly well. There are some things that I work out on “paper” and you are reading along. I reserve the right to edit or even change my mind.

I’m on a journey. Now, I don’t know about good drivers, but for me, a journey is often unpredictable and sometimes I end up somewhere unexpected along the way. Currently, and by that, I mean for the last few years, I am journeying through the “whys” of my faith. Most people wouldn’t even notice the journeying, because I’m sticking fairly close to my fundy roots, because there’s a lot I do believe deeply, unequivocally. But some of my questions revolve around “the rules”. What does the Bible say and what is Western culture? When am I operating out of fear instead of faith? What really matters to Jesus, because He is my friend and I love him, so I want it to matter to me.

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the party in question

One of my greatest problems with some of the current modesty teaching is the weight of responsibility it places on women. I grew up with some of this, living in fear of making a brother stumble at any moment. In retrospect, I think I probably overestimated my sensual threat level.

As teenagers we were taught, and later, as youth pastors, we taught the girls that they were blazingly hot Bathshebas walking around with their weapons of sexuality, slaying Davids all over the place, and we taught the boys that they were victims of rampant sexual desires with very little power or control over their urges. We also inadvertently made their sexual purity the central theme of their young walks with God.

For women, there is a message in culture in general: you are a body, not a soul. Your power is in your sexuality, and that is your only means of power. Is it possible that we’re presenting the same message in the church? Young woman, we say, you are a threat and a weapon against men of God. Fear yourself, cover yourself. It’s the same message with a different application. Not only does this put women in an impossible place, where her very womanhood is a shame to her, it also negates the responsibility of young men to develop righteous habits, to learn how to appreciate beauty without sexualizing beauty.

Do we, as Christian women, have a responsibility to protect other Christians from lusting? I don’t know if I’d say responsibility. The responsibility is theirs. Do we have a responsibility to love them? Yes. And sometimes that’s going to affect the way we dress, because of love. Where’s the line? you ask. Bikinis or burkas, v-necks or turtlenecks, skirts instead of pants, exposed ankle bones? I can’t make that call, because it depends on the people you’re around and, to some degree, their battles. I can say that there is nothing wrong with being shaped like a woman, and being beautiful and comfortable the way God made you. There is no shame in being female.

Men have an equal responsibility to love, choosing to see women as more than their physical frame, not placing the weight of their own battles or shame on someone else, because it’s their battle. Because of love, a man might have to take a thought captive, not because of fear. It’s about love.

I have struggled through this post, feeling like I’m missing a thousand things, like I’m not saying it the way I want to. Ultimately I just wish we could love God and each other and not live our lives in fear. I’m on a journey out of fear, into faith. Stay tuned.

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9 thoughts on “why I’m questioning “modesty”

  1. This was so incredible. Jess, I love how you said it all. I keep having these conversations with different folks and get dismissed because of various reasons. I think that your exploration of this subject…this questioning that you’re doing…is going to bring about some justice for young women who have been ashamed to be women.
    Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Anonymous says:

    Well said…but you must understand. Men are visual…that is how God wired us. So if you as a woman are going to wear blouses and bras that push up and out your breasts…they will be looked at. You are obviously wanting to be looked at…just like the muscle-bound man who wears tight-form fitting shits that accentuate his body…he does want to be looked at. I’m NOT saying yes to burkas…but come on ladies, men (most) like the female form…if you’re accentuating it…we’re going to look.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Ah, but to this I say Nay-nay. A woman doesn’t put on a bra and think, “I am going to get ogled in this! I am going to be some unsuspecting dude’s eye-meat for the five seconds I walk by him,” and feel pleased about that. Nope. Most of the time, women put a bra on thinking, “I really hope this doesn’t dig into my shoulders. I also want to keep from having to tuck my boobs into my pants. I Also would like them to stay in place. I ALSO would like for it not to ride up my back”. And on the occasions that we go for runs outside in public, (scandalous, I know), the thoughts sometimes turn to “will this keep them from hitting me in the face…”. And if we are thinking about how it will look, it is for our own benefit and not for anyone else’s.

      A woman is NOT ASKING FOR YOUR UNWARRENTED and IMPOLITE STARES when she picks her clothes out in the mornings. I can’t control where a dude’s eyes go when he looks at me. KEEP YOUR EYES in YOUR HEAD AND OFF MY BEWBS. Men may be visual creatures. That much is true. But the issue you are pointing to is a sin issue in the male gender and has very little to do with what women wear.

      Yes, I know that there are women who wear very provocative clothing. Yes, I know it can get in the way of ANYONE getting their jobs done. But the average woman who reads this article isn’t going to be one of those who is purposefully scandalous with their attire. Not all women dress like that, but, all women have to deal with the idea that someone could be looking at them and deciding to sin. It’s so sad that someone else’s sin issues get placed on women and become the victim’s problem instead of the ones who should look at women in a different way. This whole comment is what is wrong with the argument. “Men are visual beings” is one of the most over used excuses plaguing women all over the world. You know what Jesus said about that? Better to remove the eye than to have it sin against you. Fella, I hate to say it, but if your visual nature is the issue, than maybe your eyes are what needs to be covered up. Because burkahs don’t prevent rapes.

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    • You’ve got to love comments from a man responding to a woman’s post that begins with the thinly veiled insinuation of ignorance in the guise of praise: “Well said…but you must understand.” Mansplaining women’s true motivations to women (“You are obviously wanting to be looked at”). Thanks for enlightening us, Mr. Anonymous. You’re confusing the desire to look a certain way – to be a visible being – with the desire to be ogled as a sexual object.

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  3. Anonymous

    Women and men both have eyes. I think it is very cliche and overused to say “Men are visual.” I’m not going to dig into this here as I would need to write my own blog post, but men are responsible for how they look at women. With appreciation, respect, hatred, resentment, love or lust.

    “If you’re accentuating it…we’re going to look.” This presents a problem as “accentuating” means different things to different people. Are you aware there was a survey done (in America) that has been spread around for Christian women to use as a guide for how to dress? In the survey, it asked men of all ages questions about what types of clothing/dress caused them to stumble. Did you know for a certain population of men seeing a woman’s bare ankle can lead to lustful thoughts? Knees? Shoulders? If I reveal my calves is that accentuating my female form?

    On one hand I feel like it is important to understand what kind of things can lead a man astray. Over the years there have definitely been things I was surprised by and would have had no idea if someone had not told me. On the other hand, sometimes men just need to reevaluate the cultural belief systems that they have been taught. Being a woman, dressing like a woman, LOOKING like a woman is not being a stumbling block. I think men who treat my body likes its taboo and pretend I’m responsible for the state of their souls are a stumbling block. I get enough objectification from men on the street, on the internet, in my workplace. I don’t need it in the church.

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  4. PT says:

    My all-time favorite on how women should dress, and a man’s response to it, was a book where it was written that you (as a girl) should not make out with a boy without wearing a turtleneck (implication being he would grab her breasts). A guys response to it was quick and easy; that’s fine. It’s always easier to reach there from the bottom up anyways.
    Horrible example, I know. But in my mind it describes reality the best. You can’t put modesty as the responsibility on girls or boys. It is both genders responsibility.
    Some girls are attracted and draws close to a guy who protects and comforts her, and to keep that feeling they might want to do anything to keep him. Should guys then be jerks so no girl fall in that way?
    Everything comes down to your heart, your walk with the Father and allowing Him to heal you (inner healing etc).
    The modesty teaching today, I feel, is just an excuse to blame others for us not wanting to deal with our own issues.
    Sorry for spelling, poor sentences etc in this post. And definitely feel free to disagree! Please to say if you do, it is always easier to reach healthy conclusion that way…

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  5. fresherrain says:

    Ok I just have to weigh in on this one. Both of my daughters have brought this post to my attention. I have to say for the first part that I grieve for the woman whose jogging causes her pain and breathing problems.

    But In some strange way I have to counter some of this. For instance there is the 200 pound lady at the library whose breasts are 3/4 out with a tattoo that says” I love James”, wearing short shorts or maybe they are wearing her and something reminds me of a rump roast is hanging out the bottom. I tell her that the computer at the end of the aisle is saying that the computer she has is registered for me now. She argues with me saying she sat there first and she is not leaving pointing red long fingers in my face and sizing me up. She has concluded that she could squash me like a roach. Then my husband shows up behind me folding his biceps the size of some small Texas towns. She looks him up and down deciding against it and slides off the seat roast side first.

    Anyway all things in moderation

    Georgia

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Anonymous says:

    Well written and love all the comments, except one. I’m not sure where to start. That most guys cannot tell their female friends that they are beautiful, lovely, etc… because they cannot see a beautiful and yes attractive woman without letting seed into lust, stinks. Our sisters are being assaulted with fear and doubt and need us to be free not just so we can keep from objectifying them but they are missing our edifying words. Guys are visual yes, but freaking we are men! Where is our resolve our grit our determination? A fierce refusal to just see with lust, but with love. They deserve better. Guys our qualifications to be who God says we are, to do what He says we can do is not based on the last time you lusted, salvation is not predicated on how long you can go before “falling”… God has qualified us, until we are confident in our sonship, His love being unshakable, it’s not based on the frequency of sin, but the blood of the cross. Salvation is a joy, easy, not a heavy burden. So much I’m missing and all jumbled up… Focus should not be trying to live without sinning, but to live while loving.

    My name is Bill Richards and I endorse this message. And I did not go back and proofread this so if it needs clarification, punctuation, or other edits read through them n get the jist.

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