Culture At Large

Modesty: A short rant

Mary Hulst

Driving home last night I switched the radio from my normal news station to a local Christian station because I wanted to do a little singing.  I sang to the last half of one song and the whole next one, but then the station broke for a word from a women's ministry.  The spot began with women's voices talking about the definition of modesty---modesty is being out of style, modesty is old-fashioned--and then the voice of the woman who leads this particular ministry came on, and she began to talk about the true benefits of modesty.

One of the benefits she noted was protection.  Yes, protection.  Modesty, she said, will protect you from unwanted attention from men who are less than desirable.  Modesty will attract the right kind of man and deter the wrong kind of man.  Dressing modesty is a way to protect oneself from men with ulterior motives.

The longer I listened the more my jaw dropped.  Modesty will protect me?!  It's my responsibility to dress modestly so that creepy men won't try to ply me with their advances?

Now, I don't know about you, but in my experience I can be wearing a snowsuit zipped to the chin and if a creepy guy is going to be creepy, he doesn't care what I'm wearing.  To say that modesty is a way to protect myself from such people is simply false.  Furthermore, it continues to place the responsibility for men's predatory behavior on women.  I'm reminded of a recent lecture by a former Muslim who told the audience that the headscarves and burkas in Islamic culture are to protect women because it is assumed that men cannot control themselves.

Haven't we moved beyond such false ideas about men and women?  I believe that men are able to control themselves, and those who are not cannot blame another person's attire for their behavior.  I believe that women can be encouraged to dress modestly as a way of honoring their own bodies and owning their own behavior as disciples of Jesus--and that men should be counseled in the same way.  But to promote modesty as a method of protection is ignorant.  And dangerous.

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